Woman standing inside a room with a mural in the background.  Woman is wearing the flapper dress with short sleeves and is wearing a straw hta.

by: Cynthia Anderson

The 1920's  Flapper Dress was originally so popular because it exuded freedom, not just of movement, but also freedom of spirit and liberation on and off the dance floor. This dress represented freedom without any restraints, with full range of motion of the arms and legs. There is a reason you never see any one dancing the Charleston, in jazz clubs, wearing Victorian clothing.

The beauty of the Folkwear 1920's Flapper Dress is that it is simple to make and wear. It is this simplicity, that makes it so versatile. This dress lends itself beautifully to a special occasion, but is also perfect for everyday wear as well. Especially, in warm weather, going sleeveless is most advantageous, however there are times when a bit of an easy short sleeve is just the thing.

Here is a quick and easy lesson on adding short sleeves to the Folkwear 1920's Flapper Dress just recently offered as a pdf. This type of sleeve is thought to have derived from the influence of the Japanese kimono sleeve design that was popular in the 1920's. This sleeve is also know as a "grow-on" sleeve.

Note: The adjustments demonstrated in this tutorial were based on a size small bodice. Due to the simplicity of this adjustment technique, do not hesitate to size up or down to better suit your size and requirements. Also keep in mind the the sleeve adjustment and the neck line adjustment applies to the front and back of the bodice. Make a muslin of the bodice to be sure you are pleased with your results.

Do keep in mind that adding short sleeves to the sleeveless version does come with some minor considerations. While a short sleeve that is wider and sits lower under the arm pit is truly practical and allows for breezy comfort... it does yield more fabric in the arm pit area than a traditional set in sleeve. Duly note, that the higher you place the curve of the arm pit, the more range of motion you will have... just in case you want to swing your arms high while kicking up your heels at the next lawn party dance!

Adding Sleeves is Simple


graphic display of how to make alterations to the flapper dress bodice to add sleeves

To add sleeves simply trace off the size of dress bodice you require. Start at the shoulder line and stay true to the slight downward tilt. Place a straight edge or ruler on the shoulder line and draw a line off the shoulder giving yourself plenty of extra length.

With a straight edge draw a horizontal line off the armhole opening indicated on the pattern. Use the "lengthen or shorten here" line on the pattern or use the bottom edge of the bodice as a guide to keeping your line parallel. Once again draw a long line, giving yourself extra length.

Have a look where the arm pit of the pattern falls or hits under your arm pit. Determine if this distance from the top of the shoulder to the arm pit will be enough room for the width of your sleeve. This was the case for my sleeve. Then draw another line parallel and 1 inch below the line you drew at the armhole opening. This extra amount of room will allow for 1/2 inch seam allowance plus a tad more.

Remember that the 1/2 inches seam allowance has already been factored in at the shoulder seam.

Now determine your sleeve length. Measure off the top shoulder edge and decide how long to make your sleeve length here. I chose 6 inches for my sleeve. I then drew a 90 degree line to the arm pit lower line. Measure 1 3/4 inches from the bodice edge and measure down 2 inches from the lower arm pit line. Using a French curve or circle template to connect the two points, creating a smooth arch.

Because the new short sleeve you just added, will cause slight bit pulling at the front neck when wearing, you may want to make an easy adjustment at the edge of the the neck line curve. Extend the shoulder line, then measure out from neck line one inch. To create the curve of the neck pick a point and use a French curve or circle template that will allow a smooth arc. It is just that simple.

Happy Sewing!


Woman in a straw hat, wearing a flapper dress with sleeves.  Bodice is pink, skirt is teal.  She is standing in a doorway holding a glass of champaign

Woman kneeling, smelling flowers in a flapper dress with sleeves.  She is wearing straw hat and holding a glass of champaign