How to Make the Perfect Coat: Sewing Sleeves in Jackets
On a typical jacket or coat, the collar, lapels or button closures are the stars of your garment, while the sleeves are more of a supporting player. However, this supporting role doesn’t make precision sewing any less important. A properly sewn sleeve can be the difference between making a jacket that looks high-end instead of handmade.
Follow these tips for precisely sewn sleeves on all your coats and jackets!
When the sleeves are sewn well, you might not notice them. On the other hand, if you have a sleeve with any unintended puckers or gathers, it can easily detract from the overall look.
Sewing patterns have different amounts of ease designed into the sleeve cap and it can take a little practice to learn how to sew them. And, sewing a set-in sleeve definitely involves a bit of sewing. But, proceed carefully! There are a few other steps to follow (both before you sew in the sleeve and after the sleeve is sewn in the armhole) that will ensure your sleeves are the smooth supporting players you want them to be.
Take ease with two-piece sleeves on a jacket.
Patterns that have a two-piece jacket sleeve generally have a nice fit and feel when worn. The seam allows for shaping and follows the bend in your arm at the elbow. There is a small section of ease at the elbow area, where the upper sleeve is a bit longer than the undersleeve, and the two are eased together. Don’t ignore this small step, it is what gives that natural curve to your finished sleeve.
A two-piece sleeve has some markings that may be confusing. Remember that the double notch always indicates the back of the sleeve and garment, and the single notch indicates the front.
A well-marked pattern may have two sets of dots: These serve different purposes.The large dots, circled in red, are always the ease dots, and correspond to dots on the jacket front and back pattern pieces. The small dots, circled in blue, only appear on the actual sleeve pieces and serve to help join the upper and under sleeve together.
Sleeves and basting go together well.
Basting a garment may seem like a step that will slow down your sewing, but when it comes to sleeves, this extra step really pays off. I like to pin my sleeve in using lots of pins. Then, I baste using a very long stitch on the machine (or I simply hand baste). This allows you to remove all the pins and see if the sleeve is looking smooth with no ripples or tucks.
If there are small sections that have gathers showing, you can unstitch just those sections, ease and rebaste. Then you can sew on the machine with no pins to remove as you go. A coat or jacket sleeve takes a lot of the strain from wear and is the seam most likely to pop, so I go around the seam again with a second row just 1/8″ inside the original stitching.
Time for a press!
Once your sleeve is sewn in, press the seam allowance all the way around the seam using just the tip of the iron. This smoothes out the sleeve cap you just eased into the garment, maintaining that nice curve over the shoulder.
Always trim (some of) the seam.
Trim the seam allowance to ¼” under the arm about 2-3 inches on either side of the side seam. This allows for more movement and comfort. Don’t trim any of the rest of the seam allowance, which serves to support the sleeve cap.
Sew in a sleeve header.
A sleeve header is used in a sleeve cap to keep the cap shape and prevent the seam allowance from showing through on the outside of the garment. It is placed in between the seam allowance and sleeve cap. You can purchase sleeve heads or make your own by cutting bias strips of lambswool or flannel.
Consider a shoulder pad.
Thankfully the heyday of big shoulder pads has gone out with the 80’s. However, shoulder pads do have a place in a tailored jacket. Note that if your pattern calls for a shoulder pad, it is absolutely necessary unless you alter both the jacket front and back pieces plus adjust the sleeve cap.
A shoulder pad can be very thin without adding bulk, helping to fill out the hollow in the upper chest and allowing the jacket front and back to hang smoothly. So, before you skip this step, baste in some small shoulder pads and see how your jacket looks.
Photo via SunnyGal Studio
Following these steps will result in a smooth even sleeve cap that will be a complement to your coat or jacket.
You may also be interested in…learning how to create a custom jacket! In the Craftsy class Jacket Fitting Techniques, you’ll discover, with step-by-step instruction, how to make a boutique-worthy jacket perfectly fit to your body!