Pattern puzzle: Pivot sleeve pt.2

pivot_sleeveFinally, a follow up to the pivot sleeve pattern puzzle entry from four years ago. Here’s a quote for context:

Last June, I wrote an entry about the clothing worn by George Mallory on his fated attempt to reach the summit of Mount Everest. From studies done in the UK, it was found that his apparel was 20%-40% lighter in weight than modern day gear but was warmer and more comfortable. Of particular interest to researchers was a pivot sleeve built into the Burberry jacket Mallory wore.

Today’s follow up is inspired by an article Anne Stoye sent me published in Threads magazine. The author describes the pivot sleeve he found on a Norfolk jacket as a “cut on gusset”, an apt description. [But on the other hand, I’m steeling myself for the legions of people who hereafter, will call any jacket with a pivot sleeve, a Norfolk jacket.] A Norfolk jacket was a gentleman’s shooting jacket, sport coat-like with box pleats at center back or two off to either side of each shoulder.

I think the article is very good and easily adaptable with a bit of diligence. Okay, scratch that. I didn’t read it because I can’t draft from words, I draft from pictures but one would be hard pressed to improve upon the provided illustrations. I don’t think you need to follow the instructions line by line anyway. All you need is an understanding of the concept to incorporate it into a draft and the illustrations provide a clear idea of that. The only thing I would change is the doop-tey doop on the front armhole. I don’t like those. In my opinion, those are too subtle for even precision construction. Better to smooth the line and mark the point with a notch.

You can put a pivot sleeve into any garment with a two piece suit sleeve. I’m partial to a peaked gusset because I like the look but the rounded pivot shown here could be easier to sew. Truly, the peaked gusset amounts to showing off considering I’ve always said rounded gussets are easier to sew. However it is you shape it, the bottom of the gusset isn’t visible with the sleeve at arm side.

Photo courtesy: Threads

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  1. KayY says:

    This would be a great feature in a jacket for a (music) conductor. I spent years at school concerts wincing at my son’s band teacher in his ill-fitting jackets that hiked up every time he lifted his arm…

  2. sfriedberg says:

    Great reference, and very timely for one of my projects.

    If you follow the linked article at Threads, notice the step “pivot the under sleeve at the upper ends of the sleeve seams” does not rotate the under-sleeve pattern. It actually flips it over, as if there were an axle through the upper ends of the seams. Look at the curvature of the under-sleeve before and after that step. Once you are done drafting the gusset, cut and sew the under-sleeve in the original orientation, not the flipped orientation.

  3. Marie-Christine says:

    Actually, this had already been described in a much earlier Threads article. In… must have been 1992, they had an article on Hillary Clinton’s inauguration clothes. Explained that she had the ballgown made by a dance designer. And explained all about how to make a built-in armhole gusset, so one could rest one’s hand on Bill’s taller shoulder without the dress pulling up all funny for the photographers. No nice diagrams like in this article though. And caused a rash of whiny letters from Republican sewing ladies who didn’t like to hear how a democrat could do something clever as well as pretty, that’s political! But I digress..

    I’ve tested this method, it works. I’d also like to point out that Marmot Mountain Works has been doing this to all their jackets for a good 20 years. Nice not to have your belly exposed to the blizzard when you’re reaching for a handhold.

    In fact, I should do this to all my jackets. if not all my upper garments. Is there ever a time where it’s not better to be able to toss your bag on your shoulder, or reach to shake someone’s hand, without exposing parts of your anatomy to either weather or critical business glances? Didn’t think so..

  4. Jan says:

    An even earlier article in Threads (1988 or 1989, I guess) by Rebecca Nebesar on sleeves (cover illustration) also explains and diagrams a built-in sleeve gusset. I’ve used this technique ever since.

  5. Erin says:

    Thanks for addressing the doop-tey doop. I read this article the other day and was a little horrified by it. Yech, you mean you’re just going to leave that there?

  6. cdb says:

    This is very like the construction used for dance and stage costumes, where the actual period cut would seriously impede the actor. You don’t need the d-t-d at all, you just wind up with a very odd shaped sleeve pattern that really looks completely normal in wear but allows for a great deal more movement. It works wonderfully. I’ve seen it used in on the sleeves of very tight corseted bodices to great effect, to actually be able to move in one of those things…..!

  7. Brina says:

    I used to work with the “dance designer” Barbara Matera who did the now Secretary of State Clinton’s dress, though I did not work on the dress. Matera’s specialty was ballet and she and her shop build the designs of others as well. Sadly she passed away in Sept 2001. Another dance trick is to cut the side panels of the bodice on the bias. But I digress. This sleeve gusset would be good if you only reach up and forward as the model in the photo is doing. If you reach straight up there is no extra fabric for that movement in the front–so your garment will pull there. I thought it was interesting to extend/drop the sleeve itself but I think that’s only necessary since otherwise the fit might suffer because of the way the sleeve jags. I’d call this a half-armseye gusseted sleeve since extending the gusset across the full armseye would allow for much more movement.

  8. ClaireOKC says:

    I just adore gussets. They are one of those magical techniques that not only work and make things so much better, but the fit and comfort is like mysteriously fixed! It makes we fitters look like we actually know what we’re doing!!! Imagine that!

