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Pattern Cheat for Sewing Underarm Gussets Faster

An underarm gusset is a square (usually) of fabric inserted between the body and sleeve of a shirt. They give you an improved range of motion without a lot of bulk around the arm. There are examples going back to the sixteenth century. My mother remembers by great-grandmother adding them to her husband’s shirts so he wouldn’t rip the seams under the arm. Just the other day, I saw directions in Threads magazine on adding a gusset to a shirt. The problem with gussets, though, is that they’re a pain in patouty to sew. If you need to do them fast (or really really small), there’s an easy way to cheat out your pattern.

The basic setup with a gusseted sleeve pattern looks like this:

pattern pieces for underarm gusset
A gusset is a square piece, with two sides sewn to the sleeve and two sewn to the body.

The really kicker here is that the gusset is square. In the picture, you can see that two sides of the square are touching the body and sleeve pieces. The problem is that, when you’re sewing, the gusset is inserted into the seam of the sleeve and the side seam of the body.If you’re sewing by hand, this doesn’t make a bit of difference, but if you’re sewing on a machine… Well, that’s another story. It’s a lot of pivoting and dancing around seam allowances.

Here’s another picture of our pieces, this time showing the gusset folded the way it is when it’s fully operational.

pieces, with gusset folded
In real life, the gusset ends up folded and sewn between the side and sleeve seams.

If we really wanted to cheat, we’d combine the gusset and the sleeve…

new sleeve piece combining sleeve and gusset
Redraw the sleeve, with the gusset tacked right on. Since the sleeve is cut on the fold, you'll get both halves of the square - one on each side of the sleeve.
Sleeves sewn to chemise
The full pieces look like this. If you really want to cheat, you'd sew in the sleeves and sew both side gores to the front....
chemise sewn
...then sew the side seam in one go, from the wrist in and down to the hem!

But that would totally be cheating.  ;)

Oh, if you already have separate gussets cut, just go ahead and cut the from point to point on the diagonal. Sew them halves to either side of the sleeve piece, and you’re right where we got to with the pattern cheat. It’s the fastest way I know of to insert a gusset, and it will work at doll sizes….


  1. Anna-Carin
    Anna-Carin January 21, 2013

    How about a period cheat for doll’s clothes? There’s a 1750s doll in a Swedish museum (, whose garments have been analysed and the pattern pieces printed in a Swedish book on the cultural history of undergarments (co-authored by Pernilla Rasmussen). There, the entire gusset square is combined with the the front edge of the sleeve, like in your first photo above. The sleeve rectangle and gusset square are joined by a curved line (in the drawing, the radius about 1/3 of the square’s side). I don’t know if that could be machine sewn in one go, though. The doll is 11″ tall.

    • missa
      missa February 1, 2013

      Hi, Anna-Carin,

      If I understand correctly, then yes, I think that could be machined easily. It could possibly even go in with a very narrow french seam (says the OCD hater of unfinished seams) without too many tears… :) I like the idea of rounding out the corners, and I am VERY glad to hear that that cheat might have some historical accuracy to rest on. Missa’s rule #1 is that if it is hard to cut, it will be hard to sew. Corollary: If you had to stop and turn the paper/fabric to cut it, you will have to stop, sink the needle, raise the presser foot, pivot, and lower the foot to sew it. So rounding out the corners seems brilliant to me.


  2. Lorraine Saxon
    Lorraine Saxon March 17, 2013

    Thank you for the cheat way to do gussets. I have a magazine article that has about 10 measurements A B C D F B2 etc. Much easier

  3. Marie Fievet
    Marie Fievet September 22, 2013

    At last, I found the info I have needed to show me how to insert underarm gussets.
    However, I can view text only, not one of the photos show or can be opened.
    Any suggestions? I desperately need this info if you can think of any way to help me.
    I appreciate your having this site and providing the info. Many thanks, Marie F.

    • missa
      missa September 23, 2013

      Hi, Marie,

      If your email addy from your post is correct, then you should have the directions (with pics) in your mailbox. If not, please let me know where to send them to!

      Happy patterning,

      • Marie Fievet
        Marie Fievet September 24, 2013

        Melissa –

        Great response, your email with the pictures came through perfectly. And I think I understand better now how to insert the underarm gussets. How nice that you took
        the time to respond to me so quickly, it’s greatly appreciated. Will be following you
        and tuning in again from time to time now that I have found you….

        • missa
          missa September 24, 2013

          I’m glad to have helped, Marie! :)

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