Sunday, 17 November 2013

Working With Stretch Fabric - Sleeve Construction, Flat Method.

Hullo all! I've been making stuff. Remember I said I needed to talk about sleeves? I'm finally getting around to it. Here we go!

Today I'm showing one of two different ways to insert a sleeve in stretch clothing. In woven fabric, you pretty much have one option - make the bodice and then add the sleeve. But stretch has some flexibility. You can join the side seams and then add the sleeve, or you can join the sleeve first, and then do the side seam and sleeve seam all in one go.

The latter is the flat method, and the one I will be demonstrating in this post. This is the way commercial t-shirts are made, and its a bit faster than the other approach.

I did my best to get good photos of this, but it was a bit of a struggle to get everything in the frame.So I made some little diagrams too. If there's anything unclear, pop a note in the comments and I will make sure I get back to it.

First things first, I am starting by joining the shoulder seams and finishing the neck edge.
So I have a front and back. In this case I'm working with a cowl neck shirt, but for the sake of simplicity, my diagrams are for a regular crew neck.
Join shoulder seams
Finish neckline.
You can also do one shoulder, then the neck, then the other shoulder. But we can talk about that another time.  

Once front and back are joined, you line up the sleeve.

Match the sleeve notches and centre of the sleeve seam with the shoulder seam, right sides together.


A quick word on notches. I clip into my seam, which is generally how commercial clothing is made. I try and keep those clips small.

You may see patterns with outward facing notches.
Outward notch.
Commercial pattern with inward notch markings.
Some people will tell you it's important not to clip into the seam because it damages the structural integrity of the fabric. That's true - it does weaken the fabric a bit. But it is way faster than cutting a notch out on the fabric. If you're worried about clipping, consider that commercial seams tend to be around 1cm wide, and home sewing patterns tend to have seams which are 1.5cm wide. So if you put a 3mm clip in your seam, you still have a sufficient seam allowance. There are occasions where I might consider making an outward notch - like if I am working with a suiting fabric which frays and doesn't really allow a small notch because of the weave.
Notching outwards. This can be difficult to cut out because you're going in and out, rather than straight along the seam line.
Clips straight into the notch markings. 
In this case, I've clipped inwards.

I match the clips front and back. Convention says that the further towards the back of the garment, the more notches in the pattern. So here, there is a single notch at the front of both sleeve and bodice pieces, and double notches on the back of both sleeve and bodice. This is how you get the sleeves facing the correct way!

Once those points are joined, pin the rest of the sleeve and join.

Now I have the front, back and sleeve joined. Naturally, this process should be repeated on the other side. (Although I'm just doing the one here for demonstration purposes).

When you have the sleeves joined at the shoulder, fold right sides together, and match side seams and sleeve seams.

I'm including an additional layer here, hence the contrasting colour.
Sew along the sleeve and side of the shirt in one seam.

The end of the sleeve is finished after joining.

And that's it!

It's probably fairly obvious why this method is favoured by commercial construction as it is fairly quick.

But since I have a one-sleeved shirt at the moment, I will show you the other method next time.


  1. I used this method when I recently made a dress, it is really quick. As for notches I have learn't never to skip, especially at the sleeve! And I always snip in. When I started dressmaking I used to notch the triangles outwards but you are right, it's too much of a faff.

    1. My biggest issue is that I forget to put the notches in when I'm drafting! But they do help, particularly when stretch fabrics can distort a bit. :)

  2. I never knew that tactic of making a sleeve. Thanks a ton for this article. I will show my sister, she is more into making sweaters, sleeves etc.

    Sanola Jerry

    1. You're welcome. Happy to think someone is finding my stuff useful! Thanks for stopping by.