Sleeve designs can be a little bit intimidating. Drafting them is kind of a science on its own, and it’s hard to imagine what shape you need to start with if you have no prior experience with patterning them yourself; trial and error is usually inevitable, and if you don’t have the time to commit to it, it’ll probably never get done. That’s why we’re bringing this All About Sleeves post to you!
Whether you’re looking for a shirt sleeve pattern but can’t seem to find the right one, or you want to make custom sleeve patterns for yourself, we think the information here could at least help you get started. We’ve drawn up a chart and images of a bunch of different types of sleeves used in fashion and costume sewing for you to use as a reference, as well as descriptions, notes, and tips for drafting them on your own! Knowing the shape is half the battle, and combined together with a little math and measurement, the task should be a lot more manageable for you!
Below, we have each sleeve type highlighted as well as a magnified image of the comparison between what the sleeve will look like as its pattern piece versus what it will generally look like finished on a person. Take a look and see what sleeve types you might want to try drafting patterns for!
Ahh, the t-shirt sleeve! One of the three “basic designs” of sleeve patterns. It’s good to have a t-shirt sleeve pattern handy at all times (making it out of something sturdy like cardboard or poster paper is a good option) so you can use it as a base for other sleeve designs.
This type of sleeve is short by design and can be finished at the end in a number of ways, though t-shirts usually just have the hem folded under and sewn down for the cuff.
With a soft hand and comfortable stretch, jersey knit fabrics are the best option for t-shirt sleeves:
- Mellow Rose Bamboo Stretch French Terry
- White Paisley Burnout Jersey
- White Super Soft Baby Modal Jersey
Recommended Free Sewing Pattern: The Lavender Tee
Cuffed Shirt Sleeve
The CUFFED SHIRT SLEEVE is another staple of sleeve patterns that you should familiarize yourself with. It’s basically just a long version of the T-SHIRT SLEEVE, but the shape is a little less squared (though you could certainly make the shape of the sleeve straight, if you wanted to!) and the sleeve tapers just a little towards the cuff. The sleeve should be gathered a bit when the cuff is added, too.
Like a t-shirt sleeve, cuffed sleeves are great for comfy knit shirts. Try these:
Recommended Free Sewing Pattern: The Malva Sweater
This sleeve is one of my favorites, since it plays with shape and weight on arms!
If you look between the images for the BISHOP SLEEVE and the T-SHIRT SLEEVE, you’ll notice that the BISHOP SLEEVE’s shoulder has a narrower shape. This adjustment is intentional; it helps the shape of the sleeve fit closer to your shoulder.
The sleeve also flares out smoothly down the length, and the design has a much wider cuff than a T-SHIRT or CUFFED SHIRT SLEEVE. BISHOP SLEEVE designs are gathered at the wrist, which is the reason for the flare. The wider, bottom hem is gathered like in the photo and is attached to a cuff piece. The BISHOP SLEEVE cuff.
Bishop sleeves are best made with lightweight fabrics, such as silks, charmeuse, and chiffon. For more casual looks, you could also try a voile!
The BELL SLEEVE design is pretty similar to the BISHOP SLEEVE; it has the same narrower shape to the shoulder, and the cuff hem is also flared, but the difference is that the sleeve shape itself is squared. See in the picture how the lines are parallel to each other until the flare starts? That’s the “square” shape. The flare is also a little more exaggerated in this design, too. This is what gives the BELL SLEEVE its “bell” shape!
BELL SLEEVES do not gather at the wrist either. The cuff is loose and flows at the wrist. It’s a very elegant design.
The best fabrics for bell sleeves are cotton voiles.
Much like bishop sleeves, bell sleeves lend themselves well to lightweight silky fabrics, such as charmeuse, and chiffon. For more options, check out satin, voile, and even lace!
- Luminous Baby Blue Wrinkled Polyester
- Mood Exclusive Indigo Floral Symphonies Cotton Voile
- Off-White Floral Corded Lace
Recommended Free Sewing Pattern: The Azara Top
The BATWING SLEEVE is the only one of its kind in this guide; this type of sleeve is not separate from the bodice of the garment. See in the picture how the bodice pattern piece flows as one into the shape of the sleeve? That’s intentional. Instead of a single seam lining the underside of the arm, there are two seams, one above and below the arm, in the final product. The seam lines of the bodice will line up with that of the sleeves.
The design also has a curved shape for under the arm and is intended to be worn loose. The hanging fabric here gives the design’s “batwing” look.
These types of sleeves are flexible in terms of length so long as this batwing shape is maintained. In our example, there is a long, fitted cuff, but you could make a shorter or longer cuff or sleeve. The choice is yours!
Batwing sleeves can be equally great for comfy sweatshirts and bodysuits to elegant cocktail dresses. Try some bamboo knits and French terry to stay cozy, or opt for a 4-ply crepe for an elevated look.
In comparison to the T-SHIRT SLEEVE, the PUFF SLEEVE is wider at the shoulder and even wider at the cuff hem. With this design, the cuff must be gathered to fit nicely around your arm so you will the puffed shape.
