Drafting a Slimmer Sleeve

*Update!*  Try our Slim Sleeve Add-on!

Styles change quickly and many people have asked me about drafting a slimmer sleeve as sheer and even skin-tight sleeves come into greater popularity (first photo below).  The sleeve in the Gúna Rince pattern has a slight puff at the shoulder, as you can see in the second photo.

©2018 Rising Star Designs

This post will show how to cut down the sleeve pattern to get a standard dressmaking sleeve fit.

This isn’t meant to be a definitive formula, but merely a starting point.  You will want to mock up your new sleeve to make sure it fits well and make changes if necessary.  For drafting purposes, trace a copy of the sleeve so you are not cutting the original.

1. You’ll need a flexible ruler or tape measure to measure the armscye edges of the front and back bodice. (I’ll do the Ladies 10.  Back=8.8″ Front=8.5″ so 17.3″ total).

Your end goal is to make the armscye edge of the sleeve about 1.5″ bigger than the bodice (you can go as low as 1″ for small child sizes).  This 1.5″ is not extra to be gathered, it’s simply how sleeves are drafted; they need a little ease to perform properly.

2. Draw a vertical line downwards from the top notch and cut along that line so your pattern piece is now in two halves.

3. Shift the left piece to the right 1/4″ and the right piece to the left 1/4″.  They are now overlapping by 1/2″ total.
•For small sizes you can overlap less… 1/4″ or 3/8″ total.
••If the circumference of the sleeve at the bicep/armpit is already fairly tight on the dancer, you may want to skip this step.

4. From the center-top, mark 1/2″ and redraw your sleeve cap so that it hits that 1/2″ mark.
•Small sizes can start with moving only 3/8″ down.
••If you skipped step 3, move 5/8″ down instead. 

Re-mark the top notch by centering it on the overlap at the top of the sleeve.

5. Measure your armscye edge.  Mine was 18.9″
18.9 – 17.3 = 1.6 inch difference
That’s pretty close to 1.5 so I’m going to call it good.  If yours is not as close, repeat step 4, going up or down by 1/8″, rather than 1/2″, as needed until you have that 1.5″ difference.

At this point you should cut one sleeve out of a spare fabric and fit it to make adjustments if necessary.

If you are making a sleeve that is almost skin-tight, you may want to add a gusset under the arm to add to the dancer’s range of motion.  Drafting a gusset is simple.

1. Measure the armscye edge of the sleeve from bottom to notch on each side.  Mine were 3.1″ in the back and 2.9″ in the front.

2.  Draw a horizontal line (6-8″ long).  Bisect that with a line that is the width of your gusset.  Gussets can be anywhere from 1.5-3″ wide, depending on the range of motion you need to add, and the size of the dress.

I’m going to make mine 2″ wide, so that line is 1″ long on each side, making for 2″ total.

3.  With a curved ruler or tape measure, draw a curved line from the top point arcing left and down to the horizontal line.  This curve is the length of our back sleeve measurement (mine was 3.1″).  Draw a second curve to the right of the top point that is the length of your front measurement (mine was 2.9).  Remember to measure the curve, and not the horizontal line.

4.  Mirror the curves underneath the horizontal line.

5.  Mark the vertical line with two notches as shown.  These notches will line up with the underarm seam of the sleeve and the side seam of the bodice.

Add a grainline on a 45º angle.  This gusset is cut on the bias.  I also like to add a reminder of which side is the front and back…let’s be honest they look about the same!

Cut the gusset with the same amount of seam allowance as you are using in the armscye seam.  If your sleeve and bodice are of different fabric, make the gusset from the sleeve fabric.

After sewing the sleeve underarm seam, sew gusset to underarm of sleeve with right sides together.  Corners of gusset will match sleeve notches and the notch of the gusset lines up with the under-arm seam.  From here you can put the sleeve in pretty much like normal.

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