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Create a Custom Sleeve Pattern

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Measure your sloper.

In the SewStylish Fall 2008 issue, we show how to create a basic shift pattern to fit your body. For a free downloadable version of the guide, follow this link. Below, we show how to draft a sleeve pattern to match your perfectly fitted shift dress.

Measure up

1. To get started, you’ll need your draped shift pattern and a few arm measurements. Follow the illustration to take the correct arm measurements needed for the sleeve.

sew a custom sleeve
Measure your arm as shown.

Biceps circumference: Measure around the arm, but don’t pull the tape too tightly. Measure around the fullest part of your arm, about 4 inches below the shoulder.

Arm length: Bend your arm slightly at the elbow and measure from your shoulder bone to the wrist bone, passing over the elbow.

Length to elbow: Measure from the shoulder to the point of the elbow

Elbow circumference: Bend your arm again. Measure around circumference of the elbow.

Wrist circumference: Measure your wrist circumference.

2. Next, you’ll need to add a bit of ease to a couple of your measurements to ensure a nice fit and make sure your sleeve won’t be right up against your arm. Add 2 to 3 inches to your bicep circumference, 1 inch to 2 inches to your elbow width, and 1 inch to the wrist.

Measure your sloper

1. Take the armhole depth measurement from your bodice pattern. Square a line on both the front and back bodice pattern pieces from the grainline to the underarm at the side seam as shown. Next, measure from the shoulder point straight down to the underarm.

2. Add the front and back measurements together and divide the sum by two.

sew a custom sleeve
Measure your sloper.

Start drafting your sleeve

a. Fold your pattern paper in half lengthwise as shown; you’ll be drafting on the fold so that your pattern is symmetrical.

b. Along the foldline, mark points indicating the length of your arm from the shoulder point (top) to the wrist (bottom).

c. Square a line at the top point

d. From the top, measure down and mark your armhole depth (the number you figured out in step 2).

e. Square a biceps line out from the armhole depth that is half your adjusted bicep circumference.

f. Measure down the foldline and mark your elbow point. Draw a line half your adjusted elbow circumference.

g. Square a line at the wrist point from the fold. Draw a line that is half the adjusted wrist circumference.

h. Draw the underarm seam by connecting the biceps and elbow marks in a straight line that connects to the wrist line as shown.

start drafting sleeve pattern
Start drafting your sleeve pattern on the fold.

Fold your pattern

Turn the folded edge of the paper to the underarm seam. Crease the paper to create a one-quarter marking line and then open it back up again.

fold your sleeve pattern
Fold your pattern in half to create one-quarter marking lines.

Create the sleeve cap

1. Now that you’ve made the basic shape of the sleeve, you’ll draw the top edge of the sleeve, which is called the “sleeve-cap.” To start, place marks 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch on each side of the center line at the top of the sleeve and 1 inch inward from the underarm seam on the biceps line.

2. From the biceps line, measure up from the center line one-half the armhole depth plus 3/4 inch and mark a point.

3. Square a guideline through the marks across the sleeve and then mark line intersections.

sleeve cap pattern
Draw a guideline through the marks.

4. Connect the various points with straight lines as shown to form the sleeve-cap guidelines.

sleeve cap pattern
Connect the dots to form the sleeve-cap.

5. Mark a halfway point on each of the sleeve-cap guidelines.

sleeve cap pattern
Measure and mark halfway points.

6. Measure in and out at each of the halfway points as shown. Using a French curve, connect the dots with a smooth, continuous curve. The dots are merely guides, you don’t have to touch each one with your curve. Just try to not make any sharp points in the cap.

sleeve cap pattern
Measure in at each halfway point and use a French curve to create the cap.

Finish the pattern pieces

1. When you’re stitching up a pattern, notches help as reference points when pinning two pieces together. Putting notches on both the sleeve and your sloper’s armhole will help you fit them together when you are sewing your own designs. To notch the cap, first fold the shoulder point to the biceps line along the center line and crease the fold.

2. Draw a double notch on the back sleeve and a single notch on the front sleeve at the foldline.

finish the sleeve pattern

Use a double-notch for the sleeve back and a single notch for the sleeve front.

3. Next, you need to notch your bodice pattern pieces. To do this, use a process called “walking.” Beginning at the side seam, align the sleeve back edge to the bodice back armhole edge. Keep the edges flush and carefully inch the sleeve-cap along the armhole edge. Use a pin as a pivot to align the edges as you walk the curve.

walk sleeve pattern along the armhole seam
“Walk” the sleeve pattern along the armhole seam.

4. When the double notch reaches the armhole, mark the armhole edge with a corresponding double notch.

mark bodice arhomle
Mark the bodice armhole with matching notches.

5. Continue walking the sleeve pattern until you get to the shoulder. Mark on the sleeve cap a temporary shoulder placement with a single notch.

6. Repeat to walk the sleeve along the front bodice piece and notch the front bodice armhole. Walk the sleeve to the armhole again and place another temporary shoulder placement notch.

mark temporary shoulder point
Walk the sleeve to the shoulder point on the bodice and mark onto the sleeve.

7. Measure between your two shoulder placement notches. Mark your new shoulder placement centered between the temporary points.

create custom sleeve pattern
Measure the halfway point between the two temporary shoulder marks.

You’ve now made a sleeve pattern to match your sloper. Be sure and make a draft version in muslin or other inexpensive material to test the fit before you cut into your favorite fabrics. Once you work out any fitting kinks, you’re free to create your own sleeve designs that fit every time.

Adapted from “Add a Sleeve to Your Bodice” by Kathleen Cheetham, Threads #131 (June/July 2007).


More on sleeves


• How to Fit Sleeves
• How to Draft a Square Sleeve Cap
• A Forgiving Bias-Cut Sleeve
• Add a Fluttery Sleeve to a Sleeveless Garment
• Add a Quilted, Zippered Cuff

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  1. kirstyb253 | | #1

    Hi! Glad to have found this post although I'm having a bit of trouble with this - I don't quite understand point g where you draw a new shoulder line between the two points marked when walking the sleeve around the sloper - does this not end up with a big bit of extra material at the top since pinning it up on both sides will have the shoulder point finishing at the two marks made? I have been staring at this for about an hour now and I can't understand how it will work out. I've made 3 sleeves and I've had this extra material on every one. Help I'm so confused!

  2. sewmodest2 | | #2

    Try this tutorial that shows you how to draft sleeve pattern with no-ease sleeve cap using My Sloper Sleeve, at

    A free demo can be downloaded right away. Thanks.

  3. queenoid | | #3

    I have a concern about this, too. A perfectly-fitting sleeve has a little more ease at the back than at the front. This pattern doesn’t do that. So I suppose I am still searching.

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