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Butterfly Sleeve Tunic (a top for women and girls)

First of all…….let me tell you a story.  I grew up in AZ.  I guess that will stick with me forever because I still really stink at driving on the snow/ice.  Here’s what happened to my poor victim of a car this morning.  Sad day.  I dropped Elli off at school and on my way home on our neighborhood streets, I was turning a corner (driving maybe 10-15 mph) and the icy road totally forced me into the curb.  Forced me, I tell you. ;) 


image from my instagram account


Poor car.  Within seconds, it was flat as a pancake.  Eek!  We have coverage on our tires…….but they said hitting curbs doesn’t count.  Ha!  I felt a little dumb (and like I was 16) telling them over the phone that I’m a “curb hitter”.  Don’t they know it was the snow’s fault?!?! ;)  It sure made for an interesting morning though.  Connor now keeps repeating over and over, “mommy, you bonked that tire HARD. and broke it. did you hear that sound?  now what are we going to do?!?!” Don’t worry little dude, that’s why we have a little bonus insurance thing called “roadside assistance”! :)

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Onto other things, how about that poll you guys have been voting on?  Have you seen the results for the next project idea??  Fabric Dolls, Travel Highchair, and Maxi Dress were all so close the whole time.  In fact, Travel Highchair was winning by about 20 votes on Monday…..and I thought that would be the winner.  However, FABRIC DOLLS pulled ahead.  And won.  Which, I’m totally excited to do first.  But seriously, the fabric high chair will follow soon after.  And the Maxi Dress too.  And you know me, I’m completely addicted to the idea of doing most of the others too.  (give me some time……but I’ll totally mix them in with the other projects I’m working on.)  But I’m also really excited for the Kid Sewing Series.  I’ve been doing a few things with my little Elli and she’s loving it!  So, it’s time to share!!! :)  Anyway, give me until next week or so, and then I’ll have a tutorial for some fabric dolls, made in my own little way.  -Ashley

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Okay, whew…..onto the real post of the day. 


And this is something that’s for girls of all ages.  It’s made the same for young and older…..I’m just showing you on my little Elli.  Plus, many of you were saying that you’d like to see more woman’s clothing (when you were offering ideas for the next project) and I knew that this tunic top was in the works.  So, I secretly grinned……hoping this would help those wanting to make more tops for yourself.





This knit fabric top, has a very slight elastic empire line (which is optional), that cinches in… the top more shape. 




It’s doesn’t have a lot of complicated pieces or need crazy sewing techniques.  My favorite kind of project!




And the style of it is simple, cozy, and forgiving.  It’s especially nice for those of us trying to maybe hide a little something (me!)





With arms out, you can see……just two pieces.  A front and back.  But because there are two side seams, the shirt keeps some shape once the arms go down.  And creates a nice and flowy sleeve.





Believe it or not, Elli actually asked me to make this for her.  Normally, I tell her about an idea I have and she generally likes it.  But I have a few shirts like this and Chloe has one too.  She kept asking if she could have a flowy shirt like Chloe and I, with the big sleeves.  DONE!




If I still haven’t convinced you of its simplicity, take a look at it laying flat.  See?  A front and back piece.  And simple lines.  No sleeves, no gathering, no collar, buttons, zipper, pleats, etc. 




And I’ll have to go and admit…….I’m bummed I used this fabric on Elli.  Because I love how it turned out and want one in the same fabric in my size.  But of course, I don’t have enough fabric now. :)



Ready to make your own?


 Let’s get started…

(and keep in mind, I made this top out of knit fabric.  If you use something without stretch, you’ll have to make the neck hole big enough to slide over your head. Otherwise, you’ll need to add some sort of neck opening/closure in the back.  Need help finding knit? Check your local fabric stores….but check on the discount racks. Also, try or  They both carry cute knits at times.)


Grab a top of yours (or your daughter/niece/neighbor) that is semi-loose fitting.  Not snug at all but not oversized tshirt huge either.  Also, using a long-sleeve shirt will help you see where a normal sleeve would angle out to and will help you determine how long to make each butterfly sleeve.  Also, try the shirt on and see if it’s as long as you want your tunic to be……or if you’ll need to add/subtract length.


