A very important distinction as I prepare the armholes

As I was preparing the armholes a contextual distinction came up; there are two sides of the tailoring coin- one is the independent tailor shop, the other the factory. Why is this important? In the context of a tailor shop, which may have only a lockstitch (plain) machine and maybe a serger and blind-stitch machine, there are a great deal of operations which must be done by hand to be done correctly. In a factory there may be machines which can do the same operation to the same level of quality but in a fraction of the time. So to say a certain operation is better by hand than by machine can be true if in the context of a tailor shop, but not true if in a factory. But it goes beyond that.

I am preparing the armholes to eventually have sleeves set in. Certain parts of the armhole are susceptible to stretching, and others must be kept short in order to create shape; the lower part of the front armhole is held short to help build the chest and to keep the sleeve tight to the body. The back armhole is held short to clean up the blade area. The majority of makers use a small cotton tape in the armhole to prevent stretching and to hold the extra length, like this


The black cotton tape serves to stabilize once this area has been shaped, and so that the sleeve setting is cleaner.

The makers who attach their sleeves by hand normally do not use this tape which “locks” the armhole, but make a chain stitch by hand, which holds the armhole, draws it short where needed, but is still elastic. There is an amount of give and recovery which you don’t get when the tape is used.


But then it occurred to me that we have machines which make this exact stitch and can perform this same function; in the case of the tailor shop, it is true that doing this by hand provides elasticity, but in the case of Kiton or Oxxford, they would be able to afford such a machine that performs the same job. If you are going to insert your sleeve by hand in order to preserve the elasticity in the seam, you would not use tape but use a chainstitch. It then occurred to me that it might then be confusing or difficult to explain to a consumer that one is done by hand, the other machine, but that one machine method is identical to the hand method whereas another machine method is far lesser. It then becomes a blog subject 🙂 Maybe it’s just better to do by hand in order to preserve the cachet of the “hand sewn armhole” since the consumer perception is that the hand sewn would necessarily be better.

Whatever the case, I am leaning favorably toward the chain-stitch rather than tape right now, and could eliminate the tape in my factory in favor of a chain stitch method. In this case, an industrial duplication of a traditional, hand-sewn application. To be continued……

3 Replies to “A very important distinction as I prepare the armholes

  1. If you switched to hand chain stitch for your shop, would you eat the extra time cost or roll it into the final price of the suit? Also, is that black tape bias or straight?

  2. If I switch, I will do the chain stitch by machine- functionally it is the same stitch, and I can control the fullness with a knee switch so there is no advantage that I can see to doing it by hand. I maintain the control and elasticity which is the main reason touted for setting sleeves by hand.

    The black tape is cut on a 15% bias- it gives some stability so the area won’t stretch anymore but is still elastic, which is important. The same principle as the rest of the armhole.

  3. I know this is an old post to resurrect. I learned to steady the armhole with a combinations of stitches.

    For example, Starting at the front pitch take a back stitch with double thread, then take a few fore-stitches and pull a little fullness, then lock with a back stitch, continue this until the nearly the side-seam. Making sure to distribute the fullness more toward the front of the scye and a little less to nothing at the side seam. From the side seam up and around to the front pitch use a chain stitch, making sure to steady the back of the scye with slightly smaller stitches. This might be a little more involved and archaic, but I think it works well to hold the shaping.

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