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How To Sew Puff Sleeves: A Sewing Tutorial

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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How to sew puff sleeves with this 7 step sewing tutorial!

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:

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.

How to sew a puff sleeve - the puff sleeve pattern!

Make sure that you have the front armhole notch, back armhole notch and shoulder points snipped in using your snips.

How to sew a puff sleeve - snip in your notches!

Also cut out your puff sleeve cuff as well to save time.

How to sew a puff sleeve - prepare your cuff!

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!

How to sew a puff sleeve - leave long threads when finished sewing your gathering stitch!

Repeat on the sleeve hem as well.

How to sew a puff sleeve - gently pull on the thread of your gathering stitch!

Step 2: Gathering The Sleeve Head

How to sew a puff sleeve - gently pull on the thread of your gathering stitch!

Pull on the upper thread, so that it pulls the bobbin thread through. IT will start as a small loop to begin with.

How to sew a puff sleeve - gently pull on the thread of your gathering stitch!

And if you continue to pull it through, you’ll have both threads on the one side of your puff sleeve!

How to sew a puff sleeve - gently pull on the thread of your gathering stitch!

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.

How to sew a puff sleeve - gently pull on the thread of your gathering stitch!

Keep easing the gathers along the thread, and pulling the longest thread to keep gathering up the fabric.

How to sew a puff sleeve - gathers are created when you pull gently on the thread of your gathering stitch!
How to sew a puff sleeve - gathers are created when you pull gently on the thread of your gathering stitch!
How to sew a puff sleeve - gathers are created when you pull gently on the thread of your gathering stitch!

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!

How to sew a puff sleeve - measure the gathered section so that it is the right amount!

If correct, tie a knot in your threads to prevent the gathering from undoing!

How to sew a puff sleeve - gathers are created when you pull gently on the thread of your gathering stitch!

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.

How to sew a puff sleeve - gathers are created when you pull gently on the thread of your gathering stitch!

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.

How to sew a puff sleeve - sewing the underarm seam of your puff sleeve!

Make sure the fabric edges are finished, either by overlocking or you can sew a French seam (on light weight fabrics) or a plain seam and zig zag the fabric edge afterwards as I have done.

How to sew a puff sleeve - sewing the underarm seam of your puff 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.

Preparing the cuff to attach to a puff sleeve!

Place the interfacing onto the cuff pieces, as shown.

Preparing the cuff to attach to a puff sleeve!

Press the interfacing (if using fusible variety)) and then fold the cuff pieces in half lengthways.

Preparing the cuff to attach to a puff sleeve!

Take one of the cuff pieces and bring the short edges right sides together. Sew with your chosen seam allowance – mine is 1cm.

Preparing the cuff to attach to a puff sleeve!

Press the seam open, and grab the puff sleeve – we’ll now attach the cuff!

Preparing the cuff to attach to a puff sleeve!

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.

Attaching the cuff to a puff sleeve!

Sew with your chosen seam allowance to secure the cuff in place.

Attaching the cuff to a puff sleeve!

Bring out the cuff, and press the seam allowance down into the cuff. You could under stitch this if inclined.

Attaching the cuff to a puff sleeve!

Bring the cuff up to cover the inside of the cuff.

Attaching the cuff to a puff sleeve!

Turn under the seam allowance, and pin in place.

Attaching the cuff to a puff sleeve!

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!

Attaching the cuff to 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!

Attaching the puff sleeve to a bodice!

Here’s my small pair of snips for my back arm notch!

Attaching the puff sleeve to a bodice!

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.

Attaching the puff sleeve to a bodice!

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!

Attaching the puff sleeve to a bodice!

Here are some photos of the sleeve attached to the bodice.

The finished puff sleeve attached to a female bodice!
The finished puff sleeve attached to a female 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!

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