[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’.

When you come to fitting you can then assess the position of the Centre Seam which can always be moved.

Although I don’t need to change the position of A on my draft I have drawn in both situations in green for your information. Obviously you would not have two ‘a’s only one of them if you are going to move the Centre Line.

Now the position of ‘A’ or ‘a’ might actually shift again.

If you did not move ‘A’ to ‘a’ then measure from ‘A’ to ‘J’ on the Draft. If you did move the Centre Line, then measure from ‘a’ out to ‘J’ (ensure you measure on the inside of the draft as usual) and note this measurement. Then do the same on the other side from ‘A’ or ‘a’ to ‘I’ and note this measurement. You should be coming in at around the same as your measurements for Front and Back as your Bodice Draft on the Armhole.

Compare these two measurements from your Sleeve Draft with your Front and your Back Armhole measurements off your Flexible Pattern Draft for your bodice and work out what the difference is you should find that they are a little longer on the Sleeve Draft. You do need to have a little ease in the Sleeve around ½” that will be eased into the bodice Armhole but it would not be too much that it would cause any gathering anywhere.

Look at the difference in measurement for both the Front and the Back, is it the same? If it is then you don’t need to do anything but if it is different then you will need to shift ‘A’ or ‘a’ again.

Let’s look at an example let’s say you have 4/8” extra on the Back and 2/8” extra on the Front you will need to shift ‘A’ or ‘a’ to the back by 1/8” to basically give it to the Front and equal things up a little that would give 3/8” for both the Front and the Back. Ensure you relabel the new position – you can keep this as ‘A’ or ‘a’ (just cross out the old label).

Now in my example my curve is simply not long enough in the Front or in the Back to meet the Bodice Draft Armhole measurements and this is a problem because the length of the curve needs to be at least the same size and plus a little extra for ease. So I have had to exaggerate the curve in the top portion of the Sleeve Head to get extra space in there until I meet the measurements for Front and Back. Notice that I have not changed the height of the curve but only the width and its curviness. It can take the line outside of the original frame and marked points but that is fine. It also took me a few tries until I got enough space.

If you are not happy with the length of the Sleeve Head then alter the curve or if all else fails come in a little or go out a little on the Biceps line.

Here is my final position…..for now, remember this may change after a fitting.

Once you are happy with the length or the shape of the curve of the Sleeve Head, measure the position of the Cross Front Line on the Front Draft and the Cross Shoulder Blade line on the Back Draft and transpose these marked points onto the Sleeve Draft, you are going to use these marks as Notches to help join the sleeve to the bodice when sewing.

They are shown here in red.

To define the Wrist size;

Add on either 2 ½” up to 3” to your Wrist measurement and then divide this figure by 2, this is to allow for getting the sleeve over the hand plus a little ease.

My Wrist measurement is 7 2/8” so I have used the calculation = 2/(7 2/8” + 2 ½”) = 4 7/8”.

You will use your calculated amount not mine for the next step.

Extend your calculated amount from the Centre Line on the Wrist on each side and label these points ‘O’ and ‘P’.

Label this line as the Wrist.

Join up the points ‘I’ to ‘O’ and ‘J’ to ‘P’.

Next measure down from ‘A’ for the Elbow length and mark a point and draw a line out to the outside lines that were just drawn and label the end points of this new line as ‘Q’ and ‘R’.

Label this line as the Elbow.

Here is a close up as the last photo is a little blurred just to be sure it is clear.

Most people’s arms are not actually straight they bend at the elbow even slightly when resting, so we are going to shift the base of the sleeve towards the front by 3/4” from the elbow (you can play around with this measurement if you would like to, maybe try ½” if you feel that the sleeve is twisting too much).

I have drawn the next lines in Blue to attempt to show how the lines have been changed from the original shape.

Starting with the point ‘O’ measure towards the front ¾” and label this point ‘S’.

Do the same with ‘B’ labelling the new point as ‘b’.

Do the same with ‘P’ and label the new point as ‘T’.

Draw a new line from ‘Q’ to ‘S’ to reposition the seam angle.

Draw a line from ‘A’ or ‘a’ if you have one to ‘b’ to change the Centre Line.

Draw a line from ‘R’ to ‘T’ to reposition the seam line on the other side.

Now the Sleeve needs new Quarter lines which will help with other design options later.

