Sleeves can sometimes make or break a clothing item. Not only are they essential for comfort and functionality, their style has a huge impact on a garment aesthetically. There are a variety of different sleeve types out there ranging from simple to very unique in shape and design. No matter how complicated the design however, all sleeves are derived from just a few classic silhouettes. These basic silhouettes act as a building block both in the sewing as well as design process.
From a construction standpoint, sleeves have always been a bit challenging to sew, especially for sewing beginners.
Below, we'll introduce you to 25 sleeve styles you should know and the challenges you may face in their construction process.
Although sleeveless is not necessarily a type of sleeve, understanding what sleeveless means is a good place to start if you are trying to get a better grip on sleeve construction. Just as the name suggests, a sleeveless garment has no sleeves. A sleeveless garment has armholes that are clean-finished using a variety of different sewing techniques.
Sleeveless clothing items can have different size armholes and be shaped in a range of styles. Some sleeveless garments feature very wide, deep curves at the armhole's bottom while others extended towards the neckline to form a thinner shoulder strap. Regardless of style, if a clothing item lacks sleeves or any form of arm coverage, it is safe to say that it can be classified as sleeveless.
Sewing Difficulty: Thankfully, with a sleeveless clothing item, you don't have to worry about sewing in a sleeve which can prove to be quite challenging (especially for sewing beginners). Clean finishing armhole edges however does require some special attention along the more curved underarm areas. If you are a beginner, you should feel comfortable sewing a sleeveless garment and clean-finishing armhole edges first before tackling the unique task of sleeves. Clean finishing armhole edges will get you accustomed to working with the more challenging curved edges of a garment which will ultimately get you one step closer to sewing that perfect sleeve.
The most common methods for clean finishing armhole edges are by using binding (for more casual, lightweight apparel), armhole facing, or applying trims and other decorative techniques.
A set-in sleeve is the most common sleeve style used in apparel. It is what you may refer to as a regular sleeve. It is connected at the regular armhole and extends down in a straight or tapered line without any special silhouette features. A set-in sleeve comes in a few different lengths but the most common are:
Short: stopping at about 3-6 inches from the shoulder, a set-in regular short sleeve is used on all T-shirts and short sleeve blouses. It is a plain, straight silhouette and does not flare out or taper in too much at the bottom.
Three-quarter: extends to mid-forearm in a straight cut.
Long: stops at the the wrist or bellow the wrist forming a regular straight silhouette. A long set-in sleeve is the most widely used sleeve in apparel.
Sewing difficulty: While it is the most basic sleeve style used in apparel, sewing set-in sleeves is anything but easy, especially for a sewing beginner. The difficulty consists in the necessity to add ease along the sleeve cap in order to make it easy for the wearer to move his/her arms freely. Adding ease (or excess) along a sleeve cap requires the use of a gathering stitch that is applied along the upper curve of the sleeve cap (before the sleeve is sewn) such that when the sleeve is connected to the armhole edge the sleeve cap does not pucker or gather along the armhole seam.
Providing ease around the cap sleeve is used to add a 3-dimensional nature to the upper arm which is essential for movement. When it comes to manipulating a gathering stitch into ease, the main challenge for a sewing beginner is achieving a smooth seam without any gathers or puckers. In addition, it takes some practice for the two sleeves to look even. Sewing set-in sleeves requires a bit of practice and making some mistakes before finding your rhythm. Once you do, sewing set-in sleeves can feel quite accomplishing.
A cap sleeve is a short sleeve that features an extension that resembles a little cap extending from the shoulder or armhole seam over the upper arm. The cap portion can either be connected to the garment at the armhole or extend out from the body of the garment without the necessity of an additional seam.
A cap sleeve can be either gathered or pleated. It is very commonly added to dresses, blouses and kids-wear. You can think of it as half of a short sleeve because the underarm area is usually left bare and only a portion of the shoulder is covered. Cap sleeves add a feminine touch to any garment featuring a structured yet very gentle, young look.
Sewing Difficulty: Depending on the style of the cap sleeve, it is usually not very difficult to sew. It can be however a bit challenging to pattern- It can be quite a task to achieve the correct ease and shape of the cap portion. The most problematic patterns are those that often result in a cap sleeve that is too tight at the shoulder causing the cap sleeve to lift up during movement. On the contrary, some sleeve pattern errors may result in the upper arm being too loose and shapeless thus jeoperdizing the correct proportions and structure of the garment.
A bell sleeve gradually flares out at the bottom in what resembles the shape of a "bell". It can be short, 3-quarter or longer in length and the flared-out portion is usually not separated by a seam but the sleeve rather flares out in one continuous piece.
Bell sleeves are widely used with various types of fabrics from light to heavy weight and applied to a range of styles from casual/formal dresses and blouses to blazers and heavier coats. Bell sleeves can feature different flaring proportions from very subtle to quite pronounced. On the same note, the flared out portion of the bell sleeve can start from higher up on the arm or closer to the wrist as desired.
Historically, a common bell sleeve style used to be known as pagoda sleeve during the Victorian and Renaissance areas. Pagoda sleeves were wider at the hem in the same fashion as a bell sleeve and featured embroidered trims and decorative finishes along the bottom of the sleeve.
Sewing Difficulty: Bell sleeves are somewhat similar to set-in sleeves in construction. They do require the same attention to the sleeve cap area where the upper sleeve should have enough excess for movement. The body of the sleeve is not difficult to sew since the curve of the bell shape features a more gradual, smooth transition. In addition, hemming a bell sleeve uses the same methods as those of a set-in sleeve.
A puffed sleeve flares out at the shoulder using gathers or pleats added along the armhole seam. Puffed sleeves are usually narrower towards the bottom such that the top, puffed shoulder is more pronounced. Just like most sleeve styles, it can be constructed in different lengths from short to long.
A puff sleeve features different silhouettes in its body as long as the shoulder area maintains a puffed-out style. The puffed portion of the sleeve can be very subtle or quite pronounced. The size depends on how dense or how deep the pleating at the armhole is.
Sewing Difficulty: It can get a little tricky to work with lots of gathers or pleats along the round armhole seam. Gathering and pleats can be quite challenging on a straight seam and they can prove to be even more difficult to sew along the curved edges of the armhole.
In some instances, gathers leave some room for error which can actually makes it a bit easier for sewing beginners. As opposed to a set-in sleeve which requires the addition of gathered ease not visible on the outside of the seam, having actual gathers along the seam of the armhole allows for more even looking sleeves and perhaps an easier sewing experience.
Bishop sleeves start off as a regular set-in sleeve at the shoulder area, gradually balloon out as they reach the elbow area usually tapering in at the wrist. The sleeve bottom is commonly contained at the wrist using gathering or pleating which is sewn into a cuff or double folded binding. Bishop sleeves can also be designed in a three-quarter style and at times, short length (although short styles are more rare).
It is a classic, feminine sleeve that works great with lighter weight fabrics especially sheers. Bishop sleeves are very commonly used with elegant dresses, blouses and evening wear. The gradual curved nature of the sleeve silhouette is gentle allowing for a soft addition to any garment.
Sewing Difficulty: A bishop sleeve is very similar to a set-in sleeve in construction. However, it requires gathering or pleating at the bottom as well as additional steps for cuffing or adding binding along the sleeve hem. If you feel comfortable with gathering/pleating already, a bishop sleeve will be of medium difficulty to sew depending on how well you can handle sewing the sleeve cap.
Circular Flounce Sleeve
Circular flounce sleeves are often confused with bell sleeves because of their resembling flared-out bottom. The difference however, is that while bell sleeves flare out in a more gradual nature in one long piece, a circular flounce sleeve has a horizontal seams that connects the flared-out portion to the rest of the straight sleeve. This results in a sudden transition from straight to flared out.
The widened portion in a circle flare sleeve is constructed using the same sewing method as that of a circle ruffle. The flared portion is achieved by sewing the inside edge of the circle to the straight edge of the sleeve. This creates flowing ruffles that are soft and feminine used commonly on dresses and blouses in light to medium weight fabrics.
