Sewing Projects

Sewing Sleeves


Just Sleeves? What About the Rest of the Shirt?

Brownie points if you know which movie inspired the alternate title.

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Updated August 25, 2020.  

Many bloggers began blogging as a hobby or a second job to share their hobbies and possibly to make some extra income.  I am no different in that respect.  Likewise, many teachers have second jobs to make some extra income outside of the school day.  

My second, or third job at one point, was born from my pastime of running and love for the sport.  My sister played softball throughout high school and became an umpire to the younger girls while she was still there.  I thought, “Well, I ran track and there were officials for that.  I could do that.”  Thus, I began to search for the path to becoming a track and field official.  

After contacting USATF, the National Association, I was given the contact information for my state association.  I read the rule book, I studied, and I passed the test leading to my admittance.  For the first year I was trained and mentored and worked several high school meets in my area, gradually trying each of the positions.  With all of the events in track and field, and the levels in cross country, there are many different duties and positions for the officials during competitions.  

While there was a good deal of training to undergo at the beginning, we are always learning and practicing to become better.  We are always adding to our “bag of tricks” to make a competition run smoother (pun intended).  My officiating bag gets heavier every season, but I feel more prepared each year as well.

A few years back I started to learn about and be mentored in the position of starting.  I bought the most necessary equipment and eventually began to start local meets.  The starter sets up the fields of runners in local dual meets and generally controls the speed and flow of the running competition, beyond how fast the runners race.  

Once I had at least one track season of starting under my belt I decided I wanted to add to my tool kit.  Several of the experienced starters have a starter sleeve in the orange color of hunters and construction workers laboring near the road.  Orange of that hue is meant to be seen.  My arm holding the starting device needed to be seen better by those timing the race, either other officials, coaches, or volunteers.  When starting the sprints I am 100m to 200m away down or around the track with many athletes milling about.  From my experience timing and judging at the finish line (I’ll wager you had no idea there were so many different jobs in a track meet, because I didn’t when I started.  It’s just not something you pay attention to when you are racing.), the orange sleeve makes it much easier to locate the starter and to know when the race is set to begin.  This is hugely important to having accurate times when the times are taken by hand on stopwatches.

To begin I took a trip to the local fabric store and bought a yard of a synthetic orange fabric in the bright orange color I mentioned before, and a slightly stronger grade of thread in the same color, along with some one inch wide elastic.  I made sure to purchase some stronger materials because I want my gear to last.  It can get beat up a lot in my track bag during the season.  

Materials for sewing a starter sleeve
Materials for sewing the starter sleeve, minus the thread

Also, I chose the synthetic material for its ability to resist water.  Spring track season in our area of the country is generally cool and can have many rainy days.  As long as it’s not pouring and there is no thunder or lightning, the athletes are probably going to compete.  The beginning of April can have some particularly cold and windy days as well, so layers are important.  I made my sleeve larger than a normal shirt sleeve because I will most often be wearing it over several items of clothing, including my official’s jacket.  It is not unusual for me to have six tops on, including my jacket, during these meets as the sun sets in spring time.  Hint if you are a track parent: Wear lots of layers.  It gets windy and cold out there, even at the beginning of June. 

The next step is to make a pattern.  This time I used some of the brown packing paper I had lying around from something we ordered, which I flattened out and pieced together.  I had to doctor my paper a little bit by taking some of the excess from one end and adding it to the bottom for a little more space.  I overlapped the pieces and scotch taped them together.  Pencil writes just fine on matte scotch tape.  (Do they even make the glossy kind anymore?)

DIY sleeve pattern materials
Materials to DIY your sleeve pattern

You could also use a brown paper shopping bag.  Our area supermarkets and stores are exchanging the use of plastic bags for paper ones; the kind we used to cover our textbooks with in grade school before the stretchy book covers became cool.  (My mom would never buy us those anyway because they were a waste of money when we had good paper bags available for free, and both would get equally beat up during the year 😅.  She was right of course, and I always liked designing my book covers.)  

How to cut a brown paper bag:

To cut open the bag, cut down one of the long folds on a corner from the bag opening to the corner of the bag bottom.  Then, cut along all of the folds around the bottom edges of the paper bag.  This cuts the bulky bottom piece out.  When you lay down the remaining bag it should be one large rectangle of paper.  

I suppose another viable alternative could be to use a piece of parchment cooking paper.  Look around your house.  I am sure you have something that could be recycled for a small pattern.

If you have ever followed a pattern for a shirt, dress, or jacket before, even for a doll, you will know that sleeves are not just simple cylinders.  They are more like narrow cones with the tops chopped off.  Your wrist is generally smaller around than your upper arm near the shoulder, so the sleeve will narrow a little as it gets to your wrist.  It’s kind of like the tapering on the barrel of a baseball bat.  Light bulb moment: You could even add some padding to a bat to create a dummy arm if you wanted to test your sleeve there. 

To help myself out I used my seam ripper to take apart a sleeve on a large old t-shirt. 

Old t-shirt to use for pattern making to sew new sleeve
Sleeve from large, old t-shirt with the shoulder seam ripped out

This was an oversized t-shirt, but I still didn’t need my sleeve to be quite so big.  Or so I thought.**  I laid this sleeve out on my paper and got out my measuring tape and list of measurements.

