Sleeveless Gilbert Top

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Sleeveless Gilbert Top

I am so excited to walk you through this pattern hack for our latest design, the Gilbert Top! Since the development of the pattern, I have known this sleeveless hack was coming. I LOVE sleeveless tops!

Sleeveless Gilbert Top
Sleeveless Gilbert Top

When new patterns come out I am always thinking about all the possibilities beyond the views provided. As a sewist, I like to get mileage out of the patterns I purchase! As a designer, I keep this in mind during design and development. We tend not to provide a huge amount of views with our patterns because we want them to be straight forward and approachable. Not too many pieces, lines to cut, and options to choose from. I prefer the ‘less is more’ approach to design and the ‘more is more’ approach to the instructions and blog content!

We are always thinking and planning the hacks for our designs. I love pattern hacking because it gives people the option to take a pattern they really like and experiment further with the design! Not only do you get more options, you get experience manipulating the pattern and designing your own wardrobe! I think these skills are excellent for any sewist. I also love dreaming of hacks and making these tutorial blog posts!

So, a sleeveless Gilbert Top. What’s the big deal? Can’t we just leave the sleeves off? Well, that is one way to approach this but it won’t give you the best fit. I took some pics of a Gilbert Top I was making before I inserted the sleeves. You will see below that the shoulders are wide, the armscye is very large, and the fit is a little on the sloppy side.

There are four things we may want to adjust to make a great sleeveless version of the Gilbert Top.

  1. The amount of ease in the top overall
  2. The length and angle of the shoulder seam
  3. The shape of the shirt back where it meets the yoke
  4. The depth of the armscye (under the arm)

What is the armscye? The Armscye (pronounced ahrm-sahy) is the armhole opening in a garment.

Sleeveless Gilbert Top

The Amount of Ease in the Top Overall

I sized down for my sleeveless Gilbert top. Gilbert has a boxy shape that was designed to be loose, comfortable, and reminiscent of an oversized bowling or Hawaiian shirt. Without the sleeves, I find the ease is too much and I crave a slightly tighter fit. I sized down from a 20 to an 18.

Before you size down, please check the finished garment measurements chart and ensure that the top will fit comfortably and work for your figure. If you do not want to size down (maybe you already cut the pattern out and made a bunch of fit adjustments), you can make a small adjustment to the size by sewing the side seams with a 1″ (2.5 cm) seam allowance. This will make the top a bit tighter overall.

Sleeveless Gilbert Top

The Length and Angle of the Shoulder Seam

Once we have our pattern cut or traced out in our desired size, we can start making adjustments. We want to bring the shoulder in so the shirt has less of a line-backer vibe. We will also slightly change the angle of the shoulder seam to bring it in tighter to the body.

I brought my shoulder seam in 1.5″ (3.8 cm) for my size 18. This amount won’t be the same for all sizes. The amount taken in will vary from 0.75-2″ (2-5 cm). You can err on the side of caution and leave more fabric for now and take some off later when you try on the top (before you add your bias facing finish).

We have to adjust the front of the top, the back, and the yoke. I like to temporarily tape my yoke and back pieces together to make this adjustment easier. Draw the 5/8″ (1.6 cm) seam allowance on both pieces. Match the seam allowance lines and tape in place.

Sleeveless Gilbert Top

Start by marking the amount you wish to shorten. My amount is 1.5″ in from the shoulder.

Sleeveless Gilbert Top
Sleeveless Gilbert Top

Scoop down to around the sleeve notches. We no longer need these notches because we aren’t adding sleeves, so don’t worry about preserving them. We want a decent amount removed along the upper armscye to get a nice shape on the body. The new armscye should be nice and smooth.

Next we will adjust the angle of the shoulder seam slightly. I took mine in 1/4″ at the shoulder and tapered back towards the neck. Do this on the front and yoke pieces.

Sleeveless Gilbert Top
Sleeveless Gilbert Top

Separate the yoke and shirt back when you are finished.

Sleeveless Gilbert Top

The Shape of the Shirt Back Where it Meets the Yoke

The Gilbert top has a straight yoke. This means the yoke is purely decorative as opposed to providing shaping. We are actually going to add some shaping for our sleeveless version to prevent gaping at the back armscye.

On the shirt back, mark 1/4″ (0.6 cm) down from the top along the armscye. Draw a curved line up to meet the top of the shirt back, 3-4″ (8-10 cm) from the armscye. No adjustments need to be made to the yoke pattern piece.