Sewing Difficulty: A circular flounce sleeve is perhaps of medium difficulty to sew. It really depends on your skill level, but a less experienced person might have a harder time connecting the circle ruffle portion of the sleeve. It is highly recommended that if you are not quite comfortable sewing a straight edge to a circular edge that you temporarily hand baste the two layers of fabric together before machine stitching. A circular flounce sleeve might require some temporary basting techniques if you are not quite comfortable sewing ruffles yet.
Leg of Mutton
A leg of mutton sleeve puffs out from the shoulder (armhole seam) to the elbow area and extends into a straight or form fitting silhouette from elbow to the wrist. A leg of mutton sleeve becomes narrower as it extends towards the bottom either in a gradual fashion or a more sudden switch from puffed to straight. It can have a very subtle puffed top and include a very soft transition towards the bottom or feature a more dramatic puffy top with an immediate switch to a form-fitting silhouette at the bottom. These unique characteristics should make a leg of mutton sleeve fairly easy to recognize the moment you see it.
Leg of mutton falls more into the vintage category of sleeves. A more exaggerated leg of mutton style is very often used in historic costume design. Nevertheless, this unique silhouette is still used today on sweaters, blouses and dresses.
Sewing Difficulty: Sewing and especially patterning a leg of mutton sleeve can prove to be a challenge depending on the design. The more abrupt the transition from the puffy portion at the top to the form fitting portion at the bottom the more difficult it is to pattern and sew. It can be a bit difficult to draft the correct line transition in the sewing patterns so it might take a few tries until you get the sleeve to fit how you want it.
Sewing a leg of mutton sleeve can prove to be a bit of a challenge when it features a more exaggerated silhouette. However, if the sewing patterns are drafted correctly, you shouldn't have too many issues in the sewing process. You should however feel comfortable with sewing pleats or gathers if you are to tackle the sometimes complex task of sleeve construction.
Raglan sleeves are often used with long sleeve t-shirts and more casual knit items, sport jackets, and blouses. As opposed to most sleeve that normally get sewn into the circle of the armhole, raglan sleeves extend into the neckline edge forming a straight or semi-curved seam from the underarm area to the neckline. These seams are present on both the front and back of the garment.
Raglan sleeves are often color blocked where the sleeve is a different color than the rest of the clothing item. The color contrast creates a unique, more sporty look that is so typical to raglan sleeves. The reason they work best with stretchy fabrics is due to the fact that raglan sleeves don't have any added ease through gathering at the sleeve cap thus using stretchy fabrics achieves more comfort and movement. Raglans sleeves, especially those in a non-stretch garment, are sometimes gathered at the neckline. This ensures that there is enough excess fabrics at the upper arm for easy movement during wear.
Sewing Difficulty: You can't really know how difficult it is to draft the pattern for a raglan sleeve from scratch, until you try. It is perhaps one of the most difficult patterns to draft correctly due to the fact that it requires manipulation of the garment's front and back shoulder seams.
If you have the sewing patterns readily available, you are in luck because sewing a raglan sleeve is not a very difficult task. It does not require the addition of ease during sewing because some excess fabric is accounted for in the sewing patterns. It can however be a bit confusing to match the front and back seams correctly so make sure you keep track of each pattern piece as you cut it.
A juliet sleeve is very similar in look to a leg of mutton. It transitions from a puffed, gathered top to a form fitting bottom in a more abrupt transition. There is usually a seam where the transition from gathered to straight occurs which accounts for a more pronounced puffed top. It is very common for a juliet sleeve to be gathered both at the armhole seam and the horizontal seam that connects it to the straight portion.
The main difference between a leg of mutton sleeve and a juliet sleeve is that the leg of mutton has a more gradual transition from puffy to straight/form-fitting without the need for a seam. A juliet sleeve however, requires a seam for this transition because it is more abrupt. A classic juliet sleeve is often puffed out from armhole seam down to mid-bicep area after which it extends down to the wrist in either a fitted or straight silhouette.
Sewing Difficulty: Just as it is similar aesthetically, a juliet sleeve is similar in sewing difficulty to a leg of mutton sleeve. Nevertheless, it can be a bit more challenging due to the addition of the extra horizontal seam in the body of the sleeve. Patterning a juliet sleeve can also be quite challenging if you are attempting to achieve a more form-fitting bottom portion.
Cuff sleeves are the most common addition to men's shirts and women's button-down blouses and dresses. Just as the names suggests, a cuff sleeve is finished with the addition of a cuff at the hem. This can either be a french cuff or a regular plain cuff depending on the design. In addition, a cuff sleeve can either be gathered or pleated into the cuff. Some sleeves also feature darts and other fit additions at the cuff area.
Cuff sleeves come in different lengths from short to three quarter and long. You have most likely come across most of these as they are so widely-used in classic blouses, dresses and menswear. The cuff usually features a slit and buttons or other means of closure.
Sewing Difficulty: A cuff sleeve's sewing difficulty depends on the style of the cuff. Sleeves that feature plain cuffs with no slits are a bit more simple to sew. On the other hand, french cuffs, bound cuffs and other closures can prove to be quite challenging even for a more advanced sewer. Classic cuff sleeves with slits and closures are not recommended for a sewing beginner until a more intermediate sewing level is achieved. Button placement alone can prove to be a challenge thus it is a good idea to work your skill level up slowly before tackling more complex projects like a french cuff.
As the name might suggests, an angel sleeve tapers out into somewhat of a triangle shape from the armhole seam down to the hem. It features an uneven hem with one of the hem portions extending lower on the inseam. When the arms are moved away form the body, the sleeves form shapes reminiscent of wings, hence the name "angel sleeve".
As opposed to bell sleeves, angel sleeves tapper out right from the armhole seam in somewhat of a straight line. A bell sleeve on the other hand, is a gradual transition which tapers out as it get to the bottom of the sleeve instead.
Angel sleeves range in length from short to long and are easily recognizable by the fact that they are very wide when extended laterally.
Sewing Difficulty: Angel sleeves are fairly easy to sew. The seams are straight and depending on how much they taper out (and the fabric you are working with), you can sometimes avoid the extra step of adding ease at the sleeve cap. Nevertheless, the hem could get a little challenging to clean finish if it is too pointy on one end.
The best example of a kimono sleeve is of course is that of a traditional Japanese kimono gown which is where the name derives from. A kimono sleeve does not connect to the garment through a seam but is rather built into the body of the garment. For functional and comfort purposes, it has a wide arm opening that is either rounded or more squared at the underarm seam. Speaking of seams, a classic kimono sleeve has two seams: the inseam is the continuation of the garment's side seam at the underarm, and the top seam extends form the shoulder seam out.
Kimono sleeves come in a few different styles from a more bell-shaped silhouette to square. Just like all other styles discussed above, kimono sleeves are also available in different lengths. Keep in mind that the one thing that sets a kimono sleeve apart from others is the lack of an armhole seam. Traditionally, it features a wide, straight silhouette in the body of the sleeve.
Sewing Difficulty: A classic kimono sleeve is not difficult to sew since you do not have to attach the individual sleeve to the curve of the armhole. Some beginners might have a hard time sewing the underarm curve which curves more abruptly in a kimono style.
Kimono sleeve sewing patterns are also not too difficult to draft and require the use of a front bodice pattern. There are a few tricky parts however: Figuring out the placement of the underarm curve such that there is enough room for movement is a more complex issue at hand. In addition, cutting out a kimono sleeve requires a larger work surface which might become a challenge for an amateur dressmaker.
Just like kimono sleeves, dolman sleeves do not have an armhole seam but are rather built into the bodice of the garment. As opposed to a kimono sleeve, a dolman sleeve has a more round, smooth curve at the underarm and the sleeve often looks like it is tapering in towards the bottom. If you look at a kimono sleeve for example, you will notice that the sleeves look straight both at the inseams and outer seams. By contrast, a dolman sleeve is drafted on a slight downward curve at the top, and the underarm has a wider curve that is not as abrupt as that of a kimono sleeve.
Think of a dolman sleeve as a softer version of a kimono sleeve. It is widely used on blouses and dresses especially lighter-weight knit fabrics. Some dolman sleeves are short in length while others are longer and tapered into a fitted silhouette at the bottom. There a lot of different designs you can achieve with a dolman sleeve but its main characteristic is that the sleeve is not connected to the body of the garment through a seam but rather incorporated into the garment at the pattern drafting stage.
