Sleeve cap ease is bogus

I have no illusions; I know that today’s post will upset quite a few people. Why, might you ask? Well, it’s because there has been a long standing myth –myth– in construction that the pattern of a well-formed sleeve cap must be larger than the armhole into which it is sewn to result in a “couture” finish. I can certainly understand how people could be upset to learn sleeve cap ease is a fallacy because this would mean that all of the money and time they’ve spent on books and classes was wasted. Similarly, no one is happy to learn that the countless hours they’ve expended actually basting these suckers in was a wash either. Still worse, if the “experts” were wrong about this, how much of what else they’ve said is also bogus? Therein lies the problem with entrenched beliefs. Tear away one belief, others are quick to follow and then what are you left standing on? Maybe it’s time to think for yourselves.

Would it make any of you feel any better to know that I also once believed in the whole sleeve cap ease myth? Well, I did. In school and from books, I learned that my sleeves would never be perfect unless I did the whole basting, pinning and praying thing too. But when I started working in factories, I learned differently and very quickly that all the time, worry and study I’d done was not the best expenditure of my time. Like you, I felt lied to, I was very disillusioned and not at all happy about it. As supporting evidence of my claim, I offer the following as evidence:

I found the above photo in the Sam’s Club circular from last Wednesday’s paper. As an avowed non-shopper, this was the only thing in the sales flyers that excited me. Unfortunately, Sam’s isn’t selling the coat, only the Kate Spade bag that’s been cropped from the photo so I have no idea who made this coat. So on the face of it, what does this photograph tell you -other than that the model is right-handed? What you’re supposed to notice is that the horizontal stripes across the jacket back and sleeve match perfectly. Not only that but the vertical stripes match as well! I have no idea which pattern maker cut this coat but this is an amazing piece of work -horizontal and vertical stripe matching! I can only hope this pattern maker is well compensated for their mastery.

Obviously, the total length of the sleeve cap must be equal to the total length in the armhole, otherwise these stripes would not be matching. Below is my sketch of the horizontal match striping:

And the vertical match stripe is below:

So you can see that the photo of the coat is evidence representing a real piece of work resulting in a dual match stripe. On a related note, if you’re one of those people that have always thought that individual seamstresses (or you) were accountable for whether something is matched up or not, this evidence should dispel that belief as well. No seamstress had the control over these stripes that the pattern maker did. It was the pattern maker who did this, not any individual seamstress no matter how talented or dedicated. The pattern was cut to facilitate this. Consider the contrary, if the armhole and sleeve are the exact same size, setting the seams to match are beyond the seamstress if either of the two were off-set.

Now, normally a match stripe isn’t much of a trick although it seems that way -unless of course, your sleeve and/or armhole are not cut correctly (more on that below). If you have my book, look in the section on production pattern making and you’ll see a match stripe running across a front and back bodice with sleeve on page 180. In production pattern making, you have to have that line drawn in -usually in green or purple ink- to indicate the match stripe. When the marker is made, all of the affected pieces will be aligned commensurately.

The real trick to matching stripes across the sleeve is no trick at all. Rather, it’s a tremendous amount of work. As someone who’s specialized in making suits, I can say that. Now, the reason why sleeve patterns often have ease is because either the armhole or the sleeve -but usually both- are cut incorrectly. Cutting those two correctly is very difficult and time consuming. For example, most sleeves look something like the left sketch below.

Most people are used to looking at sleeves like the one on the left but this is not anatomically correct. Rather, the sketch of the sleeve on the right is more accurate so I’m not surprised if it looks wrong to you. To make the sketch on the right, I traced the one on the left; the black portion represents the area that has been cut away from the front of the sleeve and the red area represents area that’s been added to the back of the sleeve. The end result is that sleeve cap ease is a band-aid; it’s a quick fix to compensate for a poorly made pattern.

