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Tips & Techniques > Setting Sleeves with Ease

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Posted by: Gigi Louis

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Member since: 4/4/02
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Posted on: 4/10/05 3:46 PM
Review Rating: Helpful by 4 people   Very Helpful by 47 people   
Really, no pun intended with the title! Debby found this tip in my old forum and thought I should formally post it. I hope this is helpful to some of you. :-) I am by no means an expert, these are just little things I've learnt along the way. As I mentioned to Debby, I must've had a lot of coffee the day I wrote all of this!

The first thing you want to do when setting in a standard sleeve is to ignore (yes, ignore) the pattern directions. Stitching two rows of basting stitches will work against you and you will often end up with puckers or gathers (or a lot less hair). Think about what you are trying to do: ease the fabric in to create a roundness to fit the shoulder/upper arm. We want the roundness to begin on the stitching line - not on either side of it.

For blouses my favorite method is the ease-plus method as I have described a few times: stitch ON the stitching line, holding your finger behind the presser foot to disallow fabric feeding. This will sufficiently ease in the cap in lightweight fabrics. If you need to work a little more in, you can pull the thread a little more - if you have too much, break the thread in a few places.

For jackets/tailored items I like to use a 2" bias strip of Armo Tie-Rite (interfacing used in men's ties) or you can use a strip of medium weight linen or loosely woven wool (again, cut on the bias). I buy a couple of yards of Tie-Rite and cut it all up at once. You can then keep the strips in a basket or bin - ready for the next jacket. With the sleeve flat and working from the wrong side, start your strip at the first notch. Once you get the strip secured, continue to stitch ON THE SEAMLINE (or just a hair inside) while pulling the strip as much as you can. I use a little longer stitch of about 3mm. Stitch to the other notch. The strip will beautifully ease in the cap with little effort on your part. This even works well with Ultrasuede which is notoriously difficult to ease. Trim off the excess strip - use your stitching line as a guide when setting the sleeve into the garment. The extra strip of fabric will help fill out the cap so you will generally not need a sleeve head.

Now, as far as removing ease goes, yes it does make it easier to set the sleeve in and may be necessary on certain difficult-to-ease fabrics (like suede or gabardine). However, I generally do not prefer to remove any of the ease - in fact sometimes I will increase the height of the cap for more ease. What? Well, for the sleeve cap to properly fit your body and to achieve that nice roundness at the top of the sleeve you need that extra ease. The sleeve cap should be beautifully rounded and hang well before it is even set into your garment. Loosely woven/thicker fabrics are easier to ease well. I also prefer a 5/8" seam allowance on tailored items as they will be turned into the sleeve and will help fill out the cap. Seam allowances can be trimmed to 1/4" at the underarm area only.

I often mention setting sleeves in flat - however I only use that method in knits or when the garment has a flat cap where there is little or no easing. For a standard sleeve I prefer to set the sleeve in traditionally as I feel it gives me more control. I like to pin-baste (I'm not a big hand-baster but of course that is always acceptable too!;) on the stitching line so that I can actually try on the sleeve to see how it hangs on my body before setting it permanently.

With either of these methods, you may occasionally see a few stitches on the outside of the garment (this happens if we go slightly off the stitching line into the body of the garment) - simply remove those stitches after the sleeve has been set.

When I was a beginner a lightbulb went off one day when I realized that I should be worried about matching the seam lines NOT the cut edges. This is especially important when setting a sleeve as the cut edges of the sleeve cap will be wavy after easing the cap. Pin-basting should be done on (and in the same direction as) the stitching line. You should only concern yourself with the seam line - ignore what is going on on either side of it.

Last, but certainly not least, if you are unsure about the fit or cut of your sleeve remember that you can cut it out of a scrap fabric and baste (pin or thread) it into your garment first *before* cutting into your good fabric. Sometimes in their quest to make patterns easier for us, patternmakers don't include sufficient height or shaping. If your fabric is expensive or you don't have a lot of extra it's good to do a quick test.

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said... (7/16/10 5:11 PM) Reply
This is very helpful as I am in the midst of trying to set at sleeve into a jacket.........pulling my hair out at the same time! I have never had any trouble before but for some reason this pattern is a little "crazy" when it come to setting in the sleeves. I am going to try your (one of) method. Thanks for sharing Sandy
RobinMCPA said... (2/27/08 10:50 AM) Reply
This is very helpful - thanks for posting this!
amylove said... (8/25/07 1:19 PM) Reply
There's a lot of wisdom here to digest. Thanks!
sewperfect said... (8/31/06 10:15 PM) Reply
very helpful
Deady said... (6/26/06 10:44 PM) Reply
This tip is great as set-in sleeves have always been difficult for me. I was taught the old fashioned, double gathering threat technique, which always produces puckers. Thks. a million for such a great tip!!
Gigi Louis said... (4/13/05 8:31 AM) Reply
Lilibet, I don't mark the seamline. I just use the markings on my machine throatplate.
Lilibet said... (4/13/05 3:23 AM) Reply
Gigi, What method do you find best for marking the seamline? I'm not sure if Armo Tie- Rite is available here in Australia but I'm going to look for it.
PVA said... (4/11/05 10:42 AM) Reply
Thanks for this beautifully-written tip! I'm using a method I learned from Margaret Islander & it works even with very difficult tight weaves, but this method is just wonderful with the looser-weaves!
Gigi Louis said... (4/11/05 10:00 AM) Reply
Oh, Debby, you made my day. :-)
DebbyS said... (4/11/05 8:45 AM) Reply
Thanks, Gigi! I used this method yesterday while DH and I were chatting and he asked where I learned that, as it was like magic. I told him it was from Gigi and he said "What would you do without Gigi?" I can't image doing without Gigi!
GorgeousFabrics said... (4/11/05 6:57 AM) Reply
Great tip Gigi. I still have to try the ease-plus method. The tie interfacing works great. I learned about that the first time from Peggy Sagers. Thanks! -Ann
BillieJean said... (4/11/05 6:06 AM) Reply
I don't generally have any trouble setting in a sleeve, but you've given me some really great new ideas that should make it even easier. Thanks, Billie
Loreli said... (4/10/05 4:04 PM) Reply
Gigi thanks for posting this again!
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