Welcome to this pattern making series all about drafting a sleeve block and different sleeve patterns! Sleeves are such a fun and creative way to make new clothes for yourself from just one well fitted bodice pattern – a different sleeve can give that pattern an entirely new look!
But how do you go about drafting a sleeve block that can work as your own basic sleeve pattern?
There are lots of pattern making books that will teach you different ways to draft a sleeve pattern but today, we’re going to work through the step by step process of drafting a basic sleeve block the easy way!
Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you make a purchase at no further cost to you.
Pattern Making Tools For Drafting A Sleeve Block
Here’s my basic pattern making tools list that you’ll want in order to draft a basic block:
- Pattern making paper
- Hard pencil
- Coloured pencils
- Pattern master or fashion ruler
- Paper scissors
- Tape measure
- Masking tape (the non-tacky option)
- Glue stick
- Tracing wheel
- Cutting mat
You won’t need all of them in this tutorial, but it is my recommended tools list because I’m never without anything on this list when drafting patterns!
Basic Sleeve Pattern Measurements
Usually when drafting a sleeve block you would use the front and back bodice pieces as this will ensure that the sleeve block you draft fits neatly with the bodice block.
However, while I will show you that process for drafting a sleeve in due course, today we’re focusing on a super simple drafting method that I learned from an old Natalie Bray book! This tutorial works with the female bodice block tutorial I’ve previously shared.
To start with you’ll want to take some basic sleeve pattern measurements. These are the absolute necessary ones for your sleeve block:
- Top arm measurement
- Arm length
- Elbow length
- Elbow width
- Wrist circumference
Taking The Sleeve Measurements
Let’s have a look at how you would take each of these measurements for drafting your sleeve! A top tip from me to you, if you don’t have anyone to help you take these measurements – grab your masking tape and make two or three rolled up pieces, so they’re sticky all over. I use these to help me position buy tape measure where it needs to go.
Note that in the photos below the top of the tape measure is located at my shoulder point – the jumper I am wearing is a mans, and several sizes too big for me, which is why my shoulder point does not line up with the sleeve seam! 😎
Find the biggest part of your arm (usually about 10cm below your shoulder point) and measure here, right under your underarm! We will want this to make sure the sleeve fits the biggest width of your arm.
To find the arm length, bend your arm so your hand rests on your hip – this is important! Place the tape measure at your shoulder point and let it run down your arm, over your elbow and then to the boney bit at the back of your wrist.
Again, this measurement is also taken from your shoulder point but this time as far as the elbow only, and with the elbow bent!
While your arm is still bent – to its maximum bend point preferably – wrap the tape measure tightly around your elbow. You’ll want this information when developing your block into patterns to make sure that close fitting sleeves allow your and your bent elbow room to move!
That boney bit at your wrist, little finger side of your hand? Boom, that’s where you’ll take your wrist circumference measurement!
My (Current) Measurements
So, let’s jot down measurements that I’ll be using to create the sleeve block in the tutorial below.
- Top arm: 38 cm
- Arm length: 64 cm
- Elbow length: 35 cm
- Elbow width: 36 cm
- Wrist circumference: 17.5 cm
Drafting The Basic Sleeve Block
Let’s get started now on drafting the block!
Step 1: Preparing The Paper
Cut a piece of paper that is 5cm longer than your Arm Length, and 5cm wider than your Top Arm measurement. Place it on the worktable in front of you with your pattern making tools to hand. I’m using just my pattern master and different colored finalisers for now so that you can better see the sleeve block as I draft it!
Draw a line the entire length, at least the length of your sleeve!
Step 2: Marking In The Dept For Sleeve Crown
Make a mark 2 cm in from the left of the paper, along the drawn line, and label it SP (shoulder point).
Next, mark a point further down the line which you will label Crown Line (CL). Use the ‘Top Arm’ measurement guide below for guidance:
- 26/27 – 12 cm
- 28/29 – 12.5 cm
- 30/31 – 13 cm
- 32/33 – 13.5 cm
- 34/35 – 14 cm
- 36/37 – 14.5 cm
- 38/39 – 15 cm <– This is the one that I need with a top arm measurement of 38 cm!
- 40/41 – 15.5 cm
- 42/43 – 16 cm
- 44/45 – 16.5 cm
- 46/47 – 17 cm
- 48/49 – 17.5 cm
- 50/51 – 18 cm
Square across from this mark to as far as you can go on both sides of your starting line!