Now, the reason that the front of the sleeve is scooped out is because -whether you realize it or not- your arms are not hanging on the sides of your body; your arms are hanging towards the front of your body, so it only stands to reason the front of the sleeve is scooped out. Now, if you doubt your arms are on the front of your body, stand in front of a mirror and raise your arms -in their most comfortable position over your head-…where are your armpits? If you’re like every other human on the planet, your armpits are facing you, dead center. If your arms really were on the sides of your body (the way sleeves and armholes are cut) you’d have to turn sideways to see your armpits. There is a much greater discussion of this issue in my book, see “Fundamentals of fitting” pp 163-169 (with all the fitting books out there you’d think somebody would have made a point of this simple anatomical fact already but they haven’t). Use that section as a guide correcting the front and back portions of your chest drafts. And yeah, it’ll take a lot of iteration to get it right which is yet another reason why you should be using blocks so you don’t have to start from zero each time.

Below is another sketch you can use as a point of comparison. These are sketches of the sleeve once it’s been sewn up but not yet set. On the left is your typical sleeve (the underarm seam is facing you). On the right, you’ll see a sleeve with a rotated armhole. Your sleeves should look more like the ones on the right.

After reading all of this and considering the survey of existing books on the subject, maybe you’ll understand how I feel about many of the self-proclaimed “experts” out there. Like you, I was taken in at one point but no more. Nobody told me any of this stuff, I had to figure it out on my own. That’s why I now say that the only experts more irritating than those who co-opt “couture” to describe their skills, are those co-opting “industrial sewing”. Let’s hang the ones who do both :)

Get New Posts by Email


  1. Oh my god, this is an example of some sort of synchronicity, I swear to you, I spent 3 hours last night writing all the things I understand about sleeves and armscyes (and shoulders and arms) so that I could send it to you and ask you explain where I’ve gone wrong, because I still don’t believe your claim that sleeve-cap ease is never necessary. If I get a break from work today, I’ll scan all those sketches and send them to you, because I still don’t get it.

    The ” your armpit isn’t at your side” revelation is great! I hadn’t thought about that one. I did notice that shoulders are more forward than back, but I always thought it was a result of the fact that you arm doesn’t hang straight down, but back from the shoulder (and forward from the elbow)–but now that you mention it, the whole arm IS forward of center. Which makes sense, I mean, it’s hanging from your clavicle, which is in the FRONT of your body. (unless you have very Victorian posture, and then it’s pushed to the sides.)

    Btw, I think commercial patterns must be getting better, because I haven’t seen one with a sleeve that looks like the one on the left, they look more like the one on the right.

    If sleeves are sewn with the seam shifted to the front, what do you do about matching the sleeve seam with side seams?

    • reg wang says:

      Kathleen, I’m an owner of your book and have been doing my bodice armholes and sleeve caps correctly, i.e. I did know about the anatomical specificities. My local bespoke tailor/mentor also is on the same page, however, they still insist ALL jacket (except suit) should have some level of cap ease, otherwise the cap fabric will press on the deltoids and make mobility difficult. I personally am only into making leather and heavy wool garments, and for me, the pure technique to sew an ease-in cap is just a pain because first, I can’t pin LEATHER! Second, the leather I use is almost 4mm thick (motorcycle jackets), so if the cap length is longer, it’ll result in the kind of excessive/wavy fabric you can’t imagine! It’s impossible to sew the puckers away! SHOULD I USE EASE FOR HEAVY LEATHER JACKET? OR should I achieve arm mobility through higher armhole and lower cap (more perpendicular sleeve attachment)? To illustrate, there is a famous vintage leather jacket company called Aero Leather Clothing from Scotland, they use stiff horsehide leather, and their patterns are “vintage, 30s” which features downward sleeves, much like a suit sleeve. The result is challenging side and upward mobility even with a bit of ease (I can tell they left ease, as the shoulders are domed to wrap around the deltoids).

