Puff sleeves are a blast from the past, but with the influence from popular shows like Bridgerton and looks back to the 80s and 90s, it’s no wonder puff sleeves have made their comeback. The most widespread puffs are voluminous at the top and the bottom and have elastic at the hem to make a round shape. This is made by taking a standard sleeve pattern and expanding the width of the top and bottom. This same concept can be used to alter a sleeve pattern to add volume at the top and not the bottom, common on cap and flutter sleeves, or the bottom and not the top, creating a bishop sleeve.
Each of these tutorials build on top of one another, so to create a puff sleeve you may find it helpful to read about making ruffles and shirring.Take a look at the full tutorials below to find out how to conquer these sewing trends.
Here's what you will need!
- Any basic sleeve pattern, or create your own by measuring around your shoulder and around your bicep and using these measurements to determine the length of the top and bottom of the sleeve pattern
- Fabric for your project
How To Sew Puff Sleeves
STEP 1 Style Of Sleeve
The first step is determining what style of sleeve you want to achieve. Here are some options:
a. Puff sleeve only at the bottom of the sleeve. This will create a bishop style sleeve, most commonly used on a long sleeve. There will be no volume at the top of the shoulder and the sleeve can be gathered at the bottom. If you do not gather the sleeve at the bottom, this can also be used to create a flutter sleeve.
b. Puff sleeve only at the top of the sleeve. This will create volume at the shoulder but will leave the bottom of the sleeve straight. You can use this method to create a cute cap sleeve.
c. Puff sleeve at the top and bottom of the sleeve. This is the most common method and allows you to create a round shape. The sleeve will have volume at the shoulder. At the bottom of the sleeve, you may gather it at the bottom edge to create a bubble, gather it 1-2” away from the edge to create a ruffled hem, or leave it plain for a flutter effect.
STEP 2 Alter the Pattern
Once you have decided which style to make, each of them will require you to take your basic sleeve pattern and alter it by adding fabric.
a. To achieve a puff at the bottom only, cut the pattern with multiple parallel cuts from the bottom up to the top, leaving the top connected. Fan out the bottom of the sleeve, place on top of some paper, trace the shape, and cut out the new sleeve pattern.
b. To achieve a puff at the top only, cut the pattern with multiple parallel cuts from the top to the bottom, leaving the bottom connected. Fan out the top of the sleeve, place on top of some paper, trace the shape, and cut out the new sleeve pattern.
c. To achieve a puff at the top and bottom, cut the pattern with multiple parallel cuts from the bottom up through the top. Separate each piece by about 1”, place on top of some paper, trace the shape, and cut out the new sleeve pattern.
STEP 3 Create Sleeves
Once you have created your pattern, place it over your fabric and create two sleeves.
STEP 4 Gathering Technique
You will now use the gathering technique you learned in the Ruffle tutorial above to add gathering to the top shoulder of the sleeves (if applicable). Along the curved edge of the sleeve, not including the flat sections near the edges, sew a long straight stitch 3/8” from the edge of the fabric not backstitching at the ends. Repeat with another seam about ¼” from the first. Pull the top threads from each seam and push the fabric away from you to gather it. Even the gathering along the edge until the sleeve length matches the length of the opening on your garment.
STEP 5 Sewing The Edges
Close up the inside seam of your sleeve by folding the sleeve in half with the right sides of the fabric touching and sewing the straight edges together with whatever seam allowance your pattern designates.
STEP 6 Attach Sleeves
Attach the sleeve to your shirt by laying the gathered portion of the sleeve on top of the shoulder of the bodice with the edges lining up and the right sides of the fabric together. Pin them and sew them about ¾” from the edge of the fabric.
STEP 7 Finishing
To finish the sleeve, you have many options depending on the look you are going for:
a. Leave the sleeve as is. If you expanded the bottom edge you will be left with a flutter shape which you can just hem. If you did not expand the pattern, the sleeve will fit as a fitted shape.
b. Gather the sleeve at the bottom edge using a shirring method (use about 3 rows of shirring to achieve a gathered look), or by inserting elastic into a channel. You can create a channel by folding the bottom edge of the sleeve up twice, sewing along the edge of the fabric, and leaving about a 1” space open to insert the elastic.
c. Gather the sleeve 1-2” from the bottom edge using a shirring method (use about 3 rows of shirring to achieve a gathered look) or by creating a channel for elastic and sewing it into the sleeve. You can create a channel by cutting out a strip of fabric about 2” wide and the same length as your sleeve opening. Fold each edge over about ½” and iron to keep them in place.Hem the sleeve first, then flip the sleeve inside out and attach the channel about 1-2” from the edge. Leave a 1” opening on one side to insert the elastic.