July 2, 2012

2-in-1 Sewalong: Attaching Sleeves

So, how are you guys coming along on your dresses? Where's everyone at? So that you are aware, I don't expect everyone to be all at the same place and that's totally fine. I'm running a little behind here and I've noticed a few hiccups in my scheduled plan. This week, before I talk about inserting zippers, we'll be going over the entire bodice construction first. I hope you guys are benefiting from my construction techniques. Everyone has a different way of doing things and that's the best way we all learn and try out new things. Please feel free to leave your differing construction techniques in the comments - I always learn something from what you guys have to say.

OK, let's have a go at attaching sleeves shall we? Who here loves to attach sleeves? I'll admit that I really dread attaching sleeves, mostly in part because they take a very long time in my opinion. There's a lot of prep work and then in the end, for me, this is the hardest point of fit for my body. Grrrhhh!! Anyway, I can't take credit for this upcoming construction technique I'm about to show you. Earlier this year, I posted about inserting sleeves here. Awesome commenter LinB gave this fabulous tip to that short tutorial I posted:

"You can also sew in the sleeve about 3/4 of the way in the flat — leave a couple of inches unsewn at each end of the armscye. Then complete your bodice and sleeve seams as usual, and you’ll only have to set in the bit of the sleeve that is right at the underarm. I rarely use this technique, as the one you suggest is marvelous; but sometimes the fit at the underarm is better when the sleeve is set in."

I've been using this technique for awhile, just to give it the good old college try and I really quite like it. Oh alright, I love it! So that no one gets confused, here's my tutorial for inserting the sleeve this way. Just so you are aware, this does take some forethought because it doesn't work with everything, but in the case of our dresses here, it will!

Updated Disclaimer 7/3/2012 ~ Hey everyone, this tutorial is only for how to insert the sleeves into the garment. Please consult the pattern directions for each of the different sleeve views and how to go about hemming and finishing them. Also, in the below example, I actually had to unpick my sleeve because the cap sleeve option for this particular pattern is supposed to be finished before you insert it into the garment. Silly me....Just consult the pattern directions for the sleeve finish before you insert.

Step 1 ~ Prep the sleeve by stitching two sets of ease stitches around the sleeve cap area, from the double notch in the back to the single notch in the front.

Step 2 ~ Pin the sleeve to the bodice with right sides together, matching notches and circles (I only match the circle at the top of the sleeve to the shoulder seamline - I never bother with the other circles) and easing in the excess fabric in between the notches.

Step 3 ~ Stitch the sleeve to the bodice around the sleeve cap, from the double notches in the back to the single notch in the front. Leave the section at the underarm unstitched for now.

Here's a tip for future use too: When stitching a seam that has a fair amount of easing, like a sleeve to a bodice, start by stitching with the un-eased portion facing up in the machine. In this case, that would be the bodice because the sleeve is the part that is being eased into the bodice, so the sleeve seamline is longer than the bodice seamline - does that make sense? Again, have the bodice facing upward as you put this into the machine to be stitched. Now here's the part that is rather difficult to explain, but I'll give it a go. As you stitch along, slowly and carefully, you're going to keep your finger on the sleeve part (the section facing downward) trying to feed it through a little bit more than your feeding through the bodice section, the section that should be facing you. Does that make sense? I do this by keeping my finger on the sleeve section of the seam (the section facing downward) and sort of pulling up a little. It takes a bit of practice, but really it is much easier to do than I'm making it sound. Let's keep going.

Step 4 ~ Stitch the side seam of the bodice and the underarm seam of the sleeve together and finish the seams. I used a french seam here for my silk crepe dress.

Step 5 ~ Stitch the sleeve to the bodice at the underarm - the section you didn't stitch in Step 3. Then to secure this section with a little more, security, I add a second row of stitches around that underarm area. From here, finish the sleeve seam - I used my serger, but I think that zig-zagging the seam or even binding it with bias tape works equally as well. Press.

Alright, there you go. This way may seem like a lot of work, but I'm telling you, setting in a sleeve in the flat is, in my opinion, so much easier to do than setting in a sleeve in the round. Give it a try! If you don't like it, at least you tried it, right? Hopefully you'll find it to be a bit of a revelation like I did. Enjoy!



  1. I finished my dress this weekend and posted in the flickr group, but I might make a second, I like the first so much. I know you are doing french seams on the garment you are showing here. Is it possible to do a french seem on the set in sleeve as well or will you just finish those seams normally?

  2. Oh yes, I have done french seams on a set-in sleeve before and they worked out quite well. Granted it's not really something that you can do with this tutorial, but with the traditional way of setting in a sleeve via the sewing pattern instructions or even the way I refer to in the post above:
    you can most definitely do it. I definitely think its easier to do french seams for the sleeve in the flat, but its do-able in the round too.

