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Drafting a Basic Fitted Sleeve

Detail of Giovanni de Medici, 1543, by Bronzino

Sleeves can be one of the most daunting challenges for old and new pattern makers.

However as long as you keep one simple principle in mind, you can draft sleeves easily.

(I wrote this article originally for Your Wardrobe Unlock'd in March '09)

A key principle in sewing that you already know is that if two pieces of fabric are the same length, they will fit together smoothly. What you may not realize is that this applies to curves as well!

I'm going to teach you to draft a basic fitted sleeve that has the seam going up the back of the arm, not under the arm as most modern commercial patterns. It also has NO sleeve cap ease, so it will fit smoothly into the armscye without gathers or fuss. This sleeve is not designed with a button cuff, just a straight fitted sleeve that you can fit your hand through easily without buttons at the wrist.

If you want a tighter sleeve, you can decrease the ease added. The amount of ease for a tighter sleeve will vary depending on the material you make your sleeve out of and what you wear under it. A stretchy wool can be made with less ease than a tightly woven silk taffeta.

I recommend 3 in.(7.5 cm) as the ease around the Biceps and Elbow, and 2 in.(5 cm) around the hand for your first draft. As always when trying a new pattern, make a mockup before cutting into the good fabric!

Measurements

To draft a sleeve using this method you'll need several measurements:
  • Straight arm length
  • Bent Arm Length - from Shoulder to Wrist along back of the arm with the arm bent at a 90 degree angle.
  • Length from Shoulder to Elbow
  • Biceps + 3 in.(7.5 cm) ease
  • Elbow + 3 in.(7.5 cm) ease
  • Hand – around knuckles + 2 in.(5 cm) ease

Measuring the Armscye

In order to create a smoothly fitting sleeve, we'll also need to measure the length of the armscye that the sleeve fitting into. You'll need your pattern pieces, string and some canned goods or pattern weights to hold the ends down.

My husband always laughs at me for using the tomato paste and tuna fish in pattern drafting, but they don't get lost like pattern weights do! Measuring the armscythe

 

  1. Start by taking your patterns, the front and the back.
  2. Lay them out flat, and fold back one of the seam allowance and match the two seam allowances together.
  3. Take a piece of string and lay it along the seam line of the two pattern pieces, from the side seam on the front, over the shoulder to the side seam on the back.
  4. Cut the string to the length of the seam.
  5. Put a mark on the string where it crosses the shoulder line.

Take a large sheet of paper, it should be about 8 inches longer than the Arm length and 8 inches wider than the Bicep measurement. Don't skimp on paper, sleeves take up a lot of room.

Measure and find the middle of the paper, and draw a vertical line. This will be the center of your sleeve.

Draw the center line
Measure 3 inches from the bottom and mark a line. This will be the cuff edge of your sleeve. Draw the wrist line
From the bottom line, measure up the center line the length of straight arm length measurement, draw a horizontal line. Draw the straight arm measurement line

Then measure from the bottom line the bent arm length measurement, draw a horizontal line.
This is the minimum of the top of your sleeve cap.

Draw the bent arm length line

From the top line, measure down and mark measurement B, the length from Shoulder to Elbow. Draw a horizontal line

Here are all the lines we have so far

Draw the elbow length line

Now we add in the sleeve width measurements:

Top line, Biceps measurement + ease

Mid line, Elbow measurement + ease

Bottom line, Hand around the knuckles + ease.

Mark the arm widths plus ease
Now connect the dots with a straight line Connect the dots

Now take your piece of string that you used to measure the armscye length. Lay it on the paper and arrange the string in a wavy line, like this.

It will take some fiddling with it, you want the dip to be no more than 2 inches below the top line, and the top curve to be no more than 3 inches above the top line.

Sometimes the string doesn't fit with such a flat curve, so its OK to make it fit within the parameters and increase the sleeve width.

But you can't shorten the string, otherwise the sleeve won't fit in the armscye!

Arrange the string on the paper in a curve

When the string is adjusted properly, carefully draw right next to it with a pencil.

Here I've demonstrated a sleeve where the string didn't fit the width of the sleeve, so the width had to be increased.

The red is the new line, the brown the old.

The finished sleeve

The sleeve is now ready for seam allowances. Add them on ALL sides.

When you cut and sew the sleeve you will have a left sleeve and a right sleeve. Just remember that the seam goes up the back when you pin it to the armhole. I like to pin it in and then double check before sewing it. This saves having to rip it out when you make a mistake.

Here are pictures of a finished sleeve set into the armhole.

 

Top Front Back
Top of a finished sleeve drafted using this method Front of sleeve Back of sleeve, showing the sleeve seam