While we tend to pay most attention to the open end of a sleeve, in sewing the real action lies at the shoulder end. We will tackle three main types of sleeve. Each of these has a different look and fit and each employs a very different method of construction.
Set-in sleeves are the most traditional and common type of sleeve. Most set-in sleeves are cut to sit right on the shoulder. They give a flattering and tailored, fitted look.
Raglan sleeves have the seam cut across the body. They can be fitted or very loose. They give a comfortable look and indeed are comfortable to wear, allowing good freedom of movement.
Shirt sleeves have a casual look. They are often cut to have a dropped shoulder with the sleeve seam sitting slightly onto the arm. These sleeves are loose in fit.
A set-in sleeve will have ‘ease’ at the sleeve head. It is called ‘set in’ because the shoulder and side seams of the garment are already sewn together and all seams pressed open and finished. This will give a lovely rounded line to the garment. Take care not to make any tucks in the sleeve when sewing in the sleeve. Ease is easiest to handle with loose-weave fabrics, such as woollens and linens, as it is easy to draw the fibres together; tightly woven fabrics such as denim are trickier.
1. Join the sleeve seam, and ensure that you are making a pair.
2. Using the largest stitch on the sewing machine, run a line of stitching between the front and back armhole notches, just inside the seam allowance. Secure one end with a back stitch and leave the other end with a long thread. Sewing in the other direction, sew another line of stitching parallel to the first, again securing one end with a back stitch and leaving the other end with a long thread. Turn the sleeve to the right side out. With the body of the garment inside out, drop the sleeve into the armhole.
3. Match up the back and front notches. Pin the underarm into position and then gently pull the long threads to draw up the ease.
4. Even out the ease between the notches according to your pattern instructions. Pin into place, or tack if you prefer.
5. Sew the sleeve into place starting at the underarm seam and taking the pins out as you sew. Sew all the way around, making sure that the shoulder, sleeve and side seams are open and flat.
6. With the seam towards the sleeve (away from the body), zigzag the seams together.
1. Either pin and create the dart or pin and sew the two-piece sleeve together. Make sure that you are creating a pair of sleeves, and press the seams open.
2. Sew together the underarm seam on both the sleeve and the garment body. With right sides together, pin the sleeve to the body of the garment, matching the underarm seams and matching the notches.
3. With the sleeve side up, carefully sew into place.
4. Press the seam open from both sides of the fabric. Clip seams at front and back notches to allow seams at the neck to lie open. Zigzag underarm seams together. Zigzag other seams individually.
1. With right sides together, pin the sleeve into the armholes, matching the notches as you go. Sew together with sleeve side up.
2. Press the seam open, then press the seam towards the sleeve (away from the body). Zigzag the sleeve and armhole seams together to finish the seam.
3. Matching up the underarm seams, pin and sew the side seams and the sleeve seams together. Start sewing from the side seam, then sew down the sleeve seam.