PUFF SLEEVE TUTORIAL FOR COSPLAY AND PERIOD DRESS!
Hey! There’s a lot of disjointed info out there about making puffy sleeves, and I thought it might be helpful to gather (ha) everything I’ve learned/found online in one place. Puff sleeves, more accurately known as “leg o’ mutton sleeves,” were popular between 1890 and 1906, and they’re a pretty common feature in fancy/ball gown costumes.
Under the readmore: how to draft & sew puff sleeves and tips and tricks for maximum puff! Featuring really shitty pencil-on-Post-It diagrams by me!
Many thanks to all the people whose brains I’ve picked about this, as well as all the Internet resources I’ve trawled to make this possible.
PART 1: DRAFTING THE SLEEVES
Take a look at your reference images and determine where the fullness in the sleeve is concentrated. Is it bigger on top? Bottom? About equal? Once you’ve determined that, this image explains how to draft it based on a basic sleeve pattern:
It’s the good ol’ slash-and-spread: make a series of vertical slashes in your sleeve pattern starting at the midpoint of the sleeve cap on either side, then spread out the pattern pieces at the top, bottom, or both, depending on where you want the fullness to be. Then you just draw a new sleeve around these pieces, adding some vertical fullness where you’ve spread your pieces. Make sure your final pattern is symmetrical, otherwise your sleeve will be lopsided. In addition, you are going to want to mark/notch the very top center of your sleeve pattern so you can match it up with your shoulder seam.
PART 2: SEWING THE SLEEVES
Before you attach your sleeves to your armhole and/or sleeve band, you will need to gather all that excess fabric together so it will actually fit! This is what gives your sleeve its puffiness. Depending on where you added fullness, you will have to gather the bottom, top, or both. If you gather the bottom of the sleeve, you will need to either bind the edges with bias tape or attach a sleeve band so the gathers will stay put.
Sew at least 2 lines of very long, very loose stitches right at/just inside your seam line, leaving nice long thread tails to pull on on either end. You can do this by hand or by machine — stitch length as long as it’ll go, thread tension to 0. Don’t try to cheat and just sew 1 line! It will not work! Your gathers will suck. Sew up your sleeve seam, making sure not to catch those thread tails in your stitches. Then you will pull on the bobbin threads (this is important) on 1 side and slide the fabric along them to create a series of tiny pleats. Make sure the other side is tied off so your gathers don’t slide off the other side!
Here is my crappy diagram about where and how to gather:
Note how at the sleeve head, you want to start your gathers a few inches in from each side — gathers at the underarm are both useless and uncomfortable. Most patterns will tell you to distribute your gathers evenly around the entire sleeve head, which you can do, but if you want a good vertical puff at the top of your shoulder, you can make your gathers a little closer together near the shoulder seam and a little further apart near the underarm. It’s all about where you want to distribute the fullness of the fabric. The closer together the gathers, the fuller that part of the sleeve will be.
At the sleeve band, though, you will want to gather evenly all the way around the entire hem because you will be able to see all around the sleeve and uneven gathers will look very, very weird.
Then, you want to line up your sleeve band at the hem and the armhole at the sleeve head, redistributing your gathers so that it fits perfectly. It’s easier to sew the sleeve bands to the sleeve hems before you attach them to the armholes. Baste your sleeves in before you sew them permanently. Every time. No exceptions. I don’t care how many times you’ve done this, you will want to make damn sure your sleeves are set in properly before you stitch them in for real, because unpicking a sleeve seam is horrible enough without a shitton of gathers in your way. If it’s pulling in one direction or another, redistribute your gathers until it’s sitting properly. Once you’ve sewn in the sleeve, press the seam allowance toward the sleeve, which will help the poof.
You can stop here, and for Punie, I did. This is an example of a puff sleeve with a LOT of fullness at the top and a little bit at the bottom:
HOWEVER, when I move, you can see that the sleeve is denting in just under the puff:
(photo credit: Archie/grandemagnifico)
There’s nothing to keep the sleeve held out save the inherent stiffness of the fabric, and so it will naturally cave in a little bit. This can be mitigated a bit by sewing a sleeve header to the armhole seam allowance, but this can only help so much. If you want a REALLY puffy sleeve, go on to:
PART 3: XXXXTREME PUFFINESS
OK. Say, for example, you’re cosplaying a character with crazy-ass, nearly spherical sleeves because you apparently hate yourself:
Or maybe you just want your puffy sleeves to easily stay poofy. Either way. Here are some tricks to maximize your cartoon poof:
- Interface your sleeves. Fuse a nice medium-heavy interfacing to the wrong side of your sleeve pieces. This will make it harder for the fabric to wrinkle. I didn’t do this for my taffeta sleeves because it’s a stiff enough fabric as it is, and I was worried that gathering it would be even MORE of a pain. But for a lighter-weight fabric, it’s necessary.
- Gather a few layers of tulle along with the sleeve. Stiff tulle is better, but soft tulle will work too if you add more layers. Like this:
- Stuff your sleeves. Start by cutting a smaller, closer-fitting sleeve lining, either by using the original sleeve pattern off of which you based your puff sleeve or by slashing and overlapping your puff sleeve pattern:
By making your lining sleeve 2-3” shorter, this will force the outer sleeve to puff out a little more. This is pretty much necessary if you want a spherical sleeve.
Sew each sleeve up separately. Gather your outer sleeve and ease your inner sleeve as before. Match the sleeve seams and center shoulder seam notches. Sew up the lower sleeve hem/band only. THEN, you are going to add stuffing in between the outer and inner sleeves like so:
You can use batting for a more dramatic, cartoony look, or you can do what I did and stuff all the rest of the tulle scraps in there. Hell, put scrap fabric in there. Anything to fill it out. Finally, line up the inner and outer sleeves, baste them together (closing up the hole), and then sew the entire thing onto your armhole as before.
Voilà! You now have a STUPIDLY PUFFY SLEEVE:
I stuffed these fairly lightly since I liked a little bit of natural movement with my sleeve, but I could’ve gone even further if I wanted to. It’s up to you!
As always, please feel free to ask me any questions you might have or add any tips you’ve accumulated while making your own puff sleeves! Happy sewing!