How to add a lace sleeve to a sleeveless dress

posted in: SWAP, WIP (work in progress) | 9

I have a basic, as yet unfinished, plain sleeveless navy silk dress. It is incredibly boring and safe. It is also a bit dark for my complexion, although I find sleeveless can work as there is a fair expanse of lighter skin (also wearing skin coloured rather than black, nearly black or navy tights). To make it more exciting and to add some lightness to it I decided to give it lace sleeves.

This post explains how to add lace sleeves to any sleeveless dress pattern.

1. Make up the dress as usual to the stage where you would normally be finishing the armhole seams.

2. Select a suitable sleeve pattern. It is very easy to use one from an existing dress or blouse pattern. I considered two different patterns. A 1940 Vogue blouse Vogue 6704, and a 1969 Style mini dress, Style 2641. Either of these sleeve styles would be good in my dress. The older one is less fitted, and gathered into a cuff. I considered doing this blouse with a solid navy cuff. But in the end I went for the more fitted 1960s style which was more in keeping with the original 1960s dress. I liked it as it had an elbow dart and was a slim fitting cuff-less shape.


3. Now check the sleeve will fit into the armhole. Both my sleeve patterns were for bust 34″, whereas my dress pattern was bust 32″. The way to check the size is to line up the back and front bodice on the table as if they are sewn up on the side seams – you can ignore the dart for now. Take the pattern and “walk” the sleeve pattern against the armhole seam, first on the back, then on the front bodice peieces. You mainly want to ensure that the sleeve is a little bit bigger than the armhole so you can ease it in. You can see what happened on the photograph below. There was about a 1″ gap on both front and back, giving around 2″ of ease (the space between my two fingers, twice). I would suggest this is ideal and won’t require any gathering or pleating. Certainly with the lace I was using this went in perfectly OK.

fitting a sleeve pattern to a different bodice pattern
Measuring the sleeve pattern against the back bodice

4. It is worth noting that on a sleeveless dress the armhole is normally dropped between half and one inch at the underarm seam to make it more comfortable to wear. Strictly you could fix this first but I am assuming you have decided to put sleeves in once you have cut out.

5. Cut the sleeves out singly so you can see how the lace works on your pattern. I used the “selvage” of the lace as the cuff of the sleeves to get a tidy finish. This meant not cutting the seam allowance on the cuff, but folding it back and cutting on the original stitching line. However another nice finish is to cut around the motifs on the lace to give a more sculptural line.

6. Use tailors’ tacks to mark the notches and other marks as it will not be easy to see cut notches on lace, especially if you are using a guipure lace as I was (netted or mesh laces are a bit more like a piece of fabric).

7. To make the elbow dart I cut out approximately one dinosaur, then sliced the next dinosaur in two and laid one over the other to make a stumpy dinosaur. I then stitched it carefully together using a matching cotton thread. Can you spot the little fellow there?

shaping cotton guipure lace
stumpy dino (elbow dart)

8. I could have joined the sleeves together by hand very carefully according to the pattern to make a nearly invisible join. Instead I machined the sleeve seam. (Wearing my yoga gear) I tried the sleeve on. The cuff is nice and neat.

Lace sleeve
Lace sleeve

9. After pressing open I inserted the sleeve in the normal way, easing the dinosaurs so that where possible I was stitching bodies rather than holes. I did this by hand, using a back-stitch.

10. Finally I lined the bodice and tucked all the seam allowances at the arm hole into the inside of the lining so that I had a neat finish.

Obviously the sleeve looks better with an arm in it so, when I have completed the dress, I will give that Dino-lace a twirl….






9 Responses

  1. Jenny

    A very useful post Kate. As in the RTW market, patterns for sleeveless dresses are much more prevalent than ones with sleeves and I certainly prefer sleeves myself. On another note, all your pics are distorted and the wrong orientation. Is this part of your blog problem or is it just me?

    • fabrickated

      I am so sorry Jenny, and others, about this problem. It seemed to arise when either I got a new computer, or I changed from Fit and Flare to Fabrickated. I may have a “work around” that I am going to try. This should sort things while I await a better “fix”. Would you let me know how it goes?

      Many thanks.

  2. Sew2pro

    Very clever, particularly as the lace doesn’t give you much fabric to sew with. You’ll have to tell us what kind of comments you get on the dress when you wear it out. Some people might not notice the lace is rather unusual; I love it when people comment on my clothes but those who do tend to be either: foreign, really chatty or really interested in fabric…

    BTW where is the dino lace from?!

  3. BeccaA

    What a great lace! I love the little dinosaurs as lace–sort of subversive of the very feminine vibe that lace usually imparts. Thanks for this very helpful post. I will have to try this technique.

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