Learning how to sew a sleeve can seem like one of the most challenging processes to the novice sewer. Just thinking of setting something into a small space is thought-provoking! But don't worry, this tutorial will show you several easy methods of how to sew a sleeve that will open up your pattern choices immensely.
How to Sew a Sleeve Tutorial
These are some of the questions that may be going through your mind...
- How do you ease all that fullness of the sleeve cap into an armhole?
- How do you avoid nasty puckers and tucks?
- Which part of the sleeve fits into the armhole to make a comfortable sleeve?
- Is there a simple step-by-step procedure for a successful set-in sleeve?
- How can I prepare the sleeve before I start to make sure the rest of the setting in the process is an easy peasy process.
This article, on how to sew a sleeve, will set your mind at rest and give you the steps to follow to set in a sleeve correctly step by step. There are some helpful tips along the way and an alternative suggestion for easing in a sleeve.
How to Sew a Sleeve - Set In Method
The set in sleeve method is best for woven fabrics. Knits can easily be sewn using the flat method so skip further down this article if you are sewing knits.
Step One - Cutting a Sleeve
Cut out your sleeve following the pattern carefully and making sure you cut out all the notches. The notches are a very important part of a successful sleeve setting.
Look for the two different sleeve notches:
One is a single notch that indicates the front of the sleeve. It will match with the single notch on the armhole indicating the front of the garment’s armhole.
The double notch connects with the double notch on the back of the garment’s armhole.
The two sleeves will be mirror images of each other. The reason this is important is that the shape and the fullness of the sleeve are different for comfort and stretch on the front and on the back.
Step Two - Marking Sleeves
Find and mark the center point of the sleeve at the top of the cap. A dot on the pattern usually marks the spot. This is the part of the sleeve that matches the shoulder seam.
Step Three - Gathering a Sleeve
Separate the sleeves from the pattern and each other. Set your sewing machine on a long or gathering stitch setting. You will sew two rows of gathering stitches between the two notches.
Leave a long thread on either side of the stitching and do not backstitch because you will be pulling these two rows of gathering to fit the sleeve into the armhole.
Stitch the gathers on either side of the seam line because they will be removed once the sleeve is set in. Gently rotate the sleeve as you gather so there is some elasticity in the stitching too.
Pull the threads at the same time to get an even row of gathers. All this is stitched before sewing the armhole seam.
Step Four - Sew the Sleeve Seam
Stitch the sleeve seam with the fabric right sides together. This is the underarm seam of the sleeve. Neaten the raw edges of the seam in the way that suits the garment. This may be using a serger or zig-zag stitch.
Press and pull the double threads of the gathers together. The gathering should be very subtle. You can adjust later but don't pull too hard. The armhole of the garment with the shoulder seam and the underarm seam should be stitched ready to receive the sleeve.
Neaten all the seams in the way you would like for the garment. Now you have the sleeve stitched and gathered.
Step Five - Match to Armhole
Put the sleeve into the armhole right sides together.
Match the center dot on the sleeve to the shoulder seam and the armhole seam with the sleeve underarm seam. Match the notches.
Check that the single front notch matches the single notch on both the sleeve and the garment. Do the same for the double notches.
Now ease the gathers on the sleeve between the notches by pulling and releasing the gathers as necessary. Pin the sleeve into place with vertical pinning as this allows the gathers to sit neatly between the pins.
Step Six - Stitch to Armhole
When you are satisfied that your gathers are even and there are no tucks or puckers in the gathering you are ready to sew.
Sew the sleeve on the armhole side of the garment stitching carefully on the correct seam allowance.
Stitch slowly and carefully because you want the machine needle to penetrate the fabric between the pins and not to connect with a pin. The gathering thread will be removed after the sleeve has been stitched and you are happy with the fullness of the gathers.
Step Seven - Remove Gathers
Check the sleeve for unwanted tucks or puckers in the sewing of the gathered area.
Remove the gathers on either side of the sleeve with a seam ripper. Add an extra row of stitching around the underarm of the sleeve as reinforcement.
Step Eight - Press
Press the seam and admire your handy work. Neaten the sleeve edges according to the fabric you are using. Finish off the cuff of the sleeve with a cuff or a hem depending on the pattern.
Then voilà! You have set in a sleeve. Practice does make perfect with this aspect of dressmaking. Below are some tips to make it easier.
