How to Sew Sleeves in Flat

The very first garment that I attempted was a top for my kiddo. I was nervous as could be because it was with knit fabric and the sleeves. I printed my pattern, cut my fabric, and followed the instructions perfectly…until I came to the sleeves. How in the world could two curves going in the opposite direction actually work. I really could not get my mind around it. Thankfully, with a lot of clips and patience, it did fit together perfectly and I’ve gone on to conquer many sleeves since.

A lot of traditional paper patterns construct the sleeves “in the round” or “set in”. Several PDF patterns or knit patterns have instructions for sewing sleeves in flat. While both ways will work well, as a newbie on the garment sewing scene, I found that tackling sleeves by sewing them in flat easier. You do not have to worry as much about the ease of the shoulder seam, and it simply felt easier and faster for me. Another time sewing in flat comes in handy….those tiny human sizes. Newborn, toddler, and even children sized sleeves can be easier to sew flat rather than in a small round circle-ish shape.

When cutting out your pattern, always mark or cut any notches in your sleeve and bodice pieces! (I prefer simply making a mark with a washable marker). This is especially important if your sleeve is not cut on the fold, and shaped differently for the front or back sides.

First, sew your bodice front and back pieces together and press the shoulder seam down.

Don’t skip the pressing as it helps the seams look better overall, and can help make sure you keep the seam in the same direction when you sew the neck later. After pressing, lay your bodice piece with the right side of the fabric facing up.

Find the center of the armscye (where the arm goes in the garment) and the center of the sleeve. Place the sleeve, right side of the fabric facing down, on top of the bodice, matching the center points together. If your pattern is not symmetrical, make sure to align the notches properly for front and back pieces.

You can then work your way down the rest of the sleeve, one side at a time. Some people find it easier to clip the center, end of the armscye, and then connect the spaces in between. Do whatever is easier (for me it is just working my way down each side) and go with it! I find it works well just to follow the curve. Once the curves no longer match, I clip and re-position until they line up again. Doing this, I end up with a well match sleeve without much effort. Don’t be afraid to use a lot of clips in the process! Keep going until you have one side of the sleeve pinned/clipped into place.

When you have one side completed, go ahead and start working down the other side of the bodice. Manipulate the bodice and sleeve together and remember that only the seam allowance needs to line up at this point. Repeat with the other sleeve.

Sew or serge the seams, making sure to press them afterwards. Keeping the right sides of the fabric together, sew the side seams together by matching up the sleeves and bodice pieces. Make sure that the seams are facing the same direction to keep the seam flat.

Turn the bodice right side out and continue with the rest of the pattern!

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