Friday, August 20, 2010

Drafting Part V -Drafting A Basic Sleeve Block

We've finished the basic block aka sloper and and we're ready for sleeves! I've drafted a lot of sleeves in my lifetime, and always by feel. Utterly useless as a means of teaching other people to draft them, of course, so I tried some of the methods in drafting books, hoping to find some scientific formula for sleeve-drafting and -- ugh -- never again, I swear. Enter my good friend Jen from My Measuring Tape, to the rescue. Read her introduction here. I tried her method just last night, as a fun experiment on a dress I'm working on. Can you see me smiling? You have to try it - it's easy and it works! Read on!

Hello Readers of Ikatbag! LiEr has very graciously invited me to do a few posts on the Drafting Series, and I jumped at the chance to be temporarily a part of such an amazing blog! I hope I do it/her justice and not seem too pedantic in comparison.

Let's jump right in then.

There are many seemingly different methods to draft a basic sleeve block. Although the practical aspects (steps, procedures) may differ, the objectives of each step is constant, no matter the how. But admittedly, some methods are easier to follow than others. Old school tailors and dressmakers would take only 2 or 3 measurement points and rely on instinct to draw out the sleeve cap and armscye, like LiEr's mother and Aunt, free-handing the curves about as often as they use French curves.
The cutters on Savile Row all do it that way still, and I read somewhere that straight/square rulers are off limits to the apprentice cutter because nowhere on the human body is to be found a right angle! But of course, it takes years to go from apprentice to pro on The Row. We, (un)fortunately, only have a post or 2.

So here goes...
This method is adapted from (wonderful free resource) but re-processed in more straightforward language and I've modified one or 2 things which I've found make very little difference one way or the other. I chose it because it has proved a good method with very satisfactory results. It will draft a straight, long sleeve. From this, you can shorten it to 3-quarter, half, or any length you want. The procedure will seem lengthy at first, but don't be put off by this. And there is a neat summary at the end for easy reference.

Required measurements:

  1. Bicep circumference (typically around the arm adjacent to the armpit, but if the widest circ. is elsewhere on the upper arm, take that measurement instead)
  2. Overarm length (from shoulder point to wrist, arm slightly bent)
  3. Underarm length (from arm pit to wrist)
  4. Wrist circ.


Step1 - take a piece of paper, sufficiently large, and fold it in half, lengthwise.
Step 1

Step 2 - measure and mark out the overarm length on the fold of the paper. Label the top mark A and the bottom mark B.
Step 2

Step 3 - from point B, measure towards point A, the underarm length and mark this C on the fold.
Step 3

Step 4 - add 1" ease to the bicep circ. measurement and divide the answer by 2. [ (Bicep+1) / 2 ]

Step 5 - from point C, draw, towards the left, a horizontal line equal to the no. derived in Step 4. Mark the end point D.
Step 5

Step 6 - add 0.5" ease to the wrist circ. measurement and divide the answer by 2. [ (Wrist+0.5) / 2 ]

Step 7 - from point B, draw, towards the left, a horizontal line equal to the no. derived in Step 6. Mark the end point J.
Step 7

Step 8 - open up the paper (unfold it). From point C, draw, towards the right, another horizontal line equal to the no. derived in Step 4. Mark the end point E. The bicep line is now complete.

Step 9 - from point B, draw, towards the right, another horizontal line equal to the no. derived in Step 6. Mark the end point K. The wrist line is now complete.
Steps 8 & 9

Step 10 - draw a line from point A to point B to mark out the overarm length marked out earlier. This line will also function as the grainline.
Step 10

Summary so far

Step 11 - connect points D and J, E and K.
Step 11

Step 12 - divide line DC into 4 equal segments. Mark the first point F. [ DF = 1/4 DC ]
Step 12

Step 13 - divide line CE into 8 equal segments. Mark the last point G. [ GE = 1/8 CE ]
Step 13

Step 14 - add the lengths of DF and GE. From point A, draw, towards the right, a horizontal line equal to DF+GE. Mark the end point H. [ AH = DF + GE ]
Step 14

Step 15 - multiply the length of DF by 2. From point A, draw, towards the left, a horizontal line equal to 2DF. Mark the end point L. [ AL = 2DF ]
Step 15