      • Avatar photo

        I don’t know what to tell you. My days of sparring with proponents of mythinformation are waning. People will continue to believe what they want. Now, I just do it every single day instead of arguing about it. And fwiw, I specialize in leather and heavy wools.

        A couple of weeks ago, I had a training session with a woman who’d been doing alterations and custom work for 30 years and had her own shop with a few employees. She readily accepted what I had to teach her (eliminating pins, proper sewing form etc) but she drew the line at sleeve cap ease and insisted it was an imperative. To counter that, I showed her two jackets I’d made. One had a suit sleeve and the other was a 4.5oz leather jacket. She insisted I had to have used sleeve cap ease because the caps rolled prettily. I insisted I hadn’t and even showed her the measures of the suit pattern in the CAD program. She still refused to believe it saying my results were impossible without ease. I did not show her the leather pattern because she may have had a stroke once she’d seen that the sleeve was actually 1/4″ to 3/8″ smaller than the armhole.

      • Ted Veatch says:

        As a new home sewer/hobbyist who started making leather jackets after making hand-stitched leather handbags (literally no crossover as they are entirely different beasts)… I can vouch for the method of creating matching lengths/measurements for the sleeve cap and arm hole. For myself it was impossible to create a smooth shoulder using built-in ‘ease’ and my tests always came out pinched and puckered. After reading Kathleen’s post clarifying the method above my work has been successful. The mobility ‘is’ controlled by placing the shoulder more towards the front of the template, you are not adding anything to the total measurement just shifting placement as in her second illustration. I also find it much easier for me to sew the sleeve on the bodice panels while the material is flat (do not sew the sleeve together first)… rather I attach the should first, and then sew down the sleeve (wrist to underarm) and underarm down to waist. Of course I’m referring to how I’ve had success when sewing LEATHER jackets.

        Thanks Kathleen, it has been an expensive yet rewarding education and this has saved me! Ok, lots more work to do/learn.

      • Allan says:

        In a suit a higher armhole and stepper cap mean the top of the armscye meets the point of the shoulder. It also allows the wearer to lift the arm without raising the jacket. Especially important in a military dress uniform jacket and when you need to salute whilst wearing a sam browne belt. In a motorcycle jacket the sleeve cap can be much flatter which allows it to be set into the armhole much easier with one caveat, The seam line is almost always dropped off the point of the shoulder. This gives a little more room to the arm hole in general. Rotating the hole forward and shaping it into a more oval shape can still be encompassed to get an even better fit, particularly whilst riding a bike where the arms are in a froward position, ultimately requiring a gusset on the back side of the jacket or sleeve.

  2. Gigi says:

    Once again I realize that the more I learn the less I know! I have been altering my sleeves to look like the one on the right to better accomodate my forward shoulders. Here I thought my body was just odd! I’m starting to think that your book would be helpful even to those of us who are only sewing for ourselves….

  3. Kathleen says:

    If sleeves are sewn with the seam shifted to the front, what do you do about matching the sleeve seam with side seams?

    It’s not that the seam is shifted to the front; the armhole is shifted into the front of the sleeve. I don’t understand what you mean by “what do you do about matching the sleeve seam with side seams?” Can you explain? thanks.

    I’m starting to think that your book would be helpful even to those of us who are only sewing for ourselves….
    Robbie Fanning said the chapter on fitting alone was worth the price of the book :)
    I’ve often wondered if I should just reprint those sections that homesewers would be interested in in and offer those as a separate product. I can say that I’ve had a lot of homesewers buy it and they thought it was a good value; they’ve enjoyed getting the inside track on how we really do things rather than the myth that’s thrown around everywhere.

  4. Christy Fisher says:

    FABULOUS sleeve tech.. THANK YOU!!

    On the book:
    It is PERFECT for homesewers as well- JUST THE WAY IT IS!! They will learns SCADS of new information and think differently than they ever have in the past..
    If you do not own this ook you are MISSING OUT on one of the richest information sources EVER!!