Sleeveless Gilbert Top
Sleeveless Gilbert Top
Sleeveless Gilbert Top

The Depth of the Armscye (Under the Arm)

Woven tops with sleeves have a deeper (larger) armhole opening than sleeveless tops. I personally like a loose fit under my arms for comfort and breathability. I do not mind skin showing here and even the side of my bra depending on the style. If you prefer a higher fit under the arm then this adjustment is for you!

On the front and back pieces, we are going to raise the bottom of the armscye approximately 0.75-1.25″ (2.3 cm). If you really like a high armscye, add more height here and you can always trim it off later, before you finish the armhole openings.

Add paper behind your pattern pieces in the lower armscye area of the front and back. Measure up the desired amount from the bottom of the armscye. Follow the angle of the shirt side seam.

Draw a new lower armscye curve that meets up with your adjusted upper armscye curve. You may need to fiddle a bit here to make the smoothest curve. Remember, you are going to get a chance to trim off extra fabric before you finish your armhole openings. Err on the side of more fabric here.

Sleeveless Gilbert Top
Sleeveless Gilbert Top
Sleeveless Gilbert Top

Sewing Your Sleeveless Gilbert Top

This is the easy part! Follow the instructions, ignoring anything to do with the sleeves. Once your side seams are sewn, you will be able to try it on and assess the fit of your armhole openings. If the fit feels too tight under the arm or looks too wide in the front or back, carefully trim away fabric until you are happy. Keep in mind that our bias facing finish uses a 3/8″ (1 cm) seam allowance.

Caution! Trim up to 1/4″ at a time, not more. A small adjustment can make a big difference here. You can take away but you can’t put fabric back!

Cut bias strips of fabric (cut on a 45-degree angle) that are 1 3/8″ (3.5 cm) wide and long enough to finish your armhole opening. You can piece together smaller strips if you are short on fabric. These finishing strips can also be made from contrasting fabric for a cool design detail. We have a blog post about making your own bias tape here.

Fold and press one lengthwise edge of the bias strips in 3/8” (1 cm). Repeat with the other side, folding the tape into thirds. Unfold the strips.

Sleeveless Gilbert Top

With right sides together, starting just behind the side seam on the back of the top, pin one of the armhole bias tape strips around one arm opening, leaving a 3/4” (2 cm) overlap. Trim off any extra bias tape.

Sleeveless Gilbert Top

With right sides together, sew the bias tape ends together, leaving enough slack to accurately fit the armhole. Press seam open. 

Sew in the fold of the bias tape (closest to the armhole) at a 3/8” (1 cm) seam allowance. 

Sleeveless Gilbert Top

Grade (trim) the seam allowance down to 1/4” to reduce the bulk inside the bias binding. Press the bias tape and seam allowance away from the top.

Sleeveless Gilbert Top

Understitch the bias tape to the seam allowance 1/8” (0.3 cm) from the seam. Understitching helps prevent your binding from peeking out on the right side of your top. It also keeps the graded seam inside from unraveling and potentially causing your binding to split open along the edge.

Sleeveless Gilbert Top

Using your press lines as guides, fold the bias binding over the seam allowance towards the inside of the top 3/8” (1 cm) and then again 3/8” (1 cm). Press. Stitch the bias facing in place 3/8” (1 cm) from the armhole edge. I like to sew with the wrong side of the top facing up so I can see what I am doing and get a nice, clean finish.

Sleeveless Gilbert Top
Sleeveless Gilbert Top
I’m wearing this sleeveless Gilbert Top with my favorite Winslow Shorts.
Sleeveless Gilbert Top

I hope you enjoyed this sleeveless Gilbert Top tutorial! I am excited to make more and combine this pattern hack with our upcoming Gilbert Dress hack for a lovely sleeveless shirtdress!

I chose to make my Gilbert Top in printed linen from Blackbird Fabrics. I love these little doughnuts! We used this print in our Ashton Top pattern photoshoot, and I have been wanting a top in this fabric to call my own.

Sleeveless Gilbert Top
About the author


Helen Wilkinson is the designer and founder of Helen's Closet Patterns. She also co-hosts the Love to Sew Podcast! Helen is obsessed with all things sewing and strives to share her passion and knowledge with the sewing community.

38 Comments on “Sleeveless Gilbert Top”

  1. I love this hack tutorial! So clear. I’ve just started getting into small hacks and redrafting. I look forward to trying this one. I love that you explain the logic behind all the steps. I feel like this will help me with other hacks in general.

