MN2005 Matilda / Sewalongs

Matilda Sewalong: Sleeves

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Matilda Sewalong: Sleeves

As Meg said in her announcement post, a sleeved version of Matilda has been the most requested pattern addition ever and we are so excited to be able to finally give the people want they want! Matilda & Matilda Curve‘s sleeve is inset and a nice medium length with a gorgeous deep hem that you can fold up into a cuff if you wish. In today’s post, we are going through the construction of the sleeves for those of you who have chosen the new variation and are looking for a little extra support. Let’s get started!

How to sew the Matilda dress sleeves

First things first, before you’ve even gotten up to the sleeve sewing stage, you need to make sure that you’ve cut out the right bodice pieces! You might wonder why there are a whole separate set of bodice pieces and why we didn’t just slap a sleeve on the ones we already have? Well, it’s because an inset sleeve needs to sit higher up on the shoulder than the original Matilda’s drop shoulder! The narrower shoulder and higher armscye of the new bodice pieces mean your shoulder is going to have more space to rotate and move without being dragged by the bodice. So just double check you cut out pattern pieces 20-23 instead of pieces 2, 3, 5 & 6!

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Matilda Sewalong: Sleeves - Picking The Right Bodice Pattern Pieces

Now we can fast forward to the point in construction where you’ve just finished sewing your bodice side seams and are ready to get those sleeves started! Because Matilda has an inset sleeve which has a front & a back, you need to make sure that the two sleeves you’ve cut are mirror images of each other and that you have marked the sleeve head and armscye notches which indicate which is the front (one notch) & which is the back (two notches).

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Matilda Sewalong: Sleeves - Ready To Start Sewing Your SleevesIf you’re following along with the instructions as well as this tutorial, you’ll notice that I’ve done our next step in a slightly different order to the instructions and that I have decided to stitch my sleeve head easing stitches while the sleeve is still flat. That’s just because it’s a little clearer to photograph, so don’t be put off – it doesn’t matter which you do first!

This row of stitching is done between the front & back armscye notches, 5/8″ (1.5cm) from the raw edge of the sleeve, using a nice long stitch length. You’re not going to secure the ends of this stitching with backstitching, but instead, leave a decent length of thread at the start and end of the row. These stitches are like gathering stitches, but we’re not going full Anne of Green Gables, they are just going to help us ease. We’re going to need to ease the sleeves into the bodice armscye because the sleeve head is actually very slightly larger than the space it’s going into. This extra fabric creates a little rounded space for your shoulders because shoulders aren’t 2D and they need room to move!

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Matilda Sewalong: Sleeves - Sewing Your Sleeve Head Easing StitchesWhile it’s not strictly compulsory, I highly recommend also sewing a second row of long stitches between the first and the raw edge. This extra row is going to give you a little more control and is going to keep your easing neater while you work it into the armhole.

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Matilda Sewalong: Sleeves - Sewing A Second Row Of Easing StitchesNow with our easing stitches ready, we can fold the sleeve in half so that right sides of the fabric are together and the raw edges of the sleeve sides & hem notches are aligned. You can then stitch along the side seam (this time just using a normal stitch length!), 5/8″ (1.5cm) from the edge.

Make sure to pivot slightly to maintain your 5/8″ (1.5cm) along the hem section! The slight changes in angle along this part of the sleeve is so when you fold it up later it will be the right width as the sleeve section it gets sewn to, as the sleeve is slightly wider towards the armscye compared to the sleeve end.

Finish the raw edges with your preferred method (for example, overlocking, zig-zagging, binding etc.) before you press the seam either open or towards the front of the sleeve. When you press it towards the front, it will sit the opposite way to the bodice side seam which is pressed towards the back. This means the bulk is more evenly distributed but I also find it helps to get a perfect side seam alignment because the little seam ledges that form on the right side of the fabric will be in opposite directions and will grab onto each other nicely!

Repeat the last few steps for your other sleeve, making sure that it looks like a mirror image of your first.

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Matilda Sewalong: Sleeves - Sewing Your Sleeve Side SeamYou might prefer to wait until your sleeve is sitting in the bodice, but I like to pre-gather my sleeve head so it’s smaller than the armscye and then let it loosen out after I put it into the armhole and start working it into place. You can do this by holding the sleeve in place and pulling the loose ends of your easing stitches, wriggling the fabric along the thread until the whole row has been loosely gathered.

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Matilda Sewalong: Sleeves - Gathering Your Sleeve Head Easing StitchesNow, with the sleeve turned out so the right side of the fabric is showing and the bodice inside out so the wrong side of the fabric is showing, you can slip your sleeve into the armhole. Make sure that you are putting the correct sleeve in its corresponding armhole! Remember that they have front & back notches which need to match the ones on the bodice armscye. The front has a single notch and the back has a double notch.

Just a quick side note: you might notice that some of my interior seams in the bodice haven’t been finished! Naughty of me I know, but it was because this was a quick fit sample made during the development of Matilda Curve, so it didn’t need to be fully finished!

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Matilda Sewalong: Sleeves - Inserting Your Sleeve Into Your Bodice

Once in, I like to first align and pin in place the 4 important points – the side seams, the front armscye notches, the sleeve head notch which aligns with the shoulder seam of the bodice and finally the back armscye notch. Because we haven’t sorted out the easing yet, the sleeve isn’t going to be the exact right size, but not too worry, we will get it sitting right next.

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Matilda Sewalong: Sleeves - Starting To Pin The Sleeve In PlaceAfter those initial 4 pins, you can then start to pin between them. The sections below the armscye notches on either side of the side seam should align and fit together pretty exactly, but above the notches will require you to loosen/tighten your easing stitches to fit. The most important thing to remember is that you are trying to align the bodice and sleeve along the stitching line not the raw edge of the pieces.