Sewing Difficulty: A dolman sleeve is not difficult to sew. Like the kimono sleeve described above, dolman sleeves have just two seams: One extends from the garment's shoulder seam while the inseam is the extension of the side seam of the garment. Both feature very gradual soft curves which are easy to machine stitch. For that reason, dolman sleeves fall into the less-challenging category to sew.
Drafting the pattern for a dolman sleeve has its ups and downs. It is important to know where to place the underarm curve such that it allows for enough movement in the sleeve and the rest of the garment. In addition, the top seam of a dolman sleeve has to be drafted at a slight downward slant which takes some trial an error when drafting the pattern from scratch.
A petal sleeve is usually made of two layers of fabric overlapping in a crossing motion, each layer featuring a softly curved edge. The reason it is called a petal sleeve is because these overlapping layers of fabric resemble flower petals. A petal sleeve works well with a wide range of fabric types and weights. It is a feminine style that can be more flared out like a ruffle or tapered in towards the bottom.
Petal sleeves are more commonly incorporated into short or three quarter sleeves. Shorter sleeves work better with the crisscrossing nature of the two fabric layers, keeping them more aligned and structured. They can be gathered or subtly pleated at the armhole seam for a more puffy, flared-out look. Petal sleeves make a great addition to lightweight chiffon blouses and dresses.
Sewing Difficulty: Petal sleeves are certainty a bit more tricky to sew and will require that you have at least a background understanding of sleeve construction. When sewing a petal sleeve, the hem is finished first. Depending on the style, you will still need to add shoulder cap ease along the armhole seam despite the fact that a petal sleeve has somewhat of a built in slit. Sewing a petal sleeve also requires that you have a good understanding of notches as they will be essential in aligning the sleeve when sewing it to the armhole edge.
A lantern sleeve features a portion of the sleeve that flares out then tapers in to form a round, 3-dimensional enclosure. The name perhaps gives away the sleeve style in the fact that the puffed portion or enclosure resembles the shape of a lantern.
Achieving this 3-dimensional puffed enclosure usually requires the use of gathering or pleating. If it occurs in the body of the sleeve, there is normally a horizontal seam that allows for an abrupt transition form the straight portion of the sleeve to the puffed enclosure. This lantern-shaped portion can start at the armhole seam and extend down to the hem of the sleeve in shorter styles. It can also be positioned anywhere along the body of the sleeve including at the bottom or center at the elbow.
Some lantern sleeves feature special horizontal seams along the puffy, 3-dimensional portion which gives the sleeve a rounder, more structured look.
Sewing Difficulty: Lantern sleeves are perhaps medium to higher difficulty to sew depending on the style and design at hand. The main challenges arise if you do not feel comfortable sewing gathers or pleats. In some cases, special seams are used to make the puffed section more structured or pronounced. These cases require some trial and error as it can be difficult to manipulate fabric to withstand a 3-dimensional shape.
As you can probably guess by the name, a ruffle sleeve is a sleeve featuring one or more layers of ruffles. The ruffles can be sewn into the body of the sleeve or start directly from the armhole edge to form the actual sleeve. They can feature either gathered or circular ruffles and include just one layer or multiple layers of fabric. The ruffles can be short and dense or long and layered depending on the design.
Ruffle sleeves are quite versatile and add a playful flare to women's blouses and dresses. They are widely used in women's apparel especially with spring/summer styles. Ruffle sleeves work in unison with fabrics that feature a fluid drape especially those of lighter weight quality.
Sewing Difficulty: Ruffle sleeves can get a bit tricky to sew when featuring multiple layers of fabrics. A beginner dressmaker can certainly handle sewing a simple ruffle sleeve if he/she is familiar with sleeve and ruffle basics. Nevertheless, it can get a little tricky reading the sewing patterns of a ruffle. Additionally, knowing which edges to align requires a good basic understanding of notches and seam matching.
A peasant sleeve is softly curved from the armhole seam down to the bottom of the sleeve forming a semi-curved silhouette. While it looks very similar to a bishop sleeve, a peasant sleeve has volume in the entire body of the sleeve starting at the armhole down to the hem. In contrast, a bishop sleeve flares out as it moves towards the bottom and is usually gathered or pleated at the bottom of the sleeve.
Peasant sleeves are a great addition to lightweight blouses and dresses because the round sleeve shape drapes beautifully when the fabric is thinner. Truthfully, they can look a bit bulky/boxy if the fabric used is of a stiffer, heavier nature.
Peasant sleeves are often gathered or pleated at the bottom into cuffs or double folded binding. It is also common for peasant sleeves to be gathered at the armhole seam as well. This gives more flare and widens the body of the sleeve.
Sewing Difficulty: Depending on the style, peasant sleeves are not too difficult to sew especially if they are gathered at the armhole seam. It can get a bit more tricky to sew a peasant sleeve that has intricate details and trims. Overall, peasant sleeves are perhaps of easy to medium sewing difficulty based on style and your skill level.
Butterfly sleeves become wider as they move from the armhole down, creating a circular ruffle look in the body of the sleeve. Butterfly sleeves become gradually wider in shape starting right at the top, where the armhole seam meets the body of the garment. As you might have guessed, the reason it is called a butterfly sleeve is because it closely resembles the shape of a butterfly wing when extended.
Butterfly sleeves are designed in multiple layers or a single fabric layer and feature anywhere from very little to a large amount of fullness. This sleeve style is used very often with lightweight fabrics that have a high draping quality. Chiffon and silk fabrics work great with butterfly sleeves which is why this combination is commonly used with dresses and blouses. A butterfly sleeve is highly versatile, withstanding the ability to compliment more casual designs as well as more formal, evening gowns.
Butterfly sleeves are usually of shorter length although three-quarter and long lengths are common. Some styles are wider at the top where it covers the upper arm and become gradually thinner when moving towards the bottom. In some cases, a butterfly sleeve is sewn along the top and sides of the armhole opening and further extends onto the side areas of the bodice forming a ruffle-like structure along both sides.
Sewing Difficulty: Butterfly sleeves are not difficult to sew. They do not require additional gathering or pleating and the sleeve cap ease is often built into the sleeve due to it's wider nature.
A cape sleeve resembles a cape consisting of two panels of fabric individually placed on both sides of the shoulder. The most common cape sleeve style is one that features a slit or an opening usually connected to just the top or top and back portion of the armhole. In order to achieve the look of a classic cape, a cape sleeve cannot be fully sewn into the entire armhole opening as this will not allow the sleeve fabric to stay open in the style of a cape.
Cape sleeves are widely used in elegant evening wear dresses and gowns. Blouses and dresses that feature a compatible drape quality work harmoniously with the unique style of a cape sleeve.
Sewing Difficulty: Although not difficult to sew, it can be a bit challenging to clean finish the edges of an armhole that houses a cape sleeve. Cape sleeves might not always require ease along the sleeve cap and upper arm, but it is important to pay attention to how a cape sleeve lays on the arm during wear. If there is not enough room for movement at the top, a cape sleeve will pull towards one side or lack a smooth, relaxed drape that is so particular to a cape sleeve.
A two piece sleeve is a tailored sleeve used both in womens wear and menswear on blazers, business suits, coats and jackets. A two piece sleeve is classically used in combination with more structured clothing items that feature princess seams. You can recognize it by the fact that compared to a regular set-in sleeve that has a single vertical inseam, it features two seams- one at the back and one at the front.
Two piece sleeves allow for a more structured look with a clean, tailored finish. Because they are so commonly used in suiting and coating, two piece sleeves are often lined. They usually have a straight silhouette or taper slightly at the bottom.
Sewing Difficulty: Two piece sleeves can prove to be a bit difficult to sew, especially if you don't have any tailoring experience. Not only do you have to worry about adding the sleeve cap ease at the top, you should also feel comfortable using notches and differentiating between the sleeve's front and back sides. As mentioned above, two piece sleeve are quite often fully lined which adds an extra challenge to the sewing process. As a little side note: the greatest challenge with lining sleeves is clean-finishing the hem.
