A “Set in Sleeve” is a sleeve cut separately and stitched into the armhole of a finished bodice so that there is a comfortable sleeve cap ease for better fitting.
The set in sleeve fits the armhole smoothly without puckers. This is the method used in sewing best-tailored clothes like formal shirts and jackets by bespoke tailoring concerns. A set in sleeve is the best method for making fitting sleeves for your clothes.
The other alternative way of joining sleeves is to attach it flat (like how I do in this post – basic bodice pattern). This is a very easy method. In this method, when sewing sleeves and attaching it, you finish the shoulder seams of the bodice and keep the sleeve open on top of the armhole and they are joined – the side seams of the sleeves and armhole is then finished together in one line – ie the sleeve is attached flat.
This way of sewing sleeves by flat method is not a very fitting technique – it can create a bagginess or extra bulk near the armhole joint or a general lack of fitting which is not appealing. If you want a high quality tailored garment you always sew a set in sleeve. This is the professional’s method of sewing sleeves. All the formal shirts, jackets are sewn this way in haute couture houses – are you convinced to sew your next sleeve this way?
When cutting the “set in sleeve” there is a small sleeve cap ease added to the sleeve pattern that makes the sleeve edge ever so slightly bigger than the armhole line. Usually designs add 1/2″ to upto 1 1/2″ of sleeve cap ease.
This sleeve cap ease is needed so that the shoulder of the bodice fits and the sleeve fits more naturally but this results in the top edge of the sleeve and armhole having two different lengths
The top edge of the sleeve head has to be reduced before joining the sleeve to the armhole so that everything fits correctly and you have a sleeve seamline without any puckers or wrinkles and you have a sleeve with a little ease in the top of the sleeve which adds to comfort when wearing the garment because of the slight fullness at the top of the sleeves.
How to join a set in sleeve to your bodice
- Cut out your sleeve pattern and bodice pattern. Stitch the bodice shoulder seams and the side seams
- Finish the armhole edge of your bodice with a serger if you want a neat finish. Finish the edge of the armhole of your sleeve piece similarly.
- Join the sleeve underarm seam. Press the seam allowances open
- Increase the stitch length on your sewing machine and make a row of stitching along the sleeve head 1/2 inch from the edge. You can make two gathering stitches for better ease in gathering. When you stitch the set in sleeve you will only be gathering a minimal amount just enough to ease the sleeve to the armhole. You should ensure that the gathering results in even gathers along the sleeve head. Knot the gathering thread and ensure the gathering stays.
- Start to pin the sleeve to the armhole from the sides. Adjust your gathering so that the sleeve head fits comfortably into the armhole. Ensure that you are not crushing the sleeve fabric and causing puckers . Start pinning from the seam joint and then pin the top of the sleeve.
- Join the sleeve to the armhole – the sleeve cap should face you as you sew, so that you can see the gathers and when stitching they wouldnot be crushed. You should have a smooth seam line wihout puckers . Stitch till the side seams.
- Remember that the gathering is only to ease the sleeve to the hole and not to create puffiness. If there is a noticeable puffiness in the sleeve cap you will have to reduce it – you have a job to do in adjusting the pattern so that this unwanted puffiness is reduced.