The Easiest Way to Ease a Sleeve

Easing is slightly shrinking a seam allowance.  It’s often done to sleeves.  This is because the human body continues to curve out at the top of the arm, but traditionally shoulder seams sit at the shoulder tip (where the bones meet up on top of the shoulder socket).  Without ease, you’d have a very tight sleeve across the upper arm.

The problem with easing is that it can be sadly frustrating to new stitchers.  Here’s the least frustrating way I know that is still on the list of “right” ways to do it, and will probably not make a sewing teacher cringe.  ;)

If you have a placket or other tricky bit at the bottom of the sleeve, take care of this first.

Sew the sleeve seam, from the underarm to the bottom of the sleeve. If you are doing anything with a cuff or other fanciness, do that before the next step.

Sew the sleeve seam, from the underarm to the bottom of the sleeve.
If you are doing anything with a cuff or other fanciness, do that before the next step.

Set your machine to a fairly long straight stitch.

Set your machine to a fairly long straight stitch.

Without back tacking, sew a line of stitch right inside your seam allowance.  This line goes from the front notch to the back notch, over the shoulder.

Without back tacking, sew a line of stitch right inside your seam allowance. This line goes from the front notch to the back notch, over the shoulder.

Sew a second line of stitch, just inside the first line.  Yes, that’s two lines of ease stitching.  This prevents your seam allowances from trying to escape.

Pull on the top threads (black) of your easing stitches.  You will be happiest if you work from the front side to the shoulder, then the back side to the shoulder, instead of trying to do all your easing in one go.

Pull on the top threads (black) of your easing stitches. You will be happiest if you work from the front side to the shoulder, then the back side to the shoulder, instead of trying to do all your easing in one go.

You're only pulling the sleeve down until it curves smoothly over your fingers.

You’re only pulling the sleeve down until it curves smoothly over your fingers.

At this point, the sleeve head is slightly over-eased.  The sleeve should be smaller than the armscye.  This is good, because it is much easier to adjust the two so they fit together this way than if the sleeve head is still larger than the armscye.

To match the sleeve head and the armscye, turn the shirt  inside out.  Turn the sleeves right side out.  place the right armscye over the right sleeve head at the shoulder.  I actually do pin the shoulder notch to the shoulder seam.  Starting at the bottom of the armscye, match the seams, match the curves to the front notch, then gently pull the sleeve head to reduce the ease until the sleeve head and armscye are the same size.  Repeat with the back of the sleeve.  It's a good idea to keep the shoulder seam/top of sleeve tightly pinched, so you don't shorten the front when adjusting the back.

To match the sleeve head and the armscye, turn the shirt inside out. Turn the sleeves right side out. place the right armscye over the right sleeve head at the shoulder. I actually do pin the shoulder notch to the shoulder seam.
Starting at the bottom of the armscye, match the seams, match the curves to the front notch, then gently pull the sleeve head to reduce the ease until the sleeve head and armscye are the same size. Repeat with the back of the sleeve. It’s a good idea to keep the shoulder seam/top of sleeve tightly pinched, so you don’t shorten the front when adjusting the back.

Starting at the underarm, sew your sleeve into the armscye.

Starting at the underarm, sew your sleeve into the armscye.

I think this demo was about 10 minutes (with explanation and photos) in class.  One pin.  No puckers, no wrinkles.  (And, apparently, no picture of the sleeve.  I’ll try to append this next week.

There is, of course, a faster way to get the original ease in, but it’s Cheating.  ;)  It’s an old trick, but a good one, and relies on deliberately throwing off your machine’s feed and thereby its tension.  Ready?

Start your ease stitch just inside the seam allowance.  Place your index finger firmly behind the machine's foot.

Start your ease stitch just inside the seam allowance. Place your index finger firmly behind the machine’s foot.

I want to emphasize: really, firmly, right behind the foot.

I want to emphasize: really, firmly, right behind the foot.

As you sew, fabric will build up in front of your finger.  Every couple inches, stop sewing, lift your finger so the fabric can escape, then return your finger to behind the foot and start sewing.

As you sew, fabric will build up in front of your finger. Every couple inches, stop sewing, lift your finger so the fabric can escape, then return your finger to behind the foot and start sewing.

The resulting tension problem is shockingly close to a perfectly eased sleeve head, but slightly harder to adjust if it's off.

The resulting tension problem is shockingly close to a perfectly eased sleeve head, but slightly harder to adjust if it’s off.

If someone calls you out on this somewhat shady cheat, you didn’t learn it from me and I have no idea how these pictures got into this demo.  ;)

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