Sewing Inset Sleeves

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My mum left her sewing machine with me for safe keeping while her and my dad moved back to Turkey.

"You should use it," she told me. "But I want it back," she added, wagging her finger at me. I had never set my hand to sewing. To me it was always old fashioned and boring. Marriage does strange things to a person though. I find myself cooking meals and ironing and curtains these days - things I never had much interest in.

Our bedroom needed curtains. Believe it or not I had never had to buy curtains before. I got a shock at the price.

"Can't I just make them myself?" Easier said than done. Luckily, we have friends and one of them is a professional in the sewing industry. I took my mum's sewing machine over to her house and she showed me how to work it and gave me a quick lesson in curtain sewing.

That night at home, feeling I had some grasp on the machine now, I found some material scraps and started to play around with it. I found that it wasn't a disaster. I actually managed to sew. My curiosity was aroused.

I started searching around on YouTube for tutorials. How to thread the machine (a nice Brother), how to wind the bobbin. Then I moved onto simple projects. My first item was a cushion cover. I can't describe the pride I felt when I completed my first cushion cover.

Of course, after a while I started wishing I was more accomplished and wanting to naturally sew my own clothes. There is something very satisfying in the idea of making your own clothes. Cool, trendy clothes that fit you the way you want them to.

So I signed up to a dressmaking course. It's just a short course, I think I only have a couple of weeks left of it. We were asked to choose our own pattern, fabric and make the garment by the end of the course. I chose a simple, what I imagined to be, easy Simplicity New Look top with sleeves.

The whole thing was a huge learning curve for me but the 'wall' as it were was definitely the sleeves. Sleeves are complicated! Inset sleeves are more complicated. Suddenly I was confronted with something called 'fullness.' That is basically when you try and sew your sleeve into your garment, you get extra fabric and lumps and bumps which means you start sewing over the bumps and losing fabric. In the end you can lose so much that the sleeve doesn't fit anymore.

I didn't have time to finish this part of my top in the last lesson. So I decided to sew it at home. Easy, right? Nope.

My poor husband received the brunt of my frustration. I cried, I shouted, I raged at the fabric, the machine, myself...

Finally I YouTubed again and found the answer!

The answer is...


No not the cooking thing. Basting is also a sewing technique where you machine sew a large loose stitch parallel to the seam stitch (before you've sewn the seam stitch) which then gives you a little drawstring so you can gather and pull the fabric to even out the fullness and spread it around so you fit the sleeve evenly into the sleeve hole. I've tried it, it works. After unpicking my sleeve stitch about a million times, sitting hunched and dejected over my failure, I can safely say the basting technique worked first time.

Here is the YouTube tutorial I used from ANGELA KANE Sewing TV. It's a very slow video but explains the process really well.

The result - a finished top. My first! And I feel like I've overcome a big hurdle. There are tougher things to come I know, but at least I pushed through and figured this one out. So, if you are on to inset sleeves and feel like the end is nigh - don't give up! Push through and feel great afterwards!