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Sew a Free Butterfly Sleeve Top or Dress

Its been awhile between sewing hack tutorials so I thought I would do another one this time using the free Brindille and Twig Ringer Tee as a base for a Girls A-Line dress with flutter or Butterfly sleeves. This method to draft your own sleeves, create an A-Line dress etc from a simple set-sleeves t-shirt pattern can be used no matter what size you make. You don't have to stick to the size or pattern I have chosen. If you have a women's nice basic straight fit t-shirt with set in sleeves rather than raglan shape you should be able to use the same techniques to create the flutter sleeves or to extend the pattern into a dress. I just chose to use the B&T Ringer Tee for my example as I had it to hand. I chose to sew a size 3-4 years (104cm tall) as it fits nicely on my mannequin for testing. I also chose to use some retail OTY Fabrics cotton spandex in a pretty vintage daisy print. But this pattern can be used with any knit you have to hand, I would recommend a flowing, draped weight of knit, so I would advise against using a 100% cotton knit or a French Terry as they are quite heavy and unlikely to drape nicely on the sleeves. You could also adapt the tshirt to have an A-Line hem rather than extend it out and down as I have done for a dress. This tutorial will give you a nice simple dress with all the fun up on the sleeves, making it a suitable design for a nightie or just your average day dress. Right without more chatter lets get onto the tutorial.

What You Will Need:

  • Paper and pen or pencil,

  • Clear Ruler, measuring tape (flexible one is best), Plate or round drafters curve

  • Pattern of your choosing (I use the B&T Ringer Tee for my example)

  • Fabric (this pattern assumes you are using 4-way stretch knit but 2-way would be fine as long as it has some drape. I have used 220gsm Cotton Spandex in Victorian Daisies Print available at OTY Fabrics)

  • Rib knit or similar for the neckband

  • Sewing Machine, Overlocker (recommended) and coverstitch (optional)

  • Thread, Scissors, Wonderclips or Pins

  • A measurement chart with measurements for Children or Adults that shows the Back neck to waist measurements (optional as you can measure yourself or child if needed)

  • A basic skirt length measurement from waist to length you would like (if you are doing the dress version of this tutorial - I used this flexible waistband skirt pattern from Delia Creates which has an excellent table for lengths etc)

Lets Hack the Pattern for the Dress:

1. Trace out your Front and Back tshirt pattern pieces in the size of your choosing (you only need a half pattern piece for this so on the fold is fine). Cut out your Tshirt Front pattern piece and lay it onto another piece of paper sellotaping it at the hem.

2. With your ruler draw a straight line that meets the tip of the shoulder/neck of the pattern piece as shown in my photo. Find the measurement for Back Waist Length on your optional Chart (Click on my link for an Ottobre Magazine Chart for kids that has this measurement if needed). Measure down from the straight line you've just drawn to the waist measurement (I am doing a size 3-4 years (104cm) so my measurement was 25cm). Place markers along the Front pattern piece and join the line to mark the waistline. You'll need this marker later.

3. If you have a skirt pattern measure the length from waist seam to hem to give you your dress length. I used a basic gathered skirt pattern I had which had a table of lengths based on size. In my case I am doing a size 104cm/3-4y so the length was 31cm from the waist. I placed my ruler at 0 on the waist marker from the previous step and measured down placing a few markers and drawing a line for the dress hemline. If you are doing the tshirt version of this tutorial you can omit this step.

4. If you are doing the dress version measure out about 7cm from your new hemline at the outer seam (not the fold) and place markers. At the tshirt hemline measure out about 5cm and place a marker. and again midway between the tshirt hemline and the waist marker measure out about 3cm from the side seam. Lay your ruler at the armscye end and along the markers drawing a diagonal line that intersects all your markers. This will be your new side seam.

Make marks at 7cm, 5cm and 3cm from side seam
Starting at armhole draw diagonal line through markers to hem

5. At the dress hemline measure up at the new side seam about 1cm and place a marker. Draw a curve from the dress hemline to the marker this is your new hemline. At this point you can also draw across the original tshirt hemline to your new side seam and mark up 1cm as well making a new curve. You will now have both a cutline for your A-line Dress version and and A-Line tshirt version. Or you can completely not use the new A-line shaping and use the original tshirt seamline as normal and jump to the sleeve hack steps below.

