How many ways can you draft a sleeve?

How many ways can can you a sleeve?  Over the last month, I’ve been diving into different drafting methods and was surprised at how many different ways it can be done.

I wanted to make a close-fitting denim shirt, like in the tech drawing above.  Shoulder yoke, front princess seams, shirt-tail hem, and long sleeves with placket and cuffs.  The fabric is a lovely tencel chambray with printed dots.  Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve done some more fitting with the armscye of my fitted blouse block that I used for the yellow shirt.  I’ve used that block to draft this pattern.

Sketch for the shirt


The hemline, button placket and collar from the yellow shirt were reused.  I drafted in the back yoke, bringing the shoulder seam 3cm forward at the neckline and 4cm at the armhole.  The back seam of the yoke was two thirds of the way down the back armhole, and the neck dart was rotated into the seam.  That bit was easy.

Fitting sleeves has never been easy for me.  The combination of needing to reduce bodice length and increase the bicep width has made fitting commercial patterns a nightmare.  Early on, I had taken Sara Veblen’s sleeve drafting course on Pattern Review, which yielded a better result, but I fell into my usual trap of overfitting.  I found myself falling into that same trap when fitting the bodice block, and I just need to step away and tackle it another day.  Hopefully after a series of minor iterations, interspersed with actual garments, I’ll arrive at the perfect fit.   This is how I’m planning on tackling the sleeve draft; a bit at a time.

This sleeve is drafted from Aldrich.  I should have tested the sleeve, but I was so over doing mock-ups and drafting.  I just wanted to be sewing.  I took the plunge and cut it out with my good fabric.  Thankfully, it worked out.  It is a very comfortable fit, and I don’t have any restriction in movement.  So happy.  It could do with some tweaks (in particular, it is too long), but for a first draft, I’m stoked!

Finished shirt
Cuff and placket

Choosing a basic sleeve draft

At the moment, I’m just looking to perfect a basic sleeve draft for a fitted bodice block.  This will have the asymmetric sleeve head, but not be darted/shaped at the elbow line. 

My first draft for the sleeve started Suzy Furrer’s

Sleeve Drafting class (link).  Since I bought the class a while back, I thought it was worth trying.  The method uses a ‘square’ as the basis of the sleeve-head draft, the size of which comes from a table based on the total armscye length.   The bicep with dropped out way to narrow, which I was prepared to fudge.  The bottom half of the sleeve draft was seemed like a convoluted method of drafting.  So I drafted it and didn’t pluck up the courage to do a test fit.  It just looked too fudged.  Although I’ve learnt a lot in her classes, I haven’t had much luck with the drafts.

Second draft was using Donnanno’s method; the same book that the bodice draft was from.  It also uses a square, or rather rectangle, for the base of the draft ( points A,E,G, X in the picture).  It is based what they call the ‘sector’, which is the width of the armhole in the bodice draft.  It can be calculated using either the bust or bicep measurement, and I chose to use the bicep measurement since it was the larger of the two.  The draft is mainly for the sleeve head, as the side seams fall vertical from the sleeve head.  I thought this was a little odd, but I’ve come to like it as the lower part of the sleeve is more likely to change with the style anyway.  For some reason the sleeve side seam is offset from the side seam of the bodice, but it can be easily moved.  I used this draft for the yellow shirt, but had made a calculation error which mucked up the back armscye.  When I redrafted it for the changes I made to the bodice armhole, I ended up with about 5cm of ease in the sleeve cap.  Mmm, not sure if that was going to work.

The next draft was using Lekala’s free sleeve drafts.  I’ve used these before to change the sleeve style of one one of their patterns.  You enter your basic measurements (height, bust, hip), front and back armscye length, and desired cap ease percentage.  Out pops a sleeve.  Most of the time the bicep is too narrow, as in this case, and I’d need to make adjustments.

Aldrich sleeve draft

Next draft was from Winifred Aldrich’s Metric Pattern Cutting for Women’s Wear.  This is based on the armscye measurements also.  The cap height is determined by 1/3 of the total length, and then the measurements from the shoulder to cross-front (or cross-back) points and  then to the side seam are used to define the sleevehead.   I got really excited when I did this draft as I ended up the bicep width plus ease that I was looking for, and a workable amount of cap ease.  You can imagine me doing a happy dance at this point.

Now the sleeve cap was decided, I set about drafting for the cuff and placket.  The placket shape is one that I have used over and over.  The cuff is drafted a little narrower than hand width and 5cm wide.  Flicking though my drafting books, I couldn’t find an example of how to draft the bottom of the sleeve, so I looked up a menswear drafting book.  I then drafted placket location, scooped the bottom of the sleeve to add extra length, added tin the two pleats at the correct spacing, and tapered the side seams to match the cuff width.  Ahhh, sigh of relief.  It looks like a shirt sleeve pattern now!  This was the sleeve draft that I used for the shirt.

