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Fitting Plus-Size Sleeves

Expert pattern solutions to flatter fuller arms
Threads #185, June/July 2016

A basic blouse with set-in sleeves is a classic that many women want to wear. For women with very full arms, however, this fundamental garment is often difficult to fit, because the set-in sleeves are usually too slim. Many plus-sized women have biceps measuring 16 inches in circumference or more, and commercial patterns not drafted for fuller figures don’t accommodate such measurements. In this article, I will address the set-in sleeve and its armscye and show how to achieve a smooth and comfortable fit for a fuller arm. I’ll also show you how to avoid pattern-fitting pitfalls that end in frustration.

poor sleeve and armscye fit
Women with full arms often experience poor sleeve and armscye fit with commercial patterns.

Before tackling a sleeve’s fit, you must get the bodice fit correct. Sometimes, sleeve complaints have nothing to do with the sleeve at all but are due to various fitting issues in the bodice. A poorly fitting bodice also can make it difficult to accurately detect any sleeve-fit problems.

Be sure that the armscye seamline sits on the shoulder’s highest point. A too-short shoulder seam causes the sleeve cap to ride up and feel tight against the upper arm. A too-long shoulder seam rests against the upper arm, below the shoulder hinge, and feels tight when you move the arm. At the underarm, the side seam should fit as closely to the body as is comfortable. Make sure any fullness or curve in the upper back is accommodated in the bodice fit, as either condition affects the sleeve fit.

Once the bodice fits well, the garment can support sleeves properly, and you’ll be better able to determine the fit adjustments the sleeves require.

Simple ways to enlarge a set-in sleeve

To add circumference to straight and tapered set-in sleeves, start by…

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Previous: Video: Trim a Dolman Sleeve Next: Fitting the Shoulders


  1. tigerb | | #1

    While this article is very interesting, I feel like it totally dodges the question of fitting very full arms. I have very large upper arms (19 inches!), and I don't want to turn every sleeve into a flutter sleeve. Sometimes I still need a plain sleeve.

    If I need to add three or more inches to a sleeve (wince), I have only been able to get the split and spread method to work (http://curvysewingcollective.com/making-your-sleeves-fit/), and then I still have trouble with the sleeve cap most of the time. Have any other techniques to offer?

    Anyway. I wear a lot of knit tops. You can see why.

  2. eboli | | #2

    Sorry, but the picture on page 51 shows a very bad armscye. Look at the fold in the armpit! That mustn't happen. No way! Taking away fabric from the front and adding to the back is for flat-busted women only. Full-busted women like the lady in the picture need the contrary and the armscye should be much nearer to the arm.

    The best way to shape an armscye is to cut the pieces with more seam allowance than usual (about 4 cm), mark the original seam lines with thread, baste the torso and chalk the armscye. Transfer the new seamline to the pattern, add seam allowance if you use a pattern where it's included.

  3. User avater
    beckyo | | #3

    It is also possible to ease some extra sleeve width (added to the sleeve seams) into the underarm seam. How much you can get away with depends on the fabric, but as long as it's eased, not gathered, it doesn't look weird while wearing it and maintains a closer fitting armscye.

  4. xochitlepie | | #4

    My arms are a good 2 sizes larger than my overall size, according to my upper bust measurement. Most frustrating. I'm in the process of fitting a jacket and came across this article when I was searching for a way to reconcile my sleeve with my armscye, a good 2.5 inches smaller than my sleeve. Voila!! Your article has solved my problem!! Ty!!

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