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Flat Insertion Method for Sleeves?

Mobleygirl | Posted in General Sewing Info on

I have been reading about a flat insertion method for sleeves when working with knits. I’d like to give this a try (I’m an advanced beginner), since I’ve been on this big “knit kick” lately. Patterns always instruct you to set in the sleeve–even for knits, but I’ve heard you can sew them in flat. How exactly do you do this? Thanks!


  1. Crazy K | | #1

    I use the flat insertion method most of the time.  Most of my garments of the of very casual, not very fitted type and lots of knits.  You sew you shoulder seams and the pin the sleeve rst at the top of the sleeve to the shoulder seam  and pin or hold (I do it mostly without pins anymore!) your sleeve to the garment.  Stitch and repeat for other sleeve.  Then you can sew your sleeve seam and side seam in one fell swoop......and I usually start at the sleeve and stich down to the hem.  Make sense?

    The garments that this works best for is one with a fairly flat sleeve cap.  You might have to fuss a bit to ease it all together but it works and is 'SEW easy'!!

    Hope this helps.  I've been sewing for years but still consider myself only an intermediate since I don't do tailoring.  I made myself a lined jacket years ago and had to really re-do the whole pattern to get what I wanted but you know what..........it worked!!  The jacket fit and I always felt good wearing it.  I think it was dumb luck because I surely didn't know what I was doing!!  Most of my sewing these days is home dec. items and tots clothing.........and a few very very casual things for myself.

  2. Tatsy | | #2

     Flat insertion is a dream technique and doesn't need pins for knits, although I generally do put one where the center of the sleeve meets the shoulder seam, then pull it out when I'm an inch or two away.   Flat insertion won't work if the sleeve cap has too much ease at the top, like a frilly blouse. The sleeve cap should look somethink like the top of a man's dress shirt. 

    1. stitchintime | | #8

       "Flat insertion won't work if the sleeve cap has too much ease at the top, like a frilly blouse.

      Not true. You can gather and fit the sleeve to the bodice just like you gather anything else and fit it to another part. Like a gathered back piece attached to an upper back yoke or the bottom of a sleeve attached to the cuff. Why make life difficult?

      "The sleeve cap should look somethink like the top of a man's dress shirt."

      Only if you want the top to look like a T-shirt. Some knit tops also have gathering at the top of the sleeve, like wovens.

      Edited 8/28/2007 5:27 pm ET by stitchintime

      1. jjgg | | #9

        I do a combination of 'flat' and 'round' sleeve insertion, This works well with ANY type of sleeve. Sew the shoulder seam, attach the sleeve by pinning in place from notch to notch. I do not use gathering rows to pull up the ease but pin it with lots of pins. I start where notches and dots are and the center at the shoulder seam and then half each section and half again until all the ease is taken up. You would be very surprised at how much ease you can pin up this way. I then hand baste this in place and check my work. You can adjust the ease much better this way then if you've put gathering rows in. The gathering stitches lock the fabric in place and makes it very difficult if not impossible to adjust. Then, I sew the underarm seam and the side seams (separately), and then attach the bottom portion of the sleeve to the body of the shirt like you would normally do. I don't like the look of the seam when the underarm and side seam are sewn as one.

        1. stitchintime | | #12

          Sounds like a lot of work but a better result. It reminds me of how Charles Kleibacker eases in a bias seam.

          And I agree with you on the underarm seam, somehow it feels funny when you wear it; that's what I see as the one drawback of the flat method. I will remember your method for jackets. It doesn't seem worth the trouble for t-shirts but maybe it's worth practising on them anyway, so I have the technique down when I need it.  Thanks.

      2. Tatsy | | #10

        Sorry.  When I think of flat insertion, I'm thinking of no gathering, just holding one piece in each hand and letting the feed dogs do the little bit of easing that needs to be done.  I guess you're just talking about applying the sleeve without closing both side seams.  I do love the totally flat method, and you're right, you can do that on a frilly blouse sleeve, but it's still pin/adjust, pin/adjust.

  3. User avater
    Becky-book | | #3

    Flat insertion does work well for knit tops, but be careful when sewing the side seam... the sleeve seams must match or else the sleeve won't "behave" under the arm.


  4. Teaf5 | | #4

    Crazy K's instructions work well for me, too. It's not a bad idea to mark the front and back of each sleeve (with chalk or marker in the seam allowance) as even unfitted sleeves are slightly different left/right.A good, cheap way to practice the flat-insertion method is to take oversized men's t-shirts, cut them apart and into your favorite t-shirt pattern pieces, and then put them back together. You end up with practice with knits and a nicely fitted tshirt!

    1. Stillsewing | | #5

      Some years ago Vogue patterns did both dress and jacket patterns where the sleeve was attached in this manner. It was so much easier than inserting the sleeve and trying to get an even fit which has been the bugbear of my life since I returned to sewing in the past two years. If anyone knows of a pattern that features this type of flat sleeve head do let us know, I for one will be eternally grateful. I'm afraid that I did not keep any of the patterns that featured that type of sleeve.

    2. lasgalen101 | | #13

      It should already be marked: when you are doing your notches there is usually one notch on the front and two on the back. Just remember to pay attention to them!

      1. Pattiann42 | | #14

        Flat Sleeve Insertion

        In addition to matching the notices, lay the sleeve next to the feed dogs and they will ease the sleeve into the opening.

  5. woodruff | | #6

    I'm an advanced sewist, and use the flat insertion method almost all the time. For fine tailoring or unusual designs, no. But for almost everything else, I find that it works perfectly well.

    1. starzoe | | #7

      I am with you on this flat-sleeve thing. I too sew almost every sleeve this way. A tight cap needs some basting/drawing thread and judicious stitching but it certainly can be done.

  6. Betakin | | #11

    Flat sleeves are done easily on knits. Sometimes a little bit of stretch of the material is needed but not always. I have been doing all of my knits in this manner since I made so many Tee shirts for my family years ago using the Stretch N Sew patterns and technique. You may wish to Google Stretch and Sew or Stretch N Sew. I believe you can still purchase their patterns and books on line. You also might wish to purchase some DoSew which is a fabric that is similar to interfacing. Do Sew is used to trace off the size of patterns needed from the muti sizes that are included on the Stretch N Sew Patterns.

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