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To Sleeve or Not to Sleeve: Understanding the Different Types and Styles of Sleeves

Making sleeves is perhaps one of the most daunting parts that designers and dressmakers face. The problem in making sleeves, regardless of style and size, is that there is always some uncertainties in the finished product.

The first uncertainty is the length. Then there is determining the right upper arm width. Another is the arms depth? How much space is needed to allow the wearer to move his arms freely? Or how shallow should the armhole be, without binding the shoulder of the wearer? To answer the questions, it is important to be acquainted with the basic types of sleeves that are used for clothing, along with the right measurements to take.


The Drop-Shoulder Style

This type of sleeve is the simplest among all the sleeve styles. Most of the garments with a drop-shoulder-style sleeve is a simple rectangle with very little shaping. The rectangle width of the body fully extends past the shoulder line of the wearer. In fact, if the drop shoulder body has no added sleeves, the shoulder portion of this garment extends into cap sleeves. Additionally, the arms of the garment aren't shaped.

The sleeves of the drop-shoulder styles are based on a very simple rectangle with tapers towards the wrist of the garment. The sleeves are normally shorter than the arms of the actual wearer. The upper edges of the sleeves don't reach the shoulders. The lengths of the sleeves upper edges are two times more than the depth of the arms. Once these are assembled, the sleeves fully extend from the body at a right angle.


Since the style closely goes with the arm position of the wearer, the set-in sleeves effectively overcome the disadvantages of drop shoulders. There are no possibilities of bunching in the underarm area, which provides wearers with a more comfortable fit. And instead of horizontal seams, the vertical arms seams of this style of sleeve promote a slimmer look to the wearer.


The shape of the sleeve caps make the sleeves more labor-intensive to calculate. It is also more difficult to sew the whole garment body.


For a better fit, the set-in sleeves can be combined with gussets, or shoulder straps for a more decorative look.


This style is mostly associated with a sporty or a casual look. Instead of placing an arms seam on the shoulder, seams of raglan sleeves slant from the underarm towards the neckline. This results that the front, the back and the sleeves are all tapered towards the neck. The upper edges of raglan sleeves can also be substantial parts of the neckline, depending on the design of the garment. The sleeves may also be shaped so that it will blend in with the curves found on the front and the back of the neckline.


Lines on the raglan sleeves are more stylish than those of the drop shoulder. This sleeve style also has no arms seams that align with the shoulder joint, making it a forgiving shoulder-fit. Additionally, raglan sleeves are very easy to calculate and don't take much time.


Fabric bunching under the arms is possible if the raglan sleeves fully extend from the garment body at an angle of ninety degrees. This is also unsustainable especially on close-fitting garments.


Just like the drop shoulder, the raglan sleeves can be designed with shoulder straps. This is where the raglan portions of the sleeves end and its straps extend from the raglan portion towards the neck.


This is the type of sleeve that is formed integrally with the body with only two seams on the underarm. Greater amount of space is provided under the arms for easy movement. Generally, the garment is considered very loose fitting, even if its forearms sleeves are tight.


Garments with dolman sleeves are ideal for a cuff-to-cuff sweater. They also provide continuity of patterns from the sleeves down to the body.


Particularly in knitting, they are efficient especially if you prefer knitting the back and the front part separately as this will create a seam to the neck which is an undesirable sight when finished.


The batwing is the most common variation based from the dolman style. It is a very dramatic approach and is suitable for fabrics that drape and fold well.

It is important that you know about the different styles of sleeves because they can greatly improve the look of your sewing projects.

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