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5 top tips for sewing in a set-in sleeve & my easy method

Updated: Oct 6, 2022

Sewing in the dreaded sleeves... quite possibly the bit that most sewers avoid until they absolutely have to do this step! BUT it's ok, I've got your back and I've broken it down for you below so you can tackle your sleeves head-on (get it, oh dear haha)!

Before we get started let's just clarify what a set-in sleeve is. A set-in sleeve is a sleeve that has a seam all around the edge of the shoulder going under the arm.

If you already know me or follow me on Instagram, you'll know that to understand something I need to know the why. It's a running joke we have here at The Sewing Retreat, when we're doing all the behind the scenes and admin stuff and we don't understand something, we always say "It's because we don't know the why!"

So... I always make sure whenever I'm showing /explaining how to do something, I explain why you need to do it too. It helps you understand and remember the technique.

Understanding why you need to sew in a sleeve like this is going to up your sewing game and knowledge too. So let's get started...

*** P.S. Just in case you don't understand any of the terms I've used below, I suggest opening up our trusty A-Z Glossary in a separate tab so you can easily refer to it as you go.



Our arms naturally tilt forward which is why our sleeves need to be sewn in the correct way.

With most sewing patterns there are always 2 notches at the back and 1 at the front. Match these up with your bodice pieces correctly and your arms will hang properly.



The diagram below shows the front and back bodice blocks joined at the side seam and you'll also see the 2 notches marked on the back and 1 on the front.


Let's talk ease. Once you understand how the ease works around the sleeve head it'll make a lot more sense as to what you're doing.

Sleeve heads have ease added into them with the majority around the top area of the sleeve head and pretty much nothing added around the armpit area.

Take a look at the diagram below. Between the back notch and the front notch is where the ease has been added in.

This is because around where the top of the sleeve sits, we have muscles, these muscles need extra fabric and so we need to somehow add that extra fabric in... so we add in ease. What this means is that we're then going to have extra fabric to squish in around the top of the sleeve head (in between the notches).


Start by pinning your side seam and underarm seam together, then the notches - 2 at the back and 1 at the front, then match the top of the sleeve head up with the shoulder seam. That way you already have markers to work with.

Watch my Youtube video to see how I do this and how I sew and pin a sleeve from start to finish:


If you have more than a 1cm seam allowance and you're using a light/mid-weight fabric, trim it off before you start sewing to just 1cm and it'll be a lot easier to sew in. This is because you're fabric will curve more naturally without the structure of this extra fabric.


If you're worried about sewing it so permanently - sew around it once with a longer stitch length slightly closer to the raw edge than your seam allowance to secure it in place and then sew it again with a smaller stitch at your normal seam allowance. Once you're happy, take out the longer stitching (tacking stitches).


If you really don't want to sew in sleeves, which I totally get - create or sew with patterns that use raglan sleeves rather than set-in sleeves... but I know you can do it!! I have total faith in you. Let me know how you get on by dropping me a message on Instagram.


If you want to start creating your own sewing patterns, download my FREE eBook here. It's the perfect beginner's guide to get you started. You'll learn about the grainline and why it's so important, discover the differences between stretch and woven fabrics, learn how to annotate your sewing patterns and so much more.

Come and join me on Instagram @thesewingretreat where I share lots more tips and tutorials on sewing and pattern cutting.

Happy creating,

Sarah xxx

P.S. Don't let those sleeves stop you from creating your innovative designs! Come and join me inside my FREE masterclass and learn how to start drafting your own sewing patterns that you've been dreaming of.



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