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How To Sew Necklines and Sleeves

By: Jennie Kermode - Updated: 24 Apr 2013 | comments*Discuss
Neckline Sleeve V-neck Cuff Sewing Sew

Often the difference between professional and amateur-made garments is most visible in the fine details such as the shape of necklines and sleeves. Getting these right can be a lot trickier than it looks, and it's easy to end up with them looking twisted or uneven. Fortunately there are some simple precautions that even a beginner can take to improve their results.

Sewing Simple Necklines

Regardless of the detailing and trim you may add afterwards, there are two basic ways to sew a neckline. One involves attaching a band of edging fabric. The other involves neatly hemming the basic fabric you're using for the rest of the garment.

Sewing a simple hem might sound easy, but many people run into difficulty because they don't take account of the shape of the neckline. To see why this is a problem, take a piece of paper and cut a square shape out of the top of it. Then try to fold back the edges of the paper all the way round the area where the square is missing. You'll run into problems when you get to the corners. With a curved neckline these problems are still present, just less obvious as they are distributed all the way along.

For this reason, if you try to sew all the way along a neckline like this in one smooth motion, you'll find that the fabric gradually bunches up, leading to pulling and distortion. The way to get around this is to split the neckline into sections - usually five or six will do, but you may need more if you're using a stiff fabric - and tack the hem down there first. This will give you a smoother curve. You can flatten the finished hem with an iron.

When you sew a square neckline or a v-neck, cut diagonally into the corners first and use blanket stitching to prevent fraying across the gaps in the hem.

Sewing Banded Necklines

Using a band is a good way to get around the stretching in a neckline and is often used for soft fabrics. Any bunching in the fabric can be hidden where it joins the band. It's easy to make a band stand up around the throat, giving a garment definition and style. Remember to use a suitable fabric for pulling over your head, or to leave space for a zip.

When cutting the band, leave a quarter inch at each end and at the bottom for hemming. Use a fabric that won't fray so that you can keep your seams small and neat. If you're using soft or stretchy fabric, pin before you sew to avoid distortion.

Sewing Sleeves

There are many different styles of sleeve you can use when making clothes, according to the pattern you're working with. However, whichever you choose there are several important things to consider. Firstly, when measuring, remember that a sleeve shouldn't just look good when the arm is still but must also allow room for movement. Secondly, pin before you sew - sleeves can easily get bunched up. Thirdly, keep your seams narrow so that the fabric hangs properly.

When you're making a garment for a specific person, it's worth thinking carefully about their individual sleeve requirements. Somebody with underarm fat may need a wider sleeve but can be comfortable in a fairly straight one. A muscular arm will change shape more with movement and will require a looser sleeve or one that can stretch laterally. In either case, a sleeve cut too narrow will pull up and look too short.

When you're fitting a set-in sleeve (such as a shirt or t-shirt sleeve) to an arm hole, match up the underarm seam to the seam running down the side of the garment and use that as your starting point for fitting. Don't just sew straight round but pin the fabric so that it's evenly distributed. Once you've sewn it into place, press it with an iron to reduce bunching. If you do this before you do your finishing, you will have a clearer idea of what's needed to make it look good.

There are numerous ways to sew the end of a sleeve. You can finish it using the guidelines for sewing necklines above, or you can add a cuff, which is a good way to hide any unevenness and extend the length. Make sure that it will fit comfortably over the hand (bearing in mind that hands are different sizes). If you use a button to finish, position it on the inside of the wrist where it won't be as likely to get caught on things and pulled off.

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