Step 16 - connect the points F and L.
Step 16

Step 17 - mark a point, 1, on line FL, equal to the length DF. [ F1 = DF ]
Step 17

Step 18 - connect the points G and H.
Step 18

Step 19 - from G, mark a point, 2, on line GH, equal to the length of GE. [ G2 = GE ]
Step 19

Step 20 - from H, mark a point, 3, on line GH, equal to the length of AH. [ H3 = AH ]
Step 20

Step 21 - using a French Curve, draw a smooth curve from point A to 1, then 1 to D. On the other side, A to 3, then 2 to E.
Step 21

Summary of Steps 2 - 21:

  • AB = overarm length
  • BC = underarm length
  • DE = bicep + ease
  • Point C = mid point of DE
  • JK = wrist + ease
  • DF = 1/4 DC
  • GE = 1/8 CE
  • AH = DF + GE
  • AL = 2DF
  • F1 = DF
  • G2 = GE
  • H3 = AH

Step 22 - mark the left half of the pattern 'Front', the right half 'Back'. The front has a curvier sleeve cap, the back sleeve cap is less curved.
Step 22

Step 23 - measure the front cap from point D to point A, and then the back cap from point A to E. Compare to the front and back armscye on the bodice. The front sleeve cap must ideally be up to 0.5" (max.) bigger than the front armscye. Same for the back cap and armscye.
You can increase or decrease the sleeve cap measurement as shown below. The total length of the sleeve cap should be anywhere between 0.5" to 1" (max.) bigger than the total armscye measurement of the main bodice block (sloper).


Red lines = increase
Blue lines = decrease

An important point to note:

The drafting of the armscye curves on the sleeve is rather arbitrary. There really are no hard and fast rules/formulae to developing the one with the best fit. The previous steps simply aid you towards drawing a front scye that will accommodate the forward-jutting ball joint the shoulder, and a slopier one for the back. You must constantly measure and remeasure both the scyes on the bodice and the sleeve to ensure the ease differences as explained in Step 23.

Finally, you'll want to adapt the long sleeve block for a short sleeve. This is very easy to do. First, measure down from the centre of the bicep line the length of the short sleeve desired. In the example below, this length is 1.5".
Shortened to 1.5" below bicep line

You can also choose to measure from the top of the sleeve cap down along the centre line to a point where you'd like the sleeve to end.

Then draw a line, perpendicular to the centre line (or parallel to the bicep line), across the width of the sleeve.

Cut away the pattern below this line and you have your shortened sleeve.
Cut along the new hemline

A short sleeve!

Simple, right?

And that's basically how you draft a basic sleeve block. Just like a body sloper, you can adapt this block to create different types of sleeves, a few of which I will show you how to in another post. Coming up next - solving fitting issues with sleeves.

p/s very sorry about the total lack of in-action photos. My only model is a 2-year-old-can't-sit-still type. I promise to try to add some in the next post :)


  1. Thanks so much Lorraine! Exactly what I am looking for! Please don't flag me fore repetitive commenting/stalking. :-)

  2. This is great! Thanks so much for this series! I worked out a pretty good sleeveless t-shirt a few months ago, but hadn't done sleeves yet.

  3. This series is SO AWESOME!!! Sleeve curves have always been a bit of a mystery to me - why are they shaped like that? and how do you create the shape bassed on your measurements? Your tutorial makes it make so much sense now.

    I linked to your post over at Craft Gossip Sewing:


  4. So awesome, I have been curious about sleeves for a long time. This was so easy to follow! Thanks!

  5. I am new to making clothes so I appreciate the tips!


  6. Who knew! One day I would find just the help I've wanted for many years. I have been sewing for over 12yrs. Self taught, (I only took a class in jr high school many years ago). Really never learned pattern making. I have seen many books, but just didn't understand them. I have only looked at how to make a slv here but I understood it for the first time. Please don't stop with what you have here. I live overseas now and getting ready made patterns it's that easy. Thanks again so much.