At first glance, some hanging sleeves have a slight resemblance to cape sleeves. They are however, quite different in construction: A hanging sleeve is usually connected to the armhole like any other regular sleeve but as opposed to most sleeves, it features a long extension at the bottom often accompanied by a slit. A hanging sleeve is a more historic, vintage sleeve style commonly used in the Victorian and Renaissances eras.
The extension of a hanging sleeve can be long and exaggerated or quite short and subtle- it all depends on the design. However, in order to be categorized as a hanging sleeve it should clearly feature an extension at the bottom, usually positioned at the back of the arm. The extension itself can be squared, pointy, round or of any shape considered by the designer.
The sleeve can feature a separate slit or be open at the sleeve seam to form the extension. This opening can start pretty high up on the arm closer to the armhole seam or bellow the elbow for more arm coverage. Regardless of where the slit opens along the length of the arm, the sleeve extension hangs down to form an elegant, feminine look reminiscent of regal historic costumes.
Sewing Difficulty: A hanging sleeve is not too challenging to sew if you have some experience sewing regular set-in sleeves. A simple hanging sleeve doesn't normally feature any gathering or complicated pleating which makes it less challenging to sew. However, if the bottom extension (hanging portion) is too pointy, it can be a bit tricky to sew. You should feel comfortable with a few different clean-finishing hemming techniques before attempting to sew a more complicated hanging sleeve.
A cold shoulder sleeve features a cutout or opening at the sleeve cap that allows the top of the arm or shoulder to poke through. It is a very common addition to summer/spring blouses and dresses and used often with lightweight fabrics.
A cold-shoulder sleeve's opening can be curved and actually cut out of the sleeve cap, or feature a lengthwise seam that simply opens at the sleeve cap to form a slit. Regardless of how it is constructed, a cold-shoulder sleeve will always expose the upper arm or a portion of the shoulder. In addition, the actual opening can range from very small for a more subtle look to large, allowing for a more relaxed, dramatic sleeve style.
Sewing Difficulty: There are really two main challenges when sewing a cold-shoulder sleeve: First, positioning the opening correctly along the armhole curve will require good knowledge of notch placement and solid understanding of the armhole curve. Secondly, it is important to clean finish the inner edges of the sleeve opening before sewing it to the armhole edge (unless the design doesn't call for it). Clean finishing a round edge can prove to be a bit of a challenge if you don't feel comfortable working with curved fabric edges. In this case, sewing a cold shoulder sleeve should be done by using a slit as opposed to a cutout for achieving the sleeve cap opening.
As one of the most unique sleeve styles out there, a panned sleeve is one that falls in the historic, vintage category. It is rare to find this sleeve style in modern apparel but you can most certainly come across it in costume design.
A panned sleeve, also called "puff and slash" sleeve, is constructed of multiple strips of fabric or panes which are sewn into the armhole seam. The sleeve is then bunched up and reinforced horizontally with twill tape (or other decorative trims) in order to achieve a 3-dimensional, round volume thus keeping the panes open and separated.
A paned sleeve can feature multiple rows of horizontal trims which allows for the formation of groups of open panes each puffed in layers of open fabric strips (panes).
Sewing Difficulty: If you are a sewing beginner, we commend you do not start with a paned sleeve. Unless you are interested in exploring costume design, you might really never have to tackle the construction of a paned sleeve. If you do however, keep in mind that the fabric strips (or panes) will need to be connected to another layer of fabric underneath in order to offer a surface for the horizontal trim/twill to reinforce too.
As described above, the horizontal twill tape (or other trim) is what keeps the fabrics strips open maintaining a spherical, 3-dimensional structure. This means that aside from the paned portion of the sleeve you will also need to sew a regular sleeve underneath proving itself to be double the challenge (especially if you're not 100% comfortable with sewing apparel yet)
A classic poet sleeve features a straighter silhouette from armhole to elbow and puffs out somewhat dramatically from elbow to wrist. It is also quite common for a poet sleeve to have one or more layers of ruffles along the bottom. You can think of a poet sleeve as a more stylistically exaggerated mix of the bishop and peasant sleeve. It often uses gathering at the armhole and especially the wrist area to contain the wider portions of the sleeve.
Quite commonly, the ruffle-like structure on a poet sleeve is achieved by the use of elastic which bunches the bottom of the sleeve horizontally to create a gathered ruffle at the wrist. Some styles also include the addition of elastic horizontally along the body of the sleeve thus forming separated puffed sections. A poet sleeve is usually a long sleeve style although some modern adaptations include three-quarter lengths.
Sewing Difficulty: Although of medium difficulty to sew, the ruffle detail at the wrist can prove to be somewhat of a challenge for those with less sewing experience. Elastic is the best option to achieve a poet sleeve's ruffle structure because it allows the bottom portion to be form-fitted at the wrist while the stretch helps it get past the hand. While a sewing beginner could construct a simple poet sleeve without too much frustration, if it includes more detailed features like multiple layers of ruffles and elastic, it can become a bit of a challenge for those with less sewing experience.
1. Blouses and dresses pulling across the chest area.
A blouse or dress that pulls across the chest is most often caused by the lack of bust darts at the garment's side seams. Bust darts are produced by sewing in excess fabric on a garment into triangle shapes. All darts have vanishing points and dart legs which essential makes them look like triangles or angles on a sewing pattern.
Bust darts are added horizontally from side seam inward in order to create a more 3-dimensional shape around a woman's bust area. Bust darts are essential in allowing the fabric (which is 2-dimensional) to mold around the organic areas of the human form allowing for a comfortable fit. When bust darts are missing, a woven garment that is more form-fitting in design will often pull across the chest area not only creating fit issues, but also causing aesthetic inconsistencies.
Missing bust darts is perhaps the most common fit issue that is caused at the construction level. One of the main reasons manufacturers/designers avoid adding bust darts is due to the increasing cost of production. It simply costs more money to add the extra steps of marking and sewing darts. However, darts are essential in providing the correct fit and comfort in more form-fitting, woven styles.
You'll notice a woven clothing item pulling horizontally across the chest area most commonly with button down blouses- When the blouse is buttoned all the way up, the front pulls across the chest and forms a gap where the buttons close at the bust area.
Unfortunately, this is a fit issue that cannot be fixed once the garment is completed. Because the exclusion of darts happens so early on in the construction process at the pattern-making/design level, once the sewing patterns have been cut, it is impossible to add bust darts afterwards.
If you own a clothing item such as blouse or dress that pulls across the chest in an uncomfortable fashion, you can exchange the clothing item for a one that is a size up. If the garment in question is a button-up blouse, you can always layer it with a tank top underneath and wear it either fully unbuttoned or release the buttons where the blouse is pulling most.
2. Skinny jeans and pant legs twisting/pulling sideways.
It is quite possible that you have experienced this fit issue at some point either with a pair of jeans or straight leg trousers. If a pant leg's side seams are not aligning straight and twisting towards the front creating an uncomfortable fit, then this most likely means that the sewing patterns were not cut on grain properly. When a sewing pattern is not cut according to the grain line of the fabric, the seams do not lay straight causing the fabric to pull or twist in an uncomfortable direction.
Just like missing bust darts, fixing garments that have been cut off-grain is impossible after the fact. Fixing an off grain garment would require re-cutting the sewing patterns on the correct grain.
If you own a garment such as a pair of pants or blouse with side seams that twist in one direction creating fit and aesthetic issues, there are a few styling options you can adopt to fix some of the discomfort associated with it:
If a pair of straight or skinny jeans you own has a pant leg that twists in one direction you can try cuffing the bottom to hide this malfunction.
If you own a dress or blouse with side seams that don't align straight you can try having the hem shortened if the length permits you do to so. This can often lessen the twisting by cutting off the part that is most off-grain which is usually at the bottom of a garment.
3. Neckline doesn't lay flat.
A neckline that doesn't lay flat can be the cause of a few different construction issues that vary from garment to garment. The most common cause of a poorly fitting neckline however is that there is either too much excess fabric at the upper back which causes the back neckline to open up, or the front of the garment doesn't have the proper darts to keep the front neckline flat.
A neckline that does not lay properly could also be caused by the top of the garment having a wider proportion than it is appropriate for the design.
