Want to add a little oomph to the shirt you’re sewing?
Learning how to sew sleeve tabs is an easy way to make your garments look professional.
As decorative tabs on a dress shirt or as functional tabs on a casual shirt, tabs are excellent style elements for drawing attention and give the impression of a thoroughly designed and well-crafted garment. They emphasize a tailored structure, and done right they are the difference between a home-made and hand-made look.
But, sewing straight seams and sharp corners can be surprisingly tricky if you don’t have the right tools and know-how to handle the most crucial steps.
There are three critical moments to keep in mind when sewing perfect tabs. Read on, and never dread sewing tabs again.
3 critical points when sewing impeccable sleeve tabs
No matter if your fabric is heavy or light, you will need some type of stabilization. It keeps the tab intact and supports the stitches that hold the fabric layers together.
The glue on the interfacing prevents the threads in the fabric’s weft from gliding apart, and it also gives an extra layer of fabric for the sewing machine’s feed dogs to grip.
There are many different types of interfacing woven, non-woven, press-on and, sew-in. The secret to selecting the right one is to match it to the fabric.
Consider the weight and stretch of the fabric you’re sewing and make samples to see if they go well together. If your samples show skewing or air bubbles, use a different kind. The interfacing shouldn’t change the characteristics of your fabric.
The length and frequency of the stitches, and the thickness of the thread, make a difference. They should keep the tab together and work for an edgestitch or topstitch as well.
A topstitch and edgestitch on a garment is the single most prominent telltale sign that it’s homemade or ready-to-wear and most important to get right when you’re learning how to sew sleeve tabs. Visible stitches bring structure and definition but need to be straight and even, or it’s best to skip them altogether.
Short stitches sit tight and easier to sew straight. Long stitches are decorative and draw attention but can be hard to get neat. Make lots of samples before you start sewing.
Consider the weight of the fabric, and the style of the finished garment, when you choose what stitches to use. Then match the needle size to the fabric and thread you will use for the stitches.
Corners are highly visible details that can throw off a garment’s balance, and perceived quality, simply by being uneven and asymmetrical.
The secret to a sharp corner is a pointed edge. You achieve this by making a diagonal stitch just before the point. When you turn the right side out, the seam allowance will fill out the small void, and the corner will look sharp from the right side.
When learning how to sew sleeve tabs, It’s crucial to plot out the stitching line on the fabric before you start. Mark the pivot point and stitch using the guides on the throat plate and presser foot. You can also draw the stitch line directly on the fabric using chalk, a water-soluble pen, tailor’s tacks, or with basting stitches.
Control the angle of the stitches by using the hand-wheel on your sewing machine and making the stitches shorter right at the corner.
Helpful tools for sewing sleeve tabs
There are aids available to get a perfectly straight stitching line. Here are some of my favorites that can make your stitching life easier:
- A straight stitch throat plate’s narrow hole prevents the fabric snags and gets dragged in under the throat plate.
- A straight stitch presser foot’s flat bottom keeps the fabric stable against the feed dogs.
- A walking foot’s even feed is especially useful for thin and slippery fabrics.
- An edge-stitching foot’s blade guides the fabric when sewing close to the edge.
- A magnetic seam guide prevents your fabric from sliding astray.
- A point turner is a good compliment, but it’s possible to make sharp corners without one.
How to ace your results
Drafting the pattern
The size of the tab is exactly what you want it to be but usually somewhere between 2.5 – 4 centimeters or 1-1 ½ inch wide. Draw a rectangle on regular paper or directly on your fabric, the length, and width as large as you like. Make the seam allowance wide enough to ensure a stable base for the feed dogs and presser foot to work with.
Trimming the fabric
When you’ve sewn your tab, you need to trim off some of the seam allowances so they’ll lay flat inside the corners when the tab is turned. Cut the corners at a 45-degree angle plus an extra snip as shown. The ideal is if the seam allowance edges meet up when folded, so they create a stable and even interior for the edgestitch or topstitch to rest on top of.
Turning the tube
Thread a darning needle and make a knot. Make an anchor by making a stitch through one of the corners, leave it inside the tube while turning the tab right side out. Carefully pull the thread to turn out the corner’s point but be aware so you don’t pull it through the fabric and ruin it. Use a point turner if you have one and give the tab a light press when it’s turned.
Pull out long thread ends before you position the tab under the presser foot. Place the presser foot so the feed dogs are supported by the fabric. If you don’t use a straight stitch presser foot you can then move the needle position in place to where you want your seam to be. Pull the threads slightly as you start sewing, preventing threads “birds nest” on the backside.
Pressing the tab
Press the tabs from the backside, and use a press cloth to avoid permanent press marks. Compare the tabs to each other so they are symmetrical. Manipulate the fabric with steam and wiggle them until they’re even. Your sleeve tabs are now ready to be sewn to your garment.
Sew tabs to anything
It’s no secret that well-designed clothes are recognized by their details, which can be as simple or complicated as you choose.
Learning how to sew sleeve tabs is one of the fastest and simplest ways to make a garment look high-end. When you master the corner and topstitching combination you can use tabs almost anywhere on any garment for extra designer flare.
Add them to yokes, pant legs, or shoulders. Or use them as belt loops or cuffs. Get some inspiration from my Pinboard, add a few tabs and make your creation look doubtlessly unique.