Great flouncy sleeves

Black dress with Sleeves

I first saw these sleeves on a video of a performance by Sadie, and I thought they looked like a *great* idea: the thick armbands are ideal for covering the upper arms, which can be a “difficult” spot, the sleeves move like teensy veils, and can add more interest to an already good costume. There’s also the question of the extra coverage, which comes handy if you’re dancing in a somewhat cold environment, or if you feel you’d like a touch more modesty.

These sleeves are very easy to make, although the explanation can initially sound complicated. They consist of two parts: an upper part that covers the upper arm, and a loose flounce. To make them, you will need a small scrap of fabric, enough to go around your upper arm twice, and about a metre and a half to two metres of chiffon, mesh or similar. I recommend against using organza as it can be quite rigid, and for this particular item you want something that is going to flow more. You will also need some elastic, enough to go snugly around your upper arm twice, stretched. If you want them to have lettuce edges, you’ll also need an overlocker and some fishing thread.

To start, measure around your upper arm, where you want the upper edge of the sleeve to sit, then decide how deep you want this arm to go, and measure around the arm again at that point. Mark these on your pattern paper, having each of the two long measurements as the bottom and top sides; depending on your arms, you might end with either a rectangle or a trapeze, as shown below. Once you’ve got those measured, add one cm around each edge as seam allowances, and add the width of the elastic to the upper side too. Join the short edges right side in, and sew, then turn the bottom and hem, and turn the top and sew, creating a channel for the elastic, and leaving a little gap when sewing. String the elastic through the channel, making it tight enough that the sleeves won’t drop. then sew the ends together. Don’t knot, as this would create a nasty bump. The seam should remain at the bottom, on the underside of your arm, conveniently hidden.

Upper Sleeves

The flounce is a tad more complicated to explain how to put together, although in practice it is equally simple. At its most basic level, it’s a square with a quarter of a circle removed from one of the corners, that wraps around the bottom of the upper arm part. You will need to measure the length from this line to your wrist or a bit past it, and you already have the measurement around the arm.

(What follows is a very boring math bith that you might want to avoid)

You would then have to use these measurements to calculate the side of a square equal to the sum of your flounce length plus the the radius of a circle where the total diameter is 4 times your arm diameter. And if it does sound like one of those awful math problems that you got in school and wonder when the hell you would have any need of it, is because that’s exactly what it is.

Boring math bit done! Fortunately, I’ve created a teensy script that does the boring calculations for you, and will give you, once you input the correct numbers, the details of what you need to create this flounce. You can find it in the Utilities section of the website, under Sleeves Flounce calculator.

Sleeve Flounce

Cut two of these on your lightweight fabric, and now it’s time to use those lettuce edge skills you acquired in a previous post. Very carefully, do the WHOLE, LONG EDGES OF THE SQUARE ONLY, those that are whole sides and where there is no semicircle cutout; then finish every other side -including the curved section- with a standard rolled hem on the overlocker. Once you’ve done this with both flounces, attach the curved side of each flounce to the bottom of the upper sleeves, with the shorter sides on the UPPER side of the arm, and the diagonal at the bottom, where the seam of the upper part is. This will ensure that when you raise your arms, the flounce “opens” and cascades beautifully . I recommend also giving each of them a second point of support, by sewing both sides together, around 5cm below the seam with the upper sleeves. You can see in the photo that it makes the sleeve reach very near the crook of the elbow and then flow to the floor. You can repeat this point downwards (and even decorate it with a crystal or sequins), or leave it as is.

Other possible variations include making each flounce in several layers to add volume, and making the flounce rounder instead of square. You can also finish the sleeves with sequins, appliques or any other decoration you like, and of course could easily replace the underseam with corset laces, or even leaving it open (if properly hemmed) to give a peek of your arm’s flesh. If you don’t have an overlocker you might be able to use a standard rolling hem presser foot on your machine to finish it off instead.

Lettuce edges

Lettuce edges are those that appear to have a fluffy somewhat rigid ruffle, and are an easy way of adding some interest to an edge that would otherwise be boring. I’ve seen it mostly used for chiffon skirts, although I’ve used them for sleeves, and have even seen them in veils and even pants. They are very easy, if a tad laborious, to make. You MUST have an overlocker (serger) to make them, with care and patience. You will also need nylon fishing thread, or the kind used for jewellery making. It must not be stretchy, and needs to have a certain rigidity. The fabric you are using will work better if it has a certain give at least, as this will create even more of a wave.

Start by setting your overlocker to do a rolled hem. Loose a few coils from the fishing thread bobbin, then very carefully roll the edge of the fabric over the thread, and pull the thread across… you will be better to have quite a bit of thread extra as it will help you keep everything in place.

Put the rolled fabric onto the overlocker, lower the foot to lock it in place, and start sewing a rolled hem SLOWLY while stretching it very carefully. Be careful to keep rolling the hem by hand, as it will give you a neater edge, and avoid sharp angles and corners, opting instead for soft curves. Once you’ve reached the end, finish as usual; you can usually turn the remaining thread back and into the machine-rolled hem, or over the start if you’re doing a circular edge.

It is highly advisable that you practice this on cheap fabric or scraps, to get the hang of it. You will get the feel for it eventually, after sewing a couple of metres, but in the meantime you are likely to accidentally cut the thread or make a booboo at least a couple of times. Don’t give up, as this technique will come very useful, and it’s worth the time it takes to learn to do it. The stretchier the fabric, the more you exploit this stretch, and the more rigid the thread, the better the frill you will get.

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