Okay… lay your shirt down on some paper. (Mine is taped together to make it long enough……and yeah, it’s all jagged where I ripped it. Ignore that!)  Then, start tracing along the neckline of the shirt BACK (meaning, your shirt if facing down and you’re tracing along the back neck line) and then extend out where the sleeve goes.  But angle it out higher……almost straight out but not quite.  Then determine how long you want your butterfly sleeve to be.  I think elbow length is cute……so, by looking at the original shirt, I determined the “elbow location” and that’s about where I decided to start drawing my line downward.  As you draw downward, angle it in a bit towards the bottom of the shirt.  But don’t angle it in too much because you want some width for the butterfly effect.  When you reach the bottom (or down to the length you want your shirt), round the corner and then keep the bottom of the shirt rounded slightly……not straight across. You can stop here, with only half the shirt outlined.


Then, right at the center of the neckline, make a mark.


Then cut out this one half of the shirt…..


Then, right where that mark was at the neckline, fold the pattern over to create the other half……mirrored perfectly.  (If you want to mark the center bottom of your original shirt that you patterned after, make a mark at the bottom too, to help with folding.  Otherwise, just eyeball it.)  Then trace around this other half and cut the rest of the shirt pattern out.


If you want to be sure that your pattern size will be the right size, hold it up.  To you or your subject.  Fold the sides around to their sides, to be there will be plenty of overlapped fabric.  Be sure you like the length, etc.


Then, you can use the entire pattern to cut out your shirt BACK piece…..or you can fold it back in half and place the fold along the fold of your fabric.  FYI, cutting out your fabric while it’s folded is MUCH easier and faster.


As you cut around your paper pattern, add an extra 1/2 inch (for seam allowance) around the curve and shoulders of the shirt (shown in red).  You don’t need any extra around the neck…..and then, of course, you don’t cut on the folded side.


Now, you need a shirt front piece.  The only difference is the scoop of the neckline.  Use your original shirt as a guide and draw a line for the front neckline.  You can cut out a new pattern piece for the shirt front piece or you can sort of eyeball it.  I just eyeballed it and didn’t cut my pattern up, so that I can use my pattern again in the future. 


Cut out your shirt FRONT piece from your fabric, the same way as the BACK piece.  Now you have your two main pieces for your butterfly sleeve shirt.


For the neckline, you’ll need 2 strips of fabric that are 1 inch wide, a few inches longer than the length of each neckline, and are cut on the bias. (What’s the fabric bias??)


Fold each strip in half lengthwise (right side of the fabric facing outward) and iron flat, making each strip 1/2 inch wide.  Then, grab one of your strips and line up the two raw edges of the folded strip along the raw edge of the neckline of your shirt (front or back….doesn’t matter).  Make sure you’re pinning the strip to the RIGHT side of the neckline.  See?  The bias cut helps this strip curve around the neckline… puckering.  (TIP: If it IS puckering, pull the strip a little more taut as you pin.  But don’t pull the neckline.)


Then, sew it in place, a 1/4 inch from the edge, removing pins as you go.  Then, make little clips along the curve to help the neckline lay flat……..but don’t cut through the threads of your seam. (Why clips the curves??)


Then, flip the strip upward and iron flat (the raw edges should lay AWAY from neckline).  Here’s a view from the WRONG side.  See how clipping the curve released some of the tension on the fabric and allowed it to spread a bit and lay flat?


From the front, sew a seam along the neckline, right next to the neckline strip.  But sew it on the shirt and not the strip…..and try and include the raw edges that are ironed out flat on the back side.  (TIP: If your fabric is bunching and pulling a bit as you’re sewing, increase your stitch length a bit so that you’re hopping over more of the fabric and it’s not pulling as much.)  Now, press and steam to get the neckline to lay nice and flat.  Believe me, DON’T leave out this step.  My neckline did NOT look this flat and pretty, until I steamed it flat.


Do the same to the other neckline.  Then place the shirt FRONT and BACK piece together with RIGHT sides together (making sure your necklines are lined up evenly).  Sew right along the two shoulders, using a 1/2 inch seam allowance.  And that’s it. 


Next, is the hem all the way around the shirt.  This is a helpful trick to hem around curved edge.  Make a basting stitch (a really long stitch length) around the entire outer edge of the shirt, a 1/2 inch from the edge.


Now, you can use this as your hemming guide. 



Fold the edge right along that seam (towards the wrong side of the shirt) and iron/stem flat.  Having that seam there is especially useful while sewing with knits because it also keeps the fabric from stretching while you’re folding/ironing/sewing your hem.



