Fun & Flirty: Add a Flutter Sleeve to Your Next Project!

Fun, flirty and fluttery — that’s the fun way to describe this type of sleeve! Flutter sleeves are great for summer, especially if you don’t want to be sleeveless but want to keep cool and a little bit covered.

flutter sleeve blouse example

Flutter sleeves, which have a loose, ruffled style, are also ideal if you typically need to do some fit adjustments around the bicep. You can skip those adjustments when you change your pattern to a flutter sleeve.

Here are the simple steps to adapt an existing pattern to a flirty, fun flutter sleeve style.

Step 1: Copy your sleeve pattern piece

copy of sleeve pattern piece

Start with any pattern that has a regular sleeve and trace a copy of that pattern piece. We’ll be cutting up and manipulating the pattern piece, so you want to retain your original. Include all markings, including the grain line and notches, on your copy.

A short sleeve works well for a flutter sleeve although you can make it any length. Note that flutter sleeves do use more fabric than a standard straight sleeve, so keep that in mind. 

Step 2: Remove seam allowances

removing seam allowances

Remove the seam allowance from the sleeve cap pattern piece. Before you cut it off, be sure to mark any notches or dots on the seam line, as you’ll need those when the sleeve is sewn on. We’ll re-add the seam allowance after the pattern manipulation is completed. 

Step 3: Mark the center of the sleeve

mark center of sleeve

Mark the center of your sleeve with a vertical line. This should be parallel to the straight grain line. Most sleeves have the shoulder dot at the center or near center of the sleeve — this can be used as the center. Your line doesn’t have to be in the exact center, but it should be close.

Step 4: Mark the first split

mark line for splitting pattern

Measure a distance from that center line; in this example it’s 1.5″. Mark a straight line parallel to your center line, from top to hem of the sleeve.

Step 5: Mark the rest of the split lines

mark the rest of the lines

Mark the rest of the vertical lines on your pattern from seam allowance to hem. Begin with a line on either side of the center line, equidistant from the center. Then divide the remaining distance, marking more lines toward the underarm seam of the sleeve pattern. 

Step 6: Cut and spread the pattern

cut and spread sleeve

Cut your pattern piece from the bottom edge up to — but not through — the seam allowance. Leave a tiny amount at the end to create a hinge. This will let you spread open the pattern piece and create more width in the sleeve. 

Step 7: Arrange pattern piece

arrange pattern piece

Spread your pattern piece open. It helps to do this pattern manipulation on a surface that you can pin onto. 

For the sleeve shown in the photo above, I spread the sleeve so that the seam allowance was completely on the cross-grain of the fabric. It helps to make a pencil or chalk line and use that to arrange the sleeve. Both the stitching line of the underarm sleeve allowance and the top shoulder point rest on this line. 

Step 8: Insert paper and tape down new pattern

insert paper and tape new pattern piece

Once your sleeve patter piece is evenly spread open, slide a sheet of paper beneath it and then tape the pattern piece down. Alternatively, you could trace over your modified pattern, but I find it easier to insert paper under and tape it all together. 

Step 9: Add back seam allowance

add back seam allowance

Now that the modified pattern is taped down, add back the seam allowance along the sleeve armhole edge. Use a curved ruler to draw a graceful hem curve. Lastly, use the cross grain line to place your ruler at a 90-degree angle and mark the straight grain line. 

flutter sleeve close up

Once you have your flutter sleeve pattern, it is a good idea to make a test version in a scrap fabric. Baste the test piece into your garment to check the fit and if you like the amount of flutter. You can make your sleeve more or less full using these same steps. 

Flutter sleeves are perfect in silk fabrics, chiffon, many lightweight knits and woven rayon. Are you going to give a flutter sleeve a try?

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