How to make perfect sleeves
Over time the trends for different sleeve designs have come and gone. This month I will show you some basic types of sleeve and the best way to stitch them in.
Most sleeve designs are modelled around a basic arm opening. The opening sits at the shoulder edge and continues around the armhole. This is the shape for the set-in sleeve where designs start. If made correctly this tailored armhole gives a professional finish to any garment and looks especially good on formal wear.
Whether the sleeve is cut long, short, cap or bell they all fit into this basic style of armhole. Pic 1
Designs such as the gathered, puffed and leg of mutton sleeve are all cut wide and gathered to fit. And yes, the leg of mutton sleeve does exist. It was very popular in the 1800s but made a short comeback in the 1990s. Take a look at these jackets I made for a wedding around that time. Pic 2
The simple, cleaner cut designs are more popular these days. I can’t imagine this style coming back in a big way ... but who knows?
The drop sleeve is cut slightly wider than the regular straight sleeve and sits lower at the shoulder. This design allowed extra room at the top of the arm, making it a favourite when a loose, comfortable fit is required.
The dolman or batwing sleeve is curved low under the arm. The back or front are cut in one piece with the sleeve already attached. These pieces are stitched together along the top seam and then down the under-sleeve seam and the sides.
The raglan sleeve is cut straight across from under the arm to the neck edge. It can be made as one complete sleeve or from two pieces which are joined together down the centre.
This sleeve design is often used when making sportswear and overcoats. With no shoulder seam and extra room under the arm it makes for comfort and ease of movement.
Gather, drop, dolman and raglan sleeve. Pic 3
How to stitch a set in a sleeve:
Cut out your pattern pieces, making full use of all the markings such as notches, dots and stitch lines. They will make life much easier when joining the sleeve to the shoulder.
Before stitching up the sleeve seam and while the fabric is flat, make a row of ease stitches at the top of the sleeve curve.
Use a medium length stitch and run it just inside the 1.5cm seam line. There will be dots on your pattern showing you how far to stitch. Pic 4
Stitch up the sleeve seam:
Gently pull the back thread of the ease stitches so there is a slight tightening of the fabric but no gather. Gently ‘mould’ the sleeve into the armhole with your fingers.
Pin, tack and stitch on your sleeve ,making sure all markings and notches join correctly. Pic 5
Finish the seam edge in your usual way.
If using a checked or striped fabric make sure any notches and markings are situated so they correspond with the same part of the pattern when joined. This way the design will flow evenly along the garment and around the sleeve. Pic 6
A gathered sleeve:
This sleeve is cut wider at the top but will have similar markings to the set-in sleeve.
Before stitching up the sleeve seam and while the fabric is flat make the gathering rows.
Using a long stitch sew two rows of stitches fairly close together, one row either side of the 1.5cm seam allowance at the top of the sleeve. Pic 7
This method helps to keep a regular, neat gather without bunching.
Pull the back threads simultaneously to make even gathers that fit between the markings indicated on the pattern. Join the sleeve seam. Attach the sleeve at the 1.5cm seam. The stitches will run between the two gather rows. Pic 8
Tidy the seam by zig-zag or binding and remove the stitches of the bottom gather row.
How to stitch a raglan sleeve:
Cut out your pattern pieces. Join the upper sleeve seams to its corresponding front and back matching all notches. Pic 9
Tidy the seam edge. Stitch down the sleeve and the sides starting at the sleeve/side join.
Follow these instructions and you will be a master sleeve setter. Compliments will flood in from friends who are in awe of your sewing skills.