How to draft and sew a bishop sleeve

When I was designing my version of an Alexander McQueen dress I knew I wanted to include a sleeve which had some shape. However, I wasn’t a big fan of having too much puffiness at the shoulder. This is why I opted for a bishop sleeve. For this tutorial I will explain how you make a pattern for a bishop sleeve by adapting that of an ordinary straight sleeve. I will also show you step-by-step how to sew it together. In my example I am using a knit fabric and a ribbed cuff, but the same principle applies to woven fabrics.

But before we get started…

What is a bishop sleeve?

A bishop sleeve is a style of sleeve that is more fitted at the top of the arm and gets fuller towards the bottom. This fullness is then gathered into a cuff at the wrist. There is no puffiness at the shoulder.

What is a bishop sleeve
Bishop sleeve

Why would I use a bishop sleeve?

In my opinion they are a great addition to any dress or blouse as the fluidity and drape can completely transform a look. They are a great alternative to the standard straight sleeve and can elevate what would otherwise be a plain and simple blouse e.g. the Saint Laurent blouse pictured below. Additionally, they can add a touch of femininity and style to a traditional work shirt (e.g. Michael Kors blouse below) or add a touch of glamour to a sweater (see Tibi sweater pictured below).

draft and sew bishop sleeves
Tibi bishop sleeve sweater (image credit-Farfetch), Michael Kors button front blouse (image credit-Looktastic), Roksanda dress (image credit- Vogue.com), Saint Laurent silk blouse, (image credit-Farfetch).

Bishop sleeves look particularly good when they are made from drapey fabrics such as satin and chiffon as they have movement and will billow over the wrist. They are also versatile as you can vary the amount of volume that you add to the sleeve, they can be subtle or very dramatic with lots of fullness.

draft and sew bishop sleeves

Left: Ghost satin dress, Right: Raquel Diniz dress, both pictures from Vogue.co.uk

How to draft a bishop sleeve

I made my dress out of a stretch hacci sweater and I made my cuffs out of ribbing. My sleeve was ¾ length rather than full length. However, the instructions below can be used with woven fabrics or to make a full-length sleeve.

The sleeve:

  • Choose the pattern piece you wish to adapt. It should be a standard straight sleeve with no darts or pleating etc.
  • Trace the pattern on to tracing paper and transfer any markings/notches.
  • Cut out the traced pattern.
draft and sew bishop sleeves
Choose a pattern
  • Split the sleeve into quarters by drawing straight lines from the hem to the cap.
  • Cut along the lines starting from the hem. Stop cutting a couple of mm from the top to keep the 4 sections connected. It will make your life much easier if you do not separate them.
draft and sew bishop sleeves
Cut the pattern piece in to 4 equal sections.
  • Spread the 4 sections apart. This is how you create the fullness in the sleeves. I spread each section apart by 2” but you can vary this depending on full you would like your sleeve to be.
  • Trace edge of the pattern onto a second sheet of paper.
  • The next step is to add a little length to the back of the pattern. This will help give the finished sleeve its distinctive drape. To do this I marked a small cross ¾” below the centre of the third section (right of the middle, towards the back). Note: The back of the sleeve is denoted by 2 notches.
  • Use a French rule to draw the bottom of the sleeve. Draw a smooth curve from the left edge to the right that includes the extra length (small cross) that you marked.
  • This is what the final shape of your pattern should look like.
draft a bishop sleeve
The final pattern.

Ensure SA are included. The pattern I used recommended a 1.5 cm SA

The cuff:

Once you have drafted the body of the sleeve you need to turn your attention to the cuff. The pattern below is for a cuff that has no button holes.

  • The first thing you need to decide upon is the width, this comes down to personal preference and the look you are trying to achieve. You may prefer a more subtle narrow cuff or a wider cuff that can be embellished. I wanted the final width of mine to be 3cm.
    • The total width of the pattern piece will be: (2 x desired width) + 3 cm SA.
  • The next thing to consider is the length of the cuff.
    • Measure the circumference of your arm where the sleeve will end. Add 3 cm to this distance for the SA.
    • If you are using a stretch fabric, like myself, you can make it a close fit to your arm/wrist. This is because the stretchiness means you don’t need to include ease for slipping the cuff over your hand.
    • If you are using a woven fabric you will need to add a couple of cm for ease. I would practice making up the cuff to make sure you can fit it over your hand.
    • The total length of the cuff will be : circumference of arm + 3 cm SA + required ease
draft a bishop sleeve
Pattern for a cuff made from a knit. Add ease to the length when using a woven fabric.

How to sew a bishop sleeve?

Use a 1.5 cm SA unless stated otherwise.

  • Cut out the sleeves and the cuffs from your fabric.
sew a bishops sleeve
Cut out the sleeve in your fabric
  • Pin and sew the underarm seam, RST. Finish with a zig zag stitch or an overlocker and press.
Sew the bishop sleeve
Sew the underarm sleeve
  • Gather the hem of the sleeve by sewing 2 parallel rows of straight stitches. Use a long stitch length and a low tension.
sew a bishop sleeve
Gather the sleeve
  • Interface your cuff. If you are using ribbing this step is not necessary.
  • Press your cuff in half along the fold line, WST. Press the two long edges towards the WS by 1.5 cm.
sew a bishop sleeves
Press the cuff
  • Pin the cuff to the sleeve, RST. Ensure all the gathers are evenly distributed. Sew.
sew a bishops sleeve
Pin the cuff to the sleeve, RST.
  • Press seam allowance in towards the cuff
  • Fold the cuff over and stitch in the ditch to close. The raw edges of the seam should be enclosed. Think of sewing the cuff to the sleeve as sewing bias binding to enclose a raw edge.
sew a bishops sleeve
Close the cuff

Finished!!!!

Sew a bishops sleeve
The finished sleeve

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