3 easy DIY sleeves for sleeveless dresses

Updated on January 3, 2023 by Sarina Tariq

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

Add Sleeves to sleevelss dresses

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

you can sew a straight line, you can add the sleeves. It is very simple. Check out 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 for which you have to draft a pattern, take measurements, etc. If you cannot be bothered about all that, make this easy-peasy sleeve.

Fold the sleeve fabric (keep them stacked right sides to the inside) and mark it 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, at least 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 the 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 stretchable fabric. 

Open up the side seams with a seam ripper about 4 inches, at least 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 the 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 does not work much in the way of coverage – but it is a great way to add sleeves to some tops, especially for kids or give a girly vibe for adults’ tops.

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 sleeveless tops/dresses. Make it in a neutral color 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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author-sarina

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

4 thoughts on “3 easy DIY sleeves for sleeveless dresses”

  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.

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