[Module 6] Creating the Flexible Pattern | 4d. Bodice Sleeves

Sleeves, sleeves, sleeves I have lost sleep over sleeves. Luckily they are easy to experiment with and I hope that you will and create something wonderful.


In the interests of taking forever writing this Unit I have made an executive decision that I will give you a brief overview of Sleeves and show you how to draft and create a simple one seam sleeve with a few variations for now. More will be added later and hand on heart this will be a Unit that will expand.


There are different thoughts about how to draft Sleeves and when you should do it. I don’t believe you can be accurate with a Sleeve until you have the Bodice drafted and a Test Garment made that has been thoroughly fitted. Only this way do you know what you are dealing with and then once you have drafted the Sleeve you can create a Test Sleeve and see how it fits to the Test Garment on the body and make your respective alterations to the Sleeve if you have any.


The best fitted sleeves are all about the bodice. If the bodice is a good fit with a higher Base Armhole that is closely fitted and an Armhole Dart that has also been closely fitted then the sleeve will be anchored better. It is the Armhole that is fixed and the sleeve that is going to move. The question is how close is a good fit, you want it close enough go allow good movement but you don’t want it too close that it is uncomfortable or no where near your design requirements, a close fit Working Template with an Armhole that was dropped from the Base Template ¾” would be a good place to start for a dress or top, however with an outer layer like a jacket you would drop this down further by another ¾” because you need space to fit all the clothing underneath. These are all considerations for the Test Garment which is really the key even before you draft a sleeve!


The pattern that you draft for the Sleeve therefore is part of the Flexible Pattern that you are working on for the Test Garment that you have tested. If you start swapping sleeves around between different Flexible Patterns there is a good chance that they would not fit as the armholes are all going to be different due to different drafting and design choices. It’s not a big deal as drafting a Sleeve does not take long and it’s the best way to get the best fit. Once you have drafted a Sleeve you can make lots of different versions for the same Flexible Pattern and I think it is worth doing this as you can check out the fit for all of them at the same time on your Test Garment. I also think that the more Sleeves that you draft the better you get at working out what works and what doesn’t and how you can manipulate everything to get the most comfortable fit. I think practice is the key when it comes to Sleeves, the more your practice the more you can learn.


So you will create a Sleeve as part of the Flexible Pattern that you are working on and to make the most of the Flexible Pattern it is worth trying out different styles and grains and also once you get more accomplished try different measurements during drafting.


It is really important to keep in mind what are you going to wear the garment for and how much movement do you need essentially comfort as this will affect the amount of tailoring you will or won’t need to do and what is right for one is never right for another.


The Shape of a Sleeve

The shape for a Batwing or a Kimono type sleeve is almost rectangular. There is lots of design ease in this sleeve it is meant to flow around the arm and it does not hold anything back when you move (obviously dependable on the design). This type of sleeve is almost and sometimes is an extension of the actual garment, there may not even be an armhole at all and movement is created because of the ease that is added, there is lots of extra fabric and the arm can move where ever it wants to. This is not a tailored Sleeve as lots of the time this is on a garment where one size fits lots of people.



If you look at the shape of a sleeve that has some tailoring that is drafted for a jacket at the other end of the scale then the shape of it is rather different. The top of the sleeve is rounded and it is called the Sleeve Head or the Sleeve Cap. It is rounded as it has to shape around the shoulder and its outline basically fits into the armhole (which on the Test Garment is circular when sewn.





Now some sleeve science;

  • The length of the Sleeve Head curve, from Bicep end to Bicep end going all the way along the top, is the same length as the circumference of the Armhole. If you have a wider Armhole your Sleeve Head will need to be wider. So bigger arms means bigger Sleeve Head.

  • The shape of the Sleeve Head is essentially determined by the size of the arms and shoulders and the angle of the set of the sleeve, i.e. a sleeve that needs to fall downwards like a jacket has a deep Sleeve Head from the top to the Biceps. The Sleeve Head shape will also need to correspond to the shape of the Armhole on the bodice to get the best fit.

So if the Sleeve Head is the correct width and shape then it will fit into the Armhole even with a small amount of ease, it will just fit like a glove, there will be no need to create any gathering at the top of the Sleeve Head unless of course you are adding in gathering to create a puffy sleeve. This is why lots of manufactured clothing and patterns have gathers because they are not tailored to fit clothes and it ensures that the sleeve will fit most people with the extra fabric added to create some extra ease just in case.


