Fitting

Pattern Adjustments: How to Ensure Your Sleeve Fits Perfectly

Sleeves that fit well add to the comfort and wearability of any garment. With these few steps you can alter your sleeve pattern pieces and create a shirt, jacket or dress with sleeves that are just right instead of too tight!

Even if the bodice of a garment fits well, sometimes once the sleeves are sewn on it feels restrictive and limits arm movement. One frequent cause of this is a sleeve that is too tight in the bicep. The “bicep adjustment” is one sleeve alteration that needs to be done on your pattern piece, so you can cut out a sleeve that will fit the body.

Here are the steps to doing a bicep adjustment for a sleeve that fits like a dream!

Step 1: Measure your arm at the bicep and compare to the pattern.

sleeve pattern piece

Some patterns have the finished bicep circumference measurement printed on the pattern but if isn’t that’s no problem. Measure from seam allowance to seam allowance horizontally at the underarm, note that number and compare to your own bicep circumference.

To measure your arm it’s best to have a helper – keep your arm relaxed and measure around the bicep just at the underarm. For a woven fabric 1.5 to 2 inches of ease is comfortable, although you can go down to about 1 inch if sewing a knit. For a winter coat or jacket you may need even more sleeve ease as you might be wearing the item over a sweater.

Perfectly fit knits will soon be yours!

sewing knits that fit

Learn the techniques you need to adjust necklines, bodices, sleeves, skirts and pants in stretch knit fabrics. Enroll Here Now »

2. Trace the original sleeve cap.

Trace original sleeve pattern

Draw two lines on your sleeve pattern, Line A shown above horizontally from seam allowance to seam allowance, just at the underarm. Line B is vertical, at a right angle to the first, from the center of the top of the sleeve cap to the bottom edge of the sleeve. Then pin your sleeve on some paper, and trace  a line around the entire sleeve cap as shown.

Step 3: Spread the sleeve to add width at the bicep.

slice and widen sleeve

To adjust the sleeve width at the bicep, slice through the vertical and horizontal lines created in the previous step, just up to the seam allowance. You will spread the pattern at the center the amount required to create more width at the bicep. It helps to make small cuts in the seam allowance, leaving a small hinge of paper so you can spread the pattern piece but it will still be attached to the sleeve cap portion.

Note: When you spread the pattern apart the sleeve cap is pulled down but since we traced the outline of the original sleeve cap in Step 2 that will remain and the sleeve will still match the original armhole on the pattern. Tape it in place and cut out or trace your new sleeve pattern. Be sure to measure the new sleeve circumference at the horizontal line to make sure you have added the required amount based on your measurements determined in Step 1.

Step 4: Adjust the bodice front and back.

adding to front and back bodice

Also note that in Step 3 above when we spread the sleeve apart at the center to make more room, the sleeve cap seam line has also increased a bit on each side. If it totals more than an inch it can be difficult to ease that into the armhole, so you will need to add that amount to the front and back bodice. You can add at the underarm and gradually taper to nothing at the waist or above.

bodice with armhole lowered

Instead of adding to the side seams to accommodate the addition to the sleeve cap seam line another option is to deepen the armhole slightly at the underarm. This serves to make the actual armhole seam line a bit longer, matching the new sleeve cap seam line and allows you to ease in the now larger sleeve.

One last item to note – once you have added width to the bicep area of a sleeve – take a look at the sleeve width at the lower part of the arm. You will probably want to taper that sleeve seam in back to the original width on the pattern piece.

So give this a try and you will have a garment with nicely fitting sleeves  — no sweater required when someone turns up the air conditioning.

Perfectly fit knits will soon be yours!

sewing knits that fit

Learn the techniques you need to adjust necklines, bodices, sleeves, skirts and pants in stretch knit fabrics. Enroll Here Now »

13 Comments

zahra

pattern seweing.please.

Reply
Shaivi Sharma

Thanks for sharing such great tips for sleeve alterations.

Reply
sex

Fantastic article.Really thank you! Keep writing.

Reply
Mary

this is a comm on problem for me, and this looks easier and more accurate than the way I’ve been doing it. Thanks.

Reply
Judy

My problem is the sleeve looks good but I can’t lift my arms

Reply
angie

If you deepened the armhole as in option 2 of this article, that may be your issue. The more the armhole is lowered, especially with woven fabrics and more fitted garments, the less movement your arm will have. I have a large bicep but average armhole, so after widening the sleeve pattern with the method above, I can widen the side seams of the bodice a bit to help with easing in the extra, but I cannot lower the armhole or I won’t be lifting my arms either.

Reply
Peggy

I had the same problem in a dress, Kenneth King has a good article in Threads on how to fix the problem and it is not by lowering the armhole, that makes it worse! I think it is in the March 2016 issue number 183. Good Luck!

Reply
Cynthia

I learned a trick from a seamstress who made baton twirling costumes for me when I was young. Insert a four sided diamond of material in the underarm between the bodice side seam and sleeve seam. Makes lifting your arm easy even if fabric has no give.

Reply
Steph

This was a great tutorial. Do you also have one for increasing the cap area above the bicep? This would take a different approach when cutting/spreading?

Reply
Tracy

Thank you you for the tutorial. It has really cleared up the confusion surrounding a pattern alteration I am working on. The pattern advised to do the 2nd option, increasing the depth of the armhole on the bodice, but did not provide detail on how to adjust the sleeve to fit other than to say it now required a larger sleeve!

I think I prefer the first option and would result in a more refined finish.

Reply
Lorraine

Thank you so much! I’m working on getting my bodice (sleeveless) right and as I’m on my 3rd or 4th one, I think I’m real close. Then onto sleeves! (I did see the incomplete info at Fashion Incubator – so frustrated but now I feel ready.)

Reply
How To Alter Sleeve Cap | Information

[…] Pattern Alterations: How to Ensure Your Sleeve Fits Perfectly – Apr 11, 2015  · 2. Trace the original sleeve cap. Draw two lines on your sleeve pattern, Line A shown above horizontally from seam allowance to seam allowance, just at the … […]

Reply
How To Alter An Armhole | Gohowto

[…] Pattern Alterations: How to Ensure Your Sleeve Fits Perfectly – Sleeves that fit well add to the comfort and wearability of any garment. With these few steps you can alter your sleeve pattern pieces and create a shirt, jacket or … […]

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Reply