How to draw the pattern for a made-to-measure sleeve

Since autumn is definitely here, you will need sleeves for your tops and jackets. The method I present here allows you to draw your own sleeve that perfectly fits into your bodice pattern. To put it simple, you begin to draw the sleeve pattern only after having tried and modified the bodice pattern.

You need to proceed by steps. You also need some patience and simple tools: pencil, paper, protractor, simple and curved ruler.
If you managed to draw the basic pattern of the bust without getting (too) crazy then you’re ready for the next experiment:

Carefully take the following measures (figure 1)

You will need 3 additional measurements: armhole depth, length front armhole, length back armhole. Put your front and back bodice patterns, side by side, like this (figure 2)

Join M and N and extend the side line next to MN. You’ll get:
XY = armhole depth
MY = length back armhole
NY = length front armhole
It is better to measure MY and NY separately, with a measuring tape placed around the perimeter of the armhole from the shoulder to the side line. NY is usually longer than MY.

Draw the frame of the sleeve cap like this (figure 3)
AC = 0.8 * armhole depth
CE = 0.75 * length front armhole
CD = 0.75 * length back armhole
Place a point F in the middle of the distance AC and join AD and AE

From F draw two lines FG and FI at an angle of 45 ° with AC. Do the same, from C and get CH and CJ. Place K and L in the middle of DH and JE.

Draw the sleeve cap with the curved ruler by joining the points in red (figure 4, distances are marked in centimeters!).

As you can see, I extended the lines FG with 0.8in and FI with 0.7in. I also shortened CK with 0.3 and CL with 0.2in. These are average distances that might change after fitting.

You can measure the new arcs AD and AE:

  • AD must be longer than the length back armhole measured in step 2 (MY) with approximately 0.8 in
  • AE must be longer than the length front armhole (NY) with approximately 0.8 in

This extra length represents the fullness of the sleeve cap.

Finalize the rest of the sleeve (figure 5).

Extend the line AC with
AB = length of the sleeve (or arm length if you opt for long sleeves)

Draw two parallels to the line representing the elbow and the wrist.
AW = shoulder to elbow length

On the two parallel lines, mark as follows:
BS = BV = wrist circumference / 2
WR = arm circumference / 2 – 0.6 in
WT = arm circumference / 2 + 0.6 in

Insert your elbow dart (1.2 in maximum) and extend DV with the value of the dart.
You can now form the arcs ERS and DTV and mark the notches on your pattern:
A – shoulder line
J – arm-to-arm chest line
H – arm-to-arm back line

Your pattern is now finished. You can cut your fabric, sew your sleeve and adjust if necessary. It is preferable to leave a little more seam allowances for the sleeve cap.

This method comes from the book “Flat Pattern Making: alterations, vol 2” by Teresa Gilewska that I found less clear than the first volume. However, a few drafts and fittings later, I managed to build a custom made-to measure sleeve.

This method allows you to build the basic pattern of your sleeve that:

  • either you use it to create a simple sleeve
  • or you use it as a base for creating a different sleeve style

But remember that this pattern is meant to be used only once. If you change your bodice pattern, you need to repeat the previous steps because the length and the depth of the armhole may vary.
Starting from the 3rd sleeve, you will draft the pattern in 15 minutes only. So ready for a sleeve?


30 thoughts on “How to draw the pattern for a made-to-measure sleeve”

  1. This looks brilliant. Thank you. I like your site – just discovered it. Mercy beaucoup

  2. I had just drafted the sleeve pattern, using the method I learnt some years, but it didn’t look as though it was large enough. I had use an armhole measurement take from shoulder bone, under arm and back to shoulder. When placed against the bodice pattern I’d drafted, the back of the sleeve head would probably fit, but the front was a few cm’s short. I believe this is due to the prominent bust of the person which has made the front armhole considerably larger than the back. Although I am yet to try your method, it appears to take into consideration these differences whereas the method I used assumed the front and back armholes of the bodice draft are approximately the same.
    Thanks for the useful information and I will return with my verdict when I try your method.

    • ok, I understand now, I didn’t know this method…And yes, in the method I described, the front and the back armhole are not identical (even if it is not so clear in my drawings); the front arhmole is longer and more carved than the back armhole. I would love to have your feedback once you have tried the pattern.

    • Well, from my experience, I put notches in H and J. They need to match with the arm-to-arm line of back and front bodice.

  3. Thank you so much for this. I’ve been struggling getting this sleeve to fit all week and this made so much sense. Would be useful if they actually taught us this stuff at college, but hey, who needs decent teachers when you have the internet?

    • well, you summed it pretty well actually, and good luck with your sleeve

  4. i just finished drafting the sleeve pattern. i don’t quite understand the dart. where do i measure from and will i have to sew the dart like we do in dresses ? please help! i wasn’t taught thisnin college:(

    • Hi Ella, actually I am not using sleeve dart so much, especially when I sew fluid fabrics. Sometimes I see this dart on tailored vests but not on all of them so you can finish your pattern without it.

  5. hello, Thanks for sharing this tutorial. kindly explain how you got these measurement
    AC = 0.8 * armhole depth
    CE = 0.75 * length front armhole
    CD = 0.75 * length back armhole. Did you multiply 0.8 by armhole depth. the symbol is confusing. Thanks.

  6. Hello, thanks for replying to my question. Please kindly explain better on how you curve your armhole and the measurement you used. I have been having problems with how to set in my sleeves for better fitting so when I saw your blog, I was like whao this is good. you can use armhole measurement of 17″. God bless

  7. Hello, thanks for replying to my question. Please kindly explain better on how you curve your armhole and the measurement you used. I have been having problems with how to set in my sleeves for better fitting so when I saw your blog, I was like whao this is good. you can use armhole measurement of 17″. God bless

    one more thing
    Are these figures “0.8, 0.75” that you used to multiply armhole depth, front and back armhole, constant. if not how did you arrived at those figures. If yes, can I you them when sewing for toddlers too.

  8. EXCELLENT! I have been a seamstress for over 40 years and am so happy to have stumbled upon your site. One must never stop learning & creating. Dance on young one.

  9. Great description but I’m confused by drawing the curve of the sleeve cap. You said you “extended the lines FG with 0.8in and FI with 0.7in.” and “shortened CK with 0.3 and CL with 0.2in.” But your photo shows different lengths in these locations. What am I missing?

    • Hi Lanely,
      You are so right, actually my drawing shows distances in CM whereas in my English text I convert it in Inches! could be confusing, so I might change the text. thank you for spotting it!

  10. Hi! I’ve been trying for a couple of days now to fit a sleeve but something was missing. After reading your post I managed to build a sleeve to finally match the armhole, so thank you for that! I do have a question, though: where do the values 0.8 and 0.75 come from (AC = 0.8 * armhole depth; CE = 0.75 * length front armhole)? Even though my front and back armholes were equal the sleeve fit by using your method. So I guess they can be used no matter the length of the armholes …?

    • Hello Mel, sorry for my late reply and thank you for your message. the values of 0,8 ad 0,75 are quite fixed and I assume they came from a sort of understanding of human proportions. they fit for all armholes

  11. Thank you for this tutorial, I have taught myself to make patterns doing pretty well with pants & bodices so far, but I’ve been stuck on sleeves for weeks & it has been a nightmare I really hope it works.
    And from one dummy to a teacher is there any way to convert the degree angles to inches?

    • Hi Learner, I am glad that your nightmare are ending -) but normally if you use a protractor, you should have your angles right

  12. This looks a really good method. I am not clear whether the measurements are centimetres or inches. I looked on the French option
    and see the measurements are the same. French use centimetres and would not know about inches.

    • thank you Chris for this remark. in the drawing the distance is in CM but in the text I did the conversion in inches

  13. Thank you for your time. Really appreciate it. Here is my question: how do we match the D to E line length, which combine the 2 armhole length, to fit the upper arm circonference measurements?

    • Do you mean how do we sew them together? as these calculations are made to make them fit. the sleeve cap is always longer than the armhole, but you absorb this extra-length by sewing, which gives the ease to move your arm

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