How To Properly Sew Sleeves Into Armholes

Just a few terms:

Set-in Sleeve – means the sleeve is joined to the body of the garment with the center of sleeve top or cap placed at shoulder seam and stitched around the armhole.

Sleeve Cap – here “cap” refers to the shaped sleeve top extending from beginning of the armhole shaping; the part that is set-in or seamed into the armhole of front and back pieces. (Note: There is a short sleeve style referred to as a “cap sleeve”).

Anatomy of a Sleeve

Steps to Seaming the Perfect Sleeve

  • The sleeve top must fit exactly into the armhole. Your stitch and row gauge must be accurate.

Classic Cap – the edge of the cap must fit around the armhole edge of front and back; the sleeve should have the same armhole shaping as beginning of garment armholes.

Drop Shoulder and Angled Drop Shoulder – the straight sleeve edge fits along straight armhole of front and back (must be the same measurement). Tip: Mark beginning of armholes with colored yarn or markers on front and back pieces. For angled drop shoulder the short angled edge of sleeve top is the same measurement as the angled edge of armhole.

The other sleeve styles are seamed into armhole as depicted in the above diagrams.

  • Sew shoulder seams. Note: Saddle shoulder yoke is part of the shoulder on the front and back of garment; must sew saddle of sleeve to shoulders of front and back. For shoulder seams use Invisible Horizontal for joining two bound off edges.
  • Sew in sleeves before sewing the side and sleeve seams. (Exception are garment pieces worked in the round).
  • My preferred seams for inserting sleeves are: Backstitch – for drop shoulder and angled drop shoulder styles, and most cap styles. Mattress Stitch – for raglans.
  • Pin then sew. Pinning is a big deal. Fold sleeve in half lengthwise, and place a pin in the center top of sleeve. I lay out the joined front and back pieces right side up on a table to pin. The right side of sleeve should face the right side of garment body. Align the pin at center sleeve top to the shoulder seam. Pin the rest of the sleeve top evenly along the front and back armhole edge. Ease in any fullness. Any shaping of the sleeve should match the shaping on the armhole. Sew in place.
  • Sewing Tips:

Drop Shoulder and Angled Shoulder – sew straight edges taking up the same number of stitches.

Raglans – two seams are attached to the front and back. Begin at base of sleeve cap and pin, corresponding to bound off stitches of front and back armholes. Raglans should match exactly to shaped raglan armhole (same number of rows for all raglan edges).

Gathered and Pleated Caps – have fullness. Sew carefully to avoid bunching. These sleeve tops may benefit by basting before final sewing.

Putting Together Sweater With Set-in Sleeves

Final Looks for Classic Cap, Raglan, and Saddle Shoulder Sleeves

Classic Cap Sleeve
Raglan Sleeve
Saddle Shoulder Sleeve

Have a wonderful holiday! Valerie