  7. I came to this blog from a link on adjusting commercial patterns and have been reading for hours. I was excited to find this part because I've been trying to figure out sleeve drafting off and on for a couple of years. These directions are so clear - thank you! Also, just when I was thinking "BUT WHY are the curves different??", you answered it.

  8. I have been reading your blog for a couple of months now. Stumbled across when I googled for something. I forgot what it was now. I used to stich during my teens and twenties, but somehow gave up in between. As in stitching dresses. I was just doing some basic house coats and some mending and things like that. Or stiching stuff around the house. Thanks to you, I got back into doing it again. You are a great inspiration and this drafting series is simply the best. You have awesome talent. Thanks to you, I ventured into making some pajama shirt for my 2 year old. (gone up from sewing just the pajama) And again, this sleeve drafting helped me remove many of the mistakes that I have been doing when I was drafting sleeves. I somehow always made my sleeves a wee bit tight. I guess I know what the issue is. Will sure come back and post if I fix it to my satisfaction. Once again, thanks a lot. And before I forget, I love your craft ideas and all your pictures. God Bless You and Your Family!


  9. Im so blessed people like you exist. Ive been through alot tring to get my sleeve right but to no avail. The day i came across ur blog was the day i got the answers i have been searching for. Ur instructions are clear and quiet easy to follow. You are a great tutor. Thank you!

  10. This was brilliant! Thank you so much!

  11. This exactly what I wanted, thank you so much.

  12. Thank you so much for this!! I was so proud after I made my draft! Here's a link to how I applied it!! Your site is so helpful and organized! I love stopping by!

  13. This is great, I'm doing a tailoring course run by Savile Row Group and my last lesson was making a basic sleeve block based on an existing one (simple) so this was really interesting! especially because I left my notebook for marking :( I needed to know how to make another block from scratch
    Thanks! :)

  14. Wow this is so simple and useful! This is exactly what I've been looking for, one question (for anyone that could answer it), I'm a beginner sewer so I don't completely understand patterns, why is the front of the sleeve curvier that the back? This is the first tutorial that I've seen that in. Thank you!

    1. Jennifer, see the notes in Step 20 of this post:

      It explains why the armscye is different in front than the back, and the same reason holds for the sleeve. A second reason (related to movement) is that the front has to accommodate the ball of the shoulder joint (which requires extra space), whereas the back doesn't.

  15. You are amazing, I must say. I've searched the internet and this is by far the most informative, AND easy to follow instructions and pics I have found. THANK YOU!

  16. hello..hai nice to met your blog..very nice..i love your blog :-D

  17. wow, thank you so much. the tute is very clear and easy :)

  18. THANK YOU!!! This is GREAT!! I am trying my first ever projects at sewing and wanted to try a very simple shirt. Could not find a tutorial on drafting the sleeves - this was perfect!!

  19. WoW! I agree with the other comments here... this is just what I was looking for. A simple, step by step of how to draft a sleeve. Couldn't have been done better, the illustrations and explanations (math and all!) was the information that I needed to know.


  20. Really great step-by-step instructions. Thanks for posting!

  21. This is by far the best drafting post I have come across......

  22. By far the best tute I have come across

  23. I hope I wiil make a nice sleeve after going through this blog..thanx

  24. The best and the easiest tutorial. Im new to dressmaking. My first ever Time with pattern making. Used the tutorial for child bodice. And now the sleeves. Didn't find a guide like this for drawing the sleeve cap. Will update once I draft the bodice. Hopefully tomorrow. I have the measures for my 6yr old (after much groaning and grumbling)and your tute. Hope I took the measures right. Thank you and keep posting. .....I will get back if I get stuck.

  25. Forgive me if this is a daft question - I'm a complete novice, trying to add sleeves to a sleeveless dress pattern... Anyway, my question is, does the pattern your instructions make include seam allowances, or do I need to add those? Also, from my measurements I have ended up with a curve length that is 1.5" shorter than the armscye - what's the best way to adapt what I've done to make a curve that's long enough? Thank you!

