Add Flutter Sleeves to Your Favorite Knit Shirt Patterns!

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If your girl is anything like mine, she’s got a thing for flutter sleeves. This kid will pick out a shirt with flutter sleeves without even looking at the rest of it. And last winter, she started asking me to add them when I was sewing up long sleeve shirts and dresses for her, too. As the fall clothing catalogs have been arriving in my mailbox, I’m seeing these little sleeves EVERYWHERE in ready-to-wear (RTW) styles. It’s high time for a tutorial about how to add these sweet little embellishments, don’t you think?!

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Let’s start with the easiest option – attaching a flutter sleeve ONTO the bodice of your shirt. While I was working on this tutorial, I sewed up 4 shirts for Miss P and I used the Alex and Anna Summer and Winter PJs patterns for all of them. Since the top runs really slim (in keeping with pajama regulations in the US), I sized up one size for a daywear look. I might even go up another size next time; these tops were still a little more slim than she usually wears her shirts. For the version above, I “borrowed” the flutter sleeve from the Sugar and Spice dress pattern. It’s a great oversized flutter that was perfect for this look – I found an inspiration pic in the latest Hanna Andersson catalog and went from there:

Inspiration pic

For my look, I used the tank version of the Alex and Anna pjs, and bound the neckline and armholes using a binding method rather than the bands/cuffs from the pattern. I used the same measurements that were indicated by the pattern, but applied the strips this way:

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In this example. I sewed the front and back bodices together at the shoulders, and left the side seams open. I attached the arm bindings flat (as shown in the images above), and sewed the neck binding piece together at the short ends to make a loop so I could attach that in the round. Next. I gathered up my flutter sleeves like this:

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And pinned them to my tank, making sure the center the flutter over the shoulder seam.

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I sewed the flutter sleeves right onto the bodice, sewing along my gathering stitches and making sure to backstitch well at the beginning and end of each flutter. Then, I sewed up the side seams.

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To deal with my serger tails, I used a tapestry needle to thread the tail back into the stitching about an inch, and then trimmed the remaining tail. I used a bartack stitch right at the underarm to press the seam to the back of the shirt so it doesn’t bother Miss P under her arms.

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This version was super simple, and would be easy to modify to make the flutter larger or smaller, wider or more narrow. The next flutter I wanted to tackle was one sewn into the armscye (armhole) along with a long sleeve for a layered look. To do this, I needed to draft a smaller flutter that would nestle nicely into place atop Miss P’s shoulders.

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To assemble this shirt, I sewed the front and back together at the shoulders, and attached the neckline binding. Then, I gathered my flutter sleeves and basted them RST to the armscye, again centering the flutter perpendicular to the shoulder seam.

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I used my serger to attach the sleeve, sandwiching the flutter in between the long sleeve and the bodice. (I’m using the Alex and Anna pjs again here, this time the winter version with the long sleeves.)

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This version was a huge hit – despite the fact that temps are in the 90s here and long sleeves are a ways off (I hope!), Miss P was excited to start putting together a “back-to-school” pile of new clothes.

"You know you want to try this, too!"

“You know you want to try this, too!”

To add the same flutter sleeves to a sleeveless top, I followed the same process for drafting and basting my flutters into place on the bodice. For this shirt, I hemmed the curved edge of my flutter sleeves with a narrow coverstitch. It makes the sleeves stand up a little more, and they’ll hold their shape without curling in the wash. (Rolled hems are also super cute for flutter sleeves, if you enjoy doing those on a sewing machine or serger.)

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Then, I needed to make sure to finish the rest of the raw edges along the armscye/armhole, since the flutter sleeve only gets sewn part of the way around (in this example, that is – you can make your flutter sleeve any size you want, and it can fill any percentage of the armhole that you would like it to fill). In the striped tank above, I used the bands that are included in the original pattern.

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To do a bound finish, like in the first (floral) tank I showed above, you can serge a facing strip to the armhole with the flutter sleeve sandwiched in between. Flip the facing over to the wrong side of the tank, press well to make sure the seam allowance is facing down, toward the tank, and topstitch in place. You can trim the excess facing since the raw edge won’t fray (that’s how I did it in the images up above), or tuck the raw edges under before you topstitch. For my rainbow hearts tank, I also tried a simple finish that I’ve seen in some RTW tops, and it worked well for this application.

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Press serged edge toward the wrong side of the tank, and topstitch in place. You can see my topstitching in the photo below. Please note, this will make the armhole a little wider since you’re not using armbands. When I sewed my side seams, I used a slightly larger seam allowance at the underarm in order to reduce the size of the armhole back to the intended size.

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Since I was using up smaller pieces of fabric, I had to piece together the back. If you want a quick refresher on how to color block a pattern, you can read up about it here.

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I love the sweet simplicity of these tops, and I especially love that while I used the same pattern for each of them, each shirt has a unique look. Miss P’s next request is for a new dress with flutter sleeves, so I’m planning to add them to the Gloria dress. SO cute and perfect for back-to-school. What will you add flutter sleeves to?? Make sure to join us on Facebook in the Peekaboo Patterns group and share your creations over there!

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Author of handcrafted by RED.

A desire to make a cute little dress for my daughter a few summers ago has turned into what some (like my family) might call a full-blown obsession with learning to sew. I’ve got two fun kids (ages 4.5 and 2) who get to be the primary beneficiaries of my successes and misadventures – I love being able to make clothes that fit their personalities and not just their bodies. I’ve recently begun blogging my sewing exploits – hope to see you there as well!

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