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How to Sew Sleeves

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Do you know to sew sleeves easily? Whether you are working on set-in short, puff or any types of sleeve, there are proper steps to take. 

Sewing sleeves may look like a tough process, however, if you understand the steps using a regular sewing machine, then it’s actually quite easy. 

How to sew sleeves? There are 2 primary methods to sew sleeves: flat and set-in methods.

For sewing sleeves flat, simply sew the shoulder seam closed and open the side seam to attach the sleeve.

For sewing set-in sleeves, close the shoulder and side seam of the bodice and insert the sleeve to sew around the opening. 

Sewing sleeves onto a top, dress or jacket may look like a difficult process, but it is much easier than you might think. Whether you have Singer or Brother sewing machine, sewing sleeves require the same process. 

If the garment is in pieces, then sewing sleeves flat is your best option. However, if the body pieces and sleeves are already sewn up, then use the set-in sleeve option. 

In this article, you will learn two basic method and techniques to attach sleeves on the garment. After adding the sleeve and adjusting the length, select the correct type of hemming depending on the woven or knit fabric to finish the sleeve opening.

Set-in sleeves vs. Flat

A flat sleeve is sewn with side seams are closed and before the body piece is sewn, it is an easy and accurate method. In contrast, set-in sleeves are inserting and sewing the sleeves once the body piece is done.

A set-in sleeve is a classic sleeve where the seam is all around or in the round of the arm opening. It fits various sleeve shapes and lengths.

Set in sleeves can be flat, puffed, fabric overlaps, butterfly sleeve, and smooth. The sleeve can be short, capped, bracelet length, ¾ length, elbow length, full length, or bracelet length. 

A flat sleeve is where seams are press at the garment backside to get a C-shaped sleeve that creates a neat and flat finish.

Sewing Sleeves Flat

The sewing sleeves flat method works well and is a faster process for knits instead of woven fabric. This method is employed when the garment is still in pieces that have not been sewn, or the body piece isn’t ready yet. 

If you are working with knit fabric to sew sleeves, always use ballpoint needle to sew knits properly. With regular sewing needle you may not be able to punch through the fabric, which may create unwanted holes. 

Follow the steps to sew sleeves flat:

  • Close the shoulder seams and overlock stitch to finish. Line up the right sides of the body piece for the seams to be even. Pin the edges for securing and then sew along with a straight stitch to around 1.3 cm or ½” from the raw fabric edges.
  • Don’t go beyond the shoulder regions and don’t sew along the armhole openings or neckline for a properly functioning garment.
  • Leave the body piece sides open. Fold in half and mark the center to locate the sleeve center and shoulder center for even fit for both.
  • Match the sleeve and armhole opening edges, and open the garment with the right fabric side facing up. 
  • Take one sleeve and turn to the right side, but facing down on the garment/body piece, and line the shoulder part of the body piece and sleeve.
  • Pin the sleeve to armhole opening to secure. Pin from the shoulder center and go around with the sleeve for even distribution.
  • Sew a straight stitch along the fabric’s raw edges about 1.3cm or ½” off the edge. Remove the pins and cut the extra threads once complete.
  • Repeat the above steps for the second sleeve leaving the sleeve sides and garment sides open.
  • Turn the body piece inside out and the edges of sleeves and garment should be lined up.
  • Pin the sides and sew straight stitch along the sides and 1.3 cm or ½” off the fabric edges.
  • Cut the extra threads once the sleeves are finished.

How to sew a set-in sleeve

The set-in sleeve is generally used for any woven garment such as cotton or linen. This method of sewing sleeves is used for ready or sewn body pieces. 

Most set-in sleeves consist with sleeve cap ease where the measurement of the sleeve cap is slightly bigger than the armhole. Women’s fitted shirts have an armhole seam that sits further in from the shoulder, so the ease prevents a fit issue.

Follow the steps to sew set-in sleeves:

  • Turn the garment inside out. If the sleeves are sewn at the bottom edge then you just need to line up and sew along as mentioned above.
  • If not, after turning inside out, your sleeves should be slipped to the right side out through the armhole opening. Edges of the shoulder area and armhole opening should be aligned.
  • Locate the seam on the bottom edge and secure by pinning the seams together. Pin around the sleeve by linking the armhole opening and sleeve. Distribute fabric evenly while pinning with raw edges facing one another.

