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Simple Sew Brigitte dress Sewalong. 5: Insert the sleeves

May 12, 2014

Deep breaths, sewalongers: today we’re inserting sleeves.

The pattern instructions are as follows: ‘Place sleeve RST with dress in the armhole curve, and ease into place.  You may wish to make a row of gathering stitches (between X and Y) and gather sleeve to fit armhole curve’.  Now, I’ll be honest, as this pattern is meant to be simple and aimed at beginners, I think that these instructions are not very helpful.  It’s almost like they thought that ‘simple’ actually means ‘brief’.  Luckily if you are a beginner and you’re not entirely sure how to proceed, I’m going to help you and provide some proper explanations!

So, unless you want to be cursing your way through the whole process, you should sew some gathering stitches along the sleeve head (the top of the sleeve).  Remember those notches we made in the sleeve head after cutting the fabric?  You will be needing those now!

To sew gathering stitches, start at either the single notch on one side of the sleeve head, or the double notch.  Change your stitch length to 3.5 or 4, and stitch a line along the curve at 4/8″ WITHOUT backstitching.  Leave long thread tails at the start.  Stitch along the top of the sleeve head until you get to the other notch.  Cut the threads, again leaving long thread tails.  Now, sew a second row of gathering stitches roughly halfway between your first row and the raw edge of the fabric.  Try to keep the two rows as parallel as possible.  Once you have sewn the gathering stitches for both sleeve heads, remember to change the stitch length on your machine back to normal (mine is 2.2).

Now we’re going to attach each sleeve to the dress, gathering as we go.  Find the centre of your sleeve head at the top (you can do this by folding it in half), and pin it to the shoulder seam, right sides together.  Have the dress underneath and the sleeve on top so you can see what you are doing.  It should look like this:

Sleeve head with gathering stiches, pinned at the centre to the shoulder seam of the dress

Sleeve head with gathering stiches, pinned at the centre to the shoulder seam of the dress

Now we need to know how much to gather up the fabric, and we need to try and get these two curves aligned, which is tricky because when laid flat they seem to go in opposite ways.  So, next step: take each side of the sleeve head, and pin it in place to the side of the dress front and dress back.  Don’t worry yet about what’s going on with the middly bits.  Just get your centre and both sides lined up first.

Now pin the sides in place

Now pin the sides in place

From the side, working inwards, pin the sleeve head to the dress front/back, but stop when you get to the beginning of the gathering stitch.  At this point, you’ll need to do your gathering.  Each side should have four threads, two on the right side and two on the wrong side of the fabric.  The two threads on the wrong side of the fabric will be facing you, so take these two threads and pull them gently, and you should be able to ease the fabric along a bit, and as you pull, the fabric will gather.  Work on one side at a time, using the centre/shoulder seam as a halfway point.  As the fabric gathers, it will start to form a curve, and you’ll need to keep gathering until your sleeve head seems the right length to pin to your dress.

When gathered, the fabric will start to curve the way you want it to

When gathered, the fabric will start to curve the way you want it to

These sleeves are not puffy, so you won’t have to gather very much at all in  order to match them up.  Make sure the gathering is even along the length of the stitching, and pin in place when you’ve got it right.  Then stitch it!

Pinned into place and ready to stitch

Pinned into place and ready to stitch

Once stitched, check the sleeve is set in nicely by turning the garment the correct way out.  If you have any accidental tucks or you’re not happy, you’ll need to unpick and start again.  You may not need to unpick the whole seam though, often just unpicking part of it will suffice and rearranging the fabric before re-sewing.  Once you’re happy with your sleeves, you can then finish the raw edges.  I overlocked mine together.

Finish the raw edges

Finish the raw edges

This is how they look from the outside:

The sleeve head from the outside

The sleeve head from the outside

Sleeve set in

Sleeve set in

That’s all for today.  On Wednesday 14th we’ll be finishing off our sleeves and sewing the side seams of the dress.  Until then, good luck with setting in your sleeve heads!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 12, 2014 2:09 pm

    It took me a long while to finally get the hang of sleeves. It was that gathering stitch I could never quite get the hang of until I finally had a pattern with an easier explanation. I always love sleeve tutorials though cause they have helped me so much.

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