22 Types of Sleeves you can Sew to Upcycle a Shirt

22 Types of Sleeves you can Sew to Upcycle a Shirt

Different types of sleeves give a shirt a completely different style. Whether you currently upcycle your clothes to sell, or just want to experiment, sleeves are a great place to start. You can make your shirt look more classic, flirty, old-fashioned, elegant, or modern just by changing the sleeves. 

Changing the type of sleeve on a shirt can also take it from being a very basic fit to a statement piece. Sleeves have the power to draw the eye’s attention upward towards your captivating face, or downward towards your expressive arms or hands, depending on their shape. 

Can you recognize the sleeves you see on a shirt, part by part? If not, you can increase your fashion fluency with this helpful guide. Here are the names and descriptions of different types of sleeves. 

Types of sleeves: shoulder seams

The first place to look at the shape of the sleeve is the armhole seam. Some sleeves have a “set-in” sleeve, which is a seam around the shoulder. This is super common and it can be found on t-shirts to button-up shirts. Other sleeves are stylized a little bit differently, either with a unique shape of shoulder seam or no seam at all. Here are a few examples:

  • Set-in sleeve: any sleeve that is attached with a seam around the perimeter of the shoulder. 
  • Raglan sleeve: any sleeve that is attached with a diagonal seam pointing from the armpit to the neck-line. 
  • Kimono sleeve: a sleeve without a shoulder seam that connects at a perpendicular angle to the bodice of the shirt. 
  • Dolman “bat-wing” sleeve: a sleeve without a shoulder seam that has a rounded curve from the arm to the bodice in the under-arm area. 

Types of set-in sleeves:

You can easily use this list of sleeves in upcycling projects. You simply need to remove the existing sleeve on a shirt with a set-in sleeve with your trusty seam ripper. After that, you can draft your new sleeve and stitch it into the existing armhole (see below for more details). This makes adjusting the style of a shirt super easy.  

Most of these types of sleeves can be different lengths (capped, short, three-quarter length, long, or cuffed). 

  • Cap sleeve: A short, decorative sleeve covering the top of the shoulder, but not covering any other part of the arm. This sleeve is only set in at the top of the arm hole. 

  • Petal sleeve: A capped, split sleeve with two pieces of fabric that form an elegant, overlapping shape that looks like flower petals. 

  • Butterfly sleeve: A short flared sleeve. 

  • Puffed sleeve: A sleeve that has extra room to create a billowed look either at the top, bottom or both the top and bottom of the sleeve.  

  • Straight t-shirt sleeve: A sleeve drafted with straight lines to form a cup-like shape around the arm. This type of sleeve works best with thinner fabrics that aren’t stiff.
  • Slit sleeve: A sleeve that is cut at the top-middle of the sleeve to expose the upper arm and shoulder. 
  • Cold-shoulder sleeve: A standard sleeve with a cut-out “window” over the shoulders. 

  • Bell sleeve: A long sleeve that flares out from the shoulder, with a large open wrist. 

  • Bishop sleeve: A long sleeve that flares out from the shoulder like a bell sleeve, but the fabric at the wrist is gathered. 

  • Balloon sleeve: A long puff sleeve gathered at the shoulder and the wrist.

  • Leg of mutton sleeve: A long sleeve which is fitted on the forearm, but puffed at the shoulder. Its shape resembles the leg of a sheep. 

  • Juliette sleeve: A long sleeve that is straight and fitted except fora rounded puff shape around the shoulder. 


Types of sleeve cuff styles

The last thing to consider when creating a new sleeve for your shirt is its cuff (if it has one). Here are a few different options:
  • Buttoned cuff: This is the cuff we’re used to seeing on button up shirts. The sleeve has an opening, which is covered by a piece of binding and enclosed with a button. 
  • Sewn cuff: A binding around the bottom of the sleeve which is sewn completely onto the sleeve. It should be wide enough for the wrist and arm to pass through. 
  • Elastic cuff: A cuff with a stretchy, elastic gathering. 
  • Ribbon cuff: A cuff which has a bow-tie closure.
  • Circle flounce: A circular shape that flares out at the cuff and adds a flowing ruffle. 
  • Ruffle cuff: A gathered piece of fabric that is sewn onto the cuff. 


How to sew new sleeves


Draft your sleeve
The first thing to do is to draft your sleeve. This can be done by drawing around the armhole seam of an existing shirt sleeve. If you’ve removed a sleeve from your shirt, you can use that as a basis. 

Otherwise, you can start with a sleeve “sloper” which is a standard size for your fit. You can adjust the armhole to match your sloper shape. 

When you draft your initial sleeve pattern, you’ll notice that the front and back curves are slightly different. It’s important to keep track of which side is the front and back of the sleeve. 

To draft a new type of sleeve, you can consult a variety of resources: 

  1. Youtube videos about sleeve drafting like this one. 
  2. Pattern making books (pdfs can be found online). 

You can also experiment with your own sleeve shape pattern through trial and error.

Leave a ½” seam allowance around the entire perimeter of your sleeve.

Prepping your sleeve
When sewing in a sleeve, it helps to get the entire sleeve ready except for the armhole, which comes last. Sew the cuff, the inner seam, and anything else you need to finish to get ready for the grand finale: fitting your sleeve to the armhole. 

Fitting your sleeve
Depending on the shape of your sleeve, fitting it properly can be tricky. As mentioned earlier, it’s important to keep track of which side is the front and which is the back. 

Next, line up the seams and the top of the sleeve perfectly, and pin them in. Then distribute the fabric evenly, working the same direction on both sides and pin it in place. 

Baste your sleeve first if you’re not sure about the fit. This is using an open, large stitch length, to create a stitch that can easily be removed if needed. 

Finally, when you’re happy with the fit, stitch slowly and carefully about ½” around the armhole, depending on your seam allowance size. Finally, backstitch to secure your seam in place. 

Want to try to sell your upcycled Goodfair clothes? Here’s how:

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