My grandma used to be a professional seamstress. She’s always very enthusiastic when I show my own creations. And when we talk she often tells sewing tales of her own. Nowadays she unfortunately can’t see well enough anymore to thread a needle, but she still has the knowledge!
So one day she was helping me with the fit of a garment and figured the sleeve was the problem. That day my grandma taught me some basic rules for setting in sleeves. I soaked these up, wrote them down and carved these into my brain. From that day on when I’m setting in sleeves, I use my grandma’s tips.
Because they’re so valuable to me, today I want to share the tips I got! So here they are, granny’s steps to success:
- Sew the bodice of your garment. The side seams and shoulder seams should already be stitched together. (With some other methods for knits you sometimes leave the side seam open, but that won’t work well with wovens)
- Sew the seam(s) on the sleeves
- If there are notches on your pattern pieces, match those. If not, the following rules apply:
- Fold the sleeve lengthwise
- See the different roundings on the front and back of the sleeve now? The higher side is always the back of the sleeve. This is logical because we mostly extend our arms to the front, so we need more wearing ease at the back.
- Mark the highest point where the sleeve folds. This point should match the shoulder seam of the bodice.
- Now first pin the under arm seam of the sleeve to the side seam of the bodice, as well as the highest point of the folded sleeve to the shoulder seam of the bodice. Right (correct) sides together of course.
- Double check if you placed the right sleeve on the right side and the left sleeve on the left side of the bodice. Everything to prevent us from seam ripping, hihi.
- Turn the garment so, that the sleeve is right side out, and the bodice is inside out. It is important to have the sleeve on top of the bodice while pinning and stitching. The circumference of the sleeve is a little longer than the hole it fits in. With the sleeve part on top you can better prevent bulging.
- Now it’s time to pin. Use as many pins as you need. Place the pins right-angled to your stitchline, so you can leave them in while stitching. I always start at the under arm seam. On the front, top and back quarters of the shoulder you’ll need to stretch the bodice seam to let it match the length of sleeve seam.
- My grandma would now first hand baste the sleeve into place, so she could check the fit and easily adjust. But I personally always skip this step and take the risk of possible seam ripping, because to me it’s hardly ever necessary.
- If you’re sure everything is pinned in the right place you can start stitching! Start at the under arm seam and sew all the way around.
- Try it on! Check if the sleeve is not twisted, if you have enough moving space, and if there’s no puckering going on. Make adjustments if necessary.
- Now finish the seam allowance to prevent it from fraying and falling apart.
- Finally, press the seam. This is really important! Although this can be a little tricky in such weird angles (there’s special pillows available that can be helpful) it will really give your garment a professional look.
No shame if the first attempt isn’t perfect yet. Sometimes I take a good look at clothes and realize they all started as a flat piece of fabric. Seeing them that way, especially the shoulders always keep amazing me. So it’s no wonder if you think it’s hard to set in sleeves. Sleeves are weird things. But if you’re willing to try and improve step by step, you will one day master this technique and sewing sleeves will be a breeze!
Good luck trying! And remember, sometimes grandma does know best!