The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

The Sleeve Head

The Sleeve Head is one of those techniques that strikes terror in the hearts of many sewists.  And it doesn’t need to be that way.

This is ONE technique that I remember complaining about to my mentor when I was apprenticing under her….you CAN’T get that much fabric into that space….it’s like easing two miles into two inches – it just won’t go.  Then the smart aleck would sit down and ease two miles into two inches, and I’d think, harumph!!!  She’s just lucky!!!!

This was back in the Dynasty/Shoulder Pad days.  That sleeve, to extend out that far and be that big meant that he underarm was dropped, but it also meant that there was almost two miles into two inches…..OK, well not quite that bad, but almost.  So this is when I learned about how to set a sleeve in.  It was tough, but after some practice (and it didn’t take much, but it did take practice) I got it.

sh1 sh2

This looks impossible, but it’s not.  And practicing the correct technique is what makes this all worth the effort.


Here’s why.

The shoulder is close to the face.  And any expert will tell you that the first place humans look when seeing the whole body is the face – OK if there’s some scantily dressed tart out there, the eyes will drop lower on some folks, but their eyes first go to the face.  That means keeping your garment neat, fitted, attractive, flattering, proportioned correctly, and well-constructed close to the face is key.  When I design my wedding, debutante and ball gowns I’m always keeping most of the attention around the face.  The shoulder and sleeve head is right there next to the face and may not be the first thing seen, but it will be next and odds are that it will be noticed very quickly after the face.

If the shoulder/sleeve head is not constructed well, it will be plainly evident, so that after the face is this glaring mistake in very close proximity.  The funny thing about mistakes is that they often show up more than the properly constructed technique.  IOW, it’s harder to notice the well-constructed parts of a garment than the mistakes of the garment.

Additionally, the garment hangs from the shoulder.  If the construction is off at the start – from where it hangs – it ain’t gerna get better as you go down!  This will not only affect the look of the garment, but will affect the hang and therefore the fit.  If your garment does not sit correctly or consistently in the same place, your garment won’t fit – it’s that simple.  No matter how many classes you take and how much you futz with the fit, your garment MUST hang correctly for the rest of the garment to fit.

Remember when you were in 2nd grade and your teacher said you have to learn addition so you can learn multiplication?  She was right (dang it!)  Trying to learn multiplication without knowing addition is double hard (cause you gotta learn that dang addition first!!!)  Your garment must hang and sit well on your body, as well as hang consistently – that means every time you put your garment on, it must locate in the same place.  This is the required start of fitting.  And if your sleeve head isn’t right, then no matter how well you fit the rest of the garment (or no matter the detail or construction excellence), it won’t matter – it just won’t show because of the glaring error in your

Finally a well-constructed sleeve head adds a crisp shoulder profile to a garment that can make all the difference in the profile you are setting up for the garment.



OK here’s what I mean.  Look at the
difference between these two jackets.  The one on the top looks pretty good and normal. The shoulders look in proportion and the jacket looks  balanced from the top to the bottom.



In this jacket, the shoulders are too close together.  This is the line from the hip, waist up to the shoulder that I’m talking about. If you have a puny or poorly set-in sleeve, your shoulder line isn’t going to be as crisp, defined and can look out of proportion even though it’s not.






This is even evident in knits.  Notice the crisp nice definition of the shoulder line caused my a properly set-in sleeve.  This is of course easier in knits, but it also shows in knits as well as in wovens.  In wovens it’s a must (because it puts that ease in the sleeve head which allows you to raise and lower your arm without being constrained by the fabric in the sleeve head).  In knits it’s just a more handsome look.

I will teach a one-day class  on the sleeve head where you will do an ease sleeve, and then a hard one!  You can sign up at Bernina 405.840.8911.  The class is one-day on July 23rd!




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