So you’ve drafted a puff sleeve pattern, but now you need to know how to sew puff sleeves – this sewing tutorial will help you!
Due to the way puff sleeves are created, we’ll need to gather the fabric first at the sleeve head and sleeve hem, sew the underarm seam, and then set the puff sleeve in as a ‘set-in’ sleeve.
This means you need to make sure all the balance points / notches from your sleeve pattern are marked on the fabric pieces!
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Tools You’ll Need
Let’s start with the tools you’ll need to sew your puff sleeve! Here’s my recommended basic sewing tools list:
- Sewing machine or hand sewing needles
- Serger / overlocker (optional)
- Seam ripper
- Calico or muslin for toiling (optional – not everyone likes to make test versions)
- Tape measure
- Pattern weights
- Dressmaker pins
- Fabric scissors or rotary cutter (and a cutting mat for the latter!)
- Seam roller (optional)
- Pressing mat or ironing board
- Tailors ham
Let’s Get Started!
Cut the puff sleeve pattern out in your calico / muslin or fabric of choice. You’ll want to cut a pair so you have one for each armhole.
Make sure that you have the front armhole notch, back armhole notch and shoulder points snipped in using your snips.
Also cut out your puff sleeve cuff as well to save time.
Step 1: Sew Your Gathering Stitches
You’re ready to get started! Let’s start by sewing two rows of stitching, using your biggest stitch length, along the sleeve head between the front and back arm notches. Do not back stitch on either end, as this will prevent us from being able to gather the stitching, but instead leave a long tail!
Repeat on the sleeve hem as well.
Step 2: Gathering The Sleeve Head
Pull on the upper thread, so that it pulls the bobbin thread through. IT will start as a small loop to begin with.
And if you continue to pull it through, you’ll have both threads on the one side of your puff sleeve!
Gently pull on one of these threads so that fabric gathers up. You’ll notice that one thread gets longer as you do this, while the second stays the same length. This is quite normal.
Keep easing the gathers along the thread, and pulling the longest thread to keep gathering up the fabric.
Once you’ve gathered up the fabric and spread the gathers out evenly, you’ll need to measure between notches to make sure you’ve gathered it up to the correct amount. Refer to your puff sleeve pattern for how much this should be!
If correct, tie a knot in your threads to prevent the gathering from undoing!
Step 3: Gathering The Hemline
Now you need to repeat the process for the hemline of each puff sleeve. Notice that the amount of puff feels less than on the sleeve head. Again, secure the gathers in place with a knot.
Step 4: Sewing The Underarm Seam
Now that both the sleeve head and hem areas have been gathered, we need to sew the underarm seam, to create the actual sleeve.
Step 5: Preparing The Sleeve Cuff
The easiest way to finish the hem of a puff sleeve is to attach a cuff. You could also bag out your puff sleeve by creating a hem facing / lining, but a cuff is easier in this example because of the lightweight fabric I am using.
Start by cutting enough interfacing for at least one side of the cuff piece.
Place the interfacing onto the cuff pieces, as shown.
Press the interfacing (if using fusible variety)) and then fold the cuff pieces in half lengthways.
Take one of the cuff pieces and bring the short edges right sides together. Sew with your chosen seam allowance – mine is 1cm.
Press the seam open, and grab the puff sleeve – we’ll now attach the cuff!
Step 6: Attaching The Cuff
Now we will attach the cuff to your sewn puff sleeve! Start by placing the fused side inside the sleeve so that the right side of the cuff is touching the wrong side of the sleeve, as shown in the photo below. Pin to secure, matching the underarm seams and notches.
Sew with your chosen seam allowance to secure the cuff in place.
Bring out the cuff, and press the seam allowance down into the cuff. You could under stitch this if inclined.
Bring the cuff up to cover the inside of the cuff.
Turn under the seam allowance, and pin in place.
Finally, edge stitch along the edge of your cuff. I’ve used a contrasting colour so that you can better see the stitches. We now know how to sew a puff sleeve!
Step 7: How To Sew Puff Sleeves Into An Armhole!
The very last step of course, is to sew your puff sleeve onto a bodice of some sort. Start by matching the puff sleeves to the correct armholes using the notches. Don’t get this wrong – sleeves inserted into the wrong armhole make for uncomfortable wearing!
Next, pin the the sleeves into place, right sides together. Match the front arm notch, the back arm notch and the shoulder point notch. It may be tricky to find them amongst the gathers, but they should be there!
Here’s my small pair of snips for my back arm notch!
Now we get to sew the puff sleeve to the bodice, being careful to not create pleats in the gathers. I’ve sewn my sleeve to the bodice of a top using a 1cm seam allowance.
If you have not finished the raw edge of your fabric you’ll want to do so now either by overlocking, or binding, to prevent the fabric from fraying.
Press the seam gently, and then turn through to admire your puff sleeve! Notice how there are gentle gathers for my puff sleeve and the sleeve has a lovely raised ‘puff’ effect!
Here are some photos of the sleeve attached to the bodice.
Do you feel like you now know how to sew puff sleeves for your different tops, dresses and jackets? Let me know how you get on in the comments and check out this guide to the different types of sleeves next!
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.