Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Drafting Part VII - Adapting a Basic Sleeve for Other Styles

Now that you've learned how to draft and fit a basic sleeve block, you can use it to draft all types of sleeves! In this post, I'm going to show you how to adapt the sleeve block to create 4 different styles of sleeves; roll-up, gathered, puff, and bell. In some places on the internet, drafting books and on commercial patterns, different names are used for the various styles, but the ones I've used are sufficiently descriptive to limit future confusion. Also, I'm only going to show how to adapt the pattern on a short sleeve block.

Let's start...

Roll-up sleeve

Like the name implies, this is a sleeve with a roll-up band at the bottom of the sleeve (or the sleeve hem).

Take your short basic sleeve block and draw a reference line above the hem line, according to the width of your desired band. In the example, a width of 3/4" (three-quarter inch) is shown.

From both ends of this reference line, square down a line of 1.5" (twice 3/4").

Draw a line across from point to point.

From each end of the original hem line, square down again a line of 1.5".

Draw another line across from point to point.

Draw lines to connect the new extended side seams you've just created.

This drafts a double roll-up sleeve band. Please remember that this draft assumes you will add your own seam allowances later. You can sew the side seams together first, and then roll-up the band, giving you a detached roll-up (meaning you can roll it up or down at will). Or you can roll-up the band first, and then sew the side seams together, which will give you an attached roll-up (meaning it's permanent as it's sewn in place at the side seams).

Gathered sleeve

This is extremely like the standard set-in sleeve, except there is a lot more ease at the caps, so that you have to gather the excess fabric there, instead of just easing it into the armscye. This is unlike the puff sleeve (which is described below) in that it doesn't puff as much because the depth of scye remains the same.

Put your basic sleeve block over a larger (than the sleeve) piece of paper. Please also have scissors and tape at hand.

Cut the sleeve into two along the centre line.

Lay both halves on the piece of paper so the centre lines up properly again. Weigh down the right (or back sleeve portion) with something handy like a can of baked beans. Or if you have proper pattern weights, all the better. Or else you can tape it down with low-tack tape (for easy removal later).

Using the point on the hem as the pivot point, rotate the left side piece (or the front sleeve portion) 1 inch to the left.

Now tape the left piece down at this new position. Then remove the weights on the right piece (or un-tape it if you've done that instead) and rotate it 1 inch to the right, again using the point on the hem as the pivot point.
The dotted line shows the centre line, which must remain in-situ

Now tape the right piece down in this new position. Draw the centre line again on the piece of paper underneath. Then connect the separated cap at the top with a gentle curve.

When you sew the sleeve, you must gather it first to match the bodice armscye. You should make the most gathers at the top of the sleeve cap.

Puff sleeve

This is the sleeve that is most often adopted in children's clothing. It is cute and, if elasticised at the hem, accommodates a growing bicep. It is also sometimes called a balloon sleeve, to distinguish it from sleeves which only puff at the top or the bottom (see below). The following instructions drafts a sleeve that puffs both at the top and the bottom.

Draw vertical lines on the sleeve block 1" apart. If your sleeve is small and, therefore, narrower, you can reduce this width or reduce the number of lines (segments). Make sure the centre line is exactly between the two adjacent drawn lines. Cut along each of the drawn vertical lines.

The next steps aren't complicated but bullets are necessary I think:
  1. Lay the pieces next to each other in the same order on a piece of paper.
  2. Tape down the centre piece (the one with the centre line).
  3. Shift/Spread the pieces adjacent to the centre piece 1" (or less) away from the centre piece. You must keep the hem aligned straight while shifting.
  4. Tape the shifted pieces down.
  5. Now shift/spread the next pieces 1" (or less but must be consistent throughout) away from the previous ones.
  6. Tape them down.
  7. Keep shifting/spreading and taping down in this way until all are done.

Extend the centre line upwards 1". Then draw a new curve (sleeve cap) to meet the extended centre line. This extension will create the 'uplift' at the cap typical of a puff sleeve.

The hem line will also receive a similar treatment. Extend the centre line 1" downwards. Draw a new, curved, hemline from about an inch in from the side seam, meeting the extended centre line at the bottom. This extension and curve will create the puff at the bottom of the sleeve and accommodate the fabric take-up* that will occur as the gathers are later made along the hemline.

*when you gather a lot of fabric, the fabric above or below the gathers will want to strain vertically along the grain, causing the hemline to curve upwards towards the sleeve.

When making up the actual sleeve, spread the gathers evenly along the sleeve cap (red curved line above). Same for the hemline.

You can add a band to secure the gathers at the hem:
  1. Cut out a rectangle of fabric the length of the original hem line (or less if you want a snug fit around the upper arm), and twice your desired width.
  2. Add seam allowances.
  3. After gathering the sleeve hem, attach this band to the hem by sewing one long edge down onto the hem over the gathers (RS together).
  4. Sew the side seams together.
  5. Fold half the band under and into the underside of the sleeve.
  6. Turn the seam allowance on the raw edge of the band under and hand-sew it onto the sleeve.
Or you can attach an elastic tape to make the gathers at the hem:
  1. Cut elastic tape as long as the length of the original hem line.
  2. Turn the seam allowance along the hem line under and sew down (in other words, hem the sleeve).
  3. Pin one end of the elastic to one of the side seams about 3/8" from the hem edge.
  4. Sew the elastic down with a 3-step zig-zag, stretching the elastic as you sew, until you reach the other end (which should match the other side seam).
  5. Sew the side seams of the sleeve together.

Or you can insert the elastic into the casing already created by hemming the sleeve :)

Puff-top sleeve

This is a variation of the puff sleeve described above. In this version, the sleeve block is spread only at the cap and not the hem, creating a puff only at the cap after gathering.

Start by drawing vertical lines as in the puff sleeve example above. You can use the centre line as one of the vertical lines to be cut later. Remember, you can reduce the width of the segments or reduce the number of segments.

Cut along the centre line (as one of your vertical lines) first. Do not cut the other lines yet. Weigh down or tape down with low-tack tape the right piece (back sleeve portion) onto a large piece of paper.

Using the point on the hem as the pivot point, rotate the left piece a half inch (0.5") towards the left. Put tape only of the first segment of the left piece and tape down onto the piece of paper underneath.

Remove the tape/weights from the right piece. Using the point on the hem as a pivot point, rotate the right piece 0.5" towards the right. Again put tape only on the first segment of the right piece and tape it down onto the piece of paper underneath.

Redraw the original centre line on the piece of paper between the gap. It must be exactly centre.

The 2 sides are now spread an equal distance apart from the centre line (total 1")

Now you can cut out all the other segments. Rotate the ones on the left piece 1" towards the left. Do this one at a time, on the segment adjacent to the one previously rotated, until all have been rotated 1" to the left. Remember to pivot on the point of the hem and ape down each one after rotating.

Do the same for the segments on the right piece, rotating 1" to the right instead.

When all have been rotated accordingly, the length of the hem line should not have changed from the original, only curvier now. The sleeve cap, however, has increased with all that rotating.

Extend the centre line 1" from the top. Redraw the sleeve cap to meet the extended centre line.

There is no need to extend the centre line at the bottom as there will not be any gathering there. The hem line will straighten out when the gathers at the cap have been made.

Puff-bottom sleeve

This is yet another variation on the puff sleeve, this time the puff being only around the sleeve hem, obviously!

To start, draw vertical lines on the sleeve for the segments. However, this time, the segments directly left and right of the centre line is narrower than the other segments. The other segments are therefore slightly wider than these 2 middle ones.

Cut through the centre line first, and tape/weigh down the right side piece (etc, etc). Using the point at the cap as the pivot point, rotate the left piece 0.5" (or more/less) to the left. Tape down on the first segment of the left piece (etc, etc) and then rotate the right piece 0.5" (or same amount as the left one previously rotated) to the right. Tape down on the first segment of the right piece (etc, etc).

Now you can through all remaining segments. Using the same technique described for the puff-top, rotate each individual segment 1.5" (or less but must be more than the combined total of the centre 2 spread, which in this case is 1") correspondingly to the left or right.
Let me re-explain the amount to rotate in a summary:
  • the 2 centre segments can rotate any distance you like (but be warned that a big amount means great bulk after gathering).
  • the 2 centre segments must rotate equally to the left and right, so that the centre line stays put. Please redraw the centre line at this stage.
  • All other segments must rotate left or right (correspondingly of course) by a distance more than the total of the rotation in the 2 centre segments.
  • Do not rotate the other segments by a distance more than twice the combined total of the 2 centre rotations. In fact, exactly twice is going to be too much.

Now extend the centre line 1" towards the bottom only. Redraw the hem line, curving it to meet the extension at the centre line. Also, redraw the sleeve cap so that the curve is smooth.

There is no need to extend the centre line at the top as the puff is to be created at the hem only.

You would have noticed in the drawings above that the last segments on each end remained uncut and unrotated, although the vertical lines were drawn. I merely wanted to show by example that you may, as before, increase or decrease the number of segments you create. You can also increase or decrease the widths of the segments but keep in mind that the centre 2 must be narrower than the others, otherwise there will be too much bulk at the centre of the sleeve.

Gather the hem to create a puff bottom the same way as in the puff sleeve hem, either with a band or with elastic. You can also choose NOT to make the gathers, thereby creating the following and final sleeve type in this post, the...

Bell sleeve

This sleeve has a bell-like silhouette, hence the name.

As said, it is drafted exactly the same way as the puff-bottom sleeve, with just one omission - you don't have to extend the centre line at the bottom at all. After slashing and rotating, just smooth out the curve at both the cap and the hem. Since there is no gathering, there is no need to compensate for fabric take-up, as you would have to with the puffs.

When making up the sleeve, do not make the gathers at all. Let the sleeve fall in soft drapes against the upper arm, therefore especially suited to soft and swishy fabric like silk, satin, organza, etc.

With this post, you've reached the final installment of the 'Sleeve' episodes. A lot of the inch amounts I've given are not absolutes. You can change it up or down as it suits your model and design. Please don't be afraid to experiment (on cheap remnants, ok?). It's quite fun.


  1. This part of the drafting series alone is brilliant! Now I see how to modify existing sleeve patterns.
    This is a ton of work and I appreciate that you're willing to share your knowledge. Thank you.

  2. Brilliant, J! Thank you again for doing this. Mum always talked about that curve at the bottom (hem) of the puff sleeve, and why it should never be straight across to prevent a bad case of the Droops. I believed her and obeyed her but never visualized the reason till this post. Now that you've explained it, it makes perfect sense - same concept as the Anti-Ride-Up Maternity Hem. Ah.

  3. Thanks Jen & Lorraine. I am printing out this series as you publish them. This print out is going to be my "go-to" book! on sewing.

  4. Thank you :) your series on awesome! I am getting back into sewing as my daughter just doesn't fit the normal child sizing. Thank you - for the sharing the knowledge you both have in how to adapt patterns, as well as how to make a sloper. (Now I just have to wait for school to start so I have time to start this without *cough* excess help of small hands!)

  5. Thank you so much for this series! Watching all the draping and sloping on Project Runway inspired me to want to learn the technique. But I just can't afford to spend the $250 on a class. Your posts are so clear and easy to follow and the pictures are so helpful. I think I can self-teach myself based on your series! Thank you!!

  6. Once again, I need to say THANK YOU for this!

  7. Wow! I've just returned from holiday and caught up with yours posts! My brain is now dribbling out of my ears, 7 drafting posts in 1 sitting!!! I can't wait to get going, I've printed out my measurement sheet, now I need to pick a child and give it a go. I have a 7 year old with protruding tummy and a 4 year old without. The 7 year old needs more clothes than the 4 year old (she gets hand-me-downs, she'll get them in 3 years!)but who do you think would be most straightforward to start drafting for?

    Can't thank you enough for putting this information together, you should publish it......

  8. Louise: you can start with either one, really. Although I would start with whomever needs more clothes- so the elder, I guess! Also, I hope you printed out the new version of the measuring table, since the first one (which I posted when that overview post first came out last month) is no good.

  9. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing these tutorials!! I knew vaguely how to do a couple of these variations, but not all of them. Your instructions and diagrams are so clear and so detailed!! Thank you!

    I linked to your tutorial over at Craft Gossip Sewing:


  10. Hi!
    I have an award for you!

  11. This is SO helpful! I now understand sleeves - hooray!!!

  12. It's stupid o'clock and I'm licking your virtual brain to help me make Ms Frizzle's dress for halloween. Thank you!

  13. Hi, LiEr:

    Can you please include a tutorial for Raglan Sleeves and how to connect them to the bodice when sewing?


  14. This was so informative! Thank you for sharing!

  15. This is so helpful! Thanks so much. I am trying to adjust a sleeve for a bodice that I had altered because the shoulder armscye were not narrow enough.

  16. Thanks a bunch for the sleeve tutorial. But I am trying to figure out how to sew the end of a gathered sleeve on a girl's shirt when the sleeve won't fill over the arm of my sewing machine. I really don't want to do it by hand.

    1. You turn it inside out and sew it flat on the bed of the machine. Don't use the free arm. This is how to sew any narrow tube-like thing - sew it inside out.

  17. This may be a silly question, but if I want to backwards-engineer the gathers OUT of an existing sleeve cap, can I slash and overlap between the gather points in a reverse of your slash-and-spread to ADD gathers?

    1. In theory, yes. However, we're assuming that the gathered sleeve has the "gather points" clearly marked in the completed sleeve, somehow. So that you would know exactly how much to overlap otherwise you may overlap too much and end with a tight sleeve cap. Maybe if they were pleats, instead.

    2. Oh! I'm sorry, I should have been clearer. I mean the cap on an existing pattern for a sleeve, on paper. I usually draft and/or drape the garments I make, this is my first time using a ready-made commercial pattern. I measured and compared the armscye to the sleeve cap, after removing the built-in seam allowance, then took four 1/2" tucks spaced evenly between the marked gather points to (hopefully) remove the extra ease and give a smoothly-fitting shoulder. I haven't yet put the muslin together, so I can't tell you how it worked, but I appreciate the advice!

  18. Thank you so much for the clear, concise directions and excellent illustrations for adapting sleeve patterns. This has been a very helpful post.

  19. This was so helpful! I needed a really puffy sleeve so I used the puffed sleeve and then the bottom puff sleeve, meaning I spaced them all out an inch apart and then rotated the bottom out another half inch. Perfect bubble sleeve.


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