Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Make your own Tulip Sleeve Tutorial

It must be wedding season again. My aunt called me up a week ago saying she was going to make a bridesmaid dress for a woman she does not know, and would not meet until the day of the wedding. She could not get a pattern in the same style as the other maids would have, and her challenge was to modify a pattern to make it look similar, as well as make it fit. The one thing she said she wasn't going to do was to try to make it a tulip sleeve like all the other girls would have. Over the phone, I could hardly argue the point, but I wanted to. Creating a tulip sleeve pattern would have been one of the easier tasks. In the end, the sleeve ended up being much too tight, and a gusset had to be added at the last minute to give her arm some space to move. Next time, I can direct her to this handy tutorial. No more tight sleeves please!

Tulip sleeves are an attractive and easy detail to add to any pattern with a set in sleeve. They are also very forgiving and comfortable to wear. To follow along with this tutorial, here is what you'll need:

- 2 pieces of wax paper (any paper that is transparent will work) sufficient for sleeve width and projected length.
- a medium tip Sharpie or Permanent Marker.
- Rulers to make straight and curved lines.
- transparent tape- removable photo tape works best. I use push pins with a foam core board.

1. Start with a sleeve pattern that you like the shape of. It can be long or short, gathered or tapered or whatever. I'm using a plain cap sleeve pattern. Lay your pattern flat on a table. Press if necessary. Measure about 4" from the center of the cap (there should be a symbol or a notch to show the center) on both sides, and mark that location with a dot on the original pattern. My example already had symbols marked for me. I like easy.

2. Cover the pattern with one sheet of paper. Tape it down or tack in place so it does not slide, as you'll be tracing the original pattern off. First one side, then the other.

3. Beginning at the underarm seam, trace around the sleeve, over the cap, stopping at the location of the dot you made.
Using a curved ruler, draw an attractive curve from the dot to the underarm seam. Remember that this line is your cut line. The seam line is actually inside this line, the same distance as your pattern designates (5/8"/1 cm).

4. Mark the grain line following the same grain as the original. Remember to also copy any notches and symbols.

5. Label your pattern piece, giving it a tulip sleeve "back" or "front" designation. Be sure to include the original pattern number, number to cut, and size. Because of the curve, tulip sleeves will need a lining or facing fabric to have a nice hem finish. Include a label that says "cut 2 of lining."

6. Lay the second paper over the first two patterns, and trace off the other side in the same order.

Here's what the finished pattern pieces should look like:

To assemble the sleeve, sew fashion fabric, right sides together at the underarm seam first. Do the same with the lining. With the sleeve flat, facing up, lay the lining on top, with right sides together. It is very easy to get the sides mixed up because they look the same except for the notches. Add a piece of masking tape to the wrong side and mark each side if you think this might happen to you. Pin the lining to the sleeve along the bottom edge. Beginning at the top of the front cap, sew aroun the bottom, under the arm, up to the top of the back cap. Trim, press, and understitch on the lining side. Press again, having the lining and sleeve together. Now you are ready to overlap the two sides, matching the center symbol/and or notches. Pin the overlap and baste all the way around the sleeve, just to hold the layers together. Baste again from notch to notch as you normally would. The sleeve is now ready to put into your garment. It doesn't matter if the overlap is toward the front or the back. Just choose your favorite direction and be sure to do BOTH sleeves the same way!


  1. Thank you so much! I just happened on your blog trying to learn how to modify a bolero sleeve pattern to be worn with my daughters wedding dress. I will get started right away! Great instructions! the dress has a corset back which will be partially covered with the bolero. I have been given the suggestion to put a corset look in the back of the bolero. I am interested in your opinion on this? Thank you Nikki

  2. Hi Nikki! I'm glad you found my blog :-D, but more than that, I'm happy you found it useful. My personal opinion is that one corset
    back is enough. A plain back on the jacket allows the dress to stay the focal point, and even when worn, the lower back will stand out beautifully. Too many details can be just as bad as not enough.

  3. Cool! I saw Gertie had a link and followed it. Great tutorial, and I have always loved this sleeve style. I am a fat woman and I have large upper arms and sleeves always have been difficult for moi. I always have to re-draft sleeves on commercial patterns. This tutorial will be VERY useful! Thanks!!!

  4. I also followed from Gertie's link, and I'm glad to have added a new blog to my list. These sleeves are so cute and you've made it look so easy to draft them. I'll have to try these out. :) Great job.

  5. Thanks guys. Thanks to Gertie too!

  6. This is by far the best tutorial on tulip sleeves out there so thank you so much for writing it! I'm gonna use it right now :D

  7. Thanks so much for sharing this!! I'm trying to make tulip sleeves for the first time and this tutorial is wonderful! :)

  8. I just found this today when looking for a way to modify a set-in sleeve on a dress I'm making for my daughter. This type of sleeve will be perfect for her as she is recently home from hospital and still has a picc line in her upper arm. I'm excited to do this! I love this type of sleeve. Thank you thank you thank you!

  9. I found this today, and my daughter's dance is tomorrow. Right now I'm wishing I knew you in person, so I could pay you to walk me through this or the other sleeve pattern for adding a sleeve to a formal. I'm such a novice at sewing anything but cotton fabrics, and her dress is chiffon. I'm so very not sure of what I'm doing. :)

  10. Such a useful blogpost! Just to let you know that I've linked to it in my latest post all about tulip sleeves: :)

  11. Going to attempt this style sleeve on done Easter dresses for my girls. Do you have a tutorial of the steps after drafting the sleeves? I am a fairly new at sewing clothes.

  12. What a great tutorial! It has been 50 yrs. since I 1st learned to sew a tulip sleeve. Wish these instructions had been with then. Thank you for sharing your expertise, and taking me back to 1967.


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