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Fitting Sleeves

Many tailors will agree, fitting the bodice of a garment comes easy, but the sleeves can often be overlooked. Alterations will vary depending on the sleeve type. In this article, we will discuss the 4 basic sleeve types, and give you some tips for tailoring sleeves.

Basic Sleeve Types:

1. SET-IN Sleeve – These sleeves have a bell-shaped cap that is meant to sit right at the shoulder point. The armhole also comes up higher underneath the arm. These sleeves give a trim look and give the wearer greatest arm movement. 











2. RAGLAN Sleeve – Raglan sleeves are seamed diagonally to the bodice front and back, and have one piece of fabric that runs all the way up to the collar, giving the shirt an unrefined look. They may have a dart at the top of the shoulder or seamed down the center of the sleeve. A raglan sleeve makes for a comfortable sportswear, coats, and jackets. 










3. DROPPED OR EXTENDED Sleeve – Most shirts fall into this category. The dropped or extended sleeves’ defining characteristic is the vertical seam for the armhole that runs between the shoulder point and the top of the arm.  A flattened cap is generally inserted into the garment before the underarm seam is sewn. This design is easy to alter because the sleeves can be tailored without being removed. 









4. DOLMAN Sleeves – Dolman sleeves are cut as one piece with the bodice. The low-hanging underarm is the defining feature. 

Tips for Fitting Sleeves:

  • LENGTH – When measuring the length of the arm, start from the bone at the top of your shoulder, measure around the elbow (with the arm at a slight bend), ending at the wrist bone. For garments with a dropped sleeve, start from the bone at the top of the spine, over the shoulder bone, then continue down the arm.
  • ARM WIDTH – When measuring for arm width, measure around the fullest point of the bicep. Unless you are working with a stretchy, knit fabric, you should leave about 2″ of ease. It may be helpful to measure a shirt the wearer feels comfortable in for width measurements.
  • ARMHOLE TOO TIGHT? – If the top of the armhole is tight, start by trimming away excess seam allowances in the underarm. If more room is still needed, remove the sleeve at the underarm and trim the underarm about 1/4″. Then reattach the sleeve.