Puppet Sleeves Tutorial

July 20, 2012

This is a post that I originally wrote for ‘Once Upon A Thread’ over at ‘No Big Dill’. I was thrilled to take part in Katy’s fun and inspiring series.

Hello ‘No Big Dill’ readers. I am so excited to be joining you all for Chaper 3 of ‘Once Upon A Thread’. I love reading with my children and since I discovered the first OUT I find sewing inspiration in nearly every book we read.

Ugly Duckling Front Cover

I had a lot of ideas for today, mostly from modern children’s books. Once I thought of ‘The Ugly Duckling’ though, it seemed like the only option. This classic fairy tale is a favourite book from when I was little. My mum tells me that I cried when she first read me this book, saying “but why doesn’t he have any friends?”, but I must have been satisfied by the happy ending as we read it many more times after that. The author, Hans Christian Andersen, suggested that this was the autobiography of his life and rumours that he was the illegitimate son of a Danish prince add other angles of interpretation of the story.

Front cover

This version of the book is published as part of the Ladybird tales collection and the illustrations are typical of the era when I was first starting to read.

Duckyard page

They do a great job of capturing the sadness and longing of the ugly duckling, which I can’t imagine was very easy. Apocalyptic sunset anyone?

Duckling looking at swans

While they aren’t in my favourite style I think there is a certain charm and familiarity to them.

No longer an ugly duckling

I decided to make something that my children could use to act out the story. At first glance these look like pretty ordinary T-shirts…

Casper and Rowan

but look more carefully and you will spot the puppet sleeves. The ducklings…

Duckling sleeves

and the ugly duckling…

Ugly Duckling Sleeve

who turns into a beautiful swan…

Swan sleeve

Rowan’s duck shirt uses a raglan tee pattern from Ottobre 4/2010 and he has two ducklings at the end of his sleeves. I chose this pattern because of its button placket, which meant I could add three little duck buttons to make up the five ducklings in the story. It’s not a perfect fit but Rowan loved it and kept looking at the ducks at the end of the sleeves. He has just started to try and say duck and quack so this one was ideal for him.


For Casper’s swan / cygnet T-shirt I used the ‘Flashback Skinny Tee’ pattern from ‘Made by Rae’. I love this pattern but struggled more with the design of this one initially, as the swan and cygnet are different colours. To balance this out I added some extra short sleeves in the contrasting colour.

Casper's T-shirt

These puppet sleeves would work well for many other animals or characters. It is much easier to add the details before sewing the arm seam but would still be possible afterwards if you have a particular shirt you want to use for this. The construction of the cuff is slightly different to normal so here is a quick tutorial…

Puppet Sleeves Tutorial

Cut your sleeves as normal. Measure the width of the bottom of the sleeve and deduct ¾” (this is 2 x my seam allowance). Cut a cuff that is this wide and 3½” long. You can see that my sleeve was 7½” wide so my cuff was 6¾” by 3½”.

Tutorial Step 1

Place the cuff and the sleeve together, right sides facing, and serge or sew (with narrow zig zag or stretch stitch) the cuff to the sleeve. Stretch the cuff to fit as you sew.

Tutorial Step 2

Press the seam then, using tailor’s chalk, mark on the seam allowance and divide the rest of the sleeve into quarters. Remember that the details you will see when the T-shirt is being worn are those in the middle two quarters (after deducting seam allowance).

Tutorial step 3

Add the details of your chosen animal. I used my digital cutter and heat transfer for the eyes. Appliqué, embroidery or fabric pens could work just as well though. You could also add other details, like nostrils, ears and eyes.

Tutorial Step 4

Sew the arm and side seam of your T-shirt as normal. When sewing the arm seam just place everything right sides together, including the cuff. Lay out your shirt with the ‘details half’ of the sleeves showing. Mark the sides as you will need to sew in line with this.

Tutorial Step 5

Decide how far you want to tuck in the cuff. Pin the sides and put your hands inside to check you get the look you’re after. Sew a few stitches on either side to join the cuff to the sleeve.

Tutorial Step 6

That’s it, now your children can have fun playing with their sleeve puppets.

Rowan in T-shirt

Thank you Katy for having me here today. I can’t wait to see what everyone else has made.


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  • Reply Joy July 21, 2012 at 5:45 am

    That is so cool!

  • Reply tina July 21, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    Those boys!!!!!! Hope you’re well x

  • Reply Corey T August 9, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    Brilliant! You’ve really done an amazing job including both of your boys and bringing a special story to life. I think that tonight as I read to my children my brain will be filling with sewing ideas! Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Reply Laura August 14, 2012 at 9:56 pm

      Thanks Corey. Lovely to hear from you. It definitely makes you see books in a new way doesn’t it. I look forward to seeing what you make.

  • Reply Jodi Pins November 30, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    that is super cute! i will be making puppet sleeves in the future for sure

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