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How to Sew Sleeves in the Round: Two Ways

Learn how to sew sleeves in the round with these two methods. Sew a set-in sleeve the easy way or the tried-and-true way.

When I was learning to sew clothing and was taught how to sew set-in sleeves, I remember thinking, “I’m never sewing another sleeve in my life; I’m only going to sew sleeveless items from now ow”. It was so hard and frustrating, and I took a break for awhile.

Eventually I started sewing sleeves again, and I learned a trick at a custom formalwear shop to make sleeves so much easier. I learned the easy way to sew sleeves which I’m happy to share with you.

I’m going to share both methods with you today, so you can choose the one that will work for your.

how to sew a sleeve

What is a Set-in Sleeve?

A set-in sleeve is a sleeve that comes up to the top of the shoulder instead of hanging down in a dropped shoulder. It’s set into the armscye.

If a sleeve comes up to the top of the shoulder, then it needs extra room built into the sleeve cap for the shoulder and arm to still be able to move and rotate.

What is a sleeve cap?

The cap of the sleeve is the arched top part of the sleeve. The seam line of the sleeve cap is longer than the seam line of the armscye for the arm to be able to move.

What is Easing?

Easing is when the longer seam line is shortened by squishing the fibers together but no gathering or tucks are created. Eased sections can often be seen because there’s a little bit of volume or bump in place, but the seamline is flat without pleats or gathering.

how to sew a sleeve

What is sewing a sleeve in the round

There are two methods for sewing a sleeve in: sewing in the round and sewing flat. In this post I only demonstrate sewing in the round.

Sewing in the round is when the side seam of both the bodice and the sleeve are sewn first. It’s similar to sewing two tubes together instead of it being open and sewing two flat pieces together.

This method works really well when you add sleeves to a dress like a sleeveless dress or a dress with straps.

how to sew a sleeve

Two Different Sleeve Methods

Both of these sleeve methods ease the sleeve cap into the shorter seamline, but one is created while sewing and one is created by pulling one of the threads.

The method that pulls on one of the threads is most often taught is books and classes. It’s how I learned first, and the one I struggle the most with. It is the best for controlling the easing throught the process, and it is the slower method.

The method that creates easing as it’s sewn is most often used in the manufacturing process. It’s how I learned second, and the one I almost always choose. It usually always creates the perfect amount of easing, but sometimes it creates too much. It’s harder to control the easing since it mostly depends on the fabric, and it is the quicker method.

how to sew a sleeve
how to sew a sleeve

How to Sew Sleeves in the Round: Book Method

First, set your sewing machine stitch length to 3.5 mm and sew 1/4 inch from the seamline. Sew between notches but don’t backstitch at either end. Leave a thread tail on each side.

sew sleeve sewing machine

After doing the first row of stitching the fabric will still be flat. It’s the sleeve on the left.

ease set-in sleeve

With right sides together place the sleeve into the armscye. Match up the notches and seams and pin. Pull the bobbin thread on the sleeve to pull in the fabric.

Adjust the easing so that the sleeve seam line is the same length as the armscye seam line. Adjust it so there’s no tucks or gathers.

pin sleeve

Sew around the sleeve on the seamline. Sew slowly so that you can adjust the easing as you go. Constantly check that there’s no tucks on the bodice or the sleeve.

sew sleeve

Finish the raw edges. Press the seam allowances towards the sleeves.

how to sew a sleeve

How to Sew Sleeves in the Round: Easy Method

First, set your sewing machine stitch length to 2.4 mm and sew 1/4 inch from the seamline. Sew between notches without backstitching, but as you sew hold your finger right behind the sewing machine foot. This causes the fabric to bunch up and be eased as you sew.

sew sleeve sewing machine

After doing the first row of stitching the fabric will be bunched up and eased. It’s the sleeve on the right.

ease set-in sleeve

With right sides together place the sleeve into the armscye. Match up the notches and seams and pin. Check to see if the easing is the correct length.

Usually the sewing machine easing pulls the sleeve in the right amount. I’ve noticed that natural fabrics cooperate the best.

Sometimes it pulls in the fabric too much and to fix it, I seam rip through the thread at the very top of the sleeve cap and push out some of the easing. Sometimes I have to clip another spot to release more easing.

pin sleeve

Sew around the sleeve on the seamline. Sew slowly so that you can adjust the easing as you go. Constantly check that there’s no tucks on the bodice or the sleeve.

pin sleeve

Finish the raw edges. Press the seam allowances towards the sleeves.

how to sew a sleeve

If you make something using this pattern, I’d love to see! Please share it on social media with the hashtag #heatherhandmade and tag me!

how to sew a sleeve

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I love your website. Even though I have been sewing for many years, I still need a little help. Several of my store bought tops have tight sleeves. Do you have a solution for altering tight sleeves on store bought clothing? Thanks!