Shoulder and wrist measurements to sew starter sleeve
My starter sleeve measurements

These are the measurements I wanted to fit.  I added a seam allowance of half an inch.  I also needed to add an additional inch to each end for sewing in my elastic cuffs.  To do this I found a tutorial on YouTube with Angela Wolf.  Adding these dimensions made my measurements the following:

  • Upper = 16 ½”
  • Lower = 9”
  • Length = 21”

After figuring this out I used the t-shirt sleeve to help draw the arch for the upper arm on my pattern for the 16 ½” diameter of the upper arm.  I made the lower arm straight, like the t-shirt.  You may notice that I had to tape some extra paper on for my pattern.  Remember to overlap the paper when you tape, it makes the pattern easier to work with.  After that, just use a long straight-edge to connect the upper to the lower arm on either side.  Cut out your pattern.

My finished DIY sleeve pattern
My finished DIY sleeve pattern

Once I cut the pattern out of the paper I wrapped it around my arm to test the fit and noticed that the arch on the upper arm went right up to my shoulder and just crunched down as an extra flap of fabric.  Likewise, there was a small extra flap at my wrist.  I went back and fiddled with the pattern and made the curves concave, so when the sleeve went on my arm it would look like a cylinder; but it isn’t one exactly.

The next step was to pin the pattern to the fabric and cut the fabric.

Sleeve pattern pinned to material for cutting to sleeve pieces for sewing
Sleeve pattern pinned to material
Sleeve pattern pieces all cut
Sleeve material cut from pattern
Sleeve pattern pieces cut for sewing
Sleeve pieces cut from pattern for sewing

This fabric was kind of see through, so I doubled it up for a more opaque look and more potent coloring.  

Having the fabric cut to the pattern, fold the right sides of the fabric together joining the long edges and pin.

Cut sleeve pieces pinned and ready to sew
Sleeve pieces pinned to sew

Leaving the ½” seam allowance, sew the seam where the long edges meet and press open with your iron on a light setting.

Then, cut the elastic to the lengths listed for the upper and lower arms:

  • Upper = 16 ½ “
  • Lower = 9”
Sleeve elastics measured out
Sleeve elastics measured out

Mark a half inch from each end of each elastic.  Line those two markings up and sew them together with a zigzag stitch.  

Sew elastic end to end
Elastics sewn together

As a reminder, I used the instructions from the tutorial on YouTube with Angela Wolf, deciding to sew in the elastic.  If you choose to create an elastic casing, be sure to increase your length measurement to create a seam allowance on each end of your garment.  A ½” should do it, increasing the overall length of the cut of fabric by one whole inch.

To continue, I marked each elastic at quarter intervals as instructed:

Marked elastics for sewing into sleeve cuff and sleeve shoulder
Elastics marked for sewing into sleeve cuff and shoulder

Then I continued with the tutorial, pinning the elastics into the garment, sewing them on, folding the edge over and sewing the other edge of the elastic to the sleeve:

Elastic pinned to sleeve shoulder for sewing
Elastic pinned to sleeve shoulder for sewing
Elastic pinned to sleeve cuff for sewing
Elastic pinned to sleeve cuff
Elastic Sewn into sleeve shoulder
Elastic Sewn into sleeve shoulder
Sleeve cuff pinned to complete sewing
Sleeve cuff pinned to complete sewing
Sleeve shoulder elastic folded and pinned to finish sewing
Sleeve shoulder elastic folded and pinned to finish sewing

Once the elastic was sewn in place I could turn the sleeve right side out and it was ready for wearing.

Completed upper sleeve
Completed upper sleeve
Completed sleeve cuff
Completed sleeve cuff
Completed Starter Sleeve
Completed Starter Sleeve

**What I didn’t think about and discovered when the project was done was that the upper and lower dimensions should have been for the elastic only.  It is the elastic in the cuff that you want to fit to your arm at the smallest comfortable dimensions.  The fabric widths should be larger to accommodate the undergarments and will bunch a little.  I should have added about three more inches to each the upper and lower arm measurements to make them fit more comfortably.  Duh!  (Face palm)

  • Upper = 19”
  • Lower = 12”

When I make a new sleeve I will use the dimensions above for the fabric.  The elastics will remain the same lengths as before.  For now, the one I finished has done its job just fine and the other officials and coaches find it a visible help 😉.  (I like puns, 😏 and obviously emojis too.) 

Do you have an athlete in your life?  If you use a stretchable fabric and more close fitting measurements, some sleeves that match the uniform in color could be helpful for that person during games in late fall and early spring.  Keeping the muscles warm during practice and play is key to keeping your athlete healthy and avoiding injury by pulling cold muscles.  Make sure you check the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) Rules Book for your athlete’s sport regarding uniforms so that what you make will be legal for play.  (Even better, knowing the rules will also make you a more informed spectator and cheerleader!)  Otherwise, she/he can wear the sleeves during warm-ups, cool downs, and while on the bench.  

Any questions?  Let me know.  I am happy to help.  Please let me know of any upgrades you have tried on this pattern.  Until then, happy sewing and make it your own!