When fitting the sleeve you can play around with the Sleeve Head shape as long as it stays the same length as the Armhole that it needs to fit into and this will become more clearer during drafting of the Sleeve.


The taller or more pointier the Sleeve Head shape the less curvature you will get at the base of the Sleeve Head which would essentially give you more ease at the top for raising the arm and the armhole would look neat around the armhole but you will have excess fabric in the top of the shoulder which might look obvious. It is a matter of comfort versus style.


The flatter the shape of the Sleeve Head the deeper you can go with the curve for the bottom of the armhole which means you have a neater finish at the shoulder but fabric can gather in the base of the armhole when the arm is at rest.


So you can see that it is a bit of a balancing act in getting the curve right.


Sleeve Seams

A Sleeve just like with the bodice will is more tailored and you will get a better fit the more seams it has. The main options are as follows;

  • One Seam – usually positioned under the arm out of sight and usually hitting around the Side Seam on the Bodice, this is a very common type of sleeve.

  • Two Seams – Which creates an upper sleeve and a lower sleeve with the seams along the mid Front and the Mid Back of the sleeve. This is a more tailored fit and is used in a close fit garment or tailored jacket.

  • Three Seams – which creates a Back, Under and a Front pattern piece and the top seam comes from the Shoulder End Point. This kind of sleeve is not that commonly used as it is more complex to draft but gives fabulous control for fit and I use it when making a couture jacket for that exquisite tailored feel.

Sleeves can be any length and have Cuffs, Bands, Vents, Pleats, Gathers, Tucks and Flares and also horizontal seams or even pieces that cross over each other such as in a Petal Sleeve. The subject of sleeves can take a lifetime to cover, but we can start from the beginning and build on knowledge one step at a time.


Sleeve Drafting










For the purpose of illustrating Sleeves for this Unit I have drafted a Flexible Pattern from a 2” ease Working Template cut at the Waist just to save fabric. I have made some drafting changes that we have already covered in previous Units.



I created a Test Garment and did a fitting and made the appropriate alterations.











The following Sleeve draft will be for a Sleeve with one seam that will be under the arm in line approximately with the Bodice Side Seam.








The Sleeve is drafted from a combination of the Armhole measurements from the altered Flexible Pattern and also the measurements that were taken in Module 3 when taking the measurements from the Client.


There are many many ways to draft a sleeve and you will find if you google it there will be lots of ideas. To get you moving along the right lines have a look at the following instructions. I would recommend drafting out the sleeve as below and then creating a Test Sleeve to set into your Test Garment. If you allow a good 1” for some Seam Allowance when cutting the fabric pattern piece then you will be able to use any of that to help move around the sleeve in the Armhole in any direction up/down/side to side or even tilted if you need to.


When fitting you should always fit the sleeve on the body and as before when you have finished making decisions regarding fitting lines ensure that you draw on the Test Garment and then transfer those alteration back to the Sleeve Draft and also to the Bodice Draft if you need to.

In my photos I don’t have a Body Form Arm, I could make one but its never going to be good enough to fit a sleeve so I don’t bother. That’s up to you really.


I am drafting in pen to make it easier for you to see but you should use your pencil as usual. It also helps to write all of your measurements down and calculations as you go and label all marks and lines.


On a large sheet of paper the first step is to draw a line that is the same length as the Over Sleeve Length and label this line ‘A’ at the top and ‘B’ at the Bottom.































Next place a mark 1 ¾” down from ‘A’ and label this mark as ‘C’. This space gives us an area to play with for the top of the curve and also takes us to a point where you can box out space for a frame to get the rest of the Sleeve Head positioned.

Calculate the following; Sleeve Cap measurement (off your measurement sheet) - 1 3/4”. This is going to give you a length and width to help you draw out a frame for the Sleeve Cap. My Sleeve Cap measurement is 5 ½” so minus 1 ¾” gives 3 3/4”. I will use 3 ¾” to create the frame in this example but you use your own calculated measurement.


Using your measurement create 2 squares on either side of the centre line.


To do this start by drawing a line perpendicular to the Centre line at C and on each side of the Centre Line, measure your calculated amount on each side of this line.





Mark down the Centre Line from C by the same amount, again use your calculated measurement. Then come out each side of this mark by the same calculated measurement as before and then join up the end points until you have 2 boxes drawn side by side along the Centre Line.










Label the points as ‘D’, ‘E’, ‘F’, ‘G’ and ‘H’ as shown.