  5. Jan says:

    I am glad to see your sketch of a proper sleeve. A couple of years ago I completely stopped sewing and concentrated entirely on making a fitting pattern for myself and ultimately and after many months, my sleeve looked exactly like yours. I had a great deal of trouble trying to put in the “extra” ease that every pattern-making book I read insisted was necessary so it is a relief to discover that my inability to do so was justified. Of course, it is frustrating now to think of all the wasted hours trying to accomplish something that was, in the end, impossible and unnecessary.

  6. Jan says:

    I think that Jinjer is asking about the sleeve seam matching up with the side seam of the bodice; this is something that I strive for as well since I like to be able to iron my sleeves flat (like a man’s dress shirt). Toward this end, I also like my shoulder point to be exactly midway and match my shoulder seam. This was difficult for me to accomplish especially when I was trying to put in an inch of ease as per my instructions. The trick is to fool with the shape of the sleeve cap as in your sketch.

  7. Liana says:

    More wonderful information! I must agree with Gigi and Jan that my “personal” sleeve pattern looks very similar to your example. I started drafting mine from directions in a book by Grace Auditore. (It used to be advertised in the back of the old Sew News.) I’ve always had the impression that she was a patternmaker and grader just from the way her book is done. It’s very bare bones, but really tells all, at least as far as I can tell anyway.

  8. Josh says:

    This is an argument I’ve recently gotten into with my Mother, who has been a home sewer for many decades. I think she started making her own clothes around age 12, something like that. She will not accept the no sleeve cap ease idea.

    When I first got the idea to create a clothing company she would ask me things like “Do you know how hard it is to set in a sleeve?, Do you really want to make clothes for other people?” To this day she still tries to scare me out of it. As I get further along I realize that nothing she has ever said or will say in the future has any validity to it. She’s a home sewer and as I like to tell her “You don’t know your but from a hole in the ground!” lol

  9. Gigi says:

    Kathleen, I’ve added your book to my Amazon wish list. With my birthday and Christmas around the corner I know someone in my family will buy it for me!

  10. Carol says:

    This is such incredible validation. My own patterns look like Kathleen’s, but I thought it was that my own body was weird – narrow, sloping shoulders. You can find identical sleeve patterns in vintage European pattern books. This is the first I’ve seen the armscye and sleeve correlated.

    When I did the sleeve tutorial Kathleen published, I had to dig for a pattern old enough to look “standard”, and the notes on adding the ease were due to the same “well, everybody knows” and being too chicken to buck it. Buck, buck, buckcaw.

    My next project for myself is a Chanel-style jacket – hadn’t decided on the fabric. It will now have a prominent check.

    Note: the drapery-weight method works nicely for matching the stripes or plaids – just put extra pins through those matches, and eliminate the adding-ease step at the end.

  11. Mardel says:

    Gee, what a wonderful post. The more I learn the more there is to learn and the less I seem to know.

    Well, I have been drafting my sleeves to look like warped variations of yours on the right, but I always thought that was because of forward rolling shoulders, flat back, and warped rib cage, and general asymmetricality. In my case one side is closer to the “wrong” view and the other is even more scooped in front. It is nice to know that I am not completely off the wall in my attempts at drafting, even if a little anatomically exaggerated. I learned by accident, from using a variation on the long-ago Saran wrap bodice which is being reposted, and frustration at getting things to fit.

    I agree with Gigi, your book is going on my wish list even though I only sew for myself.

    Woo Hoo! I can’t wait to play with more pattern drafting and learn more.

  12. Carol says:

    ENTREPRENEUR’S GUIDE – credit where due, belatedly.

    I mentioned above having figured out the corrected arm scye – it was from Kathleen’s book, which I got quite a number of years ago and devoured. I’ve referred to it frequently since, but only recently have gone back through and reread the works.