A loose neckline that is not stable or wrinkles open anytime you move around is a bit of a complex issue from a construction stand point. In addition to the elements described above, a faulty neckline can also stem anywhere from the neckline being too low and not having enough dart support on the front and back of the garment to the wrong fabric being used altogether.
Although there is no easy fix for a loose neckline that doesn't require some sewing, you can always hide this malfunction in the styling process by layering. For example, if a sleeveless blouse or dress has a neckline that does not lay flat or fit quite right, simply layering these items with a cardigan can distract and compensate for the malfunctioning neckline.
From a sewing stand point, you can fix a neckline that doesn't lay flat by taking in the excess fabric along the neckline using small localized darts. While wearing the clothing item with the faulty neckline, take in the excess into little dart shapes (with the vanishing point facing inwards) and pin the makeshift darts in place while you're still wearing the garment (you might need some help here). After taking in the excess, stitch it as you would any dart. Before you apply the final stitch however, make sure to remove the neckline clean finishes in order to avoid creating bulk along the neckline's edge. For example, if the edge of the neckline is finished with binding, take out the binding with a seam ripper first before adding the mini darts. It takes a bit of sewing experience to manage this fix so if you don't feel quite comfortable, take it to your local dry cleaners and they will most likely get the job done for you.
4. The seam rips at the armhole.
If the underarm seam of a blouse or dress rips soon after it is worn a few times, it does not necessarily mean that the entire garment is low-quality and not constructed durably. This is often caused by the sleeve seam itself not being stretched enough in the sewing process to allow for more flexibility during wear.
The curve of the underarm seam requires some special treatment in the sewing process. Our arms move a lot during the day and tops/dresses with sleeves should accommodate this.
When a sleeve is attached to the rest of the garment the lowest, most curved part of the seam needs to be pulled slightly while it is getting machine stitched. This allows the non-stretch thread to be more flexible when the seam is in it's natural, relaxed state. Ultimately, stretching the curved armhole/sleeve seam slightly will allow for more stretch and durability during wear.
This sewing technique is very commonly overlooked with less experienced dressmakers. Although a very small step, it can prevent unnecessary rips at the underarm section of a garment. Luckily, it is not necessarily a sign that the entire garment needs a do-over.
If the underarm seam of your garment looks to be coming undone, you can re-sew it while adding this stretch feature during the stitching process. If you do not own a sewing machine and prefer to leave the sewing to a professional, let the seamstress know to stretch the armhole seam slightly while sewing to prevent the stitch from snapping again during future wear.
5. Sleeves feel tight and pull the garment across the upper back and shoulders.
While this issue could stem from the shape of the sleeves themselves, it is often the cause of not enough ease across the upper back or the garment or lacking the proper back darts for achieving the correct fit. The upper back is a tricky part of the human body to fit. When patterning and sewing a garment the upper back has to accommodate arm movement and often works hand-in-hand with the shape and fit of the sleeves/armholes.
If a garment you own has sleeves that seem to feel tight during movement, then this is most likely an issue that has to do with the upper back lacking enough room for movement. This is not to be confused with the sleeve feeling tight at the sleeve cap which occurs strictly at the upper sleeve whether the arms are moving or not.
Sleeves that feel tight and pull towards the back can be fixed by releasing the armhole seam a bit in order to create more room for movement. However, this is often very tricky to do since many clothing items simply don't have enough seam allowance at the armhole to allow for enough tension release.
It is quite often that solving a fit problem that is caused early in the sewing/construction stage leaves very little room for fixing options when the garment is completed. If you own a blouse, blazer or dress that has this particular issue and you are in love with the design despite the fit problem, move up a size and see if that offers a fix. It is sometimes less time consuming to either try a different size or simply replace the garment all together.
6. Skirts and dresses riding up when moving or walking.
A skirt that rides up during wear, especially when walking or moving around, can signify an issue with its waist darts. This is a very common issue with pencil skirts or woven skirts that are generally more form-fitting. On the other hand, it could be that you are not wearing the correct fit/size for your body type.
Let's face it, everyone's body shape is created different and finding form-fitting bottoms that actually fit and wear comfortably is always somewhat of a challenge.
When a skirt hikes up during wear it is possible that you simply need to move up a size and the issue will be fixed. When shopping for more challenging, form-fitting silhouettes it is always a good idea to bring a few sizes into the dressing room and see which one will actually do the job. However, if you've tried a few different skirt sizes and are still unable to get the comfort and fit you are after, the issue most likely pertains to the actual waist darts.
As mentioned above, darts play a key role in achieving the proper 3-dimensional fit around the human form. Darts have a significant importance at the waist just as much as they do at the bust area.
If a form-fitting skirt rides up the hips during movement, then it is possible that the darts do not take in enough excess fabric to accommodate the curves of the hips properly. This results in too much tightness/tension around the hips which eventually causes the skirt to shift up in order to gain more room for movement. When the darts are constructed properly, meaning they are deep and long enough to encompass the curves of the body, a pencil skirt or form-fitting dress should not ride up even if it is a bit tighter in fit.
Waist darts on skirts are usually longer in the back and shorter in the front. The back darts especially play a key role in the fit and comfort of a form-fitting woven skirt or dress. If the back waist darts are taken in enough to shape the bottom comfortably, then form-fitting garments should normally not ride up during movement at all (unless there are fabric or other construction issues associated with it).
A more experienced seamstress should be able to perform the proper alterations to either reshape the darts a bit or release some tension at the seams. That being said, it is always a good idea to take a few steps in the dressing room and test how well a form-fitting skirt (or dress) holds up during movement before making the final purchase.
A round hem on blouses, tunics and even dresses can be quite flattering. There is something very functional about a curved hem, especially one that is extended in the back. It is elongating and slandering to the figure while still maintaining immense comfort.
Round hems work best with lighter weight fabrics having a flowey nature because it allows the garment to drape naturally and comfortably while molding to the body's organic shape. While they look and feel beautiful, if you've ever tried to sew a garment with a curved hem, you'll find that clean finishing one is much challenging than it looks.
Almost all methods for sewing and clean finishing a rounded edge on fabric involve some style of folding and stitching. It is actually the folding part that can prove to be quite problematic if you don't have enough practice or maybe are not following the correct steps. In this tutorial, we'll teach you two common and easy methods (and a few tricks) for clean-finishing a difficult-to-work-with curved hem.
The secret to sewing a rounded hem starts with the pattern-making process and specifically, hem allowance. Hem allowance is the excess fabric used to clean finish the hem. The trick to rounded hem allowance is that the smaller it is the easiest it will be to fold it around the curved edges. The best excess allowance to work with for a double folded round hem is 1/2" (especially as a beginner)- this gives you enough room to comfortably fold the edges by hand. If you have a serging/overlock machine and would like to do a serged and folded method, the best seam allowance to work with in that case is 1/4".
Double folded and machine stitched method with a 1/2" hem allowance:
Your best friend when it comes to accomplishing a good quality rounded hem is the iron. Before sewing a hem, fold it in place first and then use your iron and a few pins to hold this fold in place. It is very difficult to achieve good stability with just pins- it is the use of an iron that really maintains a clean, even fold throughout both in the construction process and the finished hem respectively.
Step 1: Fold the raw edge of the hem in at 1/4" throughout and iron as you fold. As you get to the rounder curves, it will take a bit more time to turn the edges in. The secret here is folding and ironing very small portions at a time. You might notice that there are a few small wrinkles gathered up along the roundest parts. Don't worry too much about this- it is just a little excess of fabric that you will be able to enclose in the second fold and iron out once you've stitched the hem on your machine.
Step 2: Once your first 1/4" fold is complete along the entire bottom edge, fold in one more time at 1/4" to enclose the raw edge. Iron the fold and place a few pins along to secure the fold in place. Again, take your time along the most curved edges and fold little by little. Ironing along the curve really well may get rid of some of the more wrinkly portions.
Step 3: Place a few pins vertically parallel along the edge to hold the fold in place.
Step 4: Add a temporary hand baste along the folded hem to keep it more stable during machine stitching. Basting is a helpful tool when it comes to stabilizing layers of fabric preventing them from shifting in the sewing process.