Draw a line to extend the base of the boxes out on each side by the same calculated measurement and label these two points as ‘I’ and ‘J’. Label this line as your Biceps Line.


As a check measure down from F to B and this should be coming out at about the same length as your Underarm Sleeve Length. If not check your measurements again for Underarm and Sleeve Head. Mine is within ½” and I find that acceptable for now.




Label the Back and the Front of the Draft to avoid any confusion. (you need to keep an eye on this all the way through construction as you don’t ever want to put a sleeve on the wrong way around).











At the Wrist at ‘B’ draw lines either side of the Centre Line by the same calculated amount and label these points as ‘K’ and ‘L’.



Join up the lines from ‘G’ to ‘K’ and from ‘E’ to ‘L’. You now have the Sleeve Frame in place.















Work out a third of the measurement between ‘D’ and ‘E’ and measure this amount down from ‘D’ and label this as ‘M’. (you can use half way between ‘D’ and ‘E’ but this creates a flatter shape in the front and usually you need it a little rounder, I find shoulders are usually flatter in the Back Armhole).



Work out the halfway point between ‘H’ and ‘G;’ and mark this point and label this point as ‘N’.






You are going to draw a curve to join up ‘I’ to ‘N’ to ‘A’ to ‘M’ to ‘J’. You can either sketch out the curve or use your French Curve. When drawing the curve ensure that you do not drop below the Biceps line.




You need to ensure that the curve in the Armhole on the Bodice Draft below the Cross Chest and Cross Shoulder Lines on the bodice are coming as close as possible to the Sleeve Head Line shape that you have just drawn in. Now this is a little tricky and you might not be able to get it exact but have a look and see if you can alter the curve a little at least.


You do this by bringing in your Flexible Pattern Draft for your bodice Front and Back. Let’s take the Front Draft first (tape out the Armhole Dart), place it over the Sleeve Draft lining up the Biceps line at ‘J’ with the Base Armhole point and try to line up somewhere around or below the Front Cross Chest Line. Where you can redraw the shape of the curve to get it closer to the bodice.


In my photo I am lining up J with a red line drawn on my Front Draft as I made an alteration back to the pattern and this is the new position of my Side Seam. You would line up your ‘J’ with the end of the Armhole at the Side Seam and try to line up the curve as much as possible somewhere around the Cross Front Line on the Front Draft.










Take your pencil and draw along the Armhole of the Front Draft onto the paper.


In this photo you can see that the line I have drawn was not too far out until I got closer to M, for now I make a decision to take blend the curve back in to the intial line I drew for the Sleeve Head and ignore the steep line that started to happen at M. There is a good chance that this will change again anyway.

Do the same with the Back line up the Biceps Line at point ‘I’ and redraw the curve to get it closer to a better fit.


Mmmm I had a tricky time with this Back shape as the Back Armhole is really steep for this tall body shape. So I attempted this in two goes. With the Back Draft Seam Line lined up on I (again an alteration shown in red) I started to draw the curve……..









Here you can see I twisted the Back Draft and you can see how this curve fits in better with the Sleeve Head curve - and then carried on drawing a line……. Sometimes it takes a couple of passes to get close with the line, other times you can get it drawn in one.









With the Back Draft removed you can see the drawn lines. With a little straightening out I settled for the red line for now.




Next you need to work out where the Centre Line on the Sleeve should really be placed because with posture situations and rounded shoulders usually a Back is bigger than the Front unless there is a larger bust although a large bust can pull on the shoulder…….Anyhow it is something to check as we are all different shapes.


Take the Flexible Pattern draft for the Bodice and measure the Armhole for the Front and Back Draft (ensure you do not add in the Front Dart). Now take these measurements and take your Front Armhole measurement from your Back Armhole measurement.


If your Back is a larger number your answer will have a positive number and this is the amount you need to move the position of the Sleeve Centre Line by.


Let’s say your Back Armhole is 9 ½” and your Front is 9” in this case you will need to shift the mark at A on the Sleeve Head along into the Front side by ½”. You would only move out a maximum of ¾” and no more than that even if the difference is bigger. You will then need to relabel this new mark as ‘a’.


If you Back Armhole and your Front Armhole are approximately the same then leave ‘A’ as it is.


If your Front Armhole is larger than the Back then you will need to move the ‘A’ point backwards into the Back but don’t go further than ½”. If you have moved it then label it as ‘a’.