Thursday, August 29, 2013

Focus On: Sleeves

By Sherri of Sew Betty and Dot

Let's look at sleeves!

Historically, they developed because, well, people's arms got cold AND as a way to cover the body for modesty's sake. Beginning in the medieval period, sleeves began to be incredible indicators of wealth and status--and of course, they were also incredible fashion statements. In fact, the history of sleeves is so varied and fascinating that it cannot be adequately covered in this blog post, so please see links at the end of this post to several blogs/websites that are a wealth of information.

Some random sleeve factoids:
* Beginning in about the 1620s sleeves began to change: the first change, a shortening of the sleeves to reveal a woman's wrists, marked the first time women's arms were visible in the hundreds of years of European costume history. (From

* Through the 17th century, sleeves were often a separate garment/accessory--i.e., not sewn into the dress/robe/gown but rather tied to the outer garment.
* Dolman sleeves were very popular in the 1930s, even in eveningwear, but a fabric shortage during World War II meant that the style fell out of fashion. 
* The most common sleeve variation over the centuries is the puff sleeve: they've been puffed at the shoulders, multiple puffs (see Queen Victoria's dress below), called "mameluke" or "marie" sleeves. There were puffs that needed special "puffers" worn inside them to stop them from drooping. In almost every century you can see fashionable women (and sometimes men!) wearing puff sleeves. The so-called Letty Lynton dress (from a 1932 film of the same name) designed by Adrian for Joan Crawford launched a craze for puffed sleeves in the thirties, and then there is Princess Diana's wedding dress!

Pattern Patter's own team member, Deb Salisbury of Mantua Makers, has some amazing historical patterns if you'd like to try to sew sleeves from another century! See the first square on the top left below.
Top left: Regency wedding dress pattern: Mantua Maker Patterns Top right: Mourning dress (once black, now faded) worn by Queen Victoria to her first Privy Council on 20 June 1837, the day she ascended to the throne (From

Bottom left: Joan Crawford in Letty Lynton (1932), in a gown designed by Adrian. (image from Tumblr)
Bottom right: Princess Diana in her wedding dress (1981), designed by David and Elizabeth Emanual (image from Wikipedia)

Now let's look at some beautiful patterns with...sleeves!

(By the way, if you click on each photo, it will become larger so you can see all the gorgeous details.)
Children's dresses with puff sleeves (each row reads left to right):
3. Simplicity 9090: People Packages

Puff sleeves for grown-ups--from the 1930s to Mary Quant and beyond!
(Each row reads left to right):
Bottom: 1. Butterick 5232: MB Chills (this is the Mary Quant); 2. Simplicity 3040: Cherry Corners
3. Simplicity 2317:

Sleeve styles galore!
(Each row reads left to right):
Top: 1. Capelet sleeves McCall’s 6108: Pattern Playing;2. Slit sleeve: Simplicity 8586: Paneen Jerez
4. Long and full cuffed sleeve (this is Rudi Gernreich!): McCall’s N1045: Maddie Mod Patterns
Middle: 1. Cap sleeve: McCall 8469: Grandma Made with Love

2. Winged elbow-length and three-quarter sleeve: Butterick8277: Virtual Vintage
3. Batwing sleeves: Simplicity 8885: Sandritocat
Third Row:  1. Kimono: New York632: J Ferrari Designs
2. Dolman sleeves: Vogue 6549: Grey Dog Vintage
3. Off-the-shoulder cap sleeves with scallop: Butterick 7181:Em Sew Crazy
4. Jiffy dress with three sleeve variations--this is often seen in Jiffy designs: Simplicity 7124:Jeanies Shop
Bottom: 1. Long and cuffed ¾ length: Vogue 6246: Knight Cloth

2. Short, puffed, shirred sleeves: Simplicity 3282: FloradoraPresents
3. Short cuffed sleeve: Simplicity 3436: Sydcam123

Here are some great blogs/websites that show and tell about historical fashion (including the history of sleeves and some great photographs of vintage clothing showing sleeve styles:
Of course, COPA (Commercial Pattern Archive)
Wearing History
Such Eternal Delight

So: What do you have up your sleeve? Do you wear YOUR heart on your sleeve? Tell us in the comments! 


  1. Sleeve fashions are so much fun. I love the sleeves on Victoria's mourning dress!

    So many great patterns! Thank you for including my frock. :-)

  2. Another well done and informative post. Great work!

  3. I always learn so much from your posts! Thank you for the vault of information you share.

  4. Very good job, very informative! You always do great! Thanks for including my pattern!

  5. I love these blog posts! Great work :-)


  6. So many sleeve choices! I love the 1930s McCall 6108 with the capelet sleeves.