the pufffing of the sleeves

A few weeks ago I said I would answer any questions that you may have, sewing or otherwise related, in posts. Y'all are going to have to excuse the relative slowness of my responses. Besides being homeless at the moment, I also live in toddler time, ie, time moves slow and languid but absolutely nothing gets done. But, since I have access to a rather spanky computer for a day or two, which has my old friend Windows Paint, it's time I make good on my promise.

Grace emailed me almost immediately after I put out the question question and she's definitely been patient with me, so I think we should start with her query. Or queries, she actually had two. One was how to make puff sleeves and the other was about making a designing a circle yoke. To simply, I'll break them up into two posts.

Grace claims to be a novice sewer, at least on the garment end of things, and has a 10 month old baby girl, which explains the puff sleeve maddness. Puff sleeves, after my inital exploration of them, turns out to be my not so favorite thing to do. Maybe it's because I can not gather them with my favorite method (with clear elastic) and either must pull a gather on the serger (try to adjust your differencial feed as you serge the edge of the sleeve to gather up the appropriate portion) or with ye ol' baste and pull method (shutter, but most likely the best method for a small gather).

I know Grace you said you're not into patterns, but I'm going to show you how to adjust an 'easy' basic pattern (try New Look or Simplicity) with sleeves into the puff sleeve variety. This way you can make the pattern as is, getting the hang of its assembly, then have a go at the puff sleeves, learning a lot about how patterns are altered to create different looks and some simple gathering. The method is similar to adding gathers to pattern pieces, discussed here.

You've got your basic sleeve pattern piece, that you have traced onto a seperate sheet of tissue or regular paper from your pattern:
Use a ruler and pencil to divide the sleeve into four pieces, by drawing a straight line down from the top (often the top of the pattern piece isn't the the top of the arc, since the shoulder rolls forward slightly - use the top of the piece as indicated on the pattern piece if it is marked), and two more on either side as shown here:
Cut along the lines. Place your pattern pieces in their appropriate alignment onto another sheet of paper. Fan out the top pieces, while keeping the bottoms together. This is how you are going to get the extra fabric for the 'puff' part of the sleeve.Tape down the sleeve in the new orientation. With your pencil, redraw the top of the sleeve (use a french curve square if you've got one for smooth lines). The outside pieces will naturally lead you into a higher curve on the top. Go with it, using the original pieces as a curve guideline.
Cut out the new piece. When you sew in you sleeve, first gather between the two outside cut pieces until the gather is the same size as the armhole (use the original sleeve piece as a guide if it is helpful.)That will give you adequate puff, Grace, I believe.
Before I go, I would like to mention to new sewers that I tried very hard to use patterns when I first started out and failed miserably. I also found tutorials difficult to follow (too many words!) Still, patterns are still incredibly helpful when learning how a garment is created, what the various pieces look like, and how they are put together. I suggest to try a few, but before you buy one, look for the 'easy' varieties (which aren't actually any easier, but contain more explicit instructions) and open up the pattern in the store (ignoring the evil looks the notions sales associate will be giving you - actually, send you kids over to the zipper section, that'll give her something real to worry about) and check out the illustrations. Most of us are visual when putting together pattern. There has been many people who say they only look at illustrations on my tutorials and never read the instructions (can't say I blame them ;D). So, check out the pictures, see if you can understand what's going on there, before you take the pattern home. This should help lower the frustration level.

This is a free tutorial and I encourage you to use the information in any way you need to (check the disclaimer at the bottom of the page). If it works for you, please consider supporting my etsy shop by purchasing a Little Print Design pattern or toss a dollar or two in my paypal to show appreciation and to encourage me to offer up even more quality patterns and tutorials.

Thank you!
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  1. what great timing! I'm making dd a dress & I wanted puffy sleeves! thanks so much!

  2. I've been wanting to make some puffy sleeves on some tshirts for myself, and now I know how!

    I posted a link to your tutorial on Craft Gossip Sewing:


  3. thank you so much! i just made a dress/tunic for the lil babe and the sleeves were terrible. i started with puff sleeves, ended up doing a straight sleeve and then the armholes were too small, so then i cut them out some more, and then the sleeves were too skinny for baby's arms, etc. all that = argh. i did a buy a pattern and i'm hoping that it will teach me some of the basics. and then, i am going to put puff sleeves to work!

    i quilt and this whole clothes sewing thing is throwing me for a loop, quite literally. so, i really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions! truly, you are craftster crushworthy! :)

    again, a ton of thanks and hoping that you all are enjoying your journey,

  4. edited to add: i made the tunic before i saw your tutorial. will have to attempt this again with puffed sleeves tutorial soon! thanks again, grace

  5. Thank you so much for this tutorial. I'm trying very hard to understand how to modify a pattern and you've helped me a great deal here ! I guess that the method is the same to add puffs to the cuffs ?
    Anyway, I'm putting a link on my blog to this indispensable tutorial !

  6. Thanks! I am making snow white puffy sleeves and this was JUST the hint I needed to get going!

  7. That is awesome. it completely makes sense.

  8. Great pictures. The instructions are simple and easy to understand. I can't wait to get started!

    I'll be visiting at Etsy to favorite your shop.


  9. Thanks for the helpful instructions. It's a pity that I don't have enough fabric left for my newly altered sleeve pattern, doh!