How To Add Butterfly Sleeves To A Top Or Dress

butterfly sleeves

Today I'll show you the easiest way to add butterfly sleeves to a top or dress.  We all have one top or dress that we always wished had sleeves. In this tutorial I am using the Tina top I shared with you two weeks ago.  I have to admit I prefer the top sleeveless but that is just me.  If you read the comments below the majority of you wished the top had sleeves.

Normally flutter sleeves are seen on a V-neck or wide round necklines since the shape of the sleeves tends to make the upper chest area wider.

butterfly sleeves

I am an hourglass (but lately hmmm… the hourglass is becoming rather a peanut in shell kind of shape…) wide shoulders and a bust that is the same width as my hips, the waist was 10″ smaller, now it is 7? Technically I am a square shape unless I lose a couple of inches of my waist.  If I keep going I will end up as an apple.  Having described my body, I can honestly tell you the sleeveless version of the top will look fine on me.  The one with the flutter sleeves will not unless I defined my waist a little better without making the top tight around my waist.  For that, I have a little secret I will share with you in another tutorial.  I guess what I am trying to tell you is that there are ways to make things look better on you even if they do not have hanger appeal.

butterfly sleeves

Having said all that, who can benefit from a flutter sleeves summer top? An inverted triangle would be at the top of the list because flutter sleeves will balance the silhouette in this type of body.  If you would like to know how to find your body shape please follow the tutorial below.  Anyone else will have to find the right length/fabric combination for their type of body.  The rule is the thicker the fabric, the smaller the sleeves — but rules are to be broken and as long as you are happy and feel comfortable anything goes.

For this tutorial, I am using the summer blouse, Tina. As you can see, it is sleeveless and a few of you including my mother wished it has sleeves.


  • Curve ruler or French ruler
  • Straight ruler
  • Pencil
  • Pattern making paper (manila and dotted is best if you are a beginner)
  • Tape measure
  • Compass
  • 1/2″ yard of fabric
  • Top or dress pattern

How To Draft Your Butterfly Sleeves Pattern

  1. Draw a line that will represent the length of the sleeve.  From the shoulder to the hem of the sleeve.

2. Draw a circle with the radius equal to the length of the sleeve plus the seam allowance( 1/4″)

3. Divide the circle into four parts.

4. Label the lines a and b.

5. Measure the armhole less the seam allowance.

6. Divide by 2π (2 X 3.14)  to find the circumference of the circle.  Example: Length of armhole Divided by 6.28 = circumference of the circle minus 3/8″.   19″/6.28″=3″ – 3/8″=2 5/8″

7. Measure using a compass 2 5/8″

8. Draw the circle starting at pointtowards point b.

9. Cut the circle away and you have a circle within a circle. This is your pattern.  Cut the fabric following the grain line.

10. Make two notches. When sewing the sleeve, match these notches to the shoulder seam (wide part) and the side seam.

For Flowy Fabric In Solid Colors follow The Extra Steps Below

If you are using silk crepe, rayon, or satin in solid colors you will notice the lower part of the sleeves showing under.  If this is an issue for you. Take the following steps:

  1. Mark the middle of the circle.

2. Fold the Upper part of the circle towards the center.

3. Trace the fold line.

4. And trace the center line.

5. Finally, trace the circle that represents the circumference of the armhole, making sure the center of the circle is placed where the two lines cross.

Notice the difference in the placement of the armhole.


Math did not work out?

Don't worry, chances are you forgot to minus the 3/8″ at the end, and your circle and the circle ended larger than you needed. What to do? Make a pleat or gather at the shoulder seam and no one will notice your mistake.  This happens to the best of us, and like my design teacher used to say, there are no mistakes in fashion, just change the drawing.  Still, with or without gathers butterfly sleeves add a touch of feminity to any top and distract attention from the upper arm area while giving a bit of coverage.

Undersleeve showing and you do not like how it looks, but you have already cut the fabric? and don't have extra fabric?

Use pins to mark the amount you would like to take out from under the sleeves.  Using your curve ruler trace the cutting line.  Cut the fabric and use the strip of fabric to mark the other sleeve.

Hem the butterfly sleeves using any of the following techniques listed below.

We are on the way to Italy soon, to spend some time with my family, so I have to concentrate on my wardrobe. I will be sharing with you some new pieces specifically for a cruise or waterside-wear.  There are a couple of dresses coming up that will use the butterfly sleeves, so keep this page bookmarked.

Next week I will be sharing an elegant top that can hide the tummy, that can be both casual or dressy depending on the fabric.  Below is my muslin, which I have draped on the mannequin ready to transfer to paper.

If you have an Instagram account and want to share with me your projects made with So-Sew-Easy patterns use #soseweasyofficial or follow me atsoseweasy to have a peek at my not-so-perfect life, my disastrous work area after a project, some of my drawings and life in general.

Until next time, happy sewing!