In this case, adding a basting stitch, especially along the deepest curve of the fold, will facilitate stitching and keep the fold flat and even in the process.
Step 5: Machine stitch along the fold line, trying to stay as close to it as possible. The goal is to completely enclose the raw edges within the fold. Go slower along the curved edge as this may be somewhat of a challenge for beginners. If you feel like the fabric is difficult to control along the roundest portion, you could lift up your presser foot and re-arrange the hem in a more comfortable-to-sew position. Feel free to repeat this step until you are finished sewing along the more difficult curve.
Remember, practice makes perfect so don't give up on your first try!
Step 6: Remove the basting stitch with a seam ripper.
Iron the round hem for a clean, professional finish. Fabric permitting, iron at the highest setting adding some steam.
Sewing and clean-finishing a 1/4" folded serged edge:
This is perhaps the easiest way to finish a difficult round hem, but an overlock machine is required for best results. You could practice with a zig zag stitch on your regular sewing machine, but this might not always achieve the most durable smooth finish. In all honesty, if you don't have a serger (overlock machine) it is highly recommend that you utilize the double-fold method describe above for finishing the round hem.
For learning purposes however, you could use the zig zag stitch on your home sewing machine just so you can practice the steps for this particular finishing method.
Step 1: Serge or apply a zig zag stitch along the entire raw edge of the hem.
Step 2: Fold the serged edge at 1/4" towards the inside of the garment and iron as you fold. If you are having a hard time along the more curved areas, fold it little by little and maintain the 1/4" hem allowance throughout. Place a few pins along the fold (parallel to the bottom edge) to secure it in place for sewing.
Step 3: Machine stitch on the wrong side of the hem (wrong side of fabric), using the serging as a guide. You can stitch on top of the actual serging or about 1-2 mm bellow the serging stitch. If it gets difficult to align the fabric along the roundest edges, you can lift your presser foot, align and drop it back down in order to position the fabric in a more comfortable position. Repeat this step along the curve until you've achieved an even, smooth stitch. It is highly recommended that you baste the fold before machine stitching. Basting by hand is a great way to stabilize the rounded fold and facilitate the sewing process.
Iron the finished hem for a smooth, professional finish.
As you delve deeper into learning how to sew, the process can be just as much rewarding as it is frustrating. After all, it does take lots of time, patience, and a little bit of persistence to learn the ins and outs of making your own clothing. The good news is, if you get started the right way, building good habits as you learn, you will find sewing to be one of the most rewarding hobbies. Building a good foundation and developing the correct practices from the get-go will save you lots of time and frustration as you start experimenting with more complex sewing tasks in the future.
To help you get started on the right foot, here are 5 helpful habits to start developing now in the learning process:
Pinning seams correctly during sewing:
Ah, the pin mystery... Many beginners wonder if there really is a correct way to pin seams and layers of fabric together before machine stitching. Realistically, most beginners don't pay much attention to it and just go by what feels comfortable. However, learning how to pin in the correct direction from the beginning will save you time, add comfort to your sewing process, prevent you from making a pin mess all over your working space, and keep your fingers safe from pin pricks.
There are really two ways/directions you can pin seams together: perpendicular to the fabric's edge/seam, and parallel to the seam/fabric's edge. The perpendicular method is the one recommended for sewing most seams, especially regular straight seams normally consisting of two layers of fabric. Placing the pins perpendicular to the seam's edge allows you to easily and comfortably remove the pins in a horizontal orientation as you machine stitch.
If you are right-handed, place the pins so that the ball head of the pin is aligned on the right side, towards the fabric's edge. If you are left-handed, it might feel more comfortable to place the pins such that the ball-head is aligned left, away from the seam's edge.
A perpendicular (or horizontal) pin placement allows for more control and locks the vertical layers of the seam in place more efficiently than a parallel pin placement, especially in a straight seam. Additionally, it provides you a safety measure against accidentally pricking your fingers with the pin's needle- the sharpest edge is pointing away from your hands providing a means for comfortably removing the pins from the closed edge.
There are however instances when a vertical/parallel pin placement simply cannot be avoided. When you are sewing through very thick layers of fabric or very curved, folded edges, aligning the pins parallel in relation to the edge provides more control. Specific examples when a parallel pin placement is desired include: sewing along a double-folded curved hem, top stitching double-folded binding (especially along very curved areas of the armhole and neckline), and during certain decorative or functional applications that may benefit from a vertical pin placement.
If you are unsure and still not quite used to working with pins, try to get in the habit of placing all pins perpendicular to the edge. Switch to a parallel placement if you find that a perpendicular direction is not holding the layers of fabric properly, or the pins are difficult to insert through the fabric layers horizontally.
Note: Don't sew over the pins! Always remove each pin as the machine needle approaches it.
Ironing every seam as you sew it:
This is perhaps the number 1 rule in dressmaking: Always iron every seam and fold in the sewing process right after the stitch is applied. Not ironing every seam at the construction stage not only makes the garment a lot more difficult to handle and sew, it will be close to impossible to iron each seam when the clothing item is already completed. As a result, the garment will most likely not look clean/professional, giving the impression of puckering as if there are tension issues at the seams. This can also make the garment appear to have some major fit issues even if it truly does not-Fit issues are not caused by whether you iron the seams during sewing but rather by a combination of factors starting with your sewing patterns down to how you cut them and sew the seams.
It is also important to keep in mind that in many cases, seam allowance needs to point in a specific direction for the most correct results. Ironing each seam (usually done on the face side of the garment) allows you to set the correct seam allowance direction in place, thus facilitating the sewing process for optimal quality.
You'll find that if you iron every seam as you sew it, you'll save yourself some time and headache as you get through each step of putting a clothing item together. Aside from the fact that it constitutes the most important factor in sewing a good quality garment, there are some additional benefits to ironing every seam as you go. First, if your sewing machine has some slight tension issues, ironing the seam on a higher setting (fabric permitting) and adding steam can sometimes release some of the gathering/puckering caused by tension problems. In addition, you may want to use ironing to set and stabilize folds before they receive a final machine stitch.
Staystitching vulnerable curved edges:
Staystitching is quite often overlooked by sewing beginners. To give you some background, staystitching is the act of applying a straight stitch along vulnerable, curved edges along the seam allowance at a short distance above the seam line. It is done right after the fabric pieces are unpinned from the sewing patterns before any other sewing finish is applied. It is basically a security measure against stretching and pulling sensitive curved edges during the construction process.
Understandably, there are so many small and big rules required in the sewing process that staystitching is for some reason, the one that always gets overlooked. You may be able to get away with it in some situations, for instance when working with fabrics that don't stretch easily and have a very dense weave. Most of the time however, it is a good idea to develop the habit of staystitching at least along neckline and waistline edges in order to be on the safe side. This is especially true if your garment requires a facing, particularly at the neckline. By staystitching you can prevent the neckline curve of the garment from stretching and de-stabilizing so much that it's curve fails to match the curve of the facing properly.
Staystitching is a sewing application that will come with practice as you experiment with constructing a variety of different styles as well as work with different fabrics. Sewing beginners often learn the hard way that stay-stitching is a necessity in the sewing process. The good news is that learning the hard way when you are learning how to sew is actually a good thing! The downside with not applying a staystitch in a timely matter is that once those vulnerable round edges stretch it is unfortunately impossible to undo the damage. The worst part is that this issue often goes unnoticeable until the garment is finalized.
For good measure, always stay-stitch any curve you feel might stretch. If you get in the habit of doing so from the start, it will become quite automatic as you expand your sewing portfolio, not to mention save you some headache and frustration along the way.
Backstitching is another one of those necessary sewing applications that becomes quite automatic once you build a habit for it. Backstitching is usually done on the sewing machine to lock the beginning and/or end of a straight stitch preventing it from coming undone. A backstitch button or lever is included on every sewing machine no matter how very basic or complicated it is. An important benefit of backstiching offers the ability keep the edges of seams completely closed and locked in place for stability when they are ironed and further connected to other parts of the garment in the sewing process. It allows for a durable finish in the final product and makes the process of clean-finishing seam allowance raw edge more comfortable by keeping all the seams consistently closed.
