Status Sleeves, cont’d

Here’s an easy tutorial on drafting corner pleats for sleeves.  Sleeve pleats have been a frequent feature of RTW tops, dresses and jackets in recent years and are one of the many ways of adding detail and structure to a part of garment that had for a couple of decades remained overlooked. 

I’m beginning to believe that just as padded shoulders of 1980s womenwear gave the impression of power, the extra width gained from these corners pleats somehow serve to enhance the status of the wearer!  Unlike in the 80s though, the means are more subtle and the result feminine. 

The pictures show the pattern with the underarm seam sewn but the seam allowances and sleeve hem unsewn.  The drafting is very beginner-friendly: you’re just adding squares to the sleeve cap.  The method is from  Adele Margolisbook: ’Design Your Own Dress Patterns: a Primer in Pattern Making for Women who like to Sew’.  

Corner Pleat Sleeves: a Tutorial

(Sometimes, it helps to see all the steps in one.  To do that, skip to here.)

Step 1: Make a symmetrical short-sleeve block

Make a copy of the short-sleeve block (sloper). (If you only have a long-sleeve block, copy to 4cm above the elbow and checking your upper arm measurement, ensure you have about 5cm of ease around the bicep.)  Fold at the centre and trim so the front and back of sleeve (left and right of centre line) are symmetrical.   

Yes, with this baby, it won’t matter if you put the sleeve in back to front!

Step 2: Extend upwards 

Pin the sleeve block to a larger piece of paper.  Extend the centre line upwards and create a T-shape.  I raised my sleeve by 4cm but you can be more dramatic, especially if your fabric is firmer!

Step 3: Draw  points on original cap

Draw 2 points on the original cap, equally apart from the centre line.  Mine are 5cm from the middle of the sleeve.  Label A and B.

Step 4: Extend points to top of T

Extend the points to the top line, making sure the lines are at right angles to it, and parallel to the centre line.  Label points.

Step 5: Extend to the side by same amount

Extend and label.

Step 6: Complete the square 

Close up and join to new points X and Y.

Step 7: Smooth out

Redraw around X and Y to make the line smoother.  Now trace around the whole outside area.

Step 8: New outline

Your sleeve, once you’ve unpinned the original, now looks like this: yes, an apron!

Step 9: Complete the pattern

Add seam allowances, grainline, fold instructions (that is, the four points to each pleat square) and knotches.  As there are no balance lines, when it comes to attaching the sleeve to the bodice, pin to the shoulder seam first then to underarm sleeve.  The rest should fit without tucks or gathers.

Step 10: Making up

To make the sleeve from your fabric, fold C to E and D to F.  The fold should stop at points A and B.  Baste along the armscye.


You may wish to fold the opposite way, from the outer side of the sleeve towards the centre, that is, from E towards C and F towards D.

And if you do so then turn the sleeve inside out, you get this interesting diagonal pleat as on the right….

If your fabric is on floppy side and can’t support such corners, you could try interfacing.

A nice addition to the bamboo shoot bodice?

Gathered Hole

If you‘re a Pattern Magician, how are you getting along?

When I initiated the Challenge, I expected to find the process of recreating one of Tomoko Nakamichi’s designs, er… challenging.  So you might be pleased to hear that halfway through the project that is the Gathered Hole Dress, I find myself tired, frustrated and wondering if it ain’t all going to hell in a handcart.  Here’s the Work in Progress: 

The dress has a gathered hole to one side of the waist and a gathered hole on each of the upper sleeves.  The sleeves worked out fine (below are some notes on creating Gathered Hole Sleeves if you’d like to see what I did).  The problem is in the hole at the waist, as modelled here by Anne Boleyn, my dummy.   

Anne isn’t a proper dressmaker’s mannequin but a display model with idealised, Miss World-like proportions.  According to my son, she looks nothing like me…  On my more substantial frame, the hole will reveal a more meaty side but don’t worry, I won’t be exposing my kidneys for all the world to see.  The dress is to have lining! 

If I can be bothered to finish it. 

When I try the dress on, it is much heavier on the gathered side that it feels weighed down and this even distorts the neckline.  Maybe the design is only meant for lighter fabrics… Any ideas for how to fix this?  I don’t like the idea of wearing clothes that feel asymmetrical: I’d be constantly tempted to tug at things in an attempt to restore balance!


Notes on Drafting the Gathered Hole Sleeve

I started off with a close-fiting sleeve block and added 4cm height to the sleeve cap.  I drew a 5cm diameter circle in the middle of the bicep (the centre of the circle exactly 5cm above the armhole line) and created 8 segments from the circle.  You can divide these further into 16 segments as in the book but make sure you number the pieces – it might help if there’s a gust of wind during “slash and spread”!  Click on the picture for a larger view.

