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How many attempts does it take to give up on a project? A couple of weeks ago I had to make a decision and give up on my initial design choice, going for a slightly different style. Despite the time I spent on the first idea – two full days of pattern drafting, fitting, adjustments – I learned a big deal about fabric selection, patternmaking, fabric manipulation, and sleeves in general. And despite the initial ‘fail’, it helped me find a different solution, adding a personal touch to the project I chose from the September issue of burda style magazine.

The September Challenge: Using couture techniques, make a version of the 3/4 Sleeve Top from the September 2012 issue of burda style magazine.

The Couture Mentor: Susan Khalje, founder of the Couture Sewing School, author of Bridal Couture, and contributing editor to Threads magazine. For each project, Susan shares her tips related to fabric selection and couture engineering and construction.

Inspired by the approach used in The BurdaStyle Sewing Handbook, I decided to use the BurdaStyle pattern as a building block for my personal style. I knew that I wanted to customize the sleeve. I was aiming to create a clean tailored look with some edge, so I went to research sleeves in fashion. I was inspired by the extravagant tailored styles from Alexander McQueen as well as powerful and chic Bottega Veneta designs which served as an excellent departure point for my idea

The inspiration came from Pierre Cardin who is one of the most innovative, and slightly forgotten designers to date. It is the distinctive geometric lines, finely sculptured shapes and immaculate tailoring details that I really admire in his work. Some of these details may look dated, but the ideas and the construction are still as innovative as it was back then.

Inspiration and examples of Cardin sleeves

Of course, the shoulders on my top are not as wide as those 70’s styles from Cardin. But if you keep the width in proportion with the body, it can help offset the hips. By the way, any shoulder details – trims, epaulets – add width to your top creating pleasing proportions for pear-shaped women.

Crater Sleeve vs. Wool Satin
Being a fan of Japanese patternmaking, I remembered that Tomoko Nakamichi explored similar designs in her Pattern Magic. And one of the designs I liked in this book was the Crater Sleeve.

Illustrations from Pattern Magic by Tomoko Nakamichi

Following instructions from the book I drafted the pattern, cut then sewed the muslin, and… the sleeve head looked like a primary school craft project. More trials followed: I reduced ease, drafted the outer sleeve on bias (on straight grain), and increased the cap length. With Susan’s help the muslin was getting slightly better, but still far from being perfect. I tried and cut the sleeve in my wool (the sleeve is a fabric eater, by the way) – no improvement.

Finally, Susan put an end to the seemingly endless experimentation by suggesting a different type of fabric – bouclé or crepe – for a more satisfactory result. The beautiful wool satin from Mood Fabrics was not working for this style – it just would not ease at all. I won’t be retelling the two-day-long story here – I am determined to get the crater right, but for now, it’s on-hold.

One thing that I was quite happy with, however, was the shape of the sleeve itself. The shape looked nicely tailored and fitted. The center part of the sleeve enhanced the slimming effect even more, and I knew that I wanted to preserve this effect in a new version. I needed to find a style that would work best with my wool.

Cardin Sleeve
The Cardin sleeve was one of the design options based on the sleeve draft I already had. I’ve seen it several times: a humongous version from an 80’s patternmaking book, its relative from Roberta Carr’s couture sewing book, a more current version from a great draping book from the Netherlands, and finally on some RTW jackets from the seasons past.

Drawings and images from (clockwise, from top right): N.V. Yerzenkova. Women’s Clothing in Detail, Minsk, Polimja, 1991 (in Russian); Carr, Roberta. Couture: The Art of Fine Sewing, Palmer/Pletsch, 1993; Duburg, Annette and Rixt van der Tol. Draping: Art and Craftsmanship in Fashion Design, ArtEz Press, 2009.

I would love to explain all the variations, but it is beyond the scope of this post and, if you interested in a detailed account of the sleeve drafting, fitting and inspiration, as well as a basic sleeve draft-along – you are welcome to visit my blog. I have started documenting the first steps.

As for the Cardin Sleeve, it is a relatively simple style to draft. I started with a basic sleeve that has been checked for fit and proper hang. The pattern was adjusted to achieve this slim fit, changing the hang from straight to slightly curved position and incorporating either a wrist or an elbow dart. It is also important that all the sleeve ease is removed so the sleeve fit the armhole precisely – it makes it a perfect sleeve for fabrics that are difficult to ease.

Technical drawing from Nakamichi, Tomoko. Pattern Magic, Laurence King Publishing, 2005

The top portion of the cap is finished first by sewing the the short ends of the straps. Then, the strap is joined to the sleeve cap. Sleeve seams are stitched, pressed open, and the sleeve is set in without easing. Constructing the top was a great learning experience for me, and I have much better idea about the engineering and construction choices for these type of sleeves.

