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setting in a sleeve

You are shaped funny.  I'm sorry to be the one to tell you, but that place where one cylinder becomes another cylinder, which you call your shoulder and upper arm?  It's a weird shape.  And clothes have to follow our shapes, so the armhole and sleeve are, if you think about it, shaped weird too.  

All existential wondering aside, though, putting a sleeve into an armhole presents a unique kind of puzzle.  There are only really a couple of variables:  Is the sleeve gathered or not? Will the bodice side seam and sleeve underarm seam be sewn first or not?  After we know these things we can see our marching orders pretty clearly.

Adding gathering threads.

If the sleeve cap is larger than the armhole, we'll need to add gathering threads in order to take out that fullness.  

Here's a puffed sleeve with gathering threads along the cap edge (and the lower edge, because a puffed sleeve is gathered top and bottom.  We're not talking about those rows right now, though, so ignore them if you would, please):

You could also pleat the fullness out, in which case you'd baste the pleat in place and thenceforth treat the sleeve as though it had no fullness to worry about.  

Once we've got the fullness sorted out, we can insert the sleeve in one of two ways:

Setting in a sleeve "flat".

In this instance, "flat" means that we haven't sewn the underarm or side seam.  It's often easier to sew the sleeve in this way, because the seam is flat, instead of already sewn up into a circle.  Some of those circles (think a tiny sleeve for a preemie dress) can get very very small.   

Here is a lined cap sleeve.  (Its particular tutorial is here.) It's pinned into the armhole of the dress it belongs to to show you how to put the sleeve in flat.  

Here's what's important in setting in a sleeve flat:

1)  Right side of sleeve goes to right side of bodice. 

2)  Match the center of the sleeve cap to the shoulder seam. 

3)  Match the sleeve underarm seams to the bodice side seams as you see in the picture.

4)  Pull up gathering threads, if you've got 'em, to make the sleeve cap fit the armhole.  

Pin it all in place and sew along your seam, making sure that you don't catch a fold of the bodice fabric in the stitching.  It can be helpful, if this tends to be a problem for you (as it is for me, something about coming around the lower part of the armhole curve makes the fabric want to bunch up) to baste this seam first, so that you can go back and pick out just the stitches around the offending wrinkle, smooth it out, and sew it again.  

Setting in a sleeve "in the round".

This method is very similar, except that the bodice side seam and the sleeve underarm seam are sewn before the sleeve is set in.  There are times when each of these methods is appropriate.  Some folks say that sewing the sleeve in the round makes it prettier in the end, but I haven't done a side-by-side comparison and therefore wouldn't know. 

Here's what it looks like pinned into the armhole:


1)  Right side of sleeve goes to right side of bodice.  Turn the bodice wrong side out, and shove the right-side-out sleeve into the hole to accomplish this. 

2)  Match the center of the sleeve cap to the shoulder seam. 

3)  Match the sleeve underarm seam to the bodice side seam.

4)  Pull up gathering threads, if you've got 'em, to make the sleeve cap fit the armhole.  

Sew the seam, finish it, and enjoy your sleeve!  Don't forget to do it again for the other side or your garment might look a bit strange, though.  Hold off on your enjoying for just that long. 


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