Mother and young daughter on doorstep in red dresses with dog

Create balloon sleeves from a standard sleeve pattern

Balloon sleeves add volume, drama and movement to any garment they’re added to. Balloon sleeves are one of the best ways of taking a piece of clothing from fine to fantastic.

They’re especially suited to party wear – so make a statement this Christmas and make your own!
Turning a smooth sleeve pattern into a balloon sleeve is not hard. Read on and we’ll show you how to alter a smooth sleeve sewing pattern, and sew the balloon sleeves into your garment.


  • Sleeve pattern piece
  • Ruler
  • Tissue paper
  • Tape
  • French Curve
  • Pencil

How to

This tutorial shows you how to take a normal flat sleeve (that fits smooth at the shoulder) and hack it to make a balloon sleeve. By the way - balloon sleeve is a new fashion term - it is the same as a puffed sleeve!

Step 1

If you have difficulty finding a pattern with a balloon sleeve, you can use one with smooth sleeves, and alter the sleeve. Do not use a sleeve from a different pattern as the armhole and sleeve need to still fit with each other for a professional looking result.

Step 2

Draw a line parallel to the grain line from the shoulder tip to the bottom of the sleeve. Repeat on each side, halfway between the centre and the sleeve placement mark.

Step 3

Draw a horizontal line across the sleeve, at right angles with the first vertical line.

Drawing a line on brown paper pattern

Step 4

Cut on all the vertical lines you drew. Place the pieces aside.

3 brown pattern pieces cut apart

Step 5

On the tissue paper, draw a vertical line in the centre, and draw another line across at right angles, splitting your tissue into four quarters.

Whte pattern piece with red cross marks

Step 6

Place the central cut sleeve pattern piece on these lines. Line up the centre of the shoulder tip with the central line on the tissue paper.

Brown paper pattern on white sheet

Step 7

From the edge of the sleeve pattern, measure 7.5cm/3” and draw a vertical line, parallel to the cut edge, to the left of the sleeve pattern piece. Repeat on the right side of the pattern.

Tip: To make the sleeves more or less puffy, change this distance. The more space you add between these lines, the puffier your sleeves will be.

Quilters ruler on paper pattern piece

Step 8

Place your two other sleeve pattern pieces on the lines you drew in step 8. Line up the cut edges with the drawn lines. Match the horizontal lines. Stick to the tissue paper.

3 brown paper patterns stuck onto white sheet

Step 9

Make a mark 1-2cm above the sleeve top. Connect this mark with the tip of the side pieces on the left and the right, creating a gently sloping curve.

Red curve drawn onto white paper with brown pattern pieces

Step 10

Cut the pattern out of the tissue. You can leave your cut sleeve pieces on the tissue, or take them off.

If you wish to remove the original pattern pieces, remember to transfer front, back and top of shoulder notches, as well as the grainline to your new pattern piece.

Tip: If you do not want to cut up your original pattern, trace it onto tissue paper first, transferring the marks as above, and use this piece for your alteration.

Step 11

Now it’s time to sew your sleeves. Cut your two sleeves out of the fabric making sure your grainline is correct and right sides of the fabric facing. Transfer the front, back and top of shoulder notches to the fabric pieces.

With right sides facing, sew the underarm seams of the sleeves, using the seam allowance as dictated by your pattern. Trim and finish with zig zag or overlocking.

Step 12

Sew two rows of gathering stitches (straight stitch on longest stitch length). Sew the first one 1cm from the raw edge, and the second 2cm from the raw edge. Start and finish with a long tail (do not tie off) and sew from front notch to back notch (the little marks or circles on the pattern piece).

Step 13

Turn the sleeve with right side out and the garment wrong side out. Place the sleeve inside the garment (so right sides of garment and sleeve are facing each other), and match and pin the underarm seam to the side seam or underarm notch of the garment. Match and pin the front and back notches and shoulder top notches.

Step 14

At the front or back notch, take the two strands of the gathering stitches, on one side of the fabric only, and gently pull to form gathers. Keep sliding them forward and across the top pin until the sleeve fits on the armhole. Space the gathers evenly and pin every 1-2cm.

Step 15

Place the garment in your sewing machine with the sleeve facing up and start sewing at the under arm. Use a normal (2.5mm) stitch length and straight stitch. Sew all around, taking care to keep the bottom (dress part) flat. Use the seam allowance as dictated by your pattern (normally 1.5cm).

Close up of red drafting balloon sleeve

Step 16

Check that you do not have any tucks or puckers on the dress before trimming. Trim right next to the first row of gathering stitches. Zig zag or overlock.

Close up of gathering stitches of red drafting balloon sleeve

Step 17

On the right side of the sleeve, carefully remove the one row of gathering stitches that would still be visible.

Step 18

Try the garment on and check if the length of the sleeve is good. Remember that once the bottom is gathered with the elastic, it will appear shorter than when hanging loose. If it is too long, trim before finishing the edge.

Step 19

To finish the bottom of the sleeve with elastic, sew a casing 5mm wider than the elastic you want to use. Leave a gap to pass the elastic through.

Step 20

Cut the elastic 4cm longer than the diameter of the place of your arm where the elastic will sit. Thread it through the channel with a bodkin, overlap the edges 1cm and sew the ends together. Pull the sleeve so the elastic settles into the channel and sew up the opening.

Step 21

Press the seams, turn the right side out and go make a statement!

If you like hacking patterns and upcycling, why not check out our ‘how to add pockets’ blog post, or our ‘how to upcycle a man’s shirt’ project.


We can’t wait to see what you make! Remember to tag in Brother on Instagram and Facebook so we can share your makes and inspire others.

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