• Add a slight slope to the straps, so it blends in with the slope of the shoulder seam. Mine is cut straight (parallel to the floor) and although it can be viewed as a design decision, it is worth exploring other cutting options as well.
• Wool satin both looks very nice with and is appropriate for this style. However, for more control or styles like crater sleeve it is worth considering crepe or anything else that lends itself better to manipulation and pressing.

Bodice Construction Details
The inside of the top is finished in the same manner as in the previous projects:

• The top is underlined with silk organza. The crispness and hold of organza helps promote the overall tailored look of the top without adding stiffness or bulk. It also serves as a great support for all the construction on the inside making all the hemming and stitching invisible on the outside.
• Sufficient seam allowances of approximately 1” (2.5 cm) are catch stitched to the lining.
• A balanced dart on the back (check out this Tutorial on BurdaStyle)

All together, I think I achieved my goal in creating a strong and confident style. The top could have become a nice addition to my work wardrobe, but having quit my office job more than a year ago I need to adapt it to my home-based lifestyle. Perhaps by adding a homemaker accessory. For example, a matching apron? I already have something in mind – The Drop Hole Apron, based on The Drop Hole Skirt from Pattern Magic. That hole could be great for holding kitchen utensils or potted herbs, such as oregano, or basil. What do you think?

Marina von Koenig blogs about her couture learning experience on Frabjous Couture.


  • Rose_large

    Aug 19, 2014, 07.03 PMby MissPx

    I’ve fallen for that sleeve. I always love the different techniques used for sleeves in older garments (they always have so much life).

    Nice post.


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    Nov 19, 2012, 05.36 PMby robinrenee

    Absolutely wonderful. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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    Nov 17, 2012, 02.15 PMby aur0ra

    Thank you for sharing this! Those sleeves have such a nice shape. I definitely want to make a top or dress with similar sleeves. I’ve been looking for a way to change up my sleeve designs. I’ll also be watching for those crater sleeves on one of your future projects; it’s such an interesting design.

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    Nov 15, 2012, 07.42 PMby HouseOf Pinheiro

    Marina, you are my couture hero.. i love reading your adventures and i feel very inspired to try it too.

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    Nov 15, 2012, 12.00 PMby kisses

    This is fabulous work…thanks for sharing. I hope to apply some of these techniques into future projects of mine

  • Madmen_icon_large

    Nov 15, 2012, 08.14 AMby carmencitab

    It’s fabulous Marina!

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    Nov 15, 2012, 05.13 AMby Scheri Manson

    Thank you for sharing your tips.

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    Nov 15, 2012, 03.39 AMby Couture Academic

    I like your spirit, Marina! You’re always willing to challenge yourself and try something new – and I bet you learn a heap in the process. Your adventurous spirit is very inspirational to me, and makes me want to bust loose from the ‘just follow the pattern’ routine as of late and try some more funky/creative stuff!

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    Nov 14, 2012, 07.55 PMby pauline alice

    Thank you for sharing this Marina. I am really looking forward to see those crater sleeves in another project. I am very intrigued about how they are constructed. Your blog is always so interesting and helpful.

  • Picsart_11-03-08_07_21_large

    Nov 14, 2012, 07.24 PMby Mtetar

    Thank you for sharing such great info. With all appreciation, Mtetarhttp://www.projectsbyMtetar.wordpress.com

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    Nov 14, 2012, 05.59 PMby MientjiB

    So glad you’re back on burdastyle! This post is fascinating, as ever, thank you :-)

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Nov 14, 2012, 10.08 PMby Marina von Koenig

      Thank you, I know it took me a while, but I am already working on the next one – catching up!

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    Nov 14, 2012, 04.27 PMby Irene Jones - Arias

    Marina, thank you so much for sharing these wonderful tips, I’ve been following all of your couture projects and began to apply some of these techniques, they make such a difference! This top is beautiful, it looks great on you. And those sleeves! Wow!!!

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    Nov 14, 2012, 02.21 PMby wzrdreams

    Fantastic top! I love the sleeve that you chose in the end. Thank you for all the incredible details!

    1 Reply
  • Madamewongthumbnail_large

    Nov 14, 2012, 06.44 AMby MyRomanApartment


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    Nov 14, 2012, 02.04 AMby madmaudlin

    What a fabulous project! I will definitely be checking out your draft-along.

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Nov 14, 2012, 10.09 PMby Marina von Koenig

      That’s great! I hope you will enjoy it :)

    • This is a question
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