Old school: Narrow sleeves and elbow darts.


Today’s nerdy piece is about sleeves. Sleeves are probably one of most feared part of the garment, and the narrow sleeves are the worst, because there is no room to hide your mistakes. Recently someone asked my advise on a narrow Chanel jacket sleeve. I honestly admit, I have never been interested in Chanel jacket or its sleeves, but I’ve done the sleeves with elbow darts. Elbow darts are even harder to find these days than shoulder darts I mentioned in my previous nerdy post. In this post learn all about the connection and difference between semi-fitted, narrow and very narrow sleeve and a very easy way to add an elbow dart or two.

Single seam sleeves

Narrow sleeves

Narrow sleeves are considered to be classic. A draft of such a sleeve is determined by the basic measurements of the bodice – the depth and width of the armscye, the arm measurements and the ease.
To draft a single seam sleeve, the following eases are necessary:

  • arm circumference ease (minimum) 2-3.5 cm
  • sleeve head ease 2-5 cm
  • armscye depth ease 1-3 cm

After a basic sleeve draft is complete, the width of the sleeve at the lower edge must be determined. The width of the narrow sleeve at the lower edge equals 3/4 of the sleeve width under the armscye.

AB = 3/4 * CD
AO1 = O1B

The new points A and B are joined with C and D with straight lines.

The shape of the lower edge of the sleeve depends on the method of construction. If the sleeve will be finished with a facing or bias binding, the lower edge should be a broken line, which corresponds with the shape of the arm. If the lower edge of the sleeve will simply be folded under, it must be straight.

elbow dart sleeve 1

The narrow sleeves are used in knit and bias cut garments. Such drafts are also used to develop puff sleeves, very narrow sleeves with elbow darts and semi-fitted sleeves.

Semi-fitted sleeves

The difference between these sleeves and narrow sleeves is in their width at the lower edge.

Semi-fitted sleeves are wider than the narrow sleeves at the lower edge by 1/8 (1/16 at each side, see the broken line on the picture). Semi-fitted sleeves are often used in garments with 3/4 sleeve length.

Very narrow sleeves with elbow darts

Very narrow sleeves fit the arm very closely at the wrist. For such sleeves to be comfortable, they must be widened at the elbow and the elbow dart should be added. Although a narrow sleeve draft can be developed using calculation method, the very narrow sleeve pattern needs to be constructively modelled using a narrow sleeve draft as a base.

The method of constructive modelling is as follows.

The upper part of the sleeve is widened radially with partial narrowing of the lower part.

To do this, the lower edge of the narrow sleeve is divided into 8 equal parts. Then points 1 and 2 are marked to each side of the centre line. After this, join points 1 and 2 with point 3, located on line P3P6.

adding an elbow dart

Mark points 4 and 5 on line 1-3, 2.5 cm above and below the elbow line. Draw two parallel auxiliary lines through these points towards the elbow edge of the sleeve, name them E and F.

Cut the sleeve along line 1-3 starting from point 1 up to point 6, then cut from point 6 to, but not through, point C.

After this, cut the sleeve along the auxiliary line E to but not through point 5. Pivot at point 5 and overlap the lower edge of the sleeve so points 1 and 2 meet, opening an elbow dart E5, which will allow for a free movement of the arm in the elbow.

For an additional comfort, the second dart may be added at the auxiliary line F, using radial widening of the sleeve along the line CD. To do so, cut along auxiliary line F to but not through point 4. Pivot the left part of the sleeve at point C, opening the second elbow dart F4. As a result, point 6 will move down, the top part of the sleeve will widen (see green area) and the lower edge of the sleeve with become narrower by 2/8 (see orange area).

In addition, the elbow edge of the sleeve will lengthen and the lower edge of the sleeve will become concave.

The finished length of the elbow darts should be 1/2 of the auxiliary lines’ length.

Sometimes very narrow sleeves are drafted with the dart pointing towards the bottom of the sleeve.
In this case dart not only adds volume at the elbow, but also serves as a sleeve closure. The length and width of such dart are dictated by fashion and individual taste.

Information source: Page 63-65 “Practical book on ladies’ apparel modelling” A.F.Blank, Z.M.Fomina 1979, 1991, 1992. Translated and adapted by Lena Merrin.

Did you like it? Let me know in comments below!

Lena Merrin
Lena Merrin

A dressmaker of many years, I enjoy drafting patterns and create custom garments.

5 thoughts on “Old school: Narrow sleeves and elbow darts.

  1. Wynn says:

    Hì Lena, I loved reading this, too. I’ve been wondering how to tweak sleeve patterns – but I notice you didn’t tell us how to draft the basic sleeve :( I can’t remember how to do it … But I did wonder if one could trace the arm scythe from the bodice pattern, ‘invert’ and twist it and just add the ease on top … or is that too simplistic? And then after that follow your instructions ? Winnie.

    • Lena Merrin
      Lena Merrin says:

      Hi Wynn, there is a bit more to drafting a sleeve than tracing an armscye. There are lots of approaches to drafting a sleeve, and many of them are available online.

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