    Any good book deserves a complete review periodically. This one, more than most.

  13. Alice says:

    Ok, this is IT!! I’m buying the book with my Amazon gift certificates… I’ve been telling myself too much of what Kathleen does is industrial to apply to my home sewing. I’ve been scooping the arm hole front recently trying to get rid of that extra bunch of fabric infront of my arms but still feeling the back is a little too narrow when I bring my arms to the front. I knew the arm couldn’t be symetrical front to back because it just isn’t.

  14. Laurie says:

    Revelation indeed!

    I’ve only just started reading through your site, and I’m amazed at what I’m learning, and I’ve been sewing for decades!

    I live in a country where the locals are slim and petite, and I am neither. Patterns aren’t available, and having them mailed in is problematic (shipping costs to heavy import taxes), so I’ve started making my own patterns. Problem is, I started with a book that only works if you are extremely average, which I am not.

    I appreciate the information you’re willing to impart, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of your site. And yes, I’m now adding your book to my wish list.

  15. Kay says:

    I’m a beginner is sewing. Don’t ask me what a beginner is doing at your website. I’ve learnt a lot from here.
    When I made the muslin for my very first shirt, the whole sleeve ease thing was baffling. I found it stupid to have so much material on the top. I couldnt understand how that would facilitate ease when my arm moves.
    This post makes me want to try making a shirt without sleevecap ease. Thanks!

  16. Kathleen says:

    Hi Kay
    I’m a beginner is sewing. Don’t ask me what a beginner is doing at your website. I’ve learnt a lot from here.

    I keep saying it’s easier to teach someone without a lot of experience; they have fewer bad habits to unlearn. I’ve often thought of teaching my husband for the same reason. At one point I made this blouse (from a vintage pattern) with heavy cowls in the neckline. It looked great on the hanger but the cowls didn’t fold correctly on the body. When I showed my husband how the pattern was cut incorrectly, he laughed out loud and said “what, do they expect you to hang a weight or something right there?” To his surprise, I said that was exactly how they expected one to correct the flaw. He was stunned when I showed him that the hanging of the weight was right in the sewing instructions! From the mouth of babes…

  17. “what, do they expect you to hang a weight or something right there?” To his surprise, I said that was exactly how they expected one to correct the flaw.

    you mean there’s a way to do it so weight isn’t necessary? I’ve even seen weights in rtw…

  18. Natasha says:

    Hmm I’ve been hacking my sleeves up for years making them look like the example on the left just to make them fit. I always thought I was just being bad

  19. Susan McElroy says:

    This is all very interesting to me, but in an odd sort of way, because when I learned to sew, (I’m 54, learned at 12) I could swear the “set sleeve” patterns were cut this way; i.e., not symmetrical. That’s why you always had to know which was the “front” side and which went towards the back. In recent years, I’ve noticed that the two sides were the same, but I thought that was because the cut was “shirt” style instead of classic set-in. I’m going to go through my vintage patterns tonight. I was also taught (through books; I don’t remember Mom getting into this topic) that the so-called “ease” wasn’t the “ease” of making a longer length fit into a shorter length, but in making the flat fabric in essence “turn the corner”. The gathering was meant to get that extra fabric under control and out of the way. Kathleen’s insistence that home sewing techniques use far too large of a seam allowance, if heeded, would solve this beautifully, of course. (Did you notice the recent Threads article about using smaller seam allowances?? Hmmmm….)

  20. Julia says:

    My comment is not for Kathleen but rather for those who have added her book to their wish list. I know some of the names from lists and forums and I read how much fabric and pattern buying shopping you do. My advice is for you to forego a couple of those purchases and buy the book for yourselves – NOW. You will never, ever regret doing so. :>) Right this minute, I wish I knew which milk crate *from moving) my copy is hiding in!

