Sleeve Fit 101: Types, Wrinkles, Directions and More

Have you ever made a shirt and thought it was just about the most perfect thing ever! And you put it on and feel super good about yourself because it fits and the color is pretty much perfect and your top stitching was on point and it just really feels good! Then you go to take a selfie and look in the mirror and find wrinkles? And not the kind on your face, because those are totally different and I'm not going to tell you any great secrets to prevent that, because that's just part of life. But sleeve wrinkles, when you aren't expecting them, those can almost be worse! Only because you know there was probably something you could have done about them, but what?

Well, Sewing Friends, Nellie is here from to explain some of those wrinkles and tell you why you shouldn't worry about them so much! Give your sewing self a bit of a break and find out why you shouldn't get so down on yourself for those sleeve wrinkles, they aren’t exactly as bad as you think.
Back to the basics! Here's a general explanation of the 3 basic sleeve types. First, there is the inset sleeve. These sleeves are probably the most common kind of sleeve where an armhole is filled with a rounded sleeve that goes around the outer edge of the shoulder. These sleeves can be sewn in the flat or in the round. Think Discoverer Tee or Beautiful Day. Second, is the raglan sleeve. A raglan sleeve extends up and over the shoulder and actually becomes part of the bodice and neckline. The amount of bodice the sleeve takes up is entirely dependent on the pattern and style. Think Going Home Sweater or Lucky Girl. Third, we have dolman sleeves. There are many different styles of dolman, but basically the sleeves are part of the bodice and not separate pieces. The most easily recognized dolman style is more of a bat wing where the armpit of the shirt droops low, like with the High Hopes Dolman. But the properties are similar with a less drastic low armpit, like with the Everyday Tee.

Clicking on the links above will take you to each pattern so you can see the sleeves I'm talking about, but all the links contained in this blog are affiliate links meaning that if you use them to make a purchase I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to yourself but it will help me to continue sewing and researching and blogging about the joys and complications of sewing! Thank you for your support, it means the world to me!

Each of these styles of sleeve come with their own tips, trick and complications. They also come with their very own set of wrinkles, barring any other reason for wrinkles. There are innumerable reasons why sleeves can have wrinkles, some deal with the bust or shoulder, slope or size or even fabric. But then there are wrinkles that just happen and they just happen because of the sleeve type.

Taking a closer look!

The Beautiful Day has an inset sleeve! Look at how beautiful this top is! I love how floaty it feels! I am unsure of the fabric type (because that does make a difference in the way the wrinkles look) but I think it is some kind of thick rayon spandex, maybe.

Pay close attention to the wrinkles of the sleeves, both with my arms up on my hip and with my arms down to my side. Notice that the wrinkles are more dramatic with my arm down by my side?

Part of the those wrinkles are due to how the fabric lays and part are due to the fact that I needed a little bit larger of an FBA with this shirt, but for the most part, these wrinkles are due largely to how the sleeve is drafted (no, the draft isn't wrong, there is nothing wrong with the draft of this pattern, it all has to do with the angles of how a pattern goes together.)
Let's lay out the Beautiful Day so we can see the direction that the sleeve wants to lay naturally without any wrinkles. This is very similar to the position where the wrinkles are less dramatic with a body animating it. The extra triangular flap at the armpit wont lay flat, that's because it is designed to be tucked up and around a 3D object (my body), it doesn't actually effect the wrinkles around my body, but you can see remnants of that in the top photo, right up in my armpit.

In this photo, I have angled the sleeve downwards, mimicking the look of an arm pointing downwards, and as you can tell, the amount of wrinkles has more then tripled because the pattern is drafted to have the sleeve move away from the body at an angle. So any time the sleeves are pointing in a direction that is not the same as the pattern there will be wrinkles.

Now let's do the same thing with the Lucky Girl Top and Dress. It's a raglan, remember. So the sleeves actually leave the bodice at a different angle, making the wrinkles look different. This is a light weight DBP (double brushed poly) so wrinkles may look more pronounced in other fabrics.

Quick explanation of these wrinkles, the ones on my bicep come from the fact that this pattern is designed to sit with the band just above the elbow, but I forgot to shorten my sleeve so it's actually a little long, so the band is actually pushing the fabric up towards my shoulder. You can also see the excess fabric in the armpit from having the upper bust be too large. But for the most part, this sleeve looks pretty good.

It is worth mentioning here that I did not do an FBA on this shirt (I was in a hurrry!) So there is a bunch of fabric right at the armpit that is actually from the upper bust of this shirt being too large for my body, but other then that, these wrinkles look pretty good, thanks in part to the DBP and the way it drapes and in part to the shape of the sleeves. The wrinkles we need to pay attention to here are the  vertical ones going from shoulder to armpit. Those are the wrinkles that come from my arm position.

Looking at the flat lays we will see that when they sleeve is pulled out straight from the body of the shirt it has no wrinkles. That's a pretty tiring position to walk around in all day. I don't know of anyone that is able to pull that one off! But that's what would be needed to remove these wrinkles.

This is more like the wrinkles you and everyone else is going to notice when you walk around wearing a raglan shirt. Nothing wrong with these wrinkles! It's just part of how the shirt is drafted. And those wrinkles are just fine.

Let's do this again, only with a dolman. The High Hopes has such a dramatic bat wing that it will have wrinkles all the time, so let's see the wrinkles of the Everyday Tee instead. This fabric is a gorgeous, drapey super modal. I actually have 3 angles to show you this time. Again with the adjustments for my body, I did do a full bust adjustment, and kind of cheaters FBA that you can only do with dolmans, but it's effective and looks good. So the upper bust (neckline and sleeves) are the correct size, and the armpit fits correctly (as correctly as dolmans can). I did not iron my shirt before I photographed it. I actually had just pulled this out of the dryer and it was a little damp and I was in a hurry, so some of those wrinkles are actually from the dryer. Oops!

There is an abundance of wrinkles in the armpit with my arm down. Just don't count the dryer wrinkles, they never count!

With my arm out to the side while on my hip, the wrinkles don't seem to be getting any better, they might even be considered worse. Sorry, again for the dryer wrinkles on the cuff area of my sleeve. I didn't think it would make the real wrinkles so hard to see, my apologies!

This picture! Look at how wrinkle free these sleeves are! It's fantastic!! There are only dryer wrinkles! Yay!! Only, my arm is straight out from my body! And after taking several photos in this position my arm ached a little. I don't think I want to walk around all day with my arms straight out just to eliminate a few wrinkles.

Please excuse the stain on my sleeve, I didn't edit it out!  But do look at how this sleeve lays, there are no wrinkles, none at all! Just like with my uncomfortable photo above. This impossible standard of beautiful unwrinkled sleeve just doesn't exist in anyway way but as a beautiful flat lay.

The extra material in the arm pit make the sleeve wrinkles happen at pretty much any angle.

And now you can see that sleeves of all kinds have their wrinkles! They all simply do, depending on how the sleeves and arms within them are being held.

The next time you make a new shirt and find you have wrinkles you don't understand, I would like you to think of how you're holding your arms when you see those wrinkles and if arm position changes those wrinkles, then these can be eliminated as part of a fit issue because sleeves just have wrinkles.