  9. ED Tung says:

    WOW …
    I just realized that this is what my pattern teacher and I were trying to figure out…I bought several Galliano Dior garments(jackets mainly), and have now realized the famous “bar suit” is constructed in this manner…..thanks Kathleen for the pics!….It’s a front and back with a gusset underneath the range of movement I think is more and the reason is that the gusset is ALSO cut on the bias… therefore the stretch of the fabric allows the arm to move more freely….Just a detail gleaned from studying a Dior suit!

  10. I am Rebecca Nebesar – the one who had her “Cover Girl” moment when her article on sleeves “The Poetry of Sleeves” published in Threads Magazine in the eighties (Issue 9 Feb/Mar 1987). The built-in gusset is a trick I learned when I worked for the Boston Ballet. I was so excited when I realized how it worked. I never could stand tailored suits and fitted dresses because of the constriction of the arms. I also didn’t like tight non-stretch pants for the same reason – constriction of movement. Even having majored in apparel design at Cornell University hadn’t taught me adequately about patterning for the “geography of body movement” – for wont of a better way to say it. As a student I explored the similarities between pants crotches and underarms, even coming up with a design whereby a pair of pants transformed into a sleeveless dress, the former crotches becoming the curves under the arms. I designed fitted pants with gussets as well. The above wonderful conversation above sure brings back memories. I am so happy that Jan mentioned my article and that it helped.

  11. Kathleen says:

    Hi Rebecca, “geography of movement” is an interesting descriptor. Anthropometrists describe this as ROM (range of motion). There’s different kinds too, garments should minimally meet standards for PROM (primary range of motion). I write about this in my book, using it to explain why most of today’s sleeve and armhole designs are wonky. Etc. I also find it fascinating. Welcome!

  12. Matt P says:

    This is fascinating! I’ve been convinced for a long time of the necessity of having high armholes with more fabric in them to allow for wide ROM. I have to wonder if it is actually necessary to carve that scoop out of the body, thereby deepening the armhole. I realize that this method still adds more fabric into the underarm area, but it seems to me that if the body is well-fitted, it should work without deepening the armhole. Plus, that eliminates the “doop-tey doop” that so bothers Kathleen (and me–it’s only there because he didn’t bother to smooth out the curve of the new armscye when he drew it in).
    BTW, in regards to Brina’s comment about there only being enough fabric to reach up and forward but not to reach straight up — There’s only so much you can get out of a standard jacket sleeve which is drafted so the outside part falls smoothly over the shoulder when the arms are down. In doing historical clothing patterns, I routinely use a much shallower sleeve cap, which lies smoothest when the arms are held out. This allows for a very closely fitted sleeve and body in a woven fabric. You get some little creases under the arms from the extra fabric, but much fuller range-of-motion. But, there are a lot of little variations and gusset tricks in historical sleeve patterns that would be considered very odd in a modern garment.

  13. brina says:

    In regard to Matt’s comment that “There’s only so much you can get out of a standard jacket sleeve…”

    Well performance clothing folks (theatre, dance, circus, etc) do a lot with gussets to get more movement and still have a sleeve cap that fits smoothly over the shoulder and upper arm. And not necessarily through stretch or knit fabrics.

    I’ve done a lot of work recreating and adapting historical clothing also and the gussets in these clothes generally do not lend themselves to fitted garments, unless you use a lot of piecing. Even then, although they can be elegant and interesting–they don’t make the best fitted garments, particularly to allow more ROM.

    Regarding the fit of this sleeve and ROM allowable: it’s really not that there is not enough fabric–it’s how the gusset was patterned/drafted and cut that limits the movement to up and front. Which is what I said before I thought. But I am sure illustrations would make my meaning more clear–unfortunately I’m in between homes and so can’t really indulge that now. Soon I hope…

    Anyone who is really interested in using gussets for movement and cutting for movement in general, should look at/study performance clothing as above. After all people had to move around on stage and in other entertainment venues while looking good and not get bound up in their garments. Genevieve Sevin-Doering’s work–especially her fitted garments–do this wonderfully. I plan to illustrate the construct more of her drafts and post them somewhere online once I get settled.

  14. brina says:

    I meant to add to–people had to move around on stage… and not get bound up in their garments “before lycra and all our wonder knits.”

  15. I was contacted by someone who saw this blog who wanted to get her hands on “The Poetry of Sleeves” article. The back issues of Threads are limited and February 1987 is not available. However, the article is in an anthology called “Fit and Fabric from Threads” and is available on

  16. Seth Meyenrik-Griffin says:

    I like the idea of gusseted sleeves on jackets, although I prefer a sewn-in gusset for my aesthetic. Looking at the illustrations, it appears that I have been making my gussets too small for good ROM; usually about 6″ long o/a, and around 3″ wide. If I can ever force myself to get around to patterning a jacket idea I’ve had kicking around in my head for a while I’ll probably add a pivot sleeve into it.

    For something that may or may not be related: I’ve noticed that pants have a similar ROM issue. Jeans are typically too tight for, say, doing the splits sideways (think Jean-Claude Van Damme in ‘Bloodsport’), and the loose trousers used for activewear are pretty shapeless (gi trousers, fatigues, etc.) I’ve seen the entry on gusseted jeans, and I’m trying to think of a way to get both good shaping/fit while standing, as well as have a much higher ROM. I’ll keep working on it…

  17. Threads now has their archives available electronically. The article that is the subject of the blog post is available to insiders ($4/month) and Rebecca Nebesar’s article is available to archive subscribers ($60/year).

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