Trust me, this technique really, REALLY helps with this project.  It takes a bit more time…..but will save you some grief.


Then, sew the hem in place, using a double needle to create a beautiful and even hem line…….OR, just sew a seam, then evenly space another seam next to the first, to give it a nice polished look.  (You can also zig-zag if you’re worried about needing some extra stretch.  But you don’t necessarily have to because this shirt is large enough to not need any stretching.  But if you happen to make the shirt too snug around your waist to actually need some stretch, swap out your regular needle straight stitch for a zig-zag stitch.  But using the double needle allows for stretch……so you wouldn’t have to replace the double needle stitch.)



Then, to add even more polished detail……….steam/iron the shoulder seam flat open and then sew a seam right along the shoulder seam (similar to the neckline), including the raw edges from behind. 



Next, try the top on you (or your subject) and place pins right along both sides, pinning the shirt front and back together.  You don’t want the pins too close to the body…..leave some room, it should be loose.  Also, make sure that the two top pins on each side start at the same point.



Then, carefully remove the shirt from your subject and lay the shirt flat.  Adjust your pins to make sure both sides are even and also that the bottom and side edges are lined up evenly with the back.  (If you don’t have enough room at the waist while the shirt is on, it’s okay to angle these pin lines outwards a bit.)



Then, you can draw a chalk line or just use the pins as a guide as you sew a seam in place of both sets of pins.  Here’s one of my seams below.



Now, you can skip the empire line of elastic or add it in.  If you want to add it in, measure around you (or your subject) right below your bust (or a little girl’s “pretend” bust. ;)  Right where an empire waist line would go.  (Don’t know what an empire waist is??)  Then, whatever that measurement, add another 1.5 inches to that number.  Then divide that by 2 and cut two pieces that length. 


So, FOR EXAMPLE, let’s say Elli’s empire waist measurement is 20 inches.  Add 1.5 to that, which is 21.5.  Then divide by 2, which is 10.75.  SO, I cut 2 pieces of narrow (1/8 inch) elastic at 10.75 inches each.  Make sense?  (The reason for adding 1.5 inches is so that once the elastic is in place, it’s not snug on the skin……but still pulls in the fabric, giving it a cinched in look.  Little kiddos don’t generally like the feel of tight elastic under their “chest” line, so that’s why I did that.  However, if I were to make this for myself, I would want it more snug to curve around my bust and give me some shape……so I wouldn’t add 1.5 to my measurement, I would probably subtract 1-2 inches.)


Now, determine where you want this empire line to go on you (or your subject).  Try it on……it helps.  Mark the line with chalk or pins.  Since my fabric is striped, I just knew which grey line to sew within.  Turn the shirt inside out and then mark where each elastic end will be attached on the front of the shirt first.  Now…….slide the shirt onto the sewing machine and be sure you’re only sewing through one layer of the fabric as you tack each end to the shirt.   You’ll be sewing right next to the side seams, not through them, as you sew each end down.  If you do, it’ll bunch up and won’t look right from the right side. To sew each end down, sew a straight stitch and backstitch/forward stitch a few times to secure it. 


Now, keep your elastic evenly pulled and sew a zig-zag stitch (that’s wider than your elastic) right along the outside of your elastic, back-stitching at both ends.   And be sure to stay along that empire waist line that your drew (if you drew it on the right side of the fabric, stick pins through to show where it is and re-draw it on the wrong side.)  Also, as long as you’d don’t sew through the elastic, you can adjust the elastic after you’re done and kind of even out the pull of it.


See how the zig-zag encases the elastic and that it’s tacked with several straight stitches at each end?


Now, do the exact same thing to the BACK of the shirt.  So that it cinches all the way around the shirt.



Finally, turn it right side out, make sure everything is nicely steamed flat……and that’s it.


A great little Butterfly Sleeve Tunic:



Now, make one for yourself.  Or several more for your little comfort-loving-girl.



Ashley Johnston

Administrator at Make It & Love It
Ashley Johnston is a professional DIY costume maker, sewist, crafter, and owner of Make It & Love It. She is a mom of 5 and a wife to a very patient (with the craft clutter) husband. In case you’re wondering, she always chooses crafting/sewing/designing over mopping/dusting/wiping base boards……but bathrooms/laundry/full bellies are always attended to. Whew!

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Hi, I'm Ashley

Hi, I’m Ashley—the DIY-enthusiast behind this crazy blog!

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