How to add a gathered sleeve to your Sweetheart Dress

Want to add some sweet 50s-style sleeves to your strapless bodice? Need a bit more back coverage than a halter neck provides? Read on to turn your Sweetheart Dress into the Sophisticated Lady Dress!

So I have been obsessing over this awesome dress by @carbonchic ever since she posted it on Instagram a couple of weeks ago. Well, specifically I've been obsessing over this photo: 

[Demi, @carbonchic]

See that sweet back shirring? And the sweetheart neckline on the front? Hoo boy I wanted me some of that.  And I figured it would be pretty easy to do. I mean, the Sweetheart Dress bodice has princess seams rather than bust and waist darts, and it's got a center back zip instead of a side zip, but hey. How hard could it be?

Turns out it's really not that hard. This is how I did it.

What you'll need

  • a big piece of paper to make your sleeve pattern
  • a measuring tape and a ruler (I like this clear dressmaker's ruler)
  • something to write with
  • a muslin of your strapless Sweetheart Dress bodice 
  • at least a yard of muslin to test your sleeves before making the real ones
  • fabric and notions for the Sweetheart Dress, plus an extra yard for the sleeves

[Don't have the Sweetheart Dress pattern? You can get it here.]

How to do it:

First, make your strap pattern.

Unlike a spaghetti strap, which is designed to be adjustable, these straps are a fixed length.This means you need to make a quick pattern before you start. Head here for a tutorial on making a gathered sleeve pattern.

Once you've made your pattern to your liking, you're ready to make your dress!

Cut out your bodice and lining, and then cut out four sleeve pieces, two for each side.

Follow the instructions in your pattern to assemble your bodice and lining.

Assemble your sleeves and grade your seams. I cut both sleeve and lining from my main dress fabric, so I just stitched two sleeve pieces together to make each sleeve. 

Turn your sleeves right side out and press.

I topstitched my sleeves to keep ironing from sucking later, but if you want a puffier sleeve, you can skip this step. 

Gather the raw edges of your sleeves. Baste across the raw edges using a really wide stitch and a 1/4" seam allowance, then pull gently on the top thread to gather.

What is this weird potato-looking thing? Oh. Right. Sleeves are weird.

Now you need to prep your bodice for the sleeve. Remember how you measured your bodice muslin to figure out how wide the sleeve should be? Transfer those measurements to your bodice lining. The front of my sleeve is 3" wide, so I marked the front of the lining 3" from the center princess seam. Since my back piece is six inches wide, I marked those six inches on the back of the bodice lining. Don't forget to account for the 5/8" seam allowance at center back for the zipper!

Pin your sleeve to your lining. Make sure you have the wide end of the sleeve on the back of the bodice, and the long side of the sleeve on the outside of the curve (see below) so it'll be facing your neck. Baste the sleeve in place and try on the bodice before going any further, just to make sure you have it lined up right!

Once you're SURE you have the sleeve right, attach the body fabric to the bodice. Grade and understitch that top seam, then turn and press.

And voila! A bodice with gathered sleeves!

Oh, and the back view is pretty rad, tho I'm thinking about moving the zipper to the side seam in a future iteration.

Now go use your Sweetheart Dress pattern to make your skirt and finish your dress! 

Happy sewing!



  • Done! It was like giving birth. Pic on IG: @ladielair.

    Eagerly awaiting your circle skirt with spaghetti strap pattern. Maybe that one will be less drama for me I’ll simply begin purchasing.sheugs to cover some of this flesh I have (until I lose it, that is). Keto on!!!!!!!

  • So excited to have begun my toile. Second attempt at sleeve and a question (I sent a photo via IG). My outside of the sleeve drips down. My first attempt at a foxwas to cut it back 1". It still “drips” down towards my elbow covering the whole shoulder and half my arm.

    I did the x3 as per the instructions. Do you suggest I only cut the piece out x 1 or 2? That would yield less fabric tilo crawl down the area. I have good coverage in the back and don’t want to bother that measurement.


  • Hi Lurict!

    Hooray! Let me know if you need anything. And I agree – side zips are easier to use in a lot of ways. I’ll get moving on that tutorial!


  • Hi Aminah! You know, the one thing I heard from most of my testers was that the bust was lower than most commercial patterns, which bodes well for those of us past the high-bust stage of life. :) Let me know if you need anything! And drop me a line when you publish your blog post – I’d love to read your thoughts!

  • Hello Ms. K,

    Have you had any old women purchase and make this frock? I just purchased and I am a 58 y/young Gramma. Hopefully I will look okay in this dress. Either way, I’m a goin’ in, all out. Excited to blog about it.




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