PUFF SLEEVES are incredibly cute and look best on a fitted bodice!
Puff sleeves can be made with a variety of fashion fabrics. For more structured silhouettes, try an organza or faille. More casual sleeves for everyday wear look great in a voile or poplin!
- Eclipse Navy Cotton Faille featuring Baby Blue Checks
- Mood Exclusive Mediterranean Dreams Cotton Voile
- Shimmering Yellow and Brown Iridescent Organza
Recommended Free Sewing Pattern: The Serissa Top
3/4 Sleeve, or Bracelet Sleeve
A ¾ SLEEVE design should look familiar, because it’s the same as the T-SHIRT and CUFFED SHIRT SLEEVES, the only difference is the length of the sleeve itself. ¾ SLEEVES usually stop halfway down the forearm and can be either the squared or tapered shape (our images show the tapered design).
Fun fact—this type of sleeve is also called a BRACELET SLEEVE, because it’s short enough so that you can show off bracelets that you’re wearing!
Bracelet, or 3/4 sleeves, are great for casual knit shirts, but can also be perfect additions to your favorite dress for a little more coverage during the cooler months. For more elegant uses, try a silk georgette or chiffon!
Recommended Free Sewing Pattern: The Dogwood Ensemble
PETAL SLEEVES are unique in that their shape is created by overlapping a two cut sleeve pieces. These can be short or longer, but they often have a tulip-like look to them.
The shape of the shoulder is a gentle slope and the two pieces basically mirror each other when overlapped.
Petal sleeves can be great for a casual look in your favorite shirting, poplin, or voile; or they can truly shine in a fluttery charmeuse!
Big and flowing, CAPE SLEEVES are given their name because it actually looks like you’re wearing a cape! The pattern shape for sleeves like these are huge and very wide. Think of a 45-degree angle coming down from your shoulder. They’re great for exaggerating weight and volume, or for wrapping yourself up in your favorite fabric.
The best fabrics for cape sleeves are silk charmeuses.
Cape sleeves can work well with a ton of different fabric types. Try a lightweight batiste or twill for a flowing look, or a vibrant shantung or African print for a top that truly pops!
Drop Shoulder Sleeve
DROP-SHOULDER SLEEVES are a fairly subtle alteration. They’re usually just an extension of the shoulder line on the bodice pattern piece—not from the sleeve itself. If you look carefully at the picture, you can notice this distinction!
This type of sleeve is great for pajamas and sweaters, because the cut is usually loose and unrestricted, making for a comfortable lounge shirt!
Try a drop shoulder with any fabric type; from your favorite velour to a crisp shirting!
Recommended Free Sewing Pattern: The Kleinia Blouse
BUTTERFLY SLEEVES are a larger sleeve and look like butterfly wings when you lift your arms! They’re great when made with fabrics like knits that are loose, and they give your look a very elegant and petite touch.
Butterfly sleeves work best with light to medium-weight fabrics with a flowing drape. Try silks, batiste, and voile for an always stunning look!
- Gray Violet Crushed Velour
- Mood Exclusive Mosaic Views Cotton Voile
- Rust and Blue Tribal Printed Rayon Challis
Recommended Free Sewing Pattern: The Bergenia Jumpsuit
Similar to the BUTTERFLY SLEEVE, FLUTTER SLEEVES are like a shorter version. They have a similar shape to the top of their pattern design, but they aren’t as long and are usually cut a little wider. This is another elegant and petite style you could go with for warmer weather!
For flutter sleeves, stick to very lightweight fabrics, such as charmeuse, chiffon, georgette, and voile.
These types of sleeves are cut like long rectangles and are usually gathered in multiple segments. The shoulder line is set very wide and shallow, too, which will give your sleeve a big and billowing shape from the shoulder all the way down.
Elastic can be used to help maintain the shape of these segments, or if kept looser, something stiffer like trims or ribbons.
Marie Sleeves look stunning with lighter weight fabrics that catch in the breeze. Try linen, shirtings, and voile for the best outcome!
You’ve probably seen a shirt with RAGLAN SLEEVES somewhere, right? These are incredibly comfortable for lounge shirts since the cut of the sleeve is loose on the shoulder. The shoulder’s hemline of the sleeve is different from others, because it reaches all the way to the neckline. It’s often a similar length to the ¾ SLEEVE.
Raglan sleeves are most often found on jersey knit shirts and performance wear!
FLOUNCE SLEEVES are a combination of a ¾ SLEEVE and a circular pattern piece that has a similar shape to a circle skirt. Think of it like a mini circle skirt, but for your arm! The actual sleeve can range in length, and so can the “skirt,” so this design can go a lot of ways!
Flounce sleeves look gorgeous whether they’re all one fabric, or two contrasting options, so don’t be afraid to experiment! Try a sturdy knit for warmer months, or opt for a lightweight charmeuse or lace for a springtime or summer look.
