Cape-Sleeve Top

I have finally made my way to the end of my planned sewing list, leaving my mind to wander over the possibilities of fabrics and patterns in my stash. I'm not worried - this is when quarantine creativity kicks in. I can finally start dreaming about what I want to do with a remnant I've been saving or that fabric my mom gave me. I try to always sew things that I think will get worn and have a place in my wardrobe. This time, those creative musing paid off with my new cape-sleeve top! 

Pattern: self-drafted using my t-shirt block
Fabric: 1.5 yds fleece-backed sweater knit
Cost: free

I have been obsessed with making a top with cape-like sleeves for a while now. My Pinterest history shows that I pinned this photo of Victoria Beckham in one in 2015. I'm pretty sure hers is just a cape over a top (maybe a two-piece set?), but I wanted an integrated piece (edit: turns out it's this Balenciaga piece). Ever since then I have occasionally pinned more inspiration or looked around for a pattern but never found anything that was quite right. 

The more I thought about it, the more complicated it got. You know what else I wanted? I was set on the idea that it shouldn't look like a cape from the back. Too much like a superhero. Too extra. I wanted something with the cape look in the front, but the look of a regular sleeved top in the back. And I just couldn't wrap my head around how to do that! 

But you know what? I finally figured it out! When you have months alone to your thoughts, even the most persistent problems seem to work themselves out. Here's a view from the back - actual sleeves!

After years of musing, the construction popped into place in my head one night based on a few key ideas. The first was that I needed a cape or yoke in the front that then attaches to regular set-in sleeves at the back. The way to do this is to draft half a set-in sleeve by folding the sleeve piece down the center and keeping just the back half. The sleeve gets set into the back armscye. This creates a long shoulder seam that extends from the neckline down toward the elbow. In the front, I drafted a yoke piece (similar to this top). I then connected front to back along the long shoulder seam similar to how you would assemble a normal cape. 

The second issue is what to do with the underarm of the back sleeve. In a normal top, the back underarm wraps around the arm and is sewn to the front underarm, creating a tube for your arm to go in. But we only have a back undearm - no front piece. So I re-drafted the sleeve to attach to the side seam: instead of having the sleeve extend out the arm toward the wrist, I continued extending the sleeve down toward the waist. During construction, it gets sewn into the side seam between the shirt back and front. The full effect is that the cape drapes across the front, wraps around the arm, and is attached to the back at the armscye and down the side seam. 

Does that make sense? No? I knew I would need to drape it on my dress form to get it right and test it out. I started with my t-shirt block and cut out a half sleeve from muslin to drape on the form. Here's what I got:   

And here's what it looks like on:

As you can see, it was a bit of a mind twister. In the end, however, there were relatively few pieces and it's not that much harder to sew up than a basic t-shirt. Honestly, if I were a pattern maker (which I'm not) this would be my ideal pattern - an interesting shirt that takes a lot of conceptualizing but isn't that hard in practice to sew up once you work out the mechanics. As you can tell, I was quite pleased with myself. See how you get that cape look when I bend my arm but without the full superhero cape in the back? Love it! 

The top is made from a fleece-backed sweater knit that I think my mom gave me. It feels really nice and worked out really well for this project. It is drapey with a lot of stretch but still has good weight and structure. It is incredibly comfortable to wear and I must admit I do feel a bit like Victoria Beckham when I put it on. I was a bit worried that the sleeves wouldn't allow for much arm movement but it's actually fine. The only thing this top is not good for is layering under any type of coat or jacket!

Now that I have finally finally worked out how to do it, it would be easy to make again. Unfortunately, it's the type of garment you probably only need one of in your wardrobe. Perhaps I'll think up another clever way to make it up, but for now I'm enjoying that I actually did it!

Note: This post contains affiliate links. 


  1. that looks fantastic and I think it would be great as a dress too, in a bright color.

  2. Fabulous work! So satisfying to work out the pattern and construction. I agree with Beth...make a dress version so that your hard patternmaking work pays off a little more.

  3. This is so cool! Thank you for detailing the process, I've got a length of red jersey I'd like to try that with.


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