I’m so excited about today’s tutorial, a joint effort between yours truly and Julie, our pal from Handmade Mess. Julie’s made so many fun modifications to her DIY custom shifts — super inspiring! — and one of the most impactful changes is to add sleeves.
She sent me instructions on how she did such an amazing thing, and I went through them, snapping pics of my progress and augmenting her steps with stuff from books. Enjoy! And get your custom pattern to start with here.
We’re going to add a short sleeve here, but you can do whatever length and shape you want once you get the basics down.
Measure Twice, Cut Once
You need to grab a few measurements before you begin.
A) The circumference of your shift’s armhole. Measure and record the front and the back distance — in most cases, they will be slightly different lengths.
B) Where do you want your sleeve to end? Measure the circumference around your arm at that level. I chose to end my sleeve right around my bicep.
C) The distance from your armpit to where you took measurement B. For me, this was 4″.
D) The distance from the top of your shoulder to the place where you want your sleeve to end. Put the end of your measuring tape on your shoulder, about where the outer edge of a wide shoulder strap hits you. Go straight down to the level of measurement 2. For me, this was 8.5″.
E) The difference between D and C = your sleeve cap height. For me, this is 4.5″, which is a pretty typical sleeve cap height for a non-stretchy fabric.
WTF Is A Sleeve Cap?
It’s the height of the bubble we have to create to put your shoulder in. Think about a sleeve — it’s mostly a tube of fabric. But there needs to be a curve and some extra height at the top to accommodate the curve of your shoulder. The extra height is the sleeve cap height.
Sleeve cap can vary based on what kind of fabric you are using, what kind of sleeve shape you want, but taking the measurements above will give you a good place to start your further explorations of what happens when you change the sleeve cap shape and height.
Start Your Pencils
1. OK, now your have your measurements. Next, get out your supplies:
* drafting paper: any paper will do, it just needs to be a couple feet square
* ruler (clear is easiest to work with)
* a pencil
* a French curve if you have one: you should totally get one if you plan to do much pattern drafting — it’s so handy and pretty cheap, too. If you don’t have one, you can use something like a 28 oz. big can of tomatoes. Basically you just want an established curve to trace against.
2. Draw a vertical line down the middle of your paper, approx 10-12″ long.
3. Measure down the distance of your sleeve cap (4.5″ for me) and draw a perpendicular line that is equal to B + 1″ (arm circumference at end of sleeve + 1″ for ease of movement). This forms a cross.
4. Draw a line just a couple inches long along the top of the cross, as shown. Label your sleeve showing which side connects to the front of the dress and which side connects to the back.
5. From the top of the sleeve, draw a straight line the same length as the front armhole minus .5 inches — this allows the line to get a little longer when we curve it out. Remember that the front and back armholes will be a little different.
6. Use your French curve to curve out the armhole lines you just drew. You will start by curving the top edge, then reversing the French curve to connect to the bottom edge. Do the front and the back.
7. Now the sleeve cap is drafted, we just need to extend the length of the sleeve to your desired length. Use your ruler to draw 2 straight vertical lines that begin at the ends of the sleeve cap and go down to the bottom of the sleeve (measurement C). For me this was 4″.
8. Draw a horizontal line connecting the 2 lines you just drew.
9. Add your desired seam allowance all around (I used .5″).
You have a sleeve pattern, yo!
Before you can sew these bad boys into your dress, you’ll need to adjust the facing shape that came with your custom shift pattern. Since you have sleeves that will be attaching to your armholes to finish them off, you no longer need the facing to go all the way to the armhole. Here’s how I modified my facing shape to accommodate sleeves.
Sew It Up
This part is straight from Julie’s tutorial with a few photos added — she explains the process perfectly.
1. For a sleeved shift, you won’t need Madge’s “magic” shoulder technique…although it is magic, indeed, for sleeveless shifts.
Instead, with right sides together, pin the front neck facing to the neckline of the front body. (As shown above.) Sew the neckline all the way from one shoulder edge to the other. (Don’t leave an inch open the way you would for the Magic.) Do the same for the back facing, to the back neckline.
2. Trim seams, turn, and press in place.
3. Open the facing back out, lay the front and the back right sides together. Pin along shoulder seams, both the shoulder itself as well as their corresponding facings. Sew the seams you just pinned.
4. Turn and press. Top-stitch neckline if desired.
5. Staystitch the top curve of each sleeve piece. This just means stitch along the top curve around 1/4″ from the edge — the seam helps ease the shoulder into place.
6. Line up your sleeve and your shoulder like this:
7. Pin sleeves to shoulder, right sides together, matching edges and center point. Stitch and trim seam.
8. If you are including pockets in your side seams, attach those now following the main directions in your Shift pattern.
9. Pin sides of dresses together, front to back, right sides together, including the sleeves. Sew one long continuous seam from the cuff of the sleeve to the armpit, then down the side of the dress. If you’ve installed a side zipper, just sew from cuff to zipper top, then from zipper bottom, down around your pockets, to the bottom hem.
10. Hem your seams at the cuff, or finish however desired.
There you have it! We expect to see thousands of sleeved shifts on the street by Monday!
Madge and Julie