The other day I had a lovely conversation with a customer about making a jacket. Jackets and coats are my favorite garments to make. She asked me where I had gotten the sleeve heads for my Lori Jacket, and mentioned that she wanted to balance out some hollowness in her upper chest. She said, “So I want a sleeve head to put in between my shoulder and the top of my bust.”
I replied, “Well, actually that’s what a chest shield is for.” There was silence on the other end of the line, then she asked, “What’s a chest shield?”
Well, let’s talk about the differences and uses of chest shields and sleeve heads, shall we? This is a long one, so grab a cuppa and settle in.
Q: Ann, what is a chest shield?
A: I’m so glad you asked! A chest shield is a layer (or sometimes layers) of interfacing that gives body to the upper chest area of a garment. A chest shield is generally cut in the same shape as the upper chest part of the pattern. It can be a single layer of interfacing, or, if there is a pronounced hollow above the breast area, you can pad it with batting or several layers of interfacing. Chest shields are quite common in men’s jackets, and they are de rigeur in bespoke tailoring and couture tailleur garments. You rarely see them in women’s ready to wear.
Q: What’s the difference that and a sleeve head?
A: Another excellent question! A sleeve head is a rectangular strip of batting, usually backed with a bias strip of interfacing. It gives support to the sleeve at the shoulder. You do see sleeve heads in better ready to wear.
Both sleeve heads and chest shields are useful in tailored garments. They help support the weight of the fabric and give it good fall along the body. I mocked up half of a jacket (OOP Simplicity 4698, if you were wondering). Here’s the jacket (sans sleeve) on a dress form:
Nothing supporting the fabric, so it collapses
The arrows point to hollows where the fabric collapses from its weight. If you want something that looks more structured, then adding a chest shield will give you the support you need. You can buy pre-cut (men’s) chest shields from tailoring supply companies, but they are simple to make. Just trace the upper chest part of your pattern, eliminating the seam allowances.
Traced off the pattern
In this case I used fusible hair canvas, though you can also use sew-in canvas, or layers of interfacing and/or batting if you need to build up the front.
Applied to the upper front garment piece
Adding that interfacing eliminates much of the fabric collapse in the upper chest.
Okay, so now let’s talk about sleeve heads. But first, let me go back to the conversation that started this blog post. Here’s a pair of sleeve heads in their natural state:
Batting on one side, bias cloth or interfacing on the other
One long edge of the sleeve head is finished, the other is left raw.
In the spirit of There are No Hard and Fast Rules in Sewing, sure, you can use those to fill out hollow areas in the upper chest. But… look what happens when you do:
It only covers about half the width of the chest.
And, sleeve heads are a lot more expensive than two small pieces of interfacing. So I stick with the chest shield.
Now, let’s talk about how I use sleeve heads. Sleeve heads are inserted into the sleeve at the shoulder seam to control the fall of the fabric down the arm. Here’s the jacket mock-up with sleeve attached, but no supporting understructure:
Note the deep hollow
The arrows show how the fabric collapses down the sleeve. Adding a sleeve head will eliminate that. To insert the sleeve head, sew the finished long edge just inside the seam allowance, with the raw edge facing out into the sleeve. You don’t need to worry about finishing that raw edge. It will be covered and protected by the lining of your garment. I generally attach the sleeve head starting at the front sleeve notch and ending at the back sleeve notch.
In a real garment I use shorter stitches, but I don’t use much tension.
Trim the excess length from your sleeve head (I’m not doing that here because this is just an example and I’ll use those sleeve heads in a real jacket or coat at some point). Here you can see how the chest shield and the sleeve head relate to each other.
Finally, from the outside, here’s how they work together:
Yeah, that’s the ticket!
And for a final before/during/after shot:
That was a bit of tome, but hopefully it’s helpful. Now go and make yourself a Gorgeous jacket!