Step 3: Marking In the Maximum Sleeve Block Width
Grab your top arm amount (mine is 38 cm) and add 5 cm to it. My new number is 43 cm! Now I need to divide it in half
38 cm + 5cm ÷ 2 = 21.5 cm
I will now measure and mark this amount along the line I squared in Step Two. 21.5 cm along the left side (back under arm point), 21.5 cm the right side side (front under arm point) for a total of 43 cm!
Here’s the back underarm point marked in.
Here’s the front underarm marked in.
Finally, square down from these two points, the length of your piece of paper!
Step 4: Dividing The Sleeve Width Up
Now we will divide this ‘maximum sleeve width’ into four.
Mine is 43 ÷ 4 = 10.75 cm per section
I have marked this on the line, which is now divided into four parts, and marked them to show which will be the back (B) and which will be the front (F) of my sleeve block.
Square down from these points making sure that the lines are all parallel to the original centre line!
Step 5: Shaping The Sleeve Crown
Now we get to shape the sleeve crown!
On line B, measure up and mark 5.5 cm towards the shoulder point. Connect the back underarm to this mark on line B using a straight ruled line.
And then another straight line from the mark to the shoulder point.
On line F measure up and mark 6 cm towards the shoulder point. Marking in a straight line from front underarm point to the mark on line F, and another to the shoulder point.
Now measure each of these straight lines and divide in half, placing a mark and squaring from this. Here’s a photo of what I mean!
Finally, we need to add the last element of shaping to the crown of your sleeve block!
- Measure down by 1 cm on the back under arm to back line segment
- Measure up by 1 cm on the back line to shoulder point segment
- Measure up by 1.25 cm on the shoulder point to front line segment
- Measure down by 2 cm on the front line to front under arm segment
You can see that I have marked these points in with a red mark and then connected very roughly with a pencil line.
Now connect these points using either a pattern master or a French curve to create a beautifully curved crown on your sleeve block! Mine is no quite so beautiful – that’ll teach me for using coloured fine-liners! 🤣
Step 6: Setting The Sleeve Block Length
Now we get to draft the length of our new sleeve block! Grab your arm length measurement (mine is 64 cm) and measure this length on the centre line down from the shoulder point. Square across from here to create the wrist line of the block.
Step 7: Setting The Elbow Point and Width
Next, grab your pattern master and your elbow length measurement. Mine is 35 cm.
Place the ‘0’ point of your pattern master (or ruler) on the shoulder point, and pivot it until your ‘number’ for elbow length hits the back line. (On the image below mine is ’15 cm’ because I pivoted at -20!)
Mark it in as ‘elbow line’, and then square across to both the front and back underarm lines!
Check that the width of this line is greater than the measurement you have for your elbow width.
Step 8: Shaping The Wrist Line
Final step is to shape the wrist line! Usually a sleeve block will have the back of the sleeve sitting longer than the front, so this is what we need to create now!
On the front line, measure up 2.5 cm from the wrist line and make a mark.
Connect this point (with a straight line) to the point where the back line and wrist line meet.
Square across from where the line intersects the centre / shoulder point line. Join the sections together as per the image below.
Now, add some gentle shaping, curving the back wrist line down, and the front wrist line up. Check that the total length of the line is greater than your wrist line measurement!
Amazing – you have now drafted a basic straight sleeve block that is ready to go with the female bodice block! This is of course a ‘ straight sleeve block’ which means it has a lot of ease throughout – 5 cm in the underarm and significantly more in the wrist!
You use this block to develop sleeve patterns, and we’ll be getting started with that in the next tutorial!
Different Sleeve Patterns With Tutorials!
This series on drafting sleeve patterns is being expanded – here is the schedule for the different sleeve patterns and tutorials that are coming:
- Puff sleeve pattern
- Bishop sleeve pattern tutorial
- How to draft a cap sleeve pattern
- Trumpet sleeve tutorial
- Drafting a flutter sleeve
- Batwing sleeve
- Draft a raglan sleeve
Want To Find Something Else…
Eve Tokens (aka The Creative Curator) is a fashion designer, creative pattern cutter and sewing pattern designer.
Eve graduated with a 2:1 in Fashion Design from the University of The Creative Arts in the UK, has a BTEC diploma in Creative Pattern Cutting, a Foundation Degree in Art & Design from Wimbledon College of Art and gained extensive experience in the fashion industry by interning and freelancing for London based fashion brands – Hardy Amies, Roland Mouret, Peter Pilotto and others.
As well as running her own small sustainable fashion brand, Eve has more than 25 years experience sewing and making clothes for herself and family members.