Tutorial – How to set in sleeves
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!
Want to see more of this dress? I wrote a post about it on the Minerva Crafts blog, click here to view it. By the way, I have a page with links to all my external blog posts, if you’re curious.
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10 thoughts on “Tutorial – How to set in sleeves”
I disagree that this is the easiest . . . . the open side insert is the easiest way to do a set-in sleeve.
For knits that will work indeed, but not on wovens!
It is definitely EASIER to sew in a sleeve by sewing the underarm seam after the sleeve is attached to the shoulder. But in my 40 years of sewing experience, I find the FIT (and therefore the look and comfort factor) is always better using the method shown here. Seems like a small thing, but it makes a big difference, especially when you have a closely fitted garment.
However, I would never recommend stretching the armhole to fit the sleeve, but rather clipping the curved edge. A little easing of the sleeve cap helps too.
Thank you for your addition Karen!
Just another tip: when you start sewing,begin at one of the notches. Continue all the way around and then past beginning point and finish at other notch. You will have a double seam in the underarm. Trim this area to3/8″ .
Never heard of that tip before! Thank you!
50 years of sewing and I NEVER was taught this little gem! Thanks so much for sharing!
Myself always run at stitch over the head of the sleeve to easy the excess amount of the sleeve head ,so that it fits into the armhole with having to stretch the armhole during the sleeve into the armhole and distorting the same . This method was thought to me 50 years ago by the lady tailor master and has never failed to give the desired results.
Good addition Anna! Thank you