Throwback Thursday: Tulip Sleeves

If you follow me on Pinterest then you have probably already guessed the theme of this week’s Throwback Thursday as I’ve been gathering my research images together on my TT board… this week is all about the tulip sleeve.

IMG_8747 - Version 2

Why? Well I started making Oliver & S’s Fairytale Dress (about time, right?) on Sunday, and although I haven’t finished it yet because I came down with a really bad cold on Monday, I’ve been really excited to learn more about these show-stealing sleeves that are featured in the ‘A’ version of the pattern.


The curving fabric overlapping on the upper arm seemingly creates the recognisable shape of petals which give the tulip sleeve its name. Undeniably delicate and feminine, this sleeve has gone in and out of fashion throughout history.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 17.24.26

Above are some gorgeous examples of tulip sleeves from the Regency era. The ball gown on the left is from 1808-09 and exemplifies one of the most practical qualities of this sleeve style: ease of movement. The portrait in the centre by English painter, George Engleheart, is from 1807, and portrays some beautiful subtle embroidery along the edges of the sleeves and bodice. A technique which could so easily be incorporated into modern interpretations of the style. I personally love the final Regency example here. A fashion plate from 1811, it shows how contrast trim can be used to great effect. The petal-effect of the sleeve is really highlighted and the unusual lines of the dress look particularly impressive.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 16.56.41

The tulip sleeve continued to be used periodically throughout the 19th century, however it became highly popular again during the 1930s and 40s. The feminine styles of tea dresses and lightweight fabrics lay well alongside the pretty sleeve and was used to great effect, as seen in the 1940s sewing pattern cover images above. Here ruffles have been added to accentuate the overlapping feature of the sleeve.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 16.47.11

Another great period in fashion history for the tulip sleeve is the 1980s. In an era associated with shoulder pads and never-ending ruffles, the statement tulip sleeve seems positively modest. I personally think that the examples above are gorgeous: so dainty and ladylike. Plus I love the way in which using double layers or buttons and piping gives the tulip sleeve that extra wow factor, without being garish and in your face. If I wasn’t inspired before (which of course I was) I definitely am now!

Modern home sewers are obviously inspired too because tulip sleeves have kept popping up all over the place!

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 12.08.44

Here’s a selection from Craftiness Is Not Optional, Caroline Cook,  Littlest Pretty Things, and Sarah Smith. Aren’t they just adorable? The added movement that the overlap allows is perfect for childrenswear and I love the embroidery that Caroline has incorporated into her sleeves- simple yet oh so effective!

So if you fancy incorporating tulip sleeves into your next sew to add that extra flourish of prettiness but they’re not part of the pattern you want to use (or perhaps you’re drafting your own), I would recommend having a read of the tutorials over at Sew Many Seams and Sew Chic Patterns. Both include easy to follow, step-by-step instructions with accompanying pictures that are sure to get you started! Happy Sewing!


One thought on “Throwback Thursday: Tulip Sleeves

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s