  21. Marian says:

    OK, I’m sold. I put Kathleen’s book on my Christmas list, then realized I was the only one in my family with a paypal account, so went ahead and ordered it. My husband is happy to let me do “his” christmas shopping! As a homesewer I just crave this type of information, and would really really love to see a book just for us, filled with Kathleen’s straightforward and clear explanations and instructions.

  22. Debbie Soles says:

    Snipped from Kathleen’s article:

    ” That’s why I now say that the only experts more irritating than those who co-opt “couture” to describe their skills, are those co-opting “industrial sewing”. Let’s hang the ones who do both :)”

    Well Kathleen I see your dance card’s gettin pretty full!:)) I have one thing to say, I’ve got the rope and the tree…let’s string em up!!:))

    Another myth to add to the ever growing list…it’s not always the sewist’s fault!!

    Debbie Soles
    former sewing factory “expert”…lol..worker
    meat eater
    but mainly a gal who just loves to sew!!:))
    AND a gal who now is so friggin sick of words like “couture”, “industry techniques”, “chanel jacket”, “japanese tailoring”…to name a few.
    OMG I feel a major rant brewing!:)

  23. Debbie Soles says:

    I’ve pondered this “myth” some more…there is more to this story than just sleeve cap ease and the amount thereof. This type of sleeve usually has a “high” cap, and the art of setting that sleeve correctly into the armscye will result in a “natural” amount of ease, even though there is no measured difference between the two. It’s just the way the “shapes” go together. Home sewists are taught to put this “ease” between “those notches”, another myth. When one is actually setting sleeves of this type (tailored two pc) there is usually a minimal amount of ease-ing that occurs on either side of the top of the cap/shoulder notch, never at the top of cap, not to mention that minimal amount we like to add at the base of that “U”, just a tad.

    And just saying use no sleeve cap ease isn’t enough info…it goes with the shorter shoulder length, the shoulder line stopping at the correct shoulder/arm point, the depth or height of the armhole, and correct front/back width measurements. If you want good looking caps with these type sleeves then you’re going to have to use a shorter shoulder length so the arm doesn’t impede fit or movement. This is where women’s suit jackets differ from mens. Men’s use inner support to extend the shoulder line slightly..they like to appear to have broader shoulders. Ah I could write volumes on sleeves and the things they love to do!

    AND the biggest myth that sets right up there with “you must use at least 1.25 to 2″ sleeve cap ease” the myth of using pins when setting sleeves. If there is one thing all home sewists should learn to do is to set a sleeve without using pins, they only hinder the process..they encourage puckers, they prevent the “natural” easing that your fingers should be doing.

    Granted I was a sleeve setter for mens suits in a sewing factory (now do it for a tailor), but still, this is something worth learning to do. It will lead you to realize how little you really need to use pins when constructing..and that will lead to even more myths being dispelled in your sewing room and journey.

    • reg wang says:

      Debbie, great input!! Good point on not to use pins and use fingers to push! Now, I have a question for you. I deal with leather. I make heavy duty leather jackets (will be). I can’t pin it, so that’s out, and leather is thick and stiff. However, I don’t make “suit” jacket, I make so-called “workwear”, like flight jacket, and other short and mid length coats, for everyday wear or motorcycle riding. Mobility is a key, so, intuitively I think I should focus on armhole height and shoulder width and cap height, but what about ease? Will it fit well and have arm mobility if the measurement of the cap and the armhole match (no ease)? I choose to ask instead of experiment simply because leather is costly…. but of course, I will experiment as well. Just want to hear some ideas. Much appreciated!

  24. jinjer says:

    And just saying use no sleeve cap ease isn’t enough info…it goes with the shorter shoulder length, the shoulder line stopping at the correct shoulder/arm point, the depth or height of the armhole, and correct front/back width measurements. If you want good looking caps with these type sleeves then you’re going to have to use a shorter shoulder length so the arm doesn’t impede fit or movement.