How do you put sleeves on a shirt?

Putting sleeves on a shirt fold a few simple steps for a flat sleeve. 

When you closely read the sewing pattern, every sewing pattern has notches indicating front and back of the sleeve. Match the notches of sleeve to the bodice to easily add sleeves to a shirt. 

Follow the steps to put sleeves on a shirt:

  • Match the underarm seams. 
  • Pin the armhole and sleeve right sides together.
  • Sew to join the sleeve with the armhole.
  • Press to open the seam and press in the direction of the sleeve.

Generally, any shirt sleeve is casual with a loose fit. A flat sleeve can drop off the shoulder with no ease allowance. 

Simply follow the sewing instruction and if fabric that you are working with has hard time to identify the right and wrong side, use erasable pen to indicate the right side to avoid any mistakes. 

How do you sew sleeves up without puckering?

Puckering is hard to fix and can be challenging to avoid for any level sewer. Always thread the machine correctly and adjust the tension accordingly prior to sewing. 

Also, use hand-basting to sew the sleeve into the body piece without puckering. Then, use your fingers to make adjustments to get a smooth set-in sleeve.

Tips to avoid puckering on sleeves:

  • Use finer needles and know when to replace old sewing needle.
  • Sew with low tension.
  • Use lower shrinking and controlled elongation thread.
  • For tension pucker, adjust the timing of feed with a smaller thread.

There are many reason that you may see puckering along the sleeve and bodice. It does not look clean and professional. Use these tips to avoid puckering when you sew set-in and flat sleeves. 

How to sew sleeve hem?

Finishing a hem on sleeve is quite important. It helps to stop the fraying of the fabric and gives clean finish on the opening around the wrist. 

There are three ways to sew sleeve hem: turned-up hem, single fold hem with edge finish, or lettuce hem depend on the fabric characteristic.

Turned-Up Hem

  • Mark the hem with desired hem width. 
  • Turn up the hem and pin it to the fabric. For any lightweight fabric, use sewing pins to sew over easily on the sewing machine. 
  • Press the hem with steamed iron and apply pressing cloth if needed.
  • Turn the hem up again to match the turned width and remove the pins as you sew to make a double folded hem.
  • Hand sew or use invisible hemming stitch on the sewing machine or simply use straight stitch to intact the hem in place.

Single Fold Hem With Edge Finish

  • Use zigzag stitch to finish the raw edge and fold the hem to the desired width.
  • Use a catch stitch or blind hemming stitch to reduce bulkiness.
  • Consider a Serger machine to edge finish instead of zigzag stitch.

Lettuce Edge

  • Lettuce hem is widely used in knits or lingeries.
  • Turn up a small ⅜” hem and sew a overlock stitch or zigzag stitch only along the hemline.
  • When the hem is finished with zigzag stitch, it will look wavy and look like a lettuce leaf.
  • If you have a Serger, sewing lettuce hem will be so much faster and easily create quality overlock stitches
How to sew sleeves

Sewing Sleeves: Final Thoughts

In order to sew sleeves onto any garment, you need to understand the different method to sew depending on style and fabrication. In general, there are two methods to sew sleeves: set-in sleeve and flat technique.

When sewing sleeves flat, straight stitch and zigzag finish the shoulder seam first and leave the side seam open. Open up the bodice with the wrong side facing up and match the center for the sleeve with the shoulder sleeve and pin along the seam allowance. 

Remove the pins as you sew along the edges, and do the same on the other side of the sleeve. 

Turn the garment inside out and line up the edges of under sleeve and side seam. Pin and sew along the bottom edge of the sleeve and along the sides of the body. 

To sew set-in sleeve, turn the body piece inside out and right side out for sleeves. 

Pin the sleeve to the armhole opening by starting side seam and under seam of the sleeve to match. Pin and sew along the desired seam allowance. 

Repeat the process on the other side and finish the sleeve by hemming correctly. Use turned-up, single fold with edge finish, or lettuce hem method based on style and fabric you are working on. 

Sewing sleeves flat could be your best choice when the garment is not sewn yet and is still in pieces. When the body piece is already sewn, then set-in sleeves are the best method. 

There are a variety of ways to attach sleeves to a garment. Choose what works best for you and test the stitches on a scrap before actually working on the sleeve to prevent any unnecessary problems.

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