    1. Fiona, welcome to the exciting (and sometimes bewildering) world of drafting!

      To answer your questions:
      1 Our blocks are, by definition, without SA. SA are what commercial companies add to PATTERNS (not blocks) to make it easier for home seamstresses to lay out and cut out the fabric pieces for garments. And sometimes some of us (especially those who are older-school) omit SA from our patterns also. Either way, blocks NEVER have SA and patterns sometimes do and sometimes don't. It's good that you asked. So yes, you must add SA to all of the garment patterns you find on ikatbag (unless otherwise stated), and to ANY block you find on ikatbag.

      2 So your sleevecap is 1.5" longer than the circumference of your armscye. This could mean that

      (i) your armscye is too big and you will end up with an uncomfortable sleeve which pulls on your bodice when you move your arms. This is very, very often the case with sleeveless dresses, whose armscyes tend to be cut low and big. Determine if this is the case by measuring around your armpit/shoulder region or comparing with a dress you have whose armscye fits well, and then cut your armscye smaller when you transfer the pattern onto fabric. Shrink your armscye by using combination of any or all of the following methods: (a) raise the bottom edge of the armscye so it's not as low; (b) add a bust dart if you are a B cup or larger; (c) cut the front of the armscye closer to the armpit.

      (ii) Your armscye is perfect but the sleevecap is literally too short along that curve. Simply extend the ends by 0.75" to make up that 1.5" shortage. Your bicep line will be naturally extended, as will the width of the sleeve hem. In other words, your entire sleeve will be looser around your arm.

      Here is another post you might enjoy reading - it's all about sleeves.

    2. Fiona, forgot to mention: even more important than the size of the armscye when adding sleeves to an originally-sleeveless dress is where the shoulder point is. Sometimes sleeveless dresses are designed to have special shoulders - halternecks, or cap sleeves or something else that has the shoulder point not where it would naturally be to accommodate a sleeve. Check that it is where your real shoulder point is before adding a sleeve.

  26. Bless you for a sleeve drafting method that is written plain enough for me to get started right away. I've read so many methods...

  27. Thank you so much for this.

  28. I have been sewing for 60+ yrs and have never seen such a clear. logical explanation. Hats off to you. Thank you.

  29. i appreciate your posts and what a gem of a find!! thank you. i am new to sewing and find your tutorials easy to understand and thanks for answering questions from other readers.. (*i was also wondering about seam allowance). I am currently making my own coat and keep adding and subtracting to the cardboard template then sticking it together again with sticky tape. your tutorials give me more guidance on why things are the way they are so i dont have to make so many adjustments. :)

  30. the newer sleeve patterns seem to have identical front and back caps. since armholes have different measurements in the front and back, how can that possibly work? also, if i've done a forward shoulder adjustment, how does that affect the sleeve cap?

    1. Barbara,
      I'm less familiar with the term "forward shoulder adjustment" than the actual issue on an physical body, but I'm guessing that it has to do with shoulders rolling forward so that the back of the sleeve cap needs to be longer than the front to accommodate that asymmetrical shape. Yes, in a properly-drafted fitted sleeve cap, and especially for special adjustments, the front can't possibly be the same as the back, which might suggest why commercial sleeve patterns rarely fit perfectly without adjustments for the individual. Here is a later sleeve post that might help explain the nuances of a sleeve cap:

  31. wonderful! the older patterns from the 50's and even into the 60's had much more fitted sleeves and allowed hardly any movement. women wore 'house dresses' for doing chores and then changed into doll clothes when they left the house. of course, now women DO move, and not only when they're doing laundry. so, of course, flatter sleeve caps. yay us!
    as for the forward rolling shoulders, i do remove about 3/4" of the shoulder seam, front bodice only, leaving the neck point alone and angling down toward the armscye. on the back bodice, i add that same amount. the result is that the seam, when closed, has moved the shoulder seam point forward on the top joint of my arm, which is MY shoulder point, because I have a forward rolling shoulder. if i don't do this all my tops ride upward in the front. the reason is that i have a slightly rounded upper back from sewing and deskwork for many years. that rounded area needs extra fabric to cover itself and if it isn't built into a pattern, it 'steals' it from the front by pulling the front upward and toward the back. it affects the back of the garment, the shoulders, the armscye and the sleevecap. the sleevecap will need to have a new center point to match up to the new shoulder point. whew!


Thank you for talking to me! If you have a question, I might reply to it here in the comments or in an email.