Many sewing beginners underestimate the crucial step of backsticthing. As a result, the whole sewing experience can often become unnecessarily difficult and frustrating. Although it is important to backstitch each seam, it is not always necessary or desired that you backstitch on both the beginning and end of the seam.
Many experienced sewers learn exactly when backstitching is crucial from experience over time. However, if you are just starting out, it is a good habit to backstitch just at the beginning of the stitch and leave the other end as is. Next, iron the seam in the direction of the end that is not backstitched- this will release tension in the stitch making it quite beneficial for those beginners that do not yet understand the concept of machine tension. If you are convinced your machine has no tension issues by the fact that it sews a smooth stitch consistently through every fabric, then feel free to backstitch on both ends for added stability.
There are however some instances when backstitching should be avoided all together. Never backstitch on very fine fabrics like lightweight silks and fine chiffon. Unless you know your needle is sharp enough and your sewing machine does not cause tension issues, you may get away with backstitching some of these dainty fabrics. If you are unsure, stick to applying backstitch by hand when necessary. As a sewing beginner, try to also stay away from backstitching at the vanishing point of darts. Doing so may damage the fabric and create puckering on the face side of the garment. The best way to avoid this is to manually tie the loose threads of the dart stitch a few times to lock it in place.
Using a temporary basting stitch during sewing:
Temporary hand basting is used quite often during sewing to hold certain edges and layers of fabric stable prior to being permanently stitched. There are a few different types of basting stitches used for a variety of purposes you'll most likely learn as you become more advanced. However, the most commonly used one you should know as a sewing beginner is a temporary uneven hand baste which is removed after the final stitch has been applied.
If you are experimenting with zippers, double folded binding, waistbands and any sort of decorative or functional appliques, use hand basting to stabilize all the necessary layers in place before the final stitch is added. Doing so will save you the headache of having to undo certain stitches due to the fact that they have shifted or puckered during construction. It often takes some experience to know when hand basting during garment construction is truly necessary but it always goes hand-in-hand with your skill level. Most sewing beginners start with hand basting most seams until they feel comfortable with using just pins. However, even after years of experience, temporary basting continues to be a valuable tool in the construction process.
Lets face it, basting can sometimes feel like such a time consuming task. Most sewing beginners try to skip it and assume they can get away with using pins alone. However, it is in the learning process that hand basting during garment construction is most valuable. If you are a sewing beginner, avoid using pins alone to sew along very curved edges, zipper applications, or folded edges. Not only are pins difficult to manipulate along more challenging seams and applications, they do not hold the fabric flat and stable enough to be controlled and sewn efficiently. It is recommended that you do a quick, temporary hand baste before adding a machine stitch any time you feel that pins aren't enough to stabilize the fabric layers.
Learning how to sew is an ongoing process that takes time, patience and consistently learning from mistakes. If you're able to develop some good habits from the get-go, you will avoid many unnecessary pitfalls and save lots of time in the process.
As perhaps the most common of sewing alterations, converting a pair of jeans into a shiny new pair of shorts is actually quite simple to do. If you have a good pair of scissors and some means of taking precise measurements (like a ruler or measuring tape), you'll find the whole process fun and pretty rewarding. For many that have tried to do this simple alteration, the issue is always about using the proper measuring technique. As is true for any sewing alteration that requires trimming or cutting the garment, it is always a good idea to allow yourself enough room for error no matter how confident you feel. This is especially true when converting pants into shorts. Stay on the safe side by allowing yourself enough room for error.
The great thing about transforming a pair of pants into shorts is that you have control over the final design. Denim is quite fun to work with and withstands a variety of different decorative and finishing techniques. You may choose to simply cut the pant legs at your preferred length and leave them to fray a bit at the bottom for a more causal style. You can do that with denim due to the fabric's ability to lock the threads after a few rows of fraying thus stopping the edge from unraveling further. If you like the causal look of a raw denim edge but want to take the design a bit further, rolling the edge up and tacking it at the sides allows for a more "store-bought" look. On the other hand, if you like a clean-finished edge, you may use a variety if hemming techniques to finish the raw edge of fabric for a more elevated look. Converting pants into shorts allows you to experiment with a variety of decorative techniques like patching, distressing and adding lace and embroidery finishes. All of it is possible once you know how to measure and cut the pant legs to achieve the desired overall length, and an even length on both legs.
Cutting the pant legs:
Although it sounds easy, a single error when cutting the pant legs can put an end to the project all together. Any time you alter pants it is important to keep in mind that they fit and lay very differently on the back than they do on the front. Aligning the front waistline in relation to the back waistline will prove to be crucial in whether the shorts will fit and the hem of each leg will be evened out properly.
1. Lay the jeans flat on the table ensuring that the front waistline is aligned lower than the back waistline. Usually, that is how pants lay naturally at the waist. However, you should take extra precaution that you maintain this alignment throughout the cutting process.
Try the pants on and measure with a ruler or measuring tape the desired length for your shorts. It is best to measure along seams. The in-seam is the most appropriate to use as this will eventually ensure an even, correct cut.
2. Measure from the crotch seam down along the in-seam and use a fabric pencil to mark with a horizontal dash line at your chosen length. In this case, 3.5 inches.
3. Starting at the marked measurement from Step 2, position the ruler horizontally across the pant leg aligning the straight edge of the ruler with the side seam. This will ensure that the cutting line is straight and even in relationship to the side seam.
4. Use the fabric marking pencil to draw a straight line across.
5. Place a few pins horizontally through both layers of fabric to keep them stable during cutting. Cut across through both layers as shown.
6. Mark the same measurement on the other pant leg's in-seam with a fabric marking pencil. Use a horizontal dash line.
7. Flip the cut pant leg on top of the uncut portion as shown. Make sure the front and back waistlines maintain the same alignment as described above- the back waistline should lay higher than the front waistline.
Use the side pockets and waistband as an alignment guide, ensuring that each part overlaps right on top of one another.
8. Use the bottom already cut line as a guide to mark the cutting line on the remaining pant leg.
Be careful not to shift the pant legs out of alignment in the marking process.
9. Place a few pins horizontally along the second pant leg right above the marked line, and carefully cut through both layers of fabric as shown above.
Once cut, the shorts should be even on both sides and the back waistline should lay higher than the front as described.
Hemming the jean shorts:
Because you cut through the seams, you will have to reinforce each seam stitch at the hem area so that the stitches don't come undone during wear.
10. To do so, stitch from the hem up at about 1 inch and backstitch to reinforce.
You can manually unravel the edges for a more distressed, casual look. This however, will happen naturally during the first wash cycles. If a more distressed denim look is the style you are after, that is all that's necessary to start wearing your new shorts!
If you like the rolled up hem look, follow the steps bellow to learn an easy technique for achieving it:
11. Decide on how high you want the roll to be. If you are unsure, a good standard measurement to follow is 1". Keep in mind that you should leave enough excess at the bottom of each pant leg in the cutting process such as to allow for the raw edges of the hem to be rolled up accordingly.
12. Match all the seams so that they overlap as shown above. Place a pin through the rolled-up hem to keep the seams aligned properly and maintain the correct fold measurement at each seam.
Repeat Step 12 on every seam, rolling the hem up at the same distance throughout and placing a pin through every folded seam. Doing so will keep the rolled edge in place at key areas of the hem.
13. Starting from the bottom up, stitch through both layers of the rolled hem as close to the seam as possible.
14. Backstitch a few times to reinforce and repeat the process along every seam.
15. Iron the rolled hem in place to maintain the fold along each bottom edge.
After every wash, you may need to re-iron the cuffs. However, the side stitches will ensure that this is very easy to do without having to re-measure the rolled distance after every wash cycle.
Adding a machine stitched hem:
Ensure that before adding a machine stitched hem, you left enough excess hem allowance in the cutting process so that you don't compromise the desired length of the final shorts.
In this tutorial, our hem allowance is 1"
1. Fold the raw edge of the hem towards inside the garment at 1/2" and iron the fold in place. Fold the ironed edge one more time at 1/2" to completely enclose the raw edge. Iron the second fold as well.
3. Place a few pins perpendicular to the edge as shown above to keep this fold in place during stitching.
3. Machine stitch on the inside of the garment as close as you comfortably can to the fold line. It helps to use the line of the fold as a guide.
4. Iron the finished edges of the hem and don't forget to backstitch every stitch for durability.
No Sewing Machine? No Problem. 4 Hand Sewing Techniques And Stitches You Should Know As a Sewing Beginner.
Whether you own a sewing machine or not, learning some basic hand stitches will prove to be quite useful in the long haul. You can't physically take your sewing machine with you everywhere you go, so knowing how to do a few quick fixes by hand can sometimes be a life-saver. In the case you do not actually own a sewing machine, you can use hand stitching not only to fix rips but also sew smaller permanent seams. If you do own a sewing machine, taking it out just for a quick fix can be a hassle sometimes, so learning how to imitate a machine stitch by hand will prove to be quite handy.
Other instances when hand sewing is necessary in the sewing process is for stitching areas that are difficult to access with the machine needle, attaching patches, trims and other appliques manually, and completing blind finishes like a slip stitch and catch stitch. Another important hand stitch worth knowing is the blanket stitch which can be used to replace the zig zag stitch on a home sewing machine. It can be applied along raw edges of fabric to contain fraying as well commonly as used for decorative purposes. This is an important hand stitch to know often used in apparel and especially quilting.
If you find that you enjoy the therapeutic aspect of stitching by hand, there are also plenty of intricate hand embroidery stitches you can experiment with as you become more comfortable in the process.
For now, if you are a still in the beginning stages, we suggest you focus on just a few basic but necessary hand stitches applicable to almost any project. We'll introduce you to 4 such stitches below. If you were to use these 4 stitches together, you would actually be able to sew a clothing item from start to finish without the need for a sewing machine.
1. The Blanket Hand Stitch (Oversewn/Overcast)
This is a great stitch to use as a zig zag substitute when needed. Just as the name suggests, the blanket stitch (also commonly referred to as oversewing or overcasting) is often applied along the edges of blankets, certain towels and comforters in order to smooth and prevent them from rolling. It is also used quite often in quilting along the fabric's edge both for decoration purposes as well as to keep the edge from unraveling. Just as you would on a sewing machine, you can actually control the density and length/size of the blanket stitch while hand sewing it. A denser, shorter stitch works better for lighter fabrics that fray easier. On the other hand, a larger, less dense blanket stitch is applied along the edges of thicker fabrics with lower fraying.
1. Choose the desired length for your blanket stitch and insert the needle at that measurement down from the fabric's edge. In this tutorial, our blanket stitch is approximately 1/4". The length you choose depends on the fabric at hand. The thinner and lighter-weight the fabric, the shorter and denser the stitch should be.
2. Position the thread in a loop/circular shape and insert the needle again at the same distance down from the fabric's edge. Where you insert the second stitch will determine the density of the blanket stitch. The closer the bottom stitches are together, the denser the blanket stitch will be. It is always a good idea to practice a few different lengths and densities on different fabric types.
3. As you pull the needle out, position it so that it goes thorough the thread loop as shown. The thread loop should be at the bottom and the needle should go on top.
4. Pull the thread gently until the stitch aligns with the fabric's edge. Be careful not to pull so hard that the fabric wrinkles and creates tension along the edge.
5. Repeat the steps described above making sure to follow the same measurements throughout. The density and the length of the stitch should be distributed evenly along the edge.
As you continue stitching, be cautious not to pull on the thread too tightly or you risk creating tension issues along the edge.
As you apply the blanket stitch, you'll notice that the edge becomes contained within the thread loops thus preventing the fabric edge from unraveling or rolling. This allows the blanket stitch to be the perfect hand sewing substitute for a zig zag or serged machine finish.
2. The Hand Backstitch
A backstitch done by hand is perhaps the most durable straight stitch you can achieve by hand. You can actually substitute this for a regular machine straight stitch if needed. The reason it is so durable is because the process requires constant backstitching which doubles the stitching layers. Just like the straight stitch setting on your sewing machine, you can control the length and density of this hand stitch. Keep in mind that a shorter backstitch will create a stronger, more dense finish. This is a great hand stitch for sewing or fixing small seams. You can also use it to top-stitch by hand or stitch in areas that are difficult to reach with your sewing machine.
In the example below, we'll show you how to use a hand backstitch to sew a seam by hand.
1. As is customary for any time you prepare a seam for sewing, align the edges of the seam so that the face of both layers of fabric are touching.
2. Decide on the stitch length and insert the needle lengthwise through both layers of fabric at the chosen length. Make sure you position the stitch at the correct seam allowance from the fabric's edge.
In this tutorial the stitch length is approximately 1/4" thus the needle is inserted at a 1/4" interval.
3. Return to the point where the first stitch begins, and insert the needle forward at double the stitch distance as shown. The needle should go past where the last stitch ends.
4. Pull the thread gently. Ensure that you don't stitch too tightly as this can cause the final seam to pucker and create tension issues.
5. Repeat the process by inserting the needle back through where the last stitch ends at double the distance of the stitch again.
Maintain the stitches as even as you can ensuring that you follow the correct seam allowance throughout.
You will notice that a hand backstitch resembles a straight machine stitch very closely. However, if you look on the back side of the stitch, you'll find double stitched layers with a slightly different look. These stitch layers contribute to the seam's durability and long term wear.
If you do not have a sewing machine available, the hand backstitch works just as well for sewing permanent seams.
3. The Slip Stitch
A slip stitch is great hand stitch to master whether you own a sewing machine or not. It is often used in conjunction with other machine applications to sew difficult to reach areas or apply a blind finish. You can use a slip stitch to finish the inside of waistbands, collars and cuffs. Most commonly however, you will find it as a blind hemming method used on a variety of different garments. Slip stitching is also a great technique for fixing surface tears or connecting seams on the face side of the fabric. It is a hidden stitch that should not be noticeable on the face of the garment and difficult to see on the wrong side, if applied correctly.
Below, we'll walk you through the process of applying a slip stitch on a hem to create a blind finish.
1. Double fold and iron the fabric towards the wrong side to enclose the raw edge. You can also insert a few pins to hold this fold in place.
This folding method is the most common technique for finishing hems. Make sure the fold stays aligned properly and folded at an even distance throughout. Follow the hem allowance.
2. Insert the needle though the edge of the fold as shown above.
3. Next, catch 1 or 2 threads from the fabric surface right above the fold. Catching just a few threads will result in an invisible stitch on the face side of the garment, especially when applied with matching color thread.
4. Insert the needle back through the fold at approximately 1/4" in length. You can control how loose or closely together you want the stitches to be. A denser, smaller stitch will allow for a more durable, tight finish.
5. Repeat Step 3 again by catching a few threads from the surface of the fabric.
6. Repeat the stitching process described above until the fold is attached to the fabric throughout. You'll notice that the slip stitch resembles small "v" shapes aligned next to one another.
Only small points from the slip stitch are visible on the outside of the fabric. When the thread matches in color, these stitches blend in to look invisible on the face of the garment.
4. A Permanent Tack Stitch
A permanent tack stitch looks quite subtle and is easy to apply. It is used as a stabilizer to hold certain layers of fabric from shifting or to link separate garment sections together. A permanent tack stitch is localized and applied most commonly on the inside of facings and lining to stop them from shifting out of alignment or flipping to the face side of the garment. It is also a great way to keep rolled cuffs in place through wear and care. You might have already spotted this stitch on cuffed jean shorts and cuffed blouses. There are a few different styles of tack stitches both permanent and temporary that are used for various purposes. The most common are cross tacks, bar tacks (which we'll discuss below), heavy duty tacks and french tacks. The most commonly used are cross tacks and bar tacks thus it is a good idea to start with mastering one of the two.
Applying a simple bar tack:
1. Insert the needle through all layers of fabric that require a tack stitch. In this case, the edge of the fold is being attached to the surface of the fabric- a common technique for stabilizing rolled cuffs.
2. Leave some excess thread to use for completing the stitch with a knot at the end.
3. Stitch in place a few times forming overlapping loops until a tight, durable layered stitch is achieved.
4. When cutting the thread, make sure to leave enough excess so that you can tie the two loose threads together for a more durable, clean finish.
5. Tie the threads together 2-3 times and carefully trim close to the knot.
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