Flat Assembly Method for Attaching A Sleeve with a Cuff, or How to Avoid a Set-In Sleeve on a Standard Shirt

Flat Assembly Method for Attaching A Sleeve with a Cuff: If a cuff and sleeve placket are involved you have to construct a set-in sleeve.   So I have been told.

Rebuttal: No you don’t.

Others who love to set-in a sleeve can do so to their hearts content, but for me, it is flat assembly whenever possible.

My hatred of the set-in sleeve engendered this little brainstorm.  Those of you handy at sewing blouses may already be doing this, but if you are, then there are a lot of us home-sewers at our machines using this technique and the pattern companies and sewing manuals are completely in the dark. 

Here is a run-through of the covert operations.

1) I sew my bodice, but of course, do not sew up the side seams.

2) I take my sleeve and sew the placket

Now here is where I part ways with most sewing manuals.  Most pattern instructions tell you:

  • sew the underarm of the sleeve
  • sew the side seams of the bodice
  • attach the two using a set-in technique
  • then attach the cuff to the nearly finished shirt.

The instructions tell you that because there is a physical fact of cuffs that must be dealt with.  Plackets do not lie in the side seams.  Most of the time the placket is a cut into the body of the sleeve.  The cuff does not go from side seam to side seam – it runs from placket opening to placket opening.  

Here you can see the cuff encloses the underarm seam and instead runs from placket opening to placket opening. The placket is not part of the underarm seam, it is a separate cut into the body of the sleeve.

Therefore the underarm seam must be sewn and finished before applying the cuff.

Or must it?

Must we sew the entire underarm seam?

I don’t.

3) Instead, I sew only three to four inches of the underarm seam coming up from the wrist. 

I sew three to four inches of the underarm seam closed at the wrist and then attach the cuff down to finishing details like topstitching and buttonholes. I leave most of the underarm seam open.

 4) Attach cuff: I don’t have to drag an entire blouse behind me as I attach the cuff. I attach it right then and there working with just the sleeve itself.

5) Sew sleeve to bodice: The wrist portion is in the round, but the sleeve cap is flat. I do flat assembly to the bodice shoulder. (One word of warning – As your sleeve has this cuff dangling from the end it can be harder to see right sides. Double and triple check you are right sides together at the shoulder and sleeve cap. )

Sleeve sewn into armscye flat assembly.


Here is what it looks like from the right side. You can see the completed cuff that is in the round and the flat shoulder seam with the upper underarm seams left open.

6) Now I have only to sew up the rest of the underarm and the bodice sides.  Sometimes there is a little discrepancy in fabric lengths.  At those times I decide between three solutions:

  • Using the feed dogs to ease excess.
  • Living with a tiny mismatch at the underarm.
  • Going ahead and taking some excess in at the armpit part of the armscye.  (Most often I don’t have to go this far.)

I sew from the joined portion at the wrist to the armpit and down the side seams.

This method has allowed me to have my cake and eat it too.  I can have flat assembly and still create standard oxford style shirts which I used to avoid for fear of the set-in.

Does anyone else use this method? 

Next Post: Tuesday, November 22, 2010: Vogue 7700 Basic Oxford:Pattern Review


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sister
    Nov 28, 2010 @ 04:29:28

    Clever! I have a Vogue shirt with sleeve plackets in the drawer – I’ll use this when the time comes- thanks!


  2. Hatty
    Nov 30, 2010 @ 05:28:33

    Always, except I usually put the cuffs on after I have sewn the side seams and the underarm sleeve seams, but your way has occurred to me – less fabric to drag about when putting the cuffs on (just the potential for that tiny mismatch bugs me). Then I do the placket (if there is one), collar and hem.

    Sometimes I put the collar on before I add the sleeves (that gives you less fabric to drag about when you are putting the collar on). It works with knits too and almost any top with sleeves as far as I can see.

    I learned it years ago from a TV programme in England in the 1970s.


    • Sewista Fashionista
      Dec 03, 2010 @ 11:23:13

      I put my collar on before I add the sleeves too. It encourages me to know that when I put the sleeves on I am 2/3rds of the way finished. Thank you for your comment!


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