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Sewing Sleeves with Ease


If you’ve never sewn sleeves before (and even if you have), they can be intimidating. A poorly sewn sleeve can throw off an otherwise great garment. But sewing sleeves doesn’t have to be a headache. With a little patience and some practice, you can sew perfect sleeves.

Here’s what you need to know about sewing sleeves:
There are two methods for sewing sleeves. One method is to sew the sleeves in flat, while the other is sewing set-in sleeves. If you are sewing a garment, such as a blouse, from a pattern, the instructions will most likely direct you in sewing a set-in sleeve.

When sewing set-in sleeves, the bodice and shoulder seams will have already been sewn, creating an armhole. The seam down the length of the sleeve will already be sewn, as well. The tricky part is sewing the sleeve around the armhole to avoid any puckering or bunchiness on the shoulder when the garment is worn.

If you are sewing from a pattern, there will likely be some notches on the sleeve and bodice to match up as you pin the sleeve to the armhole. My preferred sleeve pinning method is to match these notches first (as well as the side seam of the bodice to the seam of the sleeve), and pin in place. From there, I pin around the rest of the armhole. Sometimes the requires pinning and unpinning to get the sleeve eased into the armhole just right. Persistence and patience are key; if things are lining up correctly when pinned, they won’t be any better when sewn!

Once you are ready to sew, lengthen your stitch length. This will give you a little bit more ease than if you sew with a shorter stitch length. If you are concerned about stability, you can add a second row of stitching inside your first seam.

The second option for sleeve sewing is to sew them in flat. This construction method is more likely to be used on items like robes, with a lower, flatter sleeve cap, but you can also try it on garments calling for set-in sleeves. Like the name suggests, the sleeves will be sewn in prior to sewing the bodice side seams or the sleeve seams, when both pieces can be laid flat.

Just like with the set-in method, you’ll want to make sure you are matching any notches. Pin in place and sew. If done correctly, this should result in a smooth seam with no puckering. The next step is to sew the bodice side seam and the sleeve seam. This is done at the same time, so you’ll have one smooth seam from the bottom of the bodice to the end of the sleeve.

Do you have any tips or tricks for sewing sleeves? What’s your prefered method– sewing set-in sleeves or sewing flat?

Ready to get some practice sewing sleeves? Check out Craftsy’s The Care-Free Fly Front Coat with Kenneth King.



You didn’t make any mention of ease stitches on the sleeve for set-in sleeves. This is perhaps the most important part of getting a set-in sleeve to not pucker. 3 rows of ease stitches can make all the difference.


Thank you for your tip! I agree….there was no mention of the ease and that’s the part I’m having trouble with! (With a flat-construction garment.) THANK YOU!


When sewing sleeves I find it works best on both set in sleeve or flat method to stitch a long basting stitch on the seam line where the sleeve attaches to the armhole. After stitching pull the bottom thread slightly as if you are gathering, but only slightly. This makes easing the sleeve in much easier. Then match up notches, underarm seams and dot on sleeve to the shoulder seam. Stitch close to basting stitches on the seamline.


Thank you for the great tip!!!!


I use the set in sleeve method when all seams are sewed up. I use 2-3 rows of stichingto gather up material to make your sleeve


What a brilliant explanation. Thankyou
Would you know how to make the sleeve larger to allow for a fuller bust and thicker top arms
I ALWAYS have this problem.

Sandra McKinnon

I also use 2-3 rows of long, “ease stitches” to ease the upper part of the sleeve into the arm hole. I take care when sewing those rows to line them up into even, parallel rows. I pull on the bobbin threads to ease the fabric. I tie off those threads neatly and trim and they remain in the sleeve as part of the construction.

I then carefully pin the sleeve into the armhole. I have been known to hand baste the sleeve into position on special dresses. Finally, sew the sleeve into position with an even seam allowance. Press (not iron!) carefully! You can have perfect sleeves each and every time. Nothing gives away “home sewn” construction more quickly that poorly set in sleeves, IMHO.


Outstanding! Thank you!!!!


I’ve sewn sleeves both ways, and have found that the flat construction method makes it easier to sew when you’re working with the smaller pieces of childrens’ clothes. To put in the ease stitching,it is helpful to decrease the upper thread tension on your machine so that instead of the usual balanced stitch you have the upper thread being pulled through to the underside, making it easier to pull on the bobbin thread for easing..(Remember to reset the tension after you’ve sewn your easing row[s]!) Using the same stitch length you’d use in constructing the garment, rather than changing to a longer stitch length, also helps keep the sleeve cap smooth — the shorter stitch length results in smaller “gathers”. Particularly when sewing in a ‘puffed’ sleeve, I’ve run my easing lines so that the seam line will be BETWEEN them: i.e., for a 5/8″ seam allowance, the easing rows are sewn 1/2″ and 3/4″ from the cut edge of the sleeve cap.The gathers “behaved themselves” much better, not getting crowded or pinched in the seam. Before I got a machine that does a “straight stretch”stitch, I’d start sewing a sleeve at the FRONT notch, go under the arm, over the cap and back down around under the armhole again, ending at the BACK notch: this puts 2 rows of stitching in the underarm area, reinforcing the seam.(Now I just switch to the straight stretch stitch for this area.)


Generally the single notch is in the front of the garment and the double notch is in the back of the garment. This is a tip that I found worked with teaching middle school aged students to sew because if they are using a solid color fabric or a fabric that is similar on both sides, its not always easy to tell the front from the back. I used to guide my students using this principle because I told them it’s easy to get it backwards and you might not notice it until you put it on! As usual I learned from doing it wrong, but wanted my students to have the benefit of learning from my mistakes.


I use “finger easing” to construct my sleeve cap. Here is an excellent short video for the technique that was suggested for home dec, but it is exactly the same process that I use in easing sleeve caps.

You will find that after the sleeve cap is eased with this method, when you hold the sleeve up by the cap, it will hang perfectly, and most of the time, it fits almost perfectly into the armscye.

Secondly, I almost always use a modified flat construction technique if I am sewing a garment with a side seam and a single sleeve seam. It produces the same finished product as sewing a set-in sleeve, but it is much easier to work with the pieces when they are flat. To do this:
1. Sew shoulder seams together. Press seam open.
2. Pin baste, then sew in the sleeve cap ONLY from notch to notch, matching the dots and shoulder seam, and fitting in the ease. Leave the ends near the side and sleeve seams unsewn and free. Check to make sure there are no puckers in your eased sleeve cap.
3. THEN, sew the side seam and the sleeve seam. Press seams open.
4. Pin baste the unsewn portion of the armcye, matching the sleeve seam and the side seam. Sew the remaining armscye closed.
5. If you have a serger, serge the armscye seam allowances together, leaving most of the seam allowance on the cap side of the sleeve, but serging close to the seam on the underarm portion of the armscye. If you don’t have serger, zig zag the seam allowance, then trim, if you like. Serging or sewing the seam allowances together will help them to “behave” afterwards.
6. Press seam allowances toward the sleeve. The larger seam allowance in the sleeve cap will support the sleeve cap and the smaller seam allowance in the underarm will allow for more freedom of movement.

Of course, if you are sewing a 2 piece sleeve, or if the garment has a side panel, there is no way to sew the sleeve except with the set-in sleeve method. This method, however, will give you practice to make sewing set-in sleeves easier!


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