Measure the half way point between ‘S’ and ‘b’ and label this ‘U’.

Measure the halfway point between ‘b’ and ‘T’ and label this ‘V’.

Draw a line from the ‘N’ to ‘U’ (or where your curve line approximately goes through the frame at ‘N’).

Draw a line from ‘M’ to ‘V’ (or where your curve line approximately goes through the frame at ‘M’).

Finally check the measurements of the Sleeve at the Wrist, Elbow and Biceps, they do not need to be the same as the measurements on the Measurements Chart you simply need to be able to clear those measurements. If you need to alter the lines then you can take them in a little or bow out a little but don’t guess it is better to ensure there is enough room and then see what it looks like during a fitting.

Here I have Bowed out the Elbow a little, ¼” on each side, as there is no ease in this measurement and I want to ensure the sleeve can be fitted.

True up one side of the sleeve by folding along the new Seam Line to the other side to ensure they are the same length and check that the Elbow line is in the same position as these will be notched in order to join the seam.

Here I am checking the Biceps line down to the Elbow and the measurement is slightly longer at ‘I’.

Checking the bottom section from the Elbow down, the line is slightly shorter at 'O'.

In this instance it is better for me then to change the position of the Elbow line at 'Q' rather that try to change the Biceps line and the Wrist Line.

If you do need to extend or decrease at the Wrist you would alter the line and then redraw the Wrist pulling down the Quarter Lines if you were extending, like this.

Add notches at the Elbow and the Centre Line in the Sleeve Head and in the Wrist.

Here is a closer look at the Notches in the Sleeve Head.

Lastly add in the Grainline which can go either parallel to top of the font sleeve or follow the Centre Line. You could also use a bias Grainline. It is your choice and you can experiment with this with different fabrics.

The next step is to create a Test Sleeve. You would do this in the same way as you would prepare any pattern piece for a Test Garment – Refer to Auxiliary information for creating a Test Garment. Remember that you will need to create a cutting copy so you would now need to trace off your Master Sleeve Draft to enable you to write any changes back to it. Even though you are only using this sleeve for this particular Flexible Pattern you never know, you might want to create another sleeve type to add to the Flexible Pattern. You would do a fitting and any alterations until you are happy with the sleeve fit. Then move onto looking at what Sleeve Style you would like to use.

Here is a clean copy you would trace the outline the Biceps, Elbow and Wrist and the new Quarter lines.

For the Test Sleeve all of the lines would be wax traced then thread trace the Outline by machine and sew the Sleeve Seam.

Refer to Auxiliary Reference Information - Test Garment Creation - 6. Fitting a Test Garment for notes regarding fitting a Sleeve.

Different Sleeve Lengths

Once you have your Working Template Sleeve Draft fitted and you are happy with it you can then change it to a different Style.

To create different lengths simply mark how far down the Centre Line you want the length to be and cut the sleeve off at that point. You could easily make a short or three quarter sleeve in this way.

Remember thought that you will need to sew up the Sleeve Seam so both sides must be the same length so don’t do any cutting until you have checked the lengths.

Different Sleeve Styles

More Tailored at the Elbow.

A More tailored sleeve has a Dart at the Elbow which is very easy to do simply add a ½” Dart from the Back Seam at the Elbow to the first Quarter Line.

Measure each leg of the new Dart and make the bottom Dart Leg the same length as the top Dart Leg.

From the start of the bottom Dart Leg draw a line down to the Wrist but extend past it ½” to get the ½” back and then redraw the Wrist Line extending the quarter lines down to the new Wrist Position.

You will then need to redraw the Wrist Line and take the Quarter Lines down to it.

Also remember to true up the Elbow Dart.

Short Sleeve or ¾ Sleeve

This is simply the Sleeve Draft adapted in length.

The Sleeve would go all the way around the Arm with the Sleeve Seam underneath and the whole Sleeve Head fits into the armhole.

Trace off your Sleeve, obviously you would not need to trace off the whole thing especially with a Short Sleeve.

Measure down from the Sleeve Head along the Centre Line for the length of Sleeve you would like to draft.

Draw a line out to one side of the Sleeve squared off from the Centre Line and measure how far down the seam this new line is from the Bicep Line.

Measure down the other seam by this same amount as you do want the two seams to line up when sewn.

The join one side across to the other side.

Once you have trued up the seam you now have your new Sleeve Base.