How to Sew Sleeves on a Jacket
When sewing a jacket, setting in the perfect sleeves is usually the most nerve-wracking and challenging part of the process. You have to ease in excess fabric over the shoulders, all without getting any tucks or puckers – it can be a difficult area to sew!
In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to sew sleeves on a jacket – and get some great tips for making it as simple and painless as possible.
But before we get right into the tutorial, let’s take a quick look at a few of the different types of sleeves.
Types of Sleeves
The 3 primary types of sleeves that you’re sure to come across if you sew clothing are set-in sleeves, raglan sleeves, and shirt sleeves.
Set-in sleeves are the most common type of sleeve seen in jackets. They are the most fitted sleeve, with the seam attaching the sleeve to the jacket running across the very top of the shoulder. This type of sleeve is sewn into the armhole “in the round” – meaning the sleeve is fully constructed before being sewn into the circular armhole.
Shirt sleeves are very common in t-shirts and relaxed button-up shirts. They can also be found in some jackets. This type of sleeve is stitched into the armhole before the side seam of the shirt or underarm seam of the sleeve are sewn. Then, after the sleeve is attached to the top, the side seam and underarm seam are stitched up all in one pass. This type of sleeve provides a similar look to a set-in sleeve but will be less fitted and more relaxed. The seam over the shoulder will usually be set further out, slightly below the shoulder and over the top of the arm.
Raglan sleeves are common in t-shirts but can also be found in some jackets and other types of shirts. This type of sleeve is unique because it is attached to the shirt using diagonal seams that run from the armhole all the way upwards to the neckline. It generally provides a very relaxed and comfortable fit.
How to Sew Set-In Sleeves on a Jacket
Because set-in sleeves are the most common (and the most complicated to sew), that is the type of sleeve we’ll cover in this tutorial. Once you can sew a set-in sleeve, the other sleeve types will feel easy-peasy!
Step 1: Construct the Jacket Body
First, to prepare the jacket for the sleeves, you will need to construct the entire body of the jacket. Set-in sleeves are usually the last thing to be sewn to a jacket.
Your side seams should be sewn before attaching set-in sleeves to the jacket.
Sew a line of stitches ½ inch from the raw edge around the entire circumference of each armhole – this is called stay stitching. The stay stitching helps to prevent the armholes from getting stretched out of shape as you work to pin and sew the sleeve into them.
Step 2: Construct the Sleeves
Next, you will need to prepare the sleeves to be attached to the jacket.
Construct each sleeve entirely. Sew the underarm seams to form the sleeves into tubes, then hem the sleeve ends. If your jacket will have cuffs, construct the cuffs now, even adding the buttons and buttonholes onto the cuffs.
The only raw, unsewn edges of the sleeves should be the curved top edges that will attach to the jacket.
Step 3: Sew Rows of Basting Stitches on the Sleeves
Your sleeve, if cut according to a pattern, will usually have 2 notches – one partway down the front and the other partway down the back. These notches are the marks showing you where to sew your basting stitches.
Sew one row of long basting stitches with a stitch length of 4.5mm between the notches along the shoulder curve of each sleeve. Make sure to keep these stitches about ¼ inch from the raw edge and to leave long thread tails at the beginning and end.
Sew a second row of basting stitches parallel to the first row along the shoulder curve of each sleeve. This second row of stitching should be approximately ½ inch from the raw edge. Again, leave long thread tails at the beginning and end.
Step 4: Pin the Sleeves into the Armholes
You’re ready to start pinning these sleeves to the jacket!
Turn the sleeves so that they are right sides out and turn the jacket inside out. Insert the first sleeve into the corresponding armhole and begin pinning it in place with right sides together. Match up the notches on the sleeves with the notches in the armhole and pin them together at these points. Match up and pin them together at the underarm seam.
As you pin the outward curve of the sleeve to the shoulder area of the armhole, you will need to ease in the excess fabric of the sleeve to fit the armhole. Pull on the thread tails at the ends of your basting stitches to slide very slight gathers onto the curved portion of the sleeve. This helps to bring the sleeve to the size of the armhole.
Even out your gathers along the basting stitches so that there will be no tucks or puckers on the seam line. Finish pinning the sleeve to the armhole. Make sure to take your time here to get that fabric eased in beautifully!
Repeat this process to pin the second sleeve in place.
Step 5: Stitch the Sleeves into the Armholes
Next, stitch around the entire circumference of each armhole with a 5/8 inch seam allowance (or whatever seam allowance your pattern calls for). Take this stitching slow and check for puckers as you sew!
*TIP: If you are new to sewing set-in sleeves, you may want to baste the sleeves in place first with a long stitch length, then check to see if you like how it turned out. You can then go back in and stitch over it again with a regular stitch length if it turned out well – or quickly remove the basting stitches and retry if it didn’t turn out well!
Step 6: Finish and Press the Seam Allowances
Finally, finish your seam allowances together with a zigzag stitch or a serger.
Turn the jacket right sides out and pull the sleeves out away from the jacket. Press the seam allowances up towards the body of the jacket.