    Debbie mentions some of the issues that I’ve been grappling with since this post, and hints at the reasons why I actually DON’T believe that ease is never necessary. Here’s my grapplings so far.

    Note: I am NOT a patternmaker, the following musings come from examinations of clothing, bodies, a good grasp of geometry, and books by real and fake experts–read with a good dose of skepticism. And I’ve fiddled a bit with sleeve and armscye shapes trying to work out this problem.

    Shoulders aren’t square, but round. So, the seam that joins the sleeve to the bodice has to create some roundness over the shoulder. This is the job that ease is intended to do.

    This is hard to describe without pictures, but in order for you to get a round shape emerging from a seamline without using ease, you have to gradually increase the relative slope between the two pieces–i.e. at the peak of the round shape, the pieces have a similar curve, but as you extend away from that peak on either side, the slope of the round side gets progressively steeper relative to the other piece. Otherwise, you get a dumb-looking point at the seam instead of a nice curve.

    The following variables affect ease (tee-hee)of creating this perfect relationship between armscye and sleeve shapes:

    1) Squareness of shoulder
    Squarer shoulders require higher sleevecaps. because the top of the shoulder is further away from the armpit. but see #7.

    2) Length of shoulder seam.
    The longer the shoulder seam, the more you’re squaring off the shoulder, and the less roundness you need.

    3) Bicep circumference.
    The bigger your arm, the more limited the sleevecap within a given armscye length-more on this below.

    4) Size of armscye
    More armscye = more length to play with, but! The further away the armscye extends away from your actual arm socket, the mor elimited your motion becomes–unless the garment is REALLY baggy.

    5) Shape of armscye vs. arm socket.
    When it comes to the armscye size vs movement relationship, not all armscye sizes are equivalent. extra space between armpit and bottom armscye will limit movement more than extra space above the shoulder (generally supported by a shoulder pad, except in dropped shoulders)

    6) The angle the sleeve inserts into the armscye.
    Again, this is a little hard to explain without images, but the relative shapes of teh sleeve and arscye determine the angle at which your sleeve emerges. Picture a perfectly rectangular sleeve set into a perfectly rectangular garment–the sleeve emerges from the garment at a right angle. now keep those sewn together and cut a curved shape out of the gament, leaving the old seam in the sleeve. Th eresulting armscye is more natural, but th esleeve still emerges at a right angle. now shave off the curves on teh sides of teh sleeve. The more you shave off, the higher the sleevecap gets, and the steeper the angle at which the sleeve enters the body becomes. I believe (and this is fairly intested) that in a complex sleeve shape, this angle is determined by comparing the portion of the sleeve just above the switch from inside to outside curve to the corresponding part of the armscye. For more on this, see #7 & #8

    7) How much extra fabric you can stand in your armpits.
    Chances are good you don’t walk around with your arms straight out at your sides.* So if your sleeves come out at a right angle and you put your arms down, all the extra fabric** bunches up under your armpits. It looks pretty skanky to me.

    8) How high above your head you want to raise your arms.
    At least three things affect this motion: 1) the relationship of armscye to body. An armscye that floats away from your body limits arm-raising motions, especially in combination with a tight waist (your garment rides up to find the extra length lost in making a sharp corner into a oblique one) and 2) the angle at which the sleeve exits the armscye: the bigger the angle in the armpit, the easier it is to raise your arms and 3) the amount of gusset built into and/or added to your sleeve (but note that this also increases extra fabric in the armpits): You know how the sleeve shape echoes the armscye for a bit and then reverses to oppose it? The portion below the reversal is a built-in gusset. ***

    The roundness acheivable without making the bicep too narrow for comfort is limited because you can’t just pull the cap up high and narrow or it’ll get pointy at top. (see Carol’s post on using drapery weight to make a sleeve patterns for a great visual of the inverse relationship between cap height and bicep width).

    It is totally possible to balance these elements to create a beautifully-fitting sleeve that allows a reasonable range of