Sleeve Construction and Detailing of 121 Guatemalan Gabacha

by Molly Hamilton

We recently resized and re-released the 121 Guatemalan Gabacha.  This cute dress (or apron) pattern was first published by Folkwear in 1978, and was based on dresses and aprons that were commonly found in markets near the town of Chantal where a large textile mill in the 1960s and 70s produced gingham, and Western influences met with Guatemalan textile brilliancy to come up with this apron (and dress).

The Gabacha is fairly simple to sew, but there are a few details that can make creating the sleeves a little easier, especially if you are making the shaped cuff.  The shaped cuff really quite simple and fun and adds a great detail to the dress, so don't be intimidated by it.  For a tip on making the bias ruffle, go here.


I made my dress from a cotton lawn and I wanted to use French seams to finish all my seams because I like the look and feel of French seams in a garment with lightweight cotton. This works fine for this dress, except for where the dress attaches to the yoke and the ruffle to the dress; there you will either need to finish the raw edge that is folded under, or just leave it (it is basically covered by the gathered edge anyway).  The French seams work fine for the underarm gusset and for the set-in sleeve.

Sleeve Pleats

The easiest way to create the sleeve pleats on the sleeve cap is to clip into the seam allowance by 1/4" or less at the pleat marks.  This allows the pleat to be easily and accurately folded toward the dot (pleats fold toward the front of the sleeve - make sure you are making a left and right sleeve correctly, especially if your fabric looks the same on the right and wrong sides).  Machine baste the pleats in place.

Sleeve Gusset

This dress has a underarm gusset that helps the sleeve attach to the dress body.  This is an old-fashioned (or traditional) technique used to provide room in the arm for garments that are made with straight edges (i.e. no curved armsyce).  Gussets are not hard to sew, but you do need to be precise.  This particular gusset is one of the easiest I've ever sewn because you don't need quite so much precision because you are only attaching it on three sides and therefore there are less seams to match.

To attach the gusset, place it on the sleeve (I did French seams, so wrong sides together first) matching the dots.  Be sure the wide edge of the gusset is on the pleated side of the sleeve (this wide edge will attach to the dress).  Sew one side of the gusset to the sleeve and then sew the other side of the gusset to the sleeve, again matching dots.  If you are doing French seams like I did, you will do wrong sides together, then right sides together enclosing the raw edge.  Your seam line will go through the dots.  Often for gussets, you only stitch between the dots, but it is fine to stitch through the dots on this gusset. 

Be sure to match dots when sewing gussets.

First side of gusset is sewn.  Second side will also be a French seam; wrong sides pinned together, I sewed a slight 1/4 (6mm) seam.

Gusset with one side finished and the second side being sewn on - wrong sides together and sewn before turning the right sides together to finish the French seam.

Second side of sleeve gusset, folded right sides together.  First seam of gusset is sewn, second seam will be through the dots on the left.

Be sure to attach gusset so that the wider edge of the gusset goes to the side of the sleeve with the pleats (this will get sewn to the dress).  The V end of the gusset goes toward the cuff of the sleeve.


Shaped Cuff

I love the shaped cuff on this dress.  It is subtle but a tailored design that makes the dress special.  The straight cuff is very simple and you will follow the same instructions as I did here without turning under the shaped edge.  

First, you need to turn under 1/2" (13mm) on the shaped edge (or if using the straight cuff, turn under 1/2" on one edge).  It helps a lot to mark the 1/2" seam line.  I measured down 1/2"  from each valley and peak of the cuff and then connected the dots.  I then clipped to the dot at each valley so that I could turn down the seam allowance.  At the peaks, I folded the fabric edges over each other to make the corner. The draw-in seam line helps make this precise and give a nice, even shape to the cuff.  Note: I often use Crayola ultra washable thin markers to mark fabric when I sew.  They come in a range of colors that work on just about everything (but black), and they wash away easily.  

Measuring and marking the seam allowance on the shaped cuff.

Seam line drawn in place, valleys of shaped cuff are clipped.

The drawn-in seamline helps with folding the edge over precisely to get a nice shape on the cuff.


Once the cuff is "shaped", sew the seams together at short ends and press open.  

The shaped cuff with edges turned under, ready to be sewn to the sleeve.

Attaching Cuff to Sleeve

Sewn two lines of gathering stitches to the cuff edge of the sleeve and pull up stitches to gather evenly. 

Gathering lines pulled up on sleeve edge, ready for cuff to be attached.

To attach the cuff to the sleeve, you will need to place the right side of the cuff to the wrong side of the sleeve, matching raw edges, and matching the cuff seam line with the gusset point. 

Right side of cuff facing wrong side of sleeve; raw edges together (the shaped edge is away from the gathered edge of sleeve).


Adjust the sleeve gathers to fit the cuff and pin in place.  Sew the cuff to the sleeve at the 1/2" (13mm) seam line. You can trim the seam to about 1/4" (6mm) if desired to reduce bulk.  Then turn the cuff out and press the seam allowance toward the cuff.

Now, turn the cuff back toward the sleeve at the fold line.  The shaped cuff edge will cover the seam line of the cuff/sleeve.  Adjust and pin cuff in place.  I placed pins at each valley and peak of the cuff.  You should topstitch the shaped cuff to the sleeve being careful to stitch close to the edge of the folds of the shaped cuff.  This is also where having the marks on the shaped part of the cuff can be helpful for stitching.  Pivot at each corner of the shaped cuff leaving the needle down in the fabric.  If you are getting near a corner but feel your stitch might go over or be too short, you can adjust the stitch length for one or two stitches to get it to the peak (or valley) of the corner to be more precise with your topstitching. 

Once the cuff is stitched down, you can remove the gathering stitches at the cuff and sew your sleeve onto the dress.  Again, match dots and notches, and you should have no problems.  I used a French seam here and so sewed the first seam with the wrong sides together and a slight 1/4" (6mm) seam allowance, I trimmed the seam allowance slightly to be even and sewed the seam again at the seam line with right side of sleeve facing right side of dress.  

This sleeve is fun and a great detail of this dress.  I hope this tutorial helps you get a clear understanding of putting the sleeve and shaped cuff together for our 121 Guatemalan Gabacha.  For a video to see how to do these steps, check out the link below!  

Happy sewing!