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Pattern Hack N° 1: The shirt with the gathered sleeves

It’s been some time since I last posted here and in a way a bit disappointed of myself because the shameful truth is that I’ve got carried away by the ease of the new trend of delivering information in small capsules. Yes, I’m talking about reels and Tiktok videos. Well I don’t want to do it like that anymore. I really want to delve into sewing again, I want to create graphics again and get really good and creative at making them.

Don’t worry, I won’t stop making reels and IG videos. I just really want to write more.

All that said, let’s get to what took us here, the shirt with the gathered sleeves. Before I start, I want to tell you the little story behind this shirt. It all started with a client who, at the end of last summer, asked me to make her a shirt exactly like the one in a photograph. What she showed me frightened me a bit. I instantly new I needed to use a technique that has always caught my attention and that I already have explored in different ways, without much success. However, as I am aware of to the potential anyone has, to produce a good idea or even change our perspective about a subject (if one lets them, of course), I started brainstorming with her. I am a fan of Molly Goddard’s work and as I can not buy any of her clothes, I do spend, every now and then, long periods of time daydreaming of how to create some of her pieces for myself. I’ve even been tempted to buy a smocking pleater but I don’t think that would be smart of me because. I’m not planning to compete with Molly, she already does the job brilliantly.

However, all this reverie of mine didn’t help at all because the shirt that my client showed me only had one vertical line of gathering on each sleeve and for that we considered the following techniques:

Using an elastic thread:

This is an interesting solution but it doesn’t gather enough fabric. She wanted a bit of volume but not so much. I wanted an accordion! (I was still dreaming with Molly’s shirts)

Using an elastic:

She came up with this one. I thought this was a good solution – if you stretch the elastic enough until it seems like it’s going to burst (however, it wouldn’t work for this one)


Using a little cord:

This one is my favorite, because it’s the one that gathers the most but it is sort of a jeweler’s job. My client understood that would be way too costly for her.

We went for the elastic technique

How to make the shirt with the gathered sleeves

This tutorial you how to hack your favorite classical shirt pattern so you can pull out a super chic “date night” summer outfit. However, this sewing tutorial is open creative lesson, there are no set guidelines, please feel free to add or remove steps.

The first thing you need is your favorite classic shirt pattern , I used one of the many that Burda has, but here are some nice options:

The N° 859 by Grasser

52-1 Box-cut linen blouse or dress with pointy collar by sisters patterns

Once you have selected the pattern you’d like to use, I recommend making the following modifications to the pattern pieces:

1.- I think this one as “date night” summer piece, I want it to be chic, crisp and sexy. So, as we’re already giving a lot of prominence to the sleeves, we should shorten the length of the shirt (In my case, it works better this way, but its totally up to you). To do this we must find the waist line of the front and back pieces of the shirt’s pattern. We will mark on it, the height that we want to modify.

2.- Fold through the lines as on3 the following graphic.

3.- Now the sleeves: we’ll tighten the sleeves at the bottom. Classic shirt sleeves usually have a fold at the junction with the cuff, in this case we do not need that width of sleeve because we will not use the cuff.

Tighten it around 1cm to 1,5cm on each side up to the elbow.

4.- Then, lengthen the sleeve a bit, as much as the original cuff of the shirt’s pattern provider suggests. You can also add a bit of length if you want for a more “dramatic” sleeve – I added 7cm to the length. Remember you can always cut.

Cut the pattern pieces

5.- Proceed to cut all the pieces of the shirt following the instructions of your pattern supplier, except for the sleeve pieces.

6.- For the sleeves: cut two rectangles of fabric 1/3 longer than the width and length of the sleeve you just modified:

Cut 2 rectangles, one for each sleeve
Make the shirt with the gathered sleeves

7.-Proceed to make the shirt, follo3wing the instructions of your pattern supplier, except for the sleeves.

The sleeves:

8.- Cut two strips of the elastic, slightly longer than the total length of the modified sleeve pattern piece and sew it right in the middle of the longer side of one of the rectangles, pulling the elastic so that the ends of it, touch the top and bottom of the fabric piece. Repeat.

Like this:

Before you continue, cover your sewing table with a tablecloth or a thick piece of fabric.

9.- Proceed to pin the piece to the table, as in the image below:

Don’t pull the elastic, just apply the pins, making sure that the elastic creates a straight line. As on photograph above.

10.- Now pull the sides of the fabric rectangle, creating regular folds. Add pins, like this:

11.- Remove the pins from the middle and press the elastic following the lines of the folds, like this:

12.- Reach for the modified sleeve pattern piece, place it over the rectangle and center it overlapping the top and the base center with the elastic. Trace the pattern, leaving the folds as they are, simply trace by running the marker or chalk over the fabric (as it is).

13.- Now apply pins along the edges of the sleeve to fix the pleats in place. As on photograph below.

14.- Cut the sleeve. Repeat.

Note: don’t forget to turn around the modified sleeve pattern piece, when you trace the second sleeve. Remember they’re opposite.

15. Now that the most critical portion of this tutorial is detailed, continue with the video tutorial below:

This video will walk you through the whole process but you can skip directly to minute 2:00 to get to the exact step that follows.

If you got up to here, reading and following my tutorial…. thank you a thousand times, it really means a lot to me.

If you ever decide to test this pattern hack yourself, please share your Atelier Circulaire sewing project with our community on Instagram @ateliercirculaire by tagging #ACshirthack

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