Updated on September 13, 2022 by Sarina

You go to a shop and almost all the tops ( the ones you like atleast) have no sleeves – Has this happened to you? This is a common scenario which plays out in my life. I do not like sleeveless tops much ( Nothing to do with flabby arms ofcourse.)

Add Sleeves to sleevelss dresses

I do the only think I can now – I buy the sleeveless dress and add sleeve. My fabric stash will almost always have a matching or complimenting fabric for the sleeves. Or I will buy a sheer fabric which matches the main fabric.

Something you will have to ensure is that the armscye is straight and simple not a dropped shoulder or an angular one or a raglan style ( halter top) in which case check out the post on raglan sleeves

Adding sleeves to clothes without sleeves – easy solutions


1. Add Ordinary sleeves

If you can sew a straight line you can add the sleeves. It is very simple. Checkout these different types of sleeves and you can decide on what you want. This post on drafting sleeves will tell you how to make simple sleeves.

But all these are sleeves which you have to draft a pattern, take measurement etc. If you cannot be bothered about all that make this easy peasy sleeve

Fold the sleeve fabric (keep them stacked, rightsides to the inside) and mark as in the picture below. 

Fold 2 fabric pieces by half and mark the sleeve pattern

The armhole curve depth of 3 1/2 inches should be reduced to 2 1/2 inches for a small kid. The depth of the armscye should be equal to half of the bodice armhole circumference

Do the hem of the sleeves and then join the side seams

Keep the sleeve to the inside of your armhole and  top stitch. 

2. Add a Cap sleeve 

easy cap sleeve pattern for sleeveless dresses -take a 12 inch square fabric

How to stitch the cap sleeves to the top / dress

You will have to open up the side seams with a seam ripper about 4 inches atleast from the top. Finish the edges of the sleeve with a zig zag stitch and hem the bottom edge.

open the side seams and keep the armhole open

Align the center of the sleeves with the shoulder seam. Keep the sleeve under the armhole. Start stitching from the center. Stitch to one side. Then come back to center and stitch to the other side.

Now turn the dress inside out ; stitch the side seams

3. A fluttery sleeve

how to add sleeves to sleeveless tops/ dresses

How to stitch this sleeve to the top / dress

This sleeve is stitched on top of the sleeves and the sides will hang down like an angel wing sleeve. It is best made with a stretchable fabric.

Open up the side seams with a seam ripper about 4 inches atleast from the top. Finish the (sleeve cap ) edges of the sleeve with a zig zag stitch and hem the bottom edge.

Align the center of the sleeves with the shoulder seam. Keep the sleeve on top of  the armhole. Start stitching from the center. Stitch to one side. Then come back to center and stitch to the other side

4. Another Flutter sleeve

Checkout the tutorial for this easy sleeve in the post on making a flutter sleeve ( 3 ways)

flutter sleeve              flutter sleeve

4. Cold shouldered sleeve

This is another good sleeve to add which is currently much in demand. You will have to draft a simple sleeve like in the pattern below and cut off the top portion to draft this sleeve.

You can find a very flared flutter sleeves in this post on making a top.

flutter sleeve top

Checkout the tutorial for a cold shoulder sleeve in detail here .

 cold shoulder top pattern

5. Add a lace sleeve

Adding lace trims as sleeves doesnot work much in the way of coverage – but it is a great way to add sleeves to some tops, especially for a kids or a girly vibe for adults.

What to wear under a sleeveless dress?

If you do not want to add sleeves ( stitch them to the armhole) an idea I have seen around is to make a simple top in a lace fabric with long sleeves which you can wear with all the sleeveless dresses. This is worn as an inner under the sleeveless tops / dresses. Make it in a neutral colour like black and you can wear it with different tops or dresses

Checkout the post on the different types of sleeves you could sew on your clothes

Related post:

boxy top pattern

 

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  1. Serged seams itch me – and I am new to sewing. My question is will adding a sleeve permit the seams of the sleeve to be covered and therefore not exposed serged seams. Or do you have a way to accomplish this. I am sure I am not the only one out there to benefit from you assistance with this. Thank you.

  2. I never knew I wanted to add sleeves on a dress I was making until I found your hints for the flutter sleeves. What you have shown so far is easy to read and apply. I thank you. Looking forward to seeing more tips on how you sew your garments.

    Sincerely,

    Trudy

  3. Fabulous. User friendly. Thankyou. I often want to upcycle and add sleeves. For curvy ladies a slave can make a dress more proportional a d flattering.