Sleeves. I know a lot of people who are terrified of sleeves. They get such a bad rep!
I’m of the mind that sleeves can be quite stunning. Sleeves can change the overall silhouette of a garment. A basic fitted dress with a simple grown on cap sleeve will look drastically different next to the same dress with dramatic full length puff sleeves.
And then there is the heavily structured look of the 80s where shoulder pads seem to have been added to anything with an armhole!
Reality though, no matter what anyone else might try to tell you, there are only two ways to sew in a sleeve. And they really are 2 simple ways!
- Set-in sleeve
- Not set-in
Sleeve Sewing Techniques
There are sleeve variations on these of course – aren’t there always variations with everything in fashion? – and these are the things that add to the design of the garment.
We’ll take a look at the set-in sleeve first, before expanding into the not set-in sleeves available.
So what makes a ‘set-in’ sleeve different from a non-set in sleeve?
A sleeve that is set-in, is attached to a hole; the armhole. This means that the shoulder seam, and the side seam need to be sewn together, for there to be a hole. You then ‘set’ the sleeve into this hole. The sleeve head will have extra fabric which needs to be gathered together and eased along the sleeve head and this creates a nice fit over the shoulder tip.
It sounds a lot more complicated than it is, it just takes a little practise get the hang of them, and if you ever decide to construct a tailored jacket, this is something that needs some solid practice to get a good fit and shape to your sleeves.
Not Set-In Sleeves
There are a LOT of sleeves which are sewn without using the set in method. This makes life a whole lot easier for those put off by the setting in method. The three main varieties are:
- Shirt Sleeve
Not Set-In Sleeve Types
- Dropped shoulder
- Can have quite a large arm hole, or very fitted
- Usually cut as one piece
- The sleeve is joined with a seam running at a diagonal from the underarm up to the front and back necklines.
- It is quite casual sporty look
- If the sleeve is cut as once piece, it will quite often need a dart at the shoulder for better shaping and fit over the shoulder.
- This is a ‘grown on’ sleeve, in that there are no real seams other than the shoulder seam from the neckline, and side seam.
- You can also cut the garment on the fold along the shoulder line which would mean only one seam would be needed – the side seam up to the underarm, and along the inside sleeve seam.
That’s it. Everything else out there is a variation on the Set In sleeve, the shirt sleeve, the raglan sleeve and the kimono sleeve.
Sleeves – Modifying The Sleeve Design
Sleeves can have different elements to modify the design:
- Under sleeves
- Shoulder Pads
Sleeves can be cut as one piece or two piece and even cobbled out of many pieces!
Sleeves can have fullness at the sleeve head – Leg of Mutton sleeves – or fullness at the hem – Bishop sleeves.
Kimono sleeves can have a low hanging drape where the side seam goes straight into the underarm seam – Dolman sleeve – or minimal drape so the sleeve is cut to fit the arm perfectly.
We can also use various materials to modify the sleeve shape as well. I have several jackets which use shoulder pads and sleeve heads to get a nice sleeve roll along the sleeve cap. One designer I worked with stitched multiple shoulder pads together for a very extreme power look to his jackets.
One thing to bear in mind with Set-In sleeves is the pitch of the sleeve.
Tailored sleeves in particular require the pitch to be perfect. This can be quite scary for those new to setting in sleeves. The best way to think about it is this:
When you look at a person from the side on, you can see that their arms naturally hang down at an angle. This is what the ‘pitch’ of the sleeve reflects.
A sleeve fitted perfectly for a person will accurately reflect the natural position of their arms. It will prevent wrinkling and straining of the fabric.
Other set in sleeves don’t need to be as perfectly pitched – if you are setting in a Leg of Mutton or a Dolman sleeve, the fullness in these sleeves will make the pitch not as noticeable. That said, if it is off by more than a little, you’ll notice it when wearing – it won’t feel as comfortable.
The top part of the sleeve, curves from the front to the back
This is the measurement from the bicep to the canter of the sleeve cap
The hemline of the sleeve
Level with the elbow
Widest part of the sleeve, and where the armhole meets the side seam
Extra allowance at the elbow and biceps, so that there can be more movement in the arm.
This is the difference between the armhole measurement and the sleeve cap.
This is often the centre of the sleeve running from the wrist to the top of the cap.
Okay.. I think that’s a crackin’ overview of the basics of sleeves. I’m getting ready to move over to pattern making content, which will have sewing tutorials mingled in. Any requests on what sleeve you’d like to see drafted and sewn first? Open to suggestions, as always! 🙂
Til next time…
RECOMMENDED READS: Sewing Sleeves requires some practice. If you haven’t already, read my top sewing posts here. There’s Sewing Fantastic Facings, Avoiding Sucky Seams and of course my write up on different collar styles!
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