Top 5 Sewing Sleeves and Sleeve Setting-In Tips
1. Slow Speed
Take it easy. It is a slow step-by-step process.
2. Sew a Test
You can unpick at any time, but practice on an easy fabric first.
3. Pressing Tips
Press on a sleeve board if you have one to help with the fullness of the sleeve.
4. Gathering Tips
- Sew the gathers in a different color thread for easy unpicking of the gather stitch.
- Pull the gathers gently from each side to get an even row of little tucks.
- Don't remove the gathers until you are happy there are no tucks. It is not necessary to remove the whole sleeve if you happen to get a tuck in the wrong place. Simply unpick the area that you are not happy with and ease the gathers again and resew.
- It is possible to gather with one row of basting stitches, but the double row is far safer.
5. Easing Sleeve Tips
An experienced sewer can ease the fullness of the sleeve into the armhole without gathering and by using careful pinning to achieve the same effect. This also depends on the amount of fullness to be set into the armhole area.
Some sewers prefer to stitch on the armhole side and ease the gathers as they go or ease the fullness which is created with pinning only and no gathering. This requires experience and practice as well as a sleeve that is not too full.
Flat Sleeve Method
Is there another method of how to sew a sleeve? Yes. It is called the flat sleeve method. This is an extremely easy
The difference is the side seam is left open and the sleeve seam is not stitched til the end. The gathers and the rest of the preparation are the same as the initial steps of the set-in sleeve.
Once the sleeve has been set in place, the side seam and the underarm sleeve seam are sewn up together in one long seam.
Try both methods and decide on the one that suits you. However, the preparation and the gathering and the careful matching of the notches remain the same for either sleeve setting in exercise.
How to Sew a Sleeve Using the Flat Method:
- Stitch the shoulders of the bodice. (But not the underarms)
- Gather the sleeve between the notches if indicated in the pattern.
- Mark the center of the sleeve cap and match it to the shoulder seam.
- Match the notches and end of the sleeve to the armhole.
- Adjust the gathers if necessary
- Stitch the armhole and finish the seam
- Stitch the underarms and down the side of the bodice.
How to Sew a Sleeve in Knit Fabric
Sewing a set-in sleeve in knit fabric is considerably easier than doing the same in a woven fabric.
The edges of knit fabric will stretch together eliminating the need for any gathering or easing the edges together. Most knit sleeves are normally sewn using the flat method.
The constructions of a knit sleeve is usually perfectly symmetrical meaning that there is no difference between the front and back of the sleeve.
How to sew a sleeve in knit fabric:
- Fold the sleeve in half to find the center of the cape and mark. In comparison, to a woven sleeve, the knit sleeve cap is usually much flatter and less curved.
- The shoulder seam of the bodice should already be sewn.
- With right sides together, match the center of the sleeve cap with the shoulder seam.
- Start pinning and working the edges together. It is easiest to first match the center and edges and then stretch the in-between sections together.
- Stitch the sleeve to the armhole with a stretch stitch.
- Now fold the bodice so that all right sides are together and match the underarm seam.
- Stitch the under sleeve continuing down the side.
How to Sew a Raglan Sleeve
Raglan sleeves have a diagonal seam that ends at the neck. They are one of the easiest sleeves to sew.
How to sew a sleeve that is raglan:
- Identify the left and right sleeves.
- Match the sleeve to the armhole edge and stitch. It will just have a very slight curve and you will not need to ease or gather.
Open up the sleeve and sew the other side.
- Stitch the back to the back side of the sleeves.
How to Sew a Sleeve FAQS
How to Hand Sew a Sleeve
You can hand sew a sleeve using any of the flat, set-in or raglan methods. Instead of your sewing machine, using a small backstitch. Backstitch is the strongest hand stitch and is great for sewing sleeves. For the basting on the sleeve cap, use a simple up and down (running stitch) hand gathering stitch in 2 rows.
How to Finish Sleeve Seams
A serger is the best method of finishing sleeve seams. If you don't have one, try a zig-zag stitch or using pinking shears.
How to Sew a Sleeve - In Conclusion
The best advice is ‘take it easy, take it slow.’ Follow the steps and before you know it the process of how to sew a sleeve will be just another trick up your sleeve, achievable in just a few simple steps.