Once you've got your sleeve pleated and flattened out nicely, it's time to finish the edge. The pattern for Sweet Arabella called for a 1/4 inch hem with twin needle top-stitching in a contrast color. I don't really like the idea of contrasting topstitching on this dress, so I decided to just do a plain narrow hem, which you can see in the photo above. At this point you could also finish the sleeve by adding lace, or rickrack, or whatever edging you like. Now is also the time, while you have the sleeve flat, to run your gathering stitches across the cap.
Now, with the sleeve edge finished and the gathering stitches in, you can pull up your pleating threads and get ready to smock.I don't bother to block sleeves. I just pull up the threads until the pleats are nice and close and I start smocking. The smocking will act sort of like elastic when it's done, and it will stretch to fit a little arm. As you can see, I've left about an inch flat on either side of the sleeve. This is because you don't want to smock all the way from seam allowance to seam allowance. You want to leave a little bit flat under the arm so that the sleeve will be comfortable and it will lay right while it's worn. I do have the center marked, and that's where I will start so that I can center the smocking on the sleeve. I'll have to see where the repeat ends once I get going- I may need to pick up an extra pleat or two at the side (or I may need to drop a pleat or two) to get the smocking to end at a good point. I don't like half finished motifs.
So that's what I will be doing this afternoon- getting these sleeves smocked and ready for construction. The biggest challenge as far as getting this dress finished is finding a suitable fabric to make the piping. I've been scouring my stash, but no luck yet. Because this dress is all one fabric (no contrast collar, sleeve bands, etc.) the piping is a crucial detail. I need just the right shade of wine or teal, either will do, and I can't seem to find either!