Size of hole: If you’re thinking of creating a garment with a Gathered Hole, I recommend having some circles of various sizes and placing them against your body, or muslin, to see what size hole works best with your proportions.  My sleeve hole was 5cm across, the centre exactly 5 cm above the armhole line. 

Now, rather as in Matisse, “The Snail”, cut out and rearrange the sleeve segments spreading them slightly.  This will take a few goes.  Start from the middle if it helps.  Pin to another sheet of paper and draw around the new sleeve pattern.  You will need a very wide (though narrow) sheet of paper for this: mine was nearly 150cm.  Add seam allowances.  If, like me, you’re going to make the casing out of a separate piece of fabric, you’ll need to make a pattern piece for this too. 

Trace the edge of the hole and add seam allowances on all 4 sides to make the casing pattern piece:

Making up the Gathered Hole with Separate Casing Piece

Step 1 – Sew the seam up to the casing seam allowance.  I like to zigzag the edges first.

Step 2 – Press open, edge finish the hole.

Step 3 – Edge finish the casing (the 2 short ends and the longest side)

Step 4 – With right sides together, pin and sew the seam that will form the edge of the gathered hole.

Step 5 – I like to repeat and sew a second row (belt ‘n’ braces, me) then trim as close as possible to the seam.

Step 6 – Flip casing over and pin with the wrong sides together. 

Step 7 – Stitch, keeping close to the zigzaged edge-finish and ensuring that there’s a space of around 1cm in width for the insertion of tie into the casing.

Have you ever attempted the Gathered Hole?  Did it work in your fabric?   Did you decide to bare all with your garment or was there a modesty’s-sake base layer?!

Witch Sleeves

This Leg of Mutton Sleeves Tutorial isn’t just for witches, you know.  Maybe you’re here because you’re making the fineries of a Renaissance princess like this sweetie. 

Or perhaps you’re an 80s throwback?  Preparing for an 80s-themed wedding?  (Imagine the music!  I want an invitation!)

Or maybe you’re here because you got roped into making costumes for an Am-dram period production. 

Let’s not ask wherefores.

All are welcome here….

Close-fitting Sleeve Block

To start drafting the LoM, you will need a close-fitting sleeve block with a wrist to elbow dart.  If you haven’t a close-fitting sleeve block, you can make one to the following measurements:

1.  The sleeve cap (curved area on top) should measure the same as the bodice armhole (front + back) plus an extra 3-5cm for ease (3cm if you’re petite, for example).   The back of the sleeve  is “fleshier” than the sleeve front.

2.  The height of the sleeve should be  equivalent to the length of arm from the shoulder bone to the wrist, the measurement taken with the elbow gently bent (this provides the ease).

3. The width at the elbow should be the girth of elbow, the measurement taken with the elbow gently bent (ease again).  The elbow is half-way up the underarm seam.

4.  The block width half way between the elbow and the shoulder should be your bicep girth plus ease of 5cm.

5.  The block measurement at the wrist should be your wrist girth plus ease of 2cm-2.5cm.

6.  Copy your sleeve block, add seam allowances and make up a sleeve muslin.  Try it on and see if you need to make any adjustments.

An important note: all drafting is made on copies of the block.  Keep the original intact so you don’t have to remake it every time there’s an adjustment.

Drafting Leg of Mutton

1. Draw equally spaced slash lines in the top half of sleeve.

2. Place onto another (larger) piece of paper.  Trace around the lower half of sleeve.  Slash the vertical lines. Spread.  Pin into place.

My spread is a modest 2cm.  Click on pic below for a close-up.

3. The action of spreading will naturally result in the sleeve rising slightly in the middle.

4. But you need more rise.  Lots more.  If you’d like the sleeve to rise 3cm above the shoulder, you need to add double that, i.e. 6cm, to the top of the sleeve.  I added a measly total of 3.5cm, slightly less at the sides.  Gradually taper to original positions at the underarm seam.

5. Smooth the sides of the sleeve in the elbow region.

6. Copy the LoM then add seam allowances.  My finished pattern looked like this:

Making up

LoM doesn’t work in floppy, sheer fabrics.  If in doubt, apply interfacing.  

When I made up the muslin it looked like this:

I put it on and the effect was a bit matronly: more Lady Bracknell than Cecily Cardew.  So I tried again, aiming for fullness around and above the bicep and a closer fit below.  Back on the drawing board, I cut my slashed pieces in half and repinned the lower portion to a tracing of the elbow line and bottom half of sleeve:

I then repeated steps 2 – 6 as above, spreading only the upper quarter of the sleeve.  The second pattern, more trumpet-like in shape, looked like this on top of the first.

The muslin was more flattering.  I wonder if you can spot the difference.

Here they are together.  Version 1 on the left, Version 2 on the right.

An elbow-length version 2 in black looks lovely I think, though I could have gathered the back of  the sleeve more evenly (lumps!!).

Now I must get back to the cauldron: the kids are expecting lamb stew.