- Black, Pink and Green Floral Embroidered Mesh
- Burgundy Stretch Ponte Knit
- Monument and Creole Pink Ombre Silk Charmeuse
Recommended Free Sewing Pattern: The Hibiscus Robe
Wide at the shoulder and tapered down to the wrist, LEG-OF-MUTTON SLEEVES get their name from looking like a sheep’s leg. The final look of it has a large puff around the shoulder and narrows down most of the arm and to the wrist. The puff is mostly at the shoulder and does not continue down.
Historically, many mutton sleeve garments were made with wool, but today we often see them in simple shirtings and rib knits.
The pattern shape for POET SLEEVES isn’t as wide as a CAPE SLEEVE, but it does have a bit of an angle, so it’s kind of in the middle between a CAPE SLEEVE and a MARIE SLEEVE. And similar to the MARIE SLEEVE, it is gathered just above the wrist, but only once, to give a bell-ish shape to the top of the sleeve.
POET SLEEVES also sometimes have an uneven shape at the wrist, kind of like a wave, to give it a flowing shape when finished!
Like Bishop sleeves and Marie sleeves, poet sleeves look best with lightweight, semi-sheer fabric options. Try out your favorite voile, linen, or even a lace for a truly decadent garment!
SLIT SLEEVES are exactly what they sound like—sleeves with a slit down the center. These are an open-type sleeve that are a lovely option for revealing shoulder designs. This design flows very nicely, too.
Take the pattern shape for a MARIE SLEEVE, draw in a narrower shape for around the shoulder, and cut it down the center to get your two pieces!
Slit sleeves are fairly versatile and can be made with a wide range of fabrics. For some every day looks, we recommend satin, lace, and even velour!
- Luminous Adobe Rose Wrinkled Polyester Woven
- Navy Geometric Lace with Finished Eyelash Edges
- Silver Stretch Velour
Recommended Free Sewing Pattern: The Rosa Blouse
TIERED SLEEVES require a little bit of work, because—like the PETAL SLEEVE—you need to work multiple, overlapped pattern pieces. Four pieces, to be precise.
In the picture for the TIERED SLEEVE, you can see the four different pieces, all longer than the last. You can sew them all together as one big piece along the sides for a more stable shape or sew them together at the shoulder for a looser flow for the tiers.
With layers, you want to make sure you don’t make your garment too heavy, so we recommend sticking to lightweight fabrics such as chiffon, lawn, voile, and light silks.
Perhaps the tiniest sleeve of all in this compilation, the CAP SLEEVE! Obviously, this sleeve is very short, just a little lip coming out from the shoulder hemline. The pattern shape is very wide and has the slightest, gentle slope to it.
It’s size usually doesn’t range, and its pattern shape is pretty unique as well. It’s a design often use for t-shirt-cut designs.
Cap sleeves are a great alternative to basic t-shirt sleeves, so they’re often seen in jersey knits, but you could also use sateen and other wovens!
And there you have it! Some of the most common types of sleeves used in fashion broken down. There are other sleeve types available, but hopefully this is enough to help get you started and have an easier time planning how to draft out your sleeves! Have you made any of these yourself before reading this article? What other sleeve types do you think would be useful to know about? Leave some comments and share your knowledge and projects!
Thanks for this valuable teaching! JR
Thank you for this valuable teaching. JR
THANK YOU THIS TUTORIAL….I AM AN AMATUER WHEN IT COMES TO SEWING…I CAN MAKE SIMPLE PIECES…I KNEW THE NAMES OF THE SLEEVES BUT I DIDN’T KNOW THE PATTERN SHAPE….I THOUGHT THE SLIT SLEEVE WAS CALLED “THE COLD SHOULDER”……SG
[…] to be all about layering, I didn’t mind that the pattern was sleeveless – although adding sleeves wouldn’t have been too difficult! I chose a slightly shortened version of View D, choosing to use the velvet as the center panels, […]
You so amazing
merci pour explications
Thank you for this tutorial. Is there any way to get the measurements for the armhole sizes and how to measure and draw the sleeve curve? This is the most difficult part of sewing for me. Thank you.
Thank you for. For these Priceless informations
It would be awesome if you could produce sized pattern with all these sleeves, the tutorial info, and instructions for use with info on how to fit to other patterns. That would be so cool. I would buy one.
this is a great refresher course for me. THANK YOU.
God Bless you for this INVALUABLE information. You are a blessing to people like myself who has only just started with sewing.
Delighted to find this site. Searching for a pic of a certain sleeve this morning & found this. Will use for the summer dress I’m designing. I wanted a resource for ideas when modifying existing patterns; one pattern for simple shift dresses can be changed just by adding a unique sleeve or other detail. Thank you sincerely for the super information.
I appreciate your sleeves guideline. Thanks!
This is invaluable information! I just came across this blog! Many many thanks!! So glad!
Thank you for all these posts and explainations, and for taking the time for doing them!
I’ve downloaded them all, you have no idea of how userful this is!
I’m going to share this page with other people that might need it too 🙂
This is very useful! Thank you for the information! I’ll be using one of these very soon!
Oh I hope one day these sleeve patterns will be available for download- that will be so fantastic
Such a great post.