It helps to focus on and insert your pins along the row of easing stitches that’s 5/8″ (1.5cm) from the sleeve edge. Let your gathering loosen off if the sleeve head is too small and pull them tighter if it’s too big. You don’t want to have any tucks, so wiggle things back and forth along the stitching line to help things sit as flat as possible while keeping the raw edges aligned. Don’t be afraid of using heaps of pins to keep everything in place!

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Matilda Sewalong: Sleeves - Fully Pinning Your Sleeve In PlaceWhen you’re ready you can then sew the sleeve in place, 5/8″ (1.5cm) from the raw edges. I like to start and finish at the side seam and I also like to sew with the bodice facing upwards and the sleeve underneath. You might prefer to sew it with the sleeve on top where you can see and fiddle with the easing as you go to prevent tucks and puckering, but I find that when I do this I tend to overthink things and make more trouble for myself, where when sewing with the easing on the underside it often just sorts it’s self out without my meddling. If when I finish I turn it over and find tucks, I then simply unpick that small section, ease the tuck out and resew.

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Matilda Sewalong: Sleeves - Stitching Your Sleeve In Place After you’re happy, you can finish the raw edges of the armscye by your preferred method. I like to trim the seam allowance back quite a lot, especially around the most curved sections at the bottom of the armscye so there is less bulk in the underarm area and a little more flexibility in the seam. You can even clip these curves before finishing the edges, being careful not to cut through your stitching.

Next, you can press the sleeve and seam allowances away from the bodice towards the sleeve. I like to use an ironing ham like the one pictured to help press the sleeve head into shape!

Repeat for your second sleeve.

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Matilda Sewalong: Sleeves - Finishing Your Sleeve Seam & PressingWhen you have your garment out the right way, you might notice that some of your easing stitches are peaking out of your seam! Because our last row of stitching is now holding things in place, they can simply be pulled out.

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Matilda Sewalong: Sleeves - Unpicking Your Sleeve Easing StitchesWith that all tidied, the only thing left is to hem your sleeve! You might want to wait till you the skirt is attached when you can try on your full garment to check lengths and hem everything together, but we’ll cover it now anyway.

The first step is to fold the sleeve end up 3/8″ (1cm) to the inside of the garment, at the first notch on the side seam. Depending on your fabric, you won’t really need to pin it in place as long as you give it a good press. Make sure it’s nice and even all the way around as well as aligned with the horizontal grain of the fabric.

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Matilda Sewalong: Sleeves - First Sleeve Hem FoldThe second fold should be 2″ (5cm) further up, which is indicated by the second notch along the side seam. Press this fold in place & pop in a few pins to hold it while you sew (it’s best to put these pins in on the right side of the garment where they will be easy to take out as you topstitch)

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Matilda Sewalong: Sleeves - Second Sleeve Hem Fold

With everything in place, you can topstitch the hem, sewing just under 2″ (5cm) from the end of the sleeve, just catching the inside folded edge. Machines don’t usually have a sewing guide for such a wide hem, but you can alternatively use a seam guide attachment to your machine’s foot or measure from the needle and put a bit of sticky tape on the arm of your machine to align your edge with. Once you’re all the way around, just double-check that your stitching caught the whole edge and if it didn’t, just unpick a little around the missed section and restitch.

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Matilda Sewalong: Sleeves - Stitching Your Sleeve HemIf you’re like me and cuff every hem on every piece of clothing you own (seriously, I’m a bit out of control), you might want to cuff your Matilda sleeves! It’s a really cute look and the reason Meg included such a deep hem. If you want it to be held there permanently, simply fold the sleeve end up 4cm, leaving the stitching & inner edge of the hem hidden inside and press in place. You can then do a little row of stitches back and forth along the side seam to discreetly secure the cuff.

The only thing left is to repeat the last few steps for your second sleeve!

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Matilda Sewalong: Sleeves - Cuffing Your SleevesAnd that’s all folks, I hope you enjoy your new Matilda sleeves! If you have any questions on what we covered today, don’t forget to post them in the comments section below. We are here to help!

Naomi xx

How to sew the Matilda dress sleeves


Here’s the full list of Matilda posts and tutorials:

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About Author

Naomi is the Design Assistant here at Megan Nielsen Patterns, and our resident helping hand. She stays busy assisting Meg with pattern development leg work, getting super excited about good instructional diagrams and making green coloured fabric suggestions for every sample we make. She’s a problem solver, a fabric addict, a serial tea-forgetter and a passionate maker.

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Amy R
Amy R
2 years ago

Your sleeve insertion method on Matilda is a revelation, even after 70 years of sewing garments. Thank you. PS: Can you reveal the source of the elegant ham you used?

2 years ago
Reply to  Amy R

Hi Amy! I’m so glad you like it! This ham is actually quite old and i unfortunately don’t have a source for you I’m sorry! It belonged to my husbands grandma, then my mother in law and she gave it to me when we were first married :) It’s pretty special and still has a little scribble on it from one of Chris’ sisters when she was a toddler hehehe xo

2 years ago

I have owned the Matilda pattern for some time. I’d love to be able to purchase the sleeved version of affected pattern pieces as an add on rather than repurchasing the entire pattern. Such a nice dress!

2 years ago
Reply to  Janet

Hi Janet! No need to purchase the new pattern – we offer complementary upgrades for existing customers :) If you have the old XS-XL pattern and would like the new 0-20 sleeve version just send as an email at and we’ll help out!

Wendy Dyhr
2 years ago

Thank you for this brilliant tutorial. So well explained and photos are clear and logical. Being a sewing newbie, I appreciate a clear and why you do steps so much. Brilliant, thank you.