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How to Sew a Men's Shirt - Sewing the Sleeves

In the last installment, I discussed how to sew the collar and collar stand. In this installment, we will be sewing the shirt sleeves.

Men's shirt sleeves are fairly easy to sew into the shirt because they do not have gathers in the sleeve cap, only a slight amount of easing. There are two methods for inserting shirt sleeves. One method has you sew the side seams of the shirt and the sleeve seam separately and then insert the sleeve tube into the round armhole. With the other method, which I prefer in most cases, you sew the shirt into the armhole while both pieces are flat and then sew the sleeve and side seam at one time. The flat method works especially well with sleeves that don't require a lot of easing and for children's clothes where the armhole is small and can be difficult to work with in the round, but ultimately, it is a matter of personal preference. In this example, I will be illustrating the flat method of sleeve assembly.

When working with sleeves, regardless of the method of insertion I use for the sleeve, I always press the hem ahead of time. Here the first hem is shown, being pressed. Notice that the hem edge of the sleeve slopes slightly outward at the edges. This sloping is the reverse of how the sleeve itself tapers as it approaches the hem. This is necessary so that when the hem is folded in, it will fit nicely inside the tapered sleeve without any pulling or puckers.

If you make any adjustments to the sleeve, always remember that the sloped area must match the width of the hem (where the two angles intersect is where the fold line for the hem falls).
Preparing the sleeve hem

Next, you will fold over and press the second hem. You can see how the angles match when the hem is folded over.
Preparing the sleeve hem

If you are planning to flat fell your armhole seam, press the curved edge of your sleeves over 1/4 inch toward the wrong side. This pre-pressing makes it much easier later on to do the flat felled seam. If you are going to serge or zigzag the armhole seam, you can skip this step.

For the smoothest finish to your armhole seam, take the time to do a lot of pinning at this step. The easiest way that I have found to pin the sleeve and shirt together is to have the shirt on the bottom, right side up, and place the sleeve right side down. Match and pin the notch closest to the top of the sleeve cap first (this usually matches the shoulder seam or near the middle of the yoke) and then pin the other notches toward the side seam. The area closest to the side seam will match easily and need just a few pins. The rounded sections of the armhole will require the most easing and pinning in order to prevent sewing in any puckers or pleats. I do this in the same fashion as I do when I distribute gathers by starting from the top of the sleeve cap and finding the middle of both the sleeve and the armhole sections between the top pin and the next pin. Match these middles and pin in place. Repeat for each smaller section until the fabric of the sleeve is evenly distributed along the armhole seam. Your pins should be about 1/4 inch or less apart for the best results. Yes, it is a pain, but less of a pain than having to rip out your seam. If there is a particularly tight area, I will sometimes clip the armhole slightly in a few spots to release the pressure (if you do this, be sure to not clip past the seam allowance).

Once you are finished pinning the sleeve and are ready to begin sewing, place the shirt in the machine so that the sleeve is on top (this way you can watch for puckers or pleats and adjust the fabric as you go). Start sewing at the side seam and slowly stitch around the armhole seam, pulling the pins as you sew. When you are finished sewing, clip your threads and look at the seam from the right side to check how smooth the seam is. If it looks good, press the seam flat (if you pressed your sleeve cap over, be careful to not press that out) and then turn the sleeve right side out and press the seam carefully from the right side. A pressing ham works best for this, but if you don't have one, you can use the end of the ironing board and rotate the seam around as you press it.

Repeat the process with the other sleeve and armhole. Once you have inserted both sleeves and pressed them, finish the armhole seam as desired. If you are flat felling the seam, trim the armhole seam allowance to 3/16 inch and fold the previously pressed edge of the sleeve over the trimmed seam allowance and pin in place. Stitch close to the pressed edge to finish the flat felled seam (this finish can also be used on the side seams as well, if desired).
Preparing the pocket for sewing

To finish the shirt, sew the side and sleeve seams and sew the sleeve seams. Finish the bottom hem as directed by your pattern. The next step is to mark the placement of the buttonholes. Once you make your buttonholes you can mark the placement of the buttons. I do not rely on the pattern for the placement of the buttons because if the buttonholes shift slightly when they are being made, this throws off the button placement. So, I wait until the buttonholes are made and then use a chalk or pen marker to mark through the center of the buttonhole opening. Stitch your buttons on by machine or hand and you are done!

I hope you enjoyed this shirt sewing tutorial and that it inspires you to make a shirt for a special man in your life.

Happy sewing!

How to Sew a Men's Shirt Lesson Index

How to Sew a Men's Shirt - First Steps
How to Sew a Men's Shirt - Preparing the Pattern
How to Sew a Men's Shirt - Reading the Pattern
How to Sew a Men's Shirt - Cutting the Fabric
How to Sew a Men's Shirt - Matching the Fabric
How to Sew a Men's Shirt - Pocket
How to Sew a Men's Shirt - Sewing the Yoke
How to Sew a Men's Shirt - Sewing Shoulder Seams
How to Sew a Men's Shirt - Sewing the Collar
How to Sew a Men's Shirt - the Collar Stand
How to Sew a Men's Shirt - Sewing the Sleeves

Looking for more resources for making clothing? Check out these books!

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