  2. Thank you for this tutorial. It is exactly what I was looking for and the explanation is so clear.

  3. Thanks for the sleeveless hack! I just printed the pattern and was already thinking about making it sleeveless. I appreciate the thoroughness of the tutorial. I hadn’t considered doing more than raising the armhole a bit. I know now that all the adjustments will make it perfect.

  4. This looks great. I have the pattern ready to make the short sleeve version first, but I always love a sleeveless version too. This makes it look really straightforward! 🙂

  5. I’ve been sewing many years now, but in the beginning I struggled with hacks such as this. A big ‘thankyou’ for including these instructions for newer sewists! Your patterns and instructions are the ‘real deal’!

  6. This is a fabulous tutorial! Thank you for posting it. I will use it on view B, for sure. Just wondering, if one were to add sleeves to a sleeveless top, would you do the opposite of each step?

    1. Yes! It of course depends on the top and the way it was drafted, but this is the general idea. You also need to draft the sleeve, too! One thing you can experiment with is mashing up patterns, so use the shoulder/sleeve from a good sleeved pattern and try putting it on the bodice of a sleeveless design. It can take some fiddling but it is fun!

  7. What a great tutorial, Helen. As a beginner sewist, I would feel comfortable following these instructions, even without you sitting at my side. (Tho’ I do miss that! xo)

  8. Thanks for the awesome hack, Helen! I’d definitely like to try this. Do you have a feel for how this hack affects the fabric requirements? I was thinking it might be about the same as View A, since the fabric that would have gone into the sleeves would instead be used for bias binding…but I wasn’t sure. Thanks!!

    1. Thanks Nori! Yes you will use the requirements from view A and you can take about 20cm off of the fabric requirements for your size. If you want to make bias binding the same fabric as your garment you will need pretty much the same amount.

  9. I love this variation on the pattern – I also love sleeveless tops for their versatility 🙂 About how much yardage is required after the sleeve pieces are subtracted from the layout?

  10. I wish every designer offered this kind of commitment to showing how to hack patterns! I feel good about buying your patterns because I want to help businesses as committed to their clients as you!
    I was wondering about the fabric, because you generally recommend sturdier fabrics for view A – do you think this would work with rayon as well, since you sized down? Or would you not recommend rayon because of the knot?

    1. Thank you so much! You can make this view out of rayon, I only recommend the sturdier fabric because I feel it holds the shape of the tie a bit better. I hope to make a drapey version of view A to share on the blog soon!

  11. Thank you for a very well explained sleeveless hack, I look forward to trying it when it gets a bit warmer.

  12. This looks incredible, I can’t wait to try this! I have a Nani Iro double gauze this would be perfect in but one thing I am concerned about in this fabric is the back of the ties won’t look good and will be visible when tied up/worn – would you be able to do a tutorial for how to add another layer of fabric to the ties for fabrics that have very different right and wrong side, so that the right side is visible all around the ties? Thank you again for another great pattern and all the hacks.

    1. That is a great idea! I will add it to my pattern blog post list for Gilbert. I think extending the facing down all the way to the tie would be a good solution for this.

  13. Thank you so much! I though that might be how but wasn’t sure how to add it into the existing instructions, so really looking forward to it, thank you again!

  14. Do you think you could get the sleeveless version out of a metre of non directional fabric? x 54″ wide? Thank you.

  15. Pingback: [Sailor]Gilbert top – A Bag Full Of Fabrics

  16. Hi Helen! Thank you so much for this tutorial. I was wondering, would the same principle apply if I wanted to make a sleeveless Cameron?

  17. I must be missing something, but when/where/how does the width of the shoulder part of the front pieces become narrower? In the step that begins “Start by marking the amount you wish to shorten. My amount is 1.5″ in from the shoulder.” am I marking and cutting out the same curve I do on the back+yoke?


    1. Hi Anne,

      Yes exactly. I wonder if one of the images was not loading for you? There is a picture of the front of the bodice as well. It is a similar curve to the back+yoke, yes.

  18. Hi Helen, I may have missed something here. On the adjustment of the shoulder angle and the adjustment to the back you would have to redraw the seam allowance otherwise you’re only narrowing the seam allowance, not making a pattern adjustment. Thanks, Bernie

    1. Hi Bernie,

      Yes, sorry for the confusion. You are still sewing with a 5/8″ seam allowance, it is adjusted along with the pattern.

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