Learn how to sew a sleeve onto a sleeveless dress. This helpful tutorial will come in handy all the time so you can give your wardrobe new options!
One question that I get all the time is how to put sleeves on a sleeveless dress. It seems like clothing companies these days really want us to skip the sleeves – either because they are forcing the style upon us or because it saves them money to not sew on sleeves!
Well, you are super lucky if you sew because I’m going to show you how to add a cute little sleeve to any dress. And it would work on a sleeveless top too. This little sleeve isn’t bulky so it will still lay nicely if you want to layer it under a cardigan or jacket.
I was fortunate enough to be able to demonstrate this technique on video for It’s Sew Easy TV. The video tutorial will play automatically in the video player on this page. If you don’t see it, watch it on my YouTube channel here. Make sure you scroll down and get the free PDF worksheet too.
In addition, this blog post has been converted to an optional PDF that’s optimized for printing. Find it here. The blog post below is totally free to read, print, and sew! Just hit CTRL +P on your computer to print. The Optimized for Printing PDF download for $3 is totally optional.
The formula that I’ve come up with lets you draft a cap sleeve pattern in any size – from newborn to women’s. This year I put cap sleeves on sleeveless Easter dresses for myself and my two daughters! Now you can too.
Try to match your fabric type and color to the clothing piece as much as possible. For example, use woven cotton fabric on a cotton dress and satin on a satin dress. The technique works with knit fabrics too – so match a knit fabric with a knit fabric dress. The weight of the fabric should be the same or a bit lighter than the weight of the dress or top.
Note: This sleeve cannot be sewn to spaghetti straps or other strappy styles of clothing.
Download my free printable how to add a sleeve worksheet PDF file to help you follow along and draft your pattern piece here.
You will need:
1/4 yard fabric that matches the color and weight of the dress or top
Wonder Tape sewing adhesive and/or pins
9’’x12’’ piece of paper and pencil
Create the Pattern Piece:
1. Measure around the sleeve armhole and write down the measurement on the worksheet (round to the nearest 1/4 inch).
2. Divide that number in 1/2’’ and write it down.
3. Add 1’’ to that number for the seam allowances.
4. Draw a horizontal line on the paper that is the length of the number you wrote down in step 3. Make a mark at the half-way point on that line. This line is the width of the sleeve pattern.
5. Divide the number in step 2 by 3.
6. Add 1/2’’ to the number in step 5 for the seam allowance.
You really wish you had downloaded that worksheet by now, don’t you??? Get it here.
7. At the center of the vertical line, draw a vertical line upwards the number calculated in step 6. This will be the height of the sleeve pattern.
8. Find a lid or bowl that is about twice the diameter of the sleeve pattern height (the number in step 6. Place the center of the lid over the half way point on the horizontal line and use the curve of the lid help you draw a nice curved shape at the top of the sleeve pattern. curve the sides out to meet the outer edges of the horizontal line. The shape will be similar to 1/2 of a football.
9. Cut out the pattern piece.
1. Make a diagonal fold in your fabric so that the fold line is on the bias. Place the horizontal line on the pattern piece against the fold. Pin or use pattern weights to hold in place.
2. Cut out the sleeve pattern around the curved edge.
3. Repeat to make 2 sleeve pieces. Keep them folded the way that you cut them out, or re-fold them only to put the wrong sides of the fabric together with the right side showing.
The folded edge will form the bottom of the sleeve and you won’t have any hemming to do!
1. With the sleeve pieces still folded as cut, pin the top curved edges together.
2. Finish the top edges with a zig zag stitch or a serger.
Tip: If you are using a regular sewing machine (not a serger), start sewing at the top of the curve and sew to the point. Cut threads and start at the top again to sew the other side. This will prevent the small corner from getting stuck in your needle plate when you start sewing.
3. Fold the sleeve piece in half and make a pencil mark at the halfway point (the top of the curve).
4. Apply Wonder Tape sewing adhesive 1/8’’ away from the top curved edge.
5. Place the curved sleeve edge just inside the armhole, matching the halfway mark with the shoulder seam. Press the wondertape against the dress so that it adheres. I like to add a couple pins too just so the sleeve won’t come out while I’m sewing it.
The sleeve should be inserted into the armhole 1/2’’.
6. Hand or machine sew the sleeve to the armhole, sewing from the outside of the dress.
Tip: If the dress or top has a line of stitching that runs around the armhole, sew directly on top of this stitching from the outside to secure the sleeve. If the dress or top has a lining or facing (so no stitching is visible around the armhole), then it is preferable to hand sew the sleeve in place with invisible stitches.
Enjoy being a sewing superhero who can sew sleeves on dresses!!!
Disclosure: some of my posts contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of those links I may receive a small commission, so thank you for supporting SewCanShe when you shop! All of the opinions are my own and I only suggest products that I actually use. 🙂