Vintage Inspiration: Sew a Peek-a-Boo Sleeve

A pink antique heirloom gown is a rare find! This lovely dress is from Martha Pullen’s extensive collection.

This beautiful tucked and lace dress is a treasure from Martha Pullen’s renowned collection of antique garments. Dating from between 1890 and 1910, the remarkable pink visiting dress came from a New England estate. One-quarter-inch release tucks grace the shoulders, bodice and skirt. Embroidered ecru netting softens the square neck, and a pink batiste skirt falls gently from the narrow waistband (concealed here with a wide satin ribbon sash). The fine art of the gown rests in the lace and tucked sleeves. The under-sleeve extends several inches below the over-sleeve. The embroidered netting under-sleeve is lined with fine ecru China silk. The pink tucked overlays are trimmed in a corresponding insertion lace and are delicately bridged across the split opening with 1/4-inch-wide criss-cross ribbons that give the impression of lacing. Sweet ribbon rosebuds both decorate and serve to tack the ribbons at mid-sleeve, enhancing the peek-a-boo effect.

While a complete reproduction of an antique is not always practical for today’s fashion, this piece offers a sleeve design that could be incorporated into any woman’s or child’s garment. The instructions below include drafting a pattern from a basic sleeve and constructing the sleeve for setting into a modern dress or blouse of your choosing. This article appeared in the January/February 2009 issue of Sew Beautiful.


  • Fabric (Amounts will be determined by chosen sleeve pattern.)
    • Pink cotton batiste
    • Cream silk batiste (undersleeve)
    • Embroidered netting for undersleeve**
  • Pattern
    • Any 3/4-length or long-sleeve pattern, gathered or set-in 2-1/3-yds of pink silk-satin ribbon, 1/4-inch wide
    • Lace insertion (width and length determined by sleeve design and length of finished sleeve overlay)
    • Two ribbon rosettes
  • Supplies
    • Pattern tracing paper
    • Blue wash-away marking pen
    • Lace-shaping board
    • General sewing supplies

**Use pre-embroidered netting yardage, or plain netting with machine embroidery, or use strips of lace down the center of the under sleeve to peek through the opening of the sleeve overlay.


  • Two sleeves from lace fabric
  • Two sleeves from silk batiste for lining
  • One large rectangle from pink batiste large enough to both accommodate overlay sleeves. Read peek-a-boo sleeve overlay instructions before cutting.
  • Two 5-inch lengths of 1/4-inch-wide pink ribbon
  • Four 18-inch lengths of 1/4-inch-wide pink ribbon

Pattern Preparation (for Sleeve Overlay)

  • Use any 3/4 or long-sleeve pattern. This one has gathers, but it can also be made as a set-in style sleeve.
  • Trace sleeve pattern onto tracing paper. Shorten sleeve 3-inches (less for a child’s sleeve – use your best judgment). Split sleeve lengthwise and separate into two pieces. Add a 1-inch hem allowance to center cut edges where sleeve was split (fig. 1).

Peek-a-Boo Sleeve Overlay

Prepare inner sleeve as pattern instructs using lace and a silk lining. Set both sleeves aside to be joined with sleeve overlay before attaching to garment.

1. Determine how many tucks will fit on your sleeve pattern (sample shows 10 folded 1/4-inch tucks spaced 1-inch apart. Tucks can be any variation of size and spread you desire.

2. Determine how much extra fabric will be needed to accommodate tucks (sample shown required 10 tucks x 1/2-inches = 5-inches extra).

3. Cut a block of fabric wide enough for both sleeves (four sleeve sections) and 2-inches longer than sleeve plus amount needed for tucks (i.e. 5-inches).

4. Mark and stitch tucks vertically.

5. Cut sleeves from pintucked fabric (fig. 2).

6. Stitch sleeve seams, matching tucks.

7. Stitch a double 1/2-inch hem around edges (fig. 3).

8. Stitch lace edging or insertion along hemmed edges, mitering corners. Zigzag stitch inner edge of lace only (fig. 4).

9. Flip sleeve fabric back to zigzag miters and trim excess lace fold on wrong side.

Lattice Ribbon Embellishment

1. Starting 1-inch from top seam line with a blue wash-away marker, mark along center edges on wrong side as shown (fig. 5).

NOTE: Reduce number and space of dots if making a child’s sleeve (use your best judgement).

2. Place tucked sleeve on laceshaping board, and spread bottom edges 4-inches apart; pin (fig. 6).

3. Finish one end of one 18-inch length of ribbon and tack stitch end to top mark on wrong side of hemmed edge behind lace (be sure not to catch lace in tack stitching) (fig. 7).

4. Place ribbon across sleeve opening and tack stitch to second mark on opposite side (fig. 8). Continue zigzagging ribbon and tacking to every other mark.

5. Repeat with second 18-inch ribbon to finish criss-crossed lattice effect (fig. 9).

6. Tack one single strip of ribbon across bottom and stitch bows or ribbon rosettes to each end (fig. 10).


Place wrong side of sleeve overlay to right side of lined lace sleeve. Match centers and baste through all layers along top edge. Run gathering stitches in cap (if required) and attach to garment as directed in chosen pattern instructions.

Check out the products below for more heirloom sewing ideas and inspiration:

Get all the issues of Sew Beautiful from 2009 in one digital download!

On the video Antique Sewing Techniques I, enjoy seeing pieces from Martha Pallen’s vintage collection while learning lots of heirloom techniques you can use on your own sewing!

The video Antique Sewing Techniques II shows you more beloved techniques inspired by Victorian and Edwardian clothing. And you’ll get to see more of Martha Pullen’s own vintage collection for inspiration!


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