Since then I started having a look at other drafting systems.  Hellen Joseph-Armstrong uses the cap height and front and back armscye lengths to mark out the height and width of the cap.  I have not drafted this out, but I may at a later stage.   It’s quite an ‘easy’ draft which gives guide lines for how far out the curves on cap should extend.   If you haven’t drafted a sleeve before, I think this method would be a good starting place.  There are some good instructions following the draft to adjust the sleeve and/or bodice for the cap ease, adjusting bicep ease, and sleeve pitch.

Donnanno and Aldrich use metric measurements, while the other sources use imperial.  I find it easier and quicker to work with metric, as that is what I’m used to and can visualise the lengths better.  The biggest lesson that I learnt in this process, was that there is always more than one way to do things.  If one method doesn’t work for you, don’t be afraid to try another.

Tencel dot shirt – cuff

Sewing Project Score card

9 thoughts on “How many ways can you draft a sleeve?

  1. Fascinating. I’m prepared to muck around with most parts of a pattern but I’m kind of scared of messing with the armscye and sleeve cap area, even though it’s still just geometry. This is really helpful. And so is the comment about which drafters use imperial measurements – definitely not my preference. (When I do have to use them, I convert everything to mm first as that’s what my rulers are in and it’s more accurate, but it’s a real pain. I recently bailed on an otherwise well meaning and worthwhile survey because they wanted imperial measurements – they offered a link to a converter, but why not do the conversion at the data end?- and I’ve decided not to buy patterns whose makers can’t be bothered making a metric size chart. Fine for them, but not worth it for me).
    Wow, sorry, touched a nerve. I do like your shirt very much and am admiring that placket and cuff. Just the right amount of firmness, too.


    1. Totally understand. I prefer not to work in imperial if I can help it. I tend to convert the fractions to decimal when I need do any calculations ( esp division) in my head.


  2. I’ve never managed to draft a sleeve I like. I never find sleeves comfortable, but I have just moved to a colder climate, so I am going to have to tackle sleeves sometime soon.

    I’ve decided that Suzy Furrer’s drafting can be flawed, because the really close fit can stretch the fabric and hide draglines that would show up in a looser garment. I made several drafts of her sleeve and never got them to work.

    I tried to Sarah Veblen’s fitting book to adjust my draft, but I think her method gives a good result when your arms are by your side, and not when they are moving about.

    Here is a link to a thesis on drafting sleeves that I found fascinating.

    Click to access Campbell.pdf

    It is a while since I read it, but I remember enjoying the discussion about sleeve cap height and arm movement and the optimal angle for the sleeve in the armscye for comfort of movement versus a tailored look. I tried to apply something similar to a sleeve in a stylearc tunic, but I never got around to sewing it up…another unfinished project.

    Aldrich was where I first learnt about drafting, so I am interested to hear that it worked for you and I may revisit her book.

    I find men’s work shirts to be very comfortable at work, and men’s shirts typically have a very flat sleeve cap…I’d like to know more about that and where the shoulder / armscye seam sits in relation to the height of the sleeve cap, and why women’s shirts are never as comfortable as mens.

    Your shirt looks lovely.


    1. Thanks for the link. I’ll have a read over the weekend. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has had trouble with Suzy Furrer’s drafts. Some of her explanations as to why you do something are helpful, but I found I had the same issues with drag lines on the looser fit.

      I used to like a lower armhole and dropped shoulder (check out Aldrich’s basic shirt block in the flat cutting section) but I’ve been looking for a higher armhole to be able to wear them under a jacket in the winter. It will be interesting to read the article you linked and see how they compare


  3. You should be stoked! This is a great blouse/shirt, and you have conquered the sleeve block well enough to produce a good fit. Don’t fall into that over-fitting place again. This sleeve looks really good! I am impressed with your tenacity and your result.


    1. Thanks Becky. It’s so easy to get caught up with tweaking the fit too much. It would be so much easier if I had a fitting buddy. I’m hoping that if I get a good fitting draft then I can use it to adapt to other designs. In theory, it should end up being quicker than modifying a commercial pattern.


  4. I can relate to that ‘sleeve problem’ of not enough biceps width when choosing the pattern by bust size with commercial patterns – especially Jalie, they have very narrow upper sleeves… well done on that draft! Getting enough width and still retain cap height isn’t easy (I know, I draft myself), but you did it. Also, I really like the fit on that blouse bodice. Great TNT!


Please leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s