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Drafting Part III - Adapting a Basic Sleeve for Other Styles

Originally published on Ikat Bag as part of a series on drafting a sloper. This is my final installment in the series on drafting sleeves.

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. Beautiful diagrams, thanks for your web site and information, you make it easy to do, may try and draft my own patterns sometime. Thanks for the inspiration

  2. Great tutorial! Exactly what I was looking for! Pinned it to my blog's Pinterest page! Thanks for sharing

  3. i always love puff-top sleeve but don't know how to draft them ...thanks this is such wonderful information..:)

  4. Thanks for such nice explanation..i m looking forward to make petal sleeves. How to make it nicely

  5. Lovely blog thanks for sharing


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