Saturday, May 16, 2009

Set in sleeve tutorial

How do you set in a sleeve?

This is the way I attach sleeves for a set-in sleeve style. Now I am not a tutorial kind of gal, but this is one case where the pattern instructions are not the best way of doing it.

So, for the benefit of my fellow domestic seamstresses who have ever sworn and cursed over a puckered sleeve head, here it is:

Mark all notches on sleeve and shoulder as per pattern pieces. I nick in with the scissors just a few millimetres deep. The most important notch is the top of the sleeve head, shown below. That must match the shoulder seam otherwise you run the risk of puckers gallore.

Now match all other notches, the 'waves' inbetween is the fullness to be eased in. You are going to be sewing on the inside of the sleeve. Put the pins in the direction of sewing with the heads facing as you sew so that you can easily pull them out.

Pin the whole sleeve head, pins cheek to jowl, as it were. The pins are helping you manage the ease. If you can't make the seam sit flat with the pins, you're going to have a hard time sewing it later. Notice that we are matching seam allowances, not edges. The edges will, in fact, should, be wavy.

The whole thing is now pinned ready to go. We are going to slide this into the machine with the inside up, and the outside next to the feeddog. That is because we need to use our fingers to manage the ease of the sleeve cap.

Now start sewing, starting at the bottom of the sleeve. If you machine has needle down position, switch it on. Placing your hands either side of the fabric, start feeding it though, using your fingers to guide and smooth where necessary. As we sew, we are looking for that "straight line" we created with the pins, where the seam allowances of the sleeve and shoulder meet.

We are looking to "follow that straight ol' line." See how the edges wave, but there is a patch of clear waters to sew along?

As you head towards the back of the shoulder, the amount to ease in will increase. It may be necessary sometimes to stop, lift the presser foot with the needle in the down position and push some of the ease back past the needle with your fingers.

Eh voila! We have it. Our sleeve is now set in. Trim threads and ease out any wrinkles with a steam iron. Push seam allowances towards the sleeve to help support the sleeve head.

It's not hard. A little fiddly, but not hard. It produces far superior results than using the more traditional gathering threads, so it's worth mastering!


Carol Mill, Palmer/Pletsch instructor, told me not to use gathering threads but to pinch and squeeze the fabric through using my fingers.

The instruction to sew on the inside of the sleeve from the bottom up and to push the seam allowance into the sleeve head comes from "Palmer/Pletsch Jackets for Real People."


  1. hey!I think you should write the instructions for the pattern company.Yours were easier to understand and a whole lot funner! Thanks

  2. Hi, this is the 'best' way to do a set in sleeve. Great tute!

  3. Looks good! I'm so pleased you showed me how to do this...many years of swearing at botched sleeves have been averted ;-)

    Well done for doing the tutorial!


  4. You know, sleeves are the main reason I gave up sewing clothes If I ever go back to it, I'll try it this way!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Funny, that's exactly how I do mine, except that I place my pins perpendicular to the seam insead of parallel. (That way I can VERY VERY CAREFULLY sew over them if I want to be really sure the layers won't shift). I could never be bothered with gathering threads, but I was a bit worried that the sewing police would come and get me if I confessed!
    BTW, re your comment on my blog re sewing for my kids - they get stuff because it doesn't require me to think, and it's very quick! Baby clothes are fun :-)

  6. I never thought about pin-basting set-in sleeves, but it makes a lot of sense if there isn't much ease. I guess for super-poofy sleeves you'd still need to do the thread gathering though, right?

    I will try this method next time there isn't much easing! Kind of exciting. It is much less fussy than the double line of gathering threads.

  7. Glad you liked our instructions. I also used to pin perpendicular to the edge, buy my co-author Marta Alto pins in the stitching line. Her original reason was to be able to try on the jacket as if the sleeves were sewn in in order to double-check the fit. If you sew the sleeve head to the cap first and pull on that bias strip (which can be self fabric) the sleeve is really easy to sew in. Pati Palmer, Palmer/Pletsch and co-author of Jackets For Real People.

  8. Thanks for these sleevilicious instructions- they will also be useful for that pesky ease on my curved-yoke skirt I'm making...
    BTW. Extremely impressed that sewing royalty are commenting on your blog.

  9. That makes SO much sense! I've had a few sleeve-fights over the summer and I'll bookmark you so I'm all ready for next time.

  10. I have heard about this method. I tried it once, but didn't really know what I was doing. I'll have to give it another go, especially if it means no more easing threads. And look who left you a comment...PP herself!

  11. I (almost?!) always, always, sew my sleeves in flat. What is the difference? My unprofessional eye can't tell.

  12. Thanks so much for posting this tutorial--it was fantastic!! Made my shirt sewing much easier. I have bookmarked it and will refer to it each time I have a sleeve to set in!!!

  13. Thanks so much for this tutorial. I've struggled for years with puffy, puckery sleeves. This tutorial was clear and most of all I think just made me feel like the technique you described can be done to great effect. Thanks soooo much. Just put in one sleeve successfully following this tutorial. Am off to put in the second sleeve.

  14. I just want to thank you for making my first-ever set in sleeve experience a good one. My first sleeve had 2 or 3 tiny puckers, but the second one was pucker-free. I'm fairly new to sewing and was terrified of doing the sleeves, but your tutorial really helped me do them the right way!

  15. Thank you! I tried this last night and my sleeves look pretty good! I don't fear sleeves anymore! (They still make me swear, but I'm not afraid!)

    Thank you!!!!!!

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