For most of my teenage years I had disaster after disaster with sleeves, particularly the set-in sort. I used to joke that I’d rather move to a tropical island and never have to sew another sleeve than wrangle with them. Well, fast forward a number of years and I think I hit the lightbulb moment when I finally figured out how to adjust sleeve patterns to actually fit an armhole. Many set-in sleeve patterns curiously have far too much ease, meaning them don’t ease smoothly and pucker-free. But after adjusting patterns and learning how to sew a set-in sleeve properly, it’s made a world of difference! So I hope perhaps this little section of the sew-along will help a few of you who also struggle with set-in sleeves as well (assuming there are others out there who were in the same predicament as I!).
We’ll need to do a little prep work before we get to actually sewing the sleeves to the armholes. Firstly, make sure you have some shoulder pads made up (I’m planning on covering mine with underlining fabric, but just had them in the intial, muslin-covered stage for this). You’ll also want to have one of the pressing aids* pictured above on hand; the large one is a pressing ham and the other is a sleeve roll. I prefer to use the sleeve roll for this, because my sleeve cap area is small and didn’t fit easily over the ham. But other will work.
Begin by running two lines of gathering stitches between the dots marked on the sleeve cap on either side above the notches. If you’re using a 1/2″ seam, run the first line of (basting-size; I use about a 4 on my machine) just shy of 1/2″ and the next about 1/4″ from the cut edge. Then follow the directions for sewing elbow darts (3/4 sleeve version only), the side seam and finishing the bottom edge as instructed in the directions for the Swing Dress.
Turn your dress right-side out, and pinning the sleeve to the armhole right sides together. (With the way the dress is positioned, this means that the sleeve is inside the dress.) I always start at the underarm seams, matching those and then working up to the beginning of the ease stitches that run along the cap of the sleeve.