26 November 2011

Playing with Patterns: Puff Sleeve Tutorial

Who wants to have some fun with scissors and glue? Even if you don't want to make your own sewing patterns from scratch, it can be useful for a stitcher to have some basic pattern cutting techniques up their sleeve (arf!), in case you want to adapt existing patterns in your stash to create something a little different. So I thought I'd show you how to puff a sleeve

I like a good puff in a sleeve - don't you? I'm going to show you how to puff out the bottom of the sleevelike I did for my teal button back blouse - this style is sometimes called a bishop sleeve, although they often have a more exaggerated shape. If you want to add the puff at the top, just apply the same technique upside down to the top of the pattern. This tutorial will also demonstrate - and hopefully demystify - the "slash n spread" technique, one of the basics of pattern cutting that is useful and easy to pick up.

You will need:

- straight sleeve pattern piece that you know fits both you and the garment you're going to insert it into (I used a block drawn to my measurements, but you can use a sleeve piece from a bought pattern)
- paper
- pencil and pen
- paper scissors
- glue, Scotch tape or pins
- ruler
- curved ruler, vary form or Pattern Master if you have one, otherwise you can get away with using a straight ruler or drawing freehand (ssshh!)
- tape measure

1. Trace the sleeve pattern off onto a new sheet of paper, marking in the shoulder point, grain line and any notches. (NB. You are tracing the stitching line, not the cutting line, which we will mark in later.) The sleeve can be as long or as short as you like - I've ended mine a couple of inches below the elbow. Draw vertical lines up the pattern, dividing it into equal sections (I've done five).

2. Cut along these lines from the bottom upwards, stopping just before you reach the top. This is the "slashing" part. (If you want to puff out the top, cut from the top downwards.)

3. Place the pattern on a new piece of paper, fanning out the pieces to the width you want. This is the "spreading" bit. Glue, tape or pin the pieces down.

4. Draw around the new shape, smoothing the crown and hem into a curved line and squaring the corners off so they're right angles (so the seams will match when you sew them together). You can either retrace the new shape onto a fresh piece of paper or just peel off the spread pieces if they're not stuck down too hard.

5. Add seam allowances and mark the shoulder point, notches and grainline. If you've left the extra ease in at the crown, your notches will have moved, so you need to mark them in the right place to help you set the sleeve into the armhole correctly when it comes to sewing. Measure the position of the notches on the original pattern piece from the armhole upwards - you can measure a curve by standing your tape measure on its side - and transfer these to the new pattern.

6. To make the cuff band, measure the circumference of your arm at the point where the sleeve will end and add 1.5cm ease. If you're making a 3/4 length sleeve, I've found that it's a good idea to measure a little further up your forearm than you want the cuff to lie so you can pull your sleeve up a little if you have a habit of doing that (I know I do). On a new piece of paper, draw a horizontal line to this length. Turn it into a rectangle with the vertical line to the width you want the band to be. Draw a second box adjoined underneath for the inside of the band. Add seam allowances round the edge.

That's it for the pattern play! Interface the band before sewing, and use gather stitch to set the sleeves into the bands as you would with any other gathered piece.

Hope this was useful! If you follow this tutorial, I'd love to know if the instructions were clear (particularly for pattern playing beginners) and I'd love to see what you make!

[Soundtrack: 'The Muse' by Laura Marling]


  1. Thanks for the great tutorial! I've been wanting to play around with pattern modifications for so long, but I just can't seem to find the time. Hopefully it'll happen in the near future.

  2. Thanks for this tutorial Tilly. Really needed to know how to widen sleeves, as I seem to be growing extra flesh around that area of late, and the patterns I have are all becoming tight in that area for me. Hope you have a lovely Saturday.

  3. What a great tutorial! Thank you for sharing :)

  4. Great tutorial, thanks Tilly!

  5. Tilly, a bishop sleeve really needs extra length on the outside to allow for the bending of the elbow. Possibly with a loosish cuff and a shortish length like yours it isn't an issue, but for a longer one or a firmer cuff fit, the bottom edge needs to have a gentle S shape, with the 'downwards' curve of the S on the outside of the sleeve, where the extra length counts, and the upward curve therefore on the inside. I tried to find a link to an image to add but I can't, so I hope my wittering about S bends makes sense! :)

  6. Thanks, Tilly! Was intrigued by those sleeves. How fascinating.

  7. This seems like a really simple process and something I could do! I've never altered a pattern before as I'm new to dress making but this seems really straight forward so thank you. I'm like Dibs, need to find a way to widen sleeves as I recently had a disaster with the Miz Mozelle dress pattern by Jamie Cristiana. The sleeves are too tight and I tried to add extra width and trust me, you don't want to see the results! Horrendous. Do you think slashing it in this way might work? They are small, short sleeves, longer than a capped sleeve though. Thanks in advance.

  8. Thanks Tilly! This tutorial looks wonderful! I'll have to keep it in mind for the next sleeves I sew.


  9. Thanks fot this tutorial, Tilly. Your blouse is really beautiful!

  10. This is an amazing tutorial! it suddenly all made sense!

  11. Great tutorial. I think the instructions were very clear. Thanks for the note on drawing the stitching line vs. cutting line. I wouldn't have thought about that!

  12. ooh, really useful. I want to do a (well I call it a romantic poet blouse you know the type you see in historical dramas) and I need sleeves like this.

  13. Thank you for the nice tutorial, how do i need to make the pattern if want the puff both on the top and lower part?


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