Hey everyone! Sara Johansen of The Sara Project here. I’m back with another great sewing tutorial for you.
At a recent family reunion, my sister-in-law was wearing a t-shirt with really gorgeous sleeves that were knife pleated from the top to the middle of the sleeve, resulting in a bell/ruffle effect at the bottom of the sleeve. I loved these sleeves so much that I immediately decided I needed to recreate them for myself. It’s a really interesting design detail that adds a little flair to any basic top, and it’s totally on trend.
This tutorial works great for any woven top (t-shirt) pattern with short sleeves. I used the Key Largo Top by Hey June Patterns for my top, but another great option would be the Scout Tee by Grainline Studio. The original top is from J.Crew and is made out of a knit material, so this could work for a knit t-shirt pattern as well. For this version, I decided to use this really pretty rayon fabric from Fabric.com’s French Designer collection. It was perfect for this top.
Let’s get started!
- Water soluble making pen
- Fabric required for your pattern plus 1 yard extra for the sleeves
- Rectangular ruler
- pattern paper / tracing paper
- matching thread
Creating Your Sleeve Pattern
Let’s begin by creating our sleeve pattern. It looks like a lot more work than it really is, I promise!
1) First of all, using the premade sleeve pattern from your shirt, trace another copy on extra tracing paper. Make sure to mark just the bottom corner of your hem to use as a reference to add length in the next step.
2) Next we need to add 2” in length to the sleeve pattern for a more dramatic looking sleeve from the bottom hemline of the newly traced sleeve.
3) Draw a line down the center of your sleeve.
4) Now, measuring every ½” from the center line, draw another line. Do this until you have about 15-17 pleats. Mine has 17.
5) Now on a blank piece of tracing paper, draw a straight horizontal line along the bottom edge of the paper.
6) Taking your pattern piece with all of the pleats now marked on it, cut along the first line drawn on the right side of the sleeves. Tape it on the right side of the new horizontal line we just drew, lining up the hem of the sleeve to the line. Measure and mark a ½” line next to this piece. (Mine is marked in orange). Now draw another ½” line next to this orange line.
7) Go back to your sleeve pattern and cut the next line off, and tape it next to the two line you just drew. Draw and mark another two ½” marks next to it as we did with the previous sleeves piece.
8) Continue doing this until all of the sleeves pieces are cut and taped to the tracing paper along the horizontal line.
9) Now, using pins, fold all of your knife pleats on the paper pattern, pinning each on into place. Make note of the direction you fold your pleats. It doesn’t matter which direction you choose, but make sure to fold the same way once you are working with your fabric, otherwise your sleeve pleats won’t make the right sleeve shape. You can tell when you fold your fabric that it’s correct if there’s no fabric sticking up in the fold, but that it all matches up smoothly.
10) Cut out the top curve of your sleeve pattern using scissors, then unpin and unfold.
Sewing a pleated sleeve
Now your pattern is all finished. Let’s sew it up!
1) Cut out all of your shirt pattern pieces. (The Key Largo pattern requires cutting two of the front bodice, I decided to cut my shirt front along the fold of the fabric, and made sure to cut off the front shirt bodice seam allowances before cutting. You can cut it however you like, fold or no fold.
2) Cut out two sleeves. (I had to fold my fabric “hamburger style” to be able to fit the width of my new sleeve pattern along the grainline of my fabric.
3) BEFORE you take the pins out of your sleeve pieces, make a little notch using scissors for EVERY pleat line along the TOP of your sleeve. Don’t worry about doing this to the bottom because our pleats are going to end half down the sleeve.
4) Now unpin and remove the pattern piece from your sleeves.
5) Hem both of your sleeves by ironing and folding the bottom edge ¼” and then another ¼”, and edgestitch along the fold line to finish.
6) Using your water soluble pen, draw a line from top to bottom on the front side of your fabric along the center of your sleeve.
7) Draw another line on the back side of the fabric HORIZONALLTY measuring 4” from the hem. This will be your stopping line for each pleat as you sew them.
8) Now following the notches we cut along the top of the sleeve, draw your pleats lines using a water soluble pen and a ruler, and make sure each line is ½” apart, moving from the center of the sleeve to the edge. Make sure to really draw your lines where the notches are!
9) Once you have marked all your pleat lines, you’re ready to start sewing. Before you start sewing make sure you are folding the pleats in the right direction that you originally folded them, like I mentioned in step 9. You’ll know you’re folding them correctly if they fit together without any fabric sticking out along the top of the sleeve. Find your direction.
10) Sewing these up is really easy. Get your iron set up and ready to go. You will fold the first pleat on the front side of the sleeve, skipping over one line (a fold line) and matching to the next line. (Covering three lines per pleat). Iron, but be careful not to iron the bottom part of your sleeve so it looks nice and flowy once it’s finished.
11) Now, turn your sleeve over to the back and sew along the fold you just made, stopping at the horizontal line we drew along the back of the sleeve. Make sure to backstitch at beginning and end of your stitching line.
12) Repeat until both of your sleeves are finished!
13) Sew the shoulder seams right sides together. Finish seam as desired.
14) Now, along the top of each sleeve, sew one row of basting stitches.
15) Attach your sleeve to the armhole, following the directions of you pattern, and sew in the sleeves. Finish the seam as desired.
16) Finish the rest of the shirt as the pattern suggests, these instructions are specifically for the Key Largo Top by Hey June Patterns:
a. Sew up the side seams and under arm seam in one go. Finish Seam as desired.
b. Hem the bottom of the shirt, and finish the neckline of the shirt as desired or according to your pattern. For my top, using the Key Largo pattern, I chose to finish the neckline with an exposed binding.
That’s all there is to it! Happy sewing friends!