Battle of the Seams – Sleeve Edition!

(In my best WWF announcer voice)

That’s rrrrright, ladies and gentlemen! Tonight’s matchup is a battle for dominance of the sleeve seam! Will champion ready-to-wear method Flat Set come out on top, or will challenger In The Round win the big one? Staaaaay tuned and find out!

And now a message from our sponsor –


My Review of Simplicity 8265 (and my grousing about the order of sleeve construction) elicited much commentary, both in favor of flat-set sleeve construction and of in-the-round construction. Well, I’m perfectly happy to be converted, so I decided to try it out myself!

Here are the ground rules I followed. I made a very simple mockup of a tee shirt using 4-way stretch knit in nude from Gorgeous Fabrics (I was originally going to do a full garment with some fabric I picked up from the red tag section at JoAnn, but it was so crappy I couldn’t deal and put it in the recycle bin). I used my Juki 4-thread MO-654DE serger on all seams, using a ΒΌ inch seam allowance. I pressed all seams flat and then towards the sleeve, and I was agnostic about each side – I didn’t try to make any side look better or worse. I used the same temperature, pressure, and steam on both sides. So here are the results:

First up, let’s look at the basic construction. The flat-set sleeve is sewn into the armscye before sewing the side seam/underarm seam.

This is looking at the flat-set sleeve in progress.

Now here is the in-the-round sleeve. The side and underarm seams are both sewn before inserting the sleeve into the resulting armhole.

Ready to sew the sleeve into the armhole

Here’s the front view of the finished mockup.

Honestly, can you see a difference? I can’t

After sewing the side/arm continuous seam, here’s a picture of the flat-set sleeve on Shelley.

Flat set sleeve: the top does not fit Shelley, so ignore any bustline wrinkles

The other side is the in-the-round construction


One Big Gotcha (for me, not you):

After reviewing these two pictures, I ran upstairs to check the right-side/wrong-side. I had used a symmetrical sleeve pattern, and guess what, they are opposite on each sleeve. In other words, one sleeve has the right side of the fabric facing out, the other has the right side facing in. It’s a stupid mistake that I shouldn’t have made, but in my defense, this is one of those knits that is the same on both sides and I promised this post yesterday so I was rushing – sorry. So if the draping of the sleeve at the shoulder looks reversed, that’s why. In point of fact, the drape is exactly the same, just inside-out.

Here are views of the seams from the inside.

Flat-set sleeve from the inside – notice it looks exactly like the in-the round from the outside.

Same sleeve looking at the underarm seam (nice matching, if I do say so!)

In-the-round view of the inside

And the underarm seam. Not quite as perfect, sorry…

Here are back views of each side on Shelley.

Flat-set sleeve from the back

In-the-round back


So, is flat-set better, or is in-the-round construction better? My opinion, for what it’s worth, is there isn’t a significant difference when you are working with a jersey or lightweight knit fabric. I’m not sure there’s a difference when working with a mid-weight knit like a double knit. But I think there may be a difference with a heavy knit fabric, and I definitely use in-the-round construction on most wovens. But hey – try it for yourself and see which you prefer. After all – a big part of sewing is deciding which methods work best for each of us!

And in Non-Sewing News…

I went to the neurologist yesterday, and I got some good news! I still have double vision, but I am cleared to start working and, even better, working out again. I also put on full makeup today for the first time since I got sick. Yah!!!!

Every little bit helps! #smallvictories

Happy sewing!

13 thoughts on “Battle of the Seams – Sleeve Edition!”

  1. suzanne says:

    Yay! On your health. And thanks for the post! You’re right about figuring out what you like and what works best. Even after all these years, I feel there is still some learning to do! I’m a bit of a traditionalist though (my great grandmother’s influence) so perhaps that is why I prefer wovens?

    Oh well, back to tackling my stash…

  2. Andi says:

    Glad you are back working. Hope the double vision goes away soon!

  3. KS Sews says:

    Ha! I posted on FB before reading. I did this experiment a couple years back and whenever the discussion comes up, I tell people to muslin a top and do one sleeve using each method.

    I prefer in the round for wovens (exception being dropped sleeves or other very loose fitting garments) and heavy knits – ponte, etc. I’m working on a sweatshirt and the fabric is so thick I’m going to set the sleeves in the round. On lightweight knits I will insert them flat.

  4. Soposie says:

    Interesting! Thanks for doing this experiment and posting about it.

  5. Girl in the Stix says:

    Thank you for the health update–glad you are progressing well!
    And thank you for the flat/round experiment. For most casual wear, I put sleeves in the flat way. For more formal/structured pieces, I put them in the round.

    All the best!

  6. Kay in MD says:

    Glad to hear you are making steady progress health-wise. I’m sure you’ll feel even better now that you can get back to a regular fitness routine. Just don’t expect to be able to go back to the exact routine without some conditioning! As I’m sure you know already. πŸ™‚

    Thanks for the sleeve setting demonstration. I tend to use both methods, regardless of pattern instructions, depending on the fabric characteristics and the height of the sleeve head (is that the right term?). Sleeves with really high heads are easier to set in the round regardless of fabric characteristics, and flat heads are easier to insert flat, again regardless of characteristics. It’s those in between situations where I have to debate. Your demonstration and explanation will help me make the decision in the future.

  7. Ritas says:

    No difference! Wow. Now I don’t feel like a fool just getting the sleeve in however I can. πŸ™‚

    It is so wonderful to see you feeling a little better. Although I was never a cheerleader – I’m happy to be yours. You go girl!

    1. Gorgeous Fabrics says:

      And I’m delighted to have you cheering me on, Rita, thank you!!!! πŸ™‚

  8. Karen says:

    Like all your posters I’m so glad you are recovering and thanks for the sleeve-setting experiment.

  9. helen mclean says:

    You’re looking well but your hair looks FABULOUS!

  10. Andrea says:

    I’m glad you’re feeling better. πŸ™‚

    And thank you for doing the comparison! I’m with you in that I normally replace in-the-round with flat-set, except for in the small number of instances where I want the armscye seam to be pressed towards the body of the shirt rather than the sleeve (because when I do flat-set I start at the bodice-side and serge towards the sleeve and it’s tricky to make the armscye seam go opposite to the seam direction). And now I can feel vindicated in that. πŸ™‚

  11. JustGail says:

    Thanks for the experiment results! A couple commenters had interesting takes on which method to use. Sometimes I chose the method based on if I think a 2nd line of stitching under the arm would be wise. That’s easier for me to do when setting sleeves in the round. I’m glad you’re feeling better and better.

  12. KathieB says:

    Thanks for the thorough test. We all appreciate the time it takes to document and prepare such a post. And congrats on your good news…you look fabulous!

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