How to Draft a Sleeve Pattern When You are Desperate and No One Has Ever Shown You

How to Draft a Sleeve Pattern When You are Desperate and No One Has Ever Shown You.

Simplicity 3786

We home-sewers are always going it alone it seems.  When constructing Simplicity 3786 I found I liked the bodice but the sleeve fit was abominable.  I would need to draft a new sleeve pattern.

The problem is that no one has ever shown me how

Prior to my sewing snit over this sleeve I had heard two solutions but I could not see either working.

Solution #1;Looks Like a lot of Work for a Sleeve that Still Might Fit

Butterick 5746:Fitting Shell or Personalized Sloper

There are pattern drafting books that cover drafting sleeves. However, their sleeve patterns are drafted from a personalized bodice pattern, often called a sloper.  Slopers are usually very form-fitting, more a carbon copy of you with some ease thrown in for movement.  Additionally, the sleeve drafting is explained in a separate chapter and there are no illustrations of the relationship between the sleeve cap and the curvature of the bodice shoulder. 

Solution #2 Which I Think Only Works if You Make the Same Kind of Shirt All the Time

I have also been advised to take my French curve and measure the armscye curvature on a blouse whose fit I like best.  But then there is the problem of matching sleeve to shoulder. Because I like a certain blouse does not mean that the pattern I am currently sewing was designed with the same curvature and fashion ease. Just a glance in the closet tells you that garments each have their own unique curvature at the armscye.

So what to do?

Here is what I did. 

It won’t win me any ribbons at a contest I’m sure, but it worked.

This design had a flat sleeve head.  By that I mean it had no gathers and minimal ease.  That made what I did easier.

Simplicity 3786:The sleeve from the pattern envelope. You can see how tightly it fits. Nothing I did to alter the original pattern worked.

1) I seam ripped the sleeve from the pattern company and threw it in the scrap bin. (That kind of made up for the previous night’s snit over the sleeve’s general chumpiness.)

2) I also ripped out the side seam so I could lay the bodice flat on top of a large piece of paper.

Then I winged it.

If you have sewn a lot of sleeves you will notice some commonalities.  The deepest armpit portion is curved away from the sleeve cap. A few inches in from the side seam there is usually a notch.  Any easing or gathering takes place between the notches most of the time at the sleeve cap. 

SOOOooooo. . . . . .

3) I put on the sleeveless shirt and got the shoulder seam and armscye I wanted.  Cutting and pinning until I got it right.

4) Then I laid the garment completely flat over a large piece of interfacing.

Shirt laid open over interfacing. Mark your notches, remember one notch for the front, two for the back, then trace the curve for the sleeve cap.

5) I guesstimated where the notches should be on my new armscye.  I marked both the interfacing that was to be my new sleeve and the bodice.

6) I traced the top portion between the notches, the sleeve cap, directly from the bodice.

Flip the garment over and trace the underarm curve portion. Remember to mark where the seam ends, that will become the underarm seam for your sleeve.

7) Next I flipped the bodice over, matched the notches and traced the armpit curve using the bodice as a guide. 

Remember to make a slash where the curve ends and the side seam begins.  That becomes the underarm seam of the shirt.

My new sleeve cap. I just had to tidy up the lines and draw the seams.

I had my sleeve cap.  From there I just needed to decide how long I wanted it.  Since Simplicity 3786 has a three

The sleeve not fit with the looseness it was designed to have.

part sleeve, I took the pattern for the cuff and gathered lower sleeve and altered them to fit my new upper sleeve.

I realize that this isn’t by the book, but if I had a book to show me how to redraft a sleeve for an existing pattern I wouldn’t have had to make this up.  You must consider the variables of your specific pattern and you must make a practice sleeve, but this a quick and dirty method that may be of help if nothing but a new sleeve pattern will work.

Next Post: Friday, November 19, 2010: Week Ten- I Can’t believe it! – Stash Bash Update


20 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Gwen
    Nov 18, 2010 @ 07:14:57

    Good solution, and great that you figured out how to make that sleeve fit. I have made that pattern. The sleeve is definitely too tight, so I increaed the width of the sleeve across the bicep. This is an alteration I do often. If you want to see my versionm it’s on my blog on July 11, 2010. I made mine of rayon and it draped beautifully.


    • Sewista Fashionista
      Nov 18, 2010 @ 08:56:29

      Hi Gwen,
      Good to hear from you! I checked out your version and it looks lovely. I’m glad to hear I wasn’t the only one with the sleeve issues. You know I didn’t even register the back gathers, but then I wouldn’t want to bubble my butt as it bubbly enough already. 😉
      Hope all is well.