6. If you want to do a curved hemline for your dress you can also place a marker up 5cm from your new dress hemline and extend your curve to create a curved hem instead. See my photo for more detail on what I mean.

7. Cut out your new Front pattern piece and then grab your Back tshirt piece and lay it over the Front at the shoulder making sure to overlap the seam allowance. Pin together (see photo).

8. Grab your measuring tape and measure the armhole edge (armscye) you want to measure the full armhole area from Front to Back. Write this measurement down (I wrote mine on the pattern piece)

9. With a new piece of paper draw a straight line for the full length of the measurement you did above of the armhole. Divide your measurement in half and make a centre mark at that measurement. My armhole was 31cm long and the centre mark was 15.5cm.

10. At the centre marker measure down the depth of what you want your sleeve to be. For girls I would suggest anywhere from 7-10cm for adults maybe more. Use your judgement. I chose 9.5cm. Place your plate or drafters curve at your centre marker and draw a curve (see photo)

11. On one side of your flutter sleeve pattern from the centre marker and the curve you drew around the plate continue that curve down to about 1cm from the end marker.

12. Fold your sleeve pattern in half and cut (or trace if you can see through your paper) to get the second half of the sleeve to match the first one you have already drawn. You now have your basic flutter sleeve. You can continue on and just use this pattern for a flutter less full tshirt sleeve by following the sewing steps or proceed to the next step to add more fullness to your sleeve pattern.

13. Unfold your sleeve pattern piece and cut it down the centre line. Place a scrap of paper between the two sleeve pattern pieces. Sellotape down one sleeve piece and measure out from that centre fold edge to the depth of your choice. The larger you make the gap between pieces the fuller and more gathered the sleeve (note: you may need to add more length if you add more fullness as otherwise the sleeve starts to look more bunched, if you intend to add a very large fullness add more centimetres of width from your centre marker as per the earlier steps) I chose to do 5cm and measured 2.5cm in from my old centre line to mark a new centre for my sleeves, I then drew a diamond that I could use to cut out a marker when cutting my sleeve pieces. I also did a few markers of where to sew my gathering threads from and to when sewing my sleeves.

Lets Sew our Dress:

1. Cut out your Front Dress (or Tshirt) pattern pieces on the fold. For the Back pattern piece lay that on the fold first then overlay your front dress pattern piece matching shoulder and armhole edges. Pin or place pattern weights and cut your Back on the fold (including the dress hemline as done on the front pattern piece you overlaid).

2. For your sleeves lay them along the stretch of your knit rather than down the grainline and make sure your 'nap' runs down as well so that the sleeves drape nicely (see my photo) Cut sleeves x 2 remembering to place a marker at the non curved side centre.

3. You can now choose to hem your sleeve curved edge. I did a 3 thread overlock of mine. As knits don't tend to fray you can leave the edge raw if you like, but it would depend on how tidy your cuts were (rotary cutters are excellent for clean edges). Using the longest straight stitch on your sewing machine stitch long running gathering stitches along the centre of your sleeves straight edge. I did approximately 10cm of gathering stitches along mine. Pull your gathering stitches nice and tight and put the sleeves aside.

4. Sew your shoulder seams and neckband onto your dress/tee (you can coverstitch or topstitch your neckline seam at this point if you want). With Right side facing lay your Dress body down on a surface and then grab a sleeve piece. Find the centre marker and match it to the shoulder seam, right side sleeve to right side dress body pieces. Clip or pin in place. Continue to clip or pin your sleeve to the armhole edge adjusting the gathers so it lays nicely at the sleeve edge.

Find the centre marker and match to the shoulder seam

5. Sew the sleeve to the armhole edge with your overlocker (or using a small zig-zag stitch on your sewing machine cutting away any gathering threads after you have finished or unpicking and pulling out) adjust gathers as you sew and ensure the armhole edge hasn't accidentally bunched as you sew the sleeve on. You should sew so the sleeve ends have no square bits at the end, it should meet the side seams cleanly (see photo)

6. Clip side seams and sew dress (or tee) together catching in the sleeve ends as you go. Hem dress as usual and I would recommend sewing a few straight or zigzag stitches on the armhole/sleeve join at the side seam to stop any unraveling.

And you are FINISHED!

Clip and sew side seams
Hem the dress (or tee) and you are done!

If you find any errors or want to comment please do! Thanks for reading another of my Sewing Hack Tutorials


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