  3. I finished my dress last night. First thank you for recommending this pattern. To be completely honest I would never have chosen this one, but I'm happy I made it. And I really enjoyed the links (fusible interfacing) and reading your techniques (pleats), it is fun to see how others piece things together. I didn't have any issues with inserting my sleeve but I will have to bookmark this post and give this method a try. Oh, and I used a different skirt pattern, McCall's 6554 because I love the fit of it and would you believe that the skirt portion of dresses is my fitting challenge. Thanks for the sew-along! Can't wait to read the slip vs. lining post.

  4. I am just about ready to do my sleeves, these tips will be helpful. I'm making my shirt dress out of a white fabric with a black sorta polka dot in my stash that I purchased from fabric.com some time ago, not sure what kind of fabric, but its like a poly taffeta. I lined the skirt with black lining and found some beautiful black buttons in my stash! I'll be posting pics in flickr before the day is over!

  5. Thank you for this post, this looks a much easier way of attaching sleeves than sewing the bodice side seams and sleeve seams before inserting the sleeve. I must remember to try it next time I insert sleeves in something.

    Also, I can't wait to see your completed dress, this grey fabric is so gorgeous!

  6. I only learned how to properly set-in sleeves during the latest project I worked on. I don't know how many frustrated nights I had trying to set a sleeve in before I learned about ease stitching (duh!). Now I'll have to try setting a sleeve in the flat.

  7. I'm really just a beginner. But I am confused about the sleeve. I get the part of how to set it in while the bodice is open. My last dress (and my first) did it that way. But how do you hem the sleeve. It says to cut 4 pieces. When do you put the second part on the sleeve to finish it. I would have thought you put the two pieces together then put into the bodice. So my big question is how do you finish off the sleeve?
    I am having fun. And I really like your tips. I have made a few mistakes though. I'm gonna make this dress again right away to get better at this sewing thing!

  8. OK, well actually I ended up reading the instructions for that after I had done this tutorial! Ha! So I took out the sleeve, made the modifications according to the pattern directions for the cap sleeve and then put the sleeve back in. However, if you're in a pinch you can always finish off the sleeve hem with some bias tape too. No biggie.

  9. I set sleeves with French seams all the time, especially for kids cloths that see a lot of washing and wear. I do the, in the round, but flat works too. It depends on the pattern and the construction. Sleeves that are very poofy, I prefer to bind, but smaller sleeves that won't be full lined get French seams. Thecap sleeves on this pattern call for a facing, which worked very well with a full lining. Details on how I did it here: http://queenoftheflies.blogspot.com/2012/07/simplicity-1880-sew-along-how-to-line.html. I treated them as I would a sleeveless dress and got a very neat clean finish on the inside. I've completed the bodice and lining construction and attached the main skirt. I hope to set the zipper tomorrow a d the skirt lining. Then there's just the rest of the left seam and the hem to go. I'm leaving for a long trip on Friday, so I need to finish before then. But there's a lot of packing to do for all five of us and the house to get ready. Fingers crossed!

  10. [...] results have been great, I’ve learnt some new tricks and my sewing is improving. I inserted the sleeve as per Sunni’s instructions – rather than sewing the sleeve seam and the bodice seam and then setting in the [...]

  11. Well, I'm very behind, but I'm learning and enjoying following along. I've got the bodice of the muslin done but am sort of stuck in adjustments. I think I need to add length to the bodice, although not 100% sure where to do that and I'm having trouble assessing if the back fits or not. Also, I can tell the armholes (there's a sewing term for that, but I forget!) aren't quite right, but didn't see any posts for how to adjust them. Do you have any tutorials or sites you can point to for how to get a better fit on the arms? I need a good few hours to dedicate to making sure I press and pin properly in my fitting, then will see if I can move forward. Also just ordered The Perfect Fit and am hoping that will be another resource. Thanks - despite, being behind, this is fun.

  12. Oh not to worry, its definitely not a race and these tutorials will be here when you get to the construction part. As far as the adjustments go, I posted about some that you can look at here:
    There's also a few left by commenters in that same post. As far as lengthening the bodice, just slash horizontally through the middle of the bodice, below the armhole but above the pleat marks, perpendicular to the grainline and add some length. That definitely won't hurt anything. If you look at this post, I had to add a bit of length to my bodice too. It's a little hard to see, but its in the second photo down and you can see where the grainline has been slashed. The armscye is a very touchy thing to get into though. Whatever you do to the armscye, you'll have to also adjust the sleeve cap too. The armscye seamline should be about 1/2" down from the armpit for maximum mobility. Here's a great post on adjusting the sleeve cap to fit the armscye after you've altered the armscye area. Hopefully that helps you a bit! I'm quite sure that The Perfect Fit will be helpful - its a fitting book I have and actually really like!

  13. I've just come off the sewing machine and completed the best looking sleeve I've ever sewn. And all this is thanks to your wonderful tutorial. Admittedly the sleeve did not have too much ease (SIM3852 - men's shirt) to begin with but I followed your steps and it's perfect!

    Thanks so much Sunni!

  14. [...] lots of jiggling and wiggling and twisting to get it through the machine. Instead Sunni provided a great set of sleeve instructions and links to insert most of the sleeve flat and then sew up the bodice side seam and the sleeve [...]


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