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I’m having so much trouble with Sleeves. My upper arms are 19” around. Really fat. My measurement across my upper chest is 14”. Size 14. How on earth do I make a sleeve to fit in a size 14. My belly is really big too. Like pregnancy big. I’ve tried slicing the arm pattern but the amount I have to increase the upper arm is astronomical. Please help. I’m fairly skilled. I’m not sure why I can’t fix this.

Alice Anne
Alice Anne

Thank you for posting free patterns and advice.
You need a correction to the butterfly pattern instructions. Number 6 should read: 6. Divide by 2π (2 X 3.14) to find the radius of the circle. Example: circumference of armhole divided by 6.28 = radius of the circle minus 3/8″.  19″/6.28″=3″ – 3/8″=2 5/8″

Ilse Gräter
Ilse Gräter

Wow, I didn’t even have Math at higher grade at school and even I can figure this out! Mayra, thank you for always taking the time to work out these patterns and instructions for us … you are such an angel!!!

Whitney Jacobsen
Whitney Jacobsen

Do you think this method would work for a raglan style arm? I am altering a dress for a friend that has no sleeves and is too revealing for her the collar comes up to the throat but has just bias tape as the strap/sleeve I made a bodice to wear under it but want the sleeve line to match up with the lace of the already existing bodice and would need a raglan style seam for it to look less altered.


I can’t make sense of it, at all.

Anna Ray
Anna Ray

Another great tutorial, thanks very much. You ladies really know your stuff and always present excellent, sensible, do-able blogs.

Rae Shaw
Rae Shaw

I ‘suck’ at MATH! Don’t understand the actual adding/subtracting. But I do understand that you’re measuring your armhole & shoulder. I’m guessing when you cut out the inner circle that that’s what you sew to the armhole. RIGHT??? I need a re-fresher course on MATH!!!!?


I am so confused! The first #2 mentions finding a radius but the drawing seems to indicate a diameter…and in #6 it says you are finding the circumference when the image seems to indicate the radius.
And does the inner circle get attached to the armhole without a seam in the sleeve?

Thanks for helping me! I tried making flutter sleeves by increasing perimeter of standard sleeve and it didn’t work so well.

Reply to  Mayra Cecilia

Re: Step 2 confusion

The length of the sleeve is the radius because we want the sleeve to be that long all the way around. Every point on the circle is 7-1/4″ out from the center point. The description is correct, but I think the arrows in the image is a little confusing, as it implies that the diameter is 7-1/4″ when it’s actually 14-1/2″. Or if 7-1/4″ were added below the point as well, so that it would be more readily understood as 7-1/4″ above the center point and 7-1/4″ below the point.

Re: Step 6 confusion

C = 2πr
We have C, which is the length of the armhole.

So we’re actually solving for Radius
C/2π = r
(Length of armhole divided by 2π)

If we use your example, 19″/6.28″=3″ – 3/8″=2 5/8″
19″ is your initial armhole measurement on the old pattern (circumference), 6.28″ is your 2π. So 2-5/8″ is a radius minus 3/8″.

We measure this from the centerpoint of the previous circle (whose radius is equal to the desired length of the new sleeve) to find the center of the new circle, and draw the new circle from this point. The new circumference of the armhole is 3/8″ smaller at all points than the old measured circumference of the pattern, giving us a circle with a circumference of roughly 16-1/2″.

If 2-5/8″ was a circumference, that would be a barbie sized arm hole.

Geometry confusion aside, thank you very much for the tutorial. It was extremely helpful in my understanding of how to sew this type of sleeve.

J. Leigh
J. Leigh
Reply to  Charmelle

You are correct – what is called the circumference in that step is actually the radius. The circumference would be roughly equal to the length of the arm hole. That threw me off for a second too. I’m trying to figure out how to preserve the sleeve length when moving the armhole closer to one edge…seems like just moving it would end up with a sleeve a couple inches longer than desired. I’ll play with some mock-ups though and figure it out…

All in all, though, superbly helpful instructions! I’m using this to modify my wedding dress so I’m excited to see how it turns out!


As someone who failed math…im screwed. TwT

MJ Maguire
MJ Maguire

Math! Eek!
I really want to master this technique….

Rae Shaw
Rae Shaw
Reply to  MJ Maguire

Hi Mayra, I saw a picture of a navy blue top with some kind of striped butterfly sleeve! So very lovely!
What kind of fabric is it? Is the sleeve & top the same fabric? I want to make that but maybe in a dress!

Cathy Gaubert
Cathy Gaubert

Hi Mayra
Can you show me what dotted paper looks like? It may not be available here in Canada or maybe it is just called something else.
I am not a major fan of flutter sleeves, can you show us how to make a regular short sleeve pattern some day.


Fantastic Thank You


Thank you, my grand daughter and I were just talking about how to add a flutter sleeve to a dress pattern we purchased.


I bought a tee shirt with sleeves that were too tight. This is exactly what I will do to it in order to wear it! Just what I was looking for since I loved the top print. I plan to put lace on for sleeves like this! Thanks for the great lessons!!!