  2. Tanit-Isis
    Nov 18, 2010 @ 13:10:52

    I feel like I spent most of the fall wrestling with sleeves and sleeve caps (mostly due to my own incompetence and/or perversity, however). Glad you figured it out! I must admit at times like this I’m tempted to make everything a puff sleeve, just for the sake of not giving a #%$#.


    • Sewista Fashionista
      Nov 18, 2010 @ 17:37:26

      As I was doing the trial run I was thinking I would just cut a big sleeve and gather it if I had to! So the puff sleeve is a classic solution. I’ve futzed with sleeves for years too. I’m looking forward to seeing if this method works on some other patterns I own that I have put aside for sleeve issues.


  3. Echo
    Nov 24, 2010 @ 03:12:04

    What a good idea – I’ve recently started mucking about with sleeves and have realised that it will probably be a regular feature of sewing for me. Sigh. Thanks for coming up with and posting about this – I’ll give is a whizz for sure as it looks like a goodie. I stopped setting sleeves in when instructions for a knit skivvy told me to set in the sleeve! Umm, well I didn’t. Haven’t made a collared shirt yet though…


  4. Trackback: A little goes a long way… | Tanit-Isis Sews
  5. Passiona
    Jun 26, 2011 @ 21:37:13

    Hey, thanks! I have similar problem – ‘cept the pattern is sleeveless and I want to add one into it. This has given me the confidence to do just that.


  6. Jami
    Jun 05, 2012 @ 16:59:22

    This is just what I needed, thanks so much!!


  7. Felicia
    Jul 10, 2012 @ 09:22:45

    Thank you! You have just saved my blouse 😉 It wasn’t that hard at all!


  8. Georgina
    Aug 24, 2012 @ 10:47:48

    To make a sleeve for a sleeveless pattern, would you not have to change the armscye of the original pattern too, for a good fit? Or was this a personal bogeyman that need not have scared me??


    • Sewista Fashionista
      Aug 25, 2012 @ 11:50:25

      You are right. I am talking in this post about patterns with sleeves. For a pattern that is originally sleeveless there is a change. A tank top pattern for example, has the armscye raised at the side seam so one’s bra does not show. If you drafted the sleeve as I did in this post then the armscye will be much to high at the armpit. If you have a tank pattern that you want to convert to sleeved, this is what I would try, remembering that I tend to wing it.

      Find a top that has a pleasing arm fit and measure how from shoulder seam to side seam, getting the length needed in that area.
      Snip from the side seam at the armscye any extra tissue thereby lowering the armscye.
      Keep the snip of tissue and pop it into the pattern envelope because you might want to make the tank version again.
      Draft your sleeve pattern from this point.
      Sew a muslin first even if it is just a half shirt to make sure you have this correct before cutting into fabric you like.

      I hope this answers your question as you brought up a very good point. 🙂


  9. tigergirl
    Dec 18, 2012 @ 21:38:23

    Great job on drafting the sleeve! (I’m currently scouring the internet, looking for a solution to my current sleeve problem)
    Although I’ve got quite a few drafting books, I liked the sound of “Finally It Fits” – I’ve just ordered my very own copy thanks to you!


  10. bloomsnbugs
    Mar 11, 2013 @ 15:08:51

    You know you are a genius!


    • Sewista Fashionista
      Mar 24, 2013 @ 09:26:09

      Desperation drove this idea, not genius! 🙂 I am not sure the true sewists would approve.


  11. Source
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 10:36:57

    Thanks for a marvelous posting! I seriously enjoyed reading
    it, you could be a great author.I will always bookmark your blog and
    may come back later in life. I want to encourage you continue your
    great writing, have a nice day!


    • Sewista Fashionista
      Aug 05, 2013 @ 14:07:48

      I enjoy writing immensely and I thank you for your kind encouragement of my writing. 🙂


      • Stephanie (Concreteblonde)
        Aug 05, 2013 @ 19:06:59

        I find it amazing that your write instructions that are comprehensible. You wouldn’t believe how many sites try to explain something but figure that the photos will do all of the work.

        I am enjoying reading your blog. And that sleeve issue happens to me quit a bit. This will definitely help me in the future.

  12. MC
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 14:24:19

    Thank you for this tutorial. I am sure many dressmakers have experienced drafting sleeves as a pain. I have been thinking about this issue for years and I recently, thank G-d, came up with a solution that is based on sound mathematical principles that can be applied to sleeve drafting as well as other parts of dressmaking that involves curves. I’m sharing my solution in my recently published book. Please check it out. Thank you.


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