TUTORIAL: Puffed Sleeves

by Dana on July 6, 2008

The pitch-forked Harvest Dress is fun on the go. With chunky buttons and a knobby-kneed length, today we’ll be featuring it’s PUFFED SLEEVES and Gathered Pockets.
Ever wanted to make puff sleeves? Well now you can! Gather your current dress project and let’s get started. We’ll be making two versions:
Skill Level: Intermediate
Needed:
* Sleeve fabric
* 1/4 inch elastic
Average Sewing Time: 30 mins
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Option 1 – Puffed Sleeve with Cuff

1. Pattern. Disclaimer: my sewing methods are not always exact. I usually make it up as I go by tweaking a little here, tucking a little there, adding more fabric there. So each piece is an evolution process. There are likely more precise tutorials and methods out there. But if you care to venture, I’ll share my methods here.

If you have a pattern you’re working with (or making up your own), a short-sleeved pattern piece looks similar to this:
To create the “puff”, however, I’ve added more length to the curved part of the sleeve. To do this, I measured the length of my dress armhole and then added about 1/4 to 1/2 of that length to my pattern piece (not an exact science). The more you want it to puff, the more length you should add. The picture above shows my “lengthened” piece. My original armhole measured 9 inches. So I made the top, curved portion of my sleeve above 13 inches (just an arbitrary length I went with).

Next, trace the pattern piece on to your fabric with a marker or fabric pen and cut out two sleeve pieces:
Your sleeves should look like this:
You also need to cut out two sleeve cuffs. Measure around your upper-arm, where the sleeve should fall. I usually add an extra inch or so to this measurement (to account for the seam and to allow a tiny bit of “give” room so the sleeve isn’t super tight on the arm). That measurement is the length of the rectangle piece above.
Decide how wide you want your cuff to be (the harvest dress is about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide). Whatever width you want, double that (since the cuff will be folded in half) and also add 1 inch (so that the cuff edge can be ironed over on each side).

2. Sew. Okay, time to sew the gather for the sleeve. Set your machine on the longest stitch length:
I prefer my sleeves to be only be puffed at the very top of the sleeve, near the shoulder (therefore, the seam area and armpit area are not gathered). This is just preference. You can gather the entire sleeve if you’d like. So, if you’re doing a “partial puff” like I did on the Harvest Dress, I start at the beginning of my sleeve curve (about 1/3 of the way into the sleeve, where it starts to curve/arc) and I sew a line about 1/4 inch in from the edge of the sleeve (do NOT stay-stitch at the beginning…or back-and-forth stitching). I stop sewing my line when I get to the other end of the curve (about 1/3 of the way from the end of the sleeve):
Then repeat this same step, sewing 1/2 inch in from the edge of the fabric so that you have two parallel lines to gather:
With right sides of the fabric together, sew the ends of the sleeve together (make sure you switch to a normal stitch length) and serge or zigzag off the edges:
Next, we’ll gather the cuff area of the sleeve. This part of the sleeve will be gathered all the way around. So start at one end of the seam and go all the way around to the other end of the sleeve, 1/4 inch in from the edge of the fabric (do NOT stay stitch, and sew with your longest stitch length). Make sure you don’t overlap the beginning and end of your stitch or it will be difficult to gather.
Repeat the step a second time (just as you did above), 1/2 inch in from the edge of the fabric, to create two parallel lines for gathering.

3. Gather. Taking both threads (from the same end and same side of the fabric), pull the threads and push the fabric so that it gathers up. Continue gathering till the length of the sleeve fits inside the armhole of your dress:
Do the same for the bottom of the sleeve, gathering till it’s the length of your upper-arm measurement.
Your sleeve should look something like this:
4. Sleeve Cuffs. Iron your cuff in half, with one side just slightly higher than the other. This is trick I use so that when sewing the cuff on, the inside part of the cuff is slightly higher and guaranteed to be sewn on (since I’m only watching how the outside portion is being sewn on).
Next, iron the edges in about 1/2 inch on both sides:
Then, with all the folds opened up and the right sides of the fabric together, sew the two ends together:
Then turn the cuff right-side out and fold all the folds in. It should look something like this:
5. Finishing the sleeve. Slip your sleeve edge inside the cuff about 1/2 inch. This can be tricky to do but it will wiggle it’s way in there.
*NOTE: You will have a lot of long strings hanging from your sleeve. Though you may be tempted to cut them off (since the sleeve is gathered), do NOT do this. It will cause the gather to unravel. The strings are annoying, but you can stuff them in the cuff or cut them soon after sewing your sleeve on to the dress.
When you get the cuff on the sleeve, pin it down (remember that whichever side of your cuff was slightly wider, should be on the inside of the sleeve right now):
It should look something like this:
Then, very carefully turn the sleeve inside-out (trying not to stab yourself with pins. Or you could have skipped this step by pinning the cuff inside-out in the step above). Then also, very carefully, sewing close to the edge of the cuff, sew it on to the sleeve:
Turn the sleeve inside-out and you’re done! Attach it to a dress as you normally would with any sleeve (or follow the instructions on your dress/shirt pattern):

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Option 2 – Puffed Sleeve with Elastic casing
as seen on the Christmas in July dress.
Follow the same pattern, cutting, and TOP sleeve gathering steps above. When it comes to the bottom of the sleeve, start here.

Serge around the entire bottom of your sleeve. If you don’t have a serger, do a double-folded iron-over (iron 1/4 inch over on the sleeve edge, then fold over 1/4 inch again and iron). This keeps the edge from fraying over time.
After gathering and serging, your sleeve should look like this:
Iron the edge of your sleeve over about 1/2 inch, creating a casing for your elastic:
Sew the casing down, leaving an opening for the elastic to come in and out:
Cut a piece of 1/4 inch wide elastic. The length should be the measurement around your upper-arm. Connect a safety pin to one end of the elastic and attach the elastic with another safety pin to outside of the casing. Push your safety pin through the casing, pulling the elastic through as it goes and comes out the other side:
Sew the two ends of the elastic together using a zigzag stitch (make sure your elastic is not twisted anywhere inside your casing):
Sew your casing closed with a normal stitch:
Your sleeve is done and ready to be sewn on to your dress or shirt!
* For the Harvest Dress POCKET Tutorial, see the GATHERED POCKET TUTORIAL and scroll to the bottom for additional notes.

Now enjoy the extra puff in your life because being a girly girl is way too much fun.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Amanda Leverenz January 23, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Love this helpful little tutorial. Stick with it, you’re doing GREAT!!

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2 Kristina February 29, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Do you have a pattern or tutorial for the pitchfork harvest dress? It’s gorgeous!!

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3 Dana March 1, 2012 at 10:27 pm

no, Sorry!
But it’s a very simple A-line dress. I’m sure you could find a pattern for something similar at the fabric store.

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4 palak June 25, 2012 at 10:41 am

Hi! Thanks for this tutorial– I used it to make my very first sleeves for my little girl. You can see it at http://www.strawbazies.blogspot.com/2012/06/another-line-dress.html

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5 danielle honea July 15, 2012 at 2:18 pm

I LOVE your site!! I just got a sewing machine for my bday, and puffy sleeves are my challenge :) Thanks for the wealth of information!!!

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6 Martha Severance October 24, 2012 at 7:40 am

My Yoga friend asked me to fix the streched out elastic cuff on a Holloween costume she got, for her little daughter, at a garage sale. The lady at Hancock Fabrics told me to measure the childs arm where the cuff would rest and add two more inches to the length of the elastic. This seems a bit much to me and upon reading your instructions it, the elastic, shoud be the exact measurement of the childs arm where the cuff will rest. The childs arm is 8 inches. Wlhat measurement should I use. HELP

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7 Nel October 26, 2012 at 9:13 am

Hi Martha,
In regards to the measurement of the child’s arm. If it measures 8 inches , you have to divide the measurement by 2. Therefore, the elastic is 4 inches plus a 1/2 inch for sewing.

Hope this helps…..

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8 Julie June 17, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Not sure if I agree with halving the child’s arm measurement for the elastic – isn’t that going to cut into her arm quite a bit? I would think exactly the arm measurement, or even slightly bigger (although 2″ seems a bit much too) would be much more comfortable. What’s your take on this Dana?

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9 Zombi December 25, 2012 at 2:12 am

Thank you so much for this. I kept finding difficult more complicated puff sleeve tutorials. Yours was perfect. Exactly what I was looking for. Thank you!

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10 May January 13, 2013 at 11:46 am

Really thanks for this!! Was very useful. i’ll make a cosplay and I don’t knew how to do puffed sleeves, your tutorial is great!

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11 becky March 9, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Thanks for this tutorial. I’ll be making Easter dresses for my 4 granddaughters, this is extremely helpful. Thanks again, keep up the good work.

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12 Julie June 17, 2013 at 4:05 pm

This is really helpful – thanks! Have you ever made puffed long sleeves? Once I get the short sleeve thing under control I’d like to try long sleeves too! :)

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13 Sandra K September 28, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Hi – great examples on puffed sleeves!
I’m trying to figure out how to add a long sleeve to a puff sleeve on a costume dress. The pattern is an elastic puffed sleeve like your second example, but I really like the look of your cuffed version. Any suggestions on how to modify those instructions for a long sleeve? Could I add the long sleeve to the gathered bottom edge of the sleeve, and then add the cuff over? Thanks!

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14 Nancy T October 10, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Thank You so much for this example! I was totally lost looking at my pattern instructions (they left out a lot).

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15 Sarah October 24, 2013 at 6:27 am

Thank you SO much for this, from one who has spent her evening performing drastic last-minute surgery on a blouse.

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16 Nompilo October 30, 2013 at 9:12 am

Thank you so much this is exactly what I was looking 4, this is really helpful you made my day

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17 JordanSug April 4, 2014 at 8:56 pm

Sturdy, shrink resistant, remarkably stretchable top quality
elastic braid
is ideal for all your sewing assignments.

Reply

18 Caitlyn April 26, 2014 at 4:28 pm

I’m a little confused on how to make the pattern. I’m pretty new to sewing, so I am not sure of how to make a pattern that will fit my arm. My arm (where the cuff would be) is 9 1/2 in, so is it almost the same as the one you are making? I have a sleeve pattern, but it doesn’t really look like yours. Mine looks more like a mountain and I don’t understand how I can make it look like yours. Sorry, but thank you for taking the time to read this.

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