Sewing in a set-in sleeve in a knitted garment – it doesn’t have to be painful.

Some time ago, I promised to post my method for sewing in a set-in sleeve.  I really don’t mind seaming a set-in sleeve.  In fact, it gives me a great sense of accomplishment when I’ve finished and it looks good.  It doesn’t even take that long.

When I learned to sew, I was taught to sew the underarm seams of the sleeves and the side seams of the main body of the garment before setting in the sleeve.  Then the sleeve was turned inside out and put inside the body of the garment (right sides together) so cap could be eased in order to fit into the armscye properly.

In sewing the sleeve cap in knitting, I leave seams open.  This lets me manipulate the pieces more easily and allows me to use my favorite technique, pictured. To me, the critical difference in a set in sleeve cap and other seaming in knitted garments is that the sleeve cap seam is not flat when worn, so it helps to work it over a shape something like a shoulder.  I use my knee:


Or, if you don’t enjoy bad posture sewing, you can drape it over the edge of an upholstered chair:

sleeve on chair

You could  roll up a towel and use it while sitting at a table enjoying good posture.   If you are the sort of well-stocked seamstress I am not, you could use a tailor’s ham instead.

First, I rarely block before seaming.  Blocking takes up precious time and space, and unless the stitch pattern requires it (lace, some rib/cable combinations) it doesn’t really help me much.  Stockinette will curl no matter what, that’s its nature.  So, skip the blocking, then sew shoulder seam (or do a 3 needle bind off if that’s your preference.)

Next, mark  the following spots for linging up the body and the sleeve using split ring markers, pins, tailors tacks, tie a bit of yarn on, whatever works or you have handy.  I’ll use yarn scraps if I don’t want to get up and get my other knitting bag that has markers and pins.  I am not an illustrator, but this should indicate how the sleeve fits in the armscye and where to mark.  Those spots are in green.

low tech how sleeve fits in armscye

low tech how sleeve fits in armscye

Fold sleeve in half, place a pin or marker in the center top, pin to shoulder seam.

Bring edge of underarm bind off up to center top spot you have marked, then mark for half way point, repeat for other side. Mark the same spots on the body, then pin together at the top, and the side spots. Coiless safety pins or split ring markers work well for this.

(Hopefully, you did the decreases two sts in from edge, it does make seaming easier.)

I start with two lengths of seaming yarn, starting one at each bound off underarm.  First sew vertical to horizontal (bars to v’s) then mattress stitch along the armhole.  (Pink arrows.) With mattress stitch, I sew a couple of inches on one side, then a couple on the other.  I alternate, checking for smoothness and to see that I haven’t veered off into another column of stitches.  Since the sleeve cap is eased in, you may not work 2 bars to 2 bars of mattress stitch.  I often work 2 bars from the sleeve, 1 from the body, then do 2 from the body.  Depending on row gauge, make your adjustment.  When I get to the first marker or pin, I ensure they match.  Then I work one side up and over the sleeve cap, so there is a smooth line there, without needing to join yarn or weave in more ends. ( At the top of the sleeve cap the seaming back to bars and v’s.)  I do two bars and two bars, but switch to two and one to ease in the cap.  I work the other side up and meet the seam, easing in as necessary.  The great thing about seaming in knitting is that it is so easy to undo a few stitches and adjust.  I can remember practically destroying some set in fabric sleeves, I ripped them out so many times.  (My mother would walk by and say, “Well Rip, how’s it going?”)

That’s it.  When I finish the seams and cuffs and finally block, I’ll post a picture.

And because I feel like it and Jocelyn asked, here’s a gratuitous foster horse photo.  Norwegian Wood?  IMG_1150


11 responses to “Sewing in a set-in sleeve in a knitted garment – it doesn’t have to be painful.

  1. A timely post – I gotta sew one in tonight!

    OMG – is that a cute face or WHAT.??!?! (And am gobstoppered by the green in that photo. What is that?? I have no reference here…)

    • She is cute. And fat. And much less naughty than she was. I think she has finally caught on that I am the boss in our little herd. It is green here, and gets greener every day. I dreamed last night that my tomatoes were rotting on the vine. Of course, it’s been too cold for them even to grow, so no danger of that.

  2. I really like your method and will probably adopt a good portion of it my own self. Instead of pins or tying off the points of interest, I use those springy hair clip butterfly like things, since they usually don;t end up lining up for me at crunch time, The horse looks really beautiful.

  3. Adorable horse pic!

    My setting-in-sleeves process is much the same as yours. I even sewed in woven-fabric sleeves flat, back when I sewed at all. Impossible to try sewing the sleeve-tube to the armhole “in the round” on a sewing machine – I couldn’t get the fabric out of its own way.
    — stashdragon

    • So you didn’t have shredded sleeve caps and facings, then, I’ll bet. It has been ages since I’ve sewed an article of clothing, and longer than that since it had set in sleeves. If I ever do it again, I’ll try it.

  4. You make it sound so … possible. I frogged an entire sweater once because I couldn’t get the sleeves in. Since then I only do seamless patterns!

  5. I so rarely knit sweaters these days that I hardly ever find myself setting in a sleeve, which is quite a relief to be honest! I can do it but I’d really rather not have to!

    Gorgeous horse 🙂

    • Me neither, really. I just decided to make a couple for myself, and now I am on my third one since March. Following a pattern makes it simpler, and not trying to keep track of what I have done. Even if it is one of my own patterns.

      Thanks – Zannah the horse is really turning into a sweet heart. Mostly. I call her the Naughty Norwegian, but she is doing so well, I may need a new nickname We had a lovely ride in the woods today, beating the big storm by an hour or so.

  6. Thank you so much. Have just set in a sleeve using thIs method. So much easier and quicker due to no backtracking.
    I do have a tailors ham and I also have a clapper which I use to flatten seams. – Position sleeve or any other seam on corner or flat part of ironing
    board, cover with wet towel and flatten with clapper or similar item. Clenched fists work too.
    Then spread finished garment on kitchen bench on towel and cover with another flat towel. Leave overnight.
    Next morning, lift towel and pull into shape if necessary and check if anything needs pinning i.e. front band. Pin to towel and place wet towel back over garment. Leave for about another 8hrs. or so – then remove wet towel and allow garment to dry (flat) naturally.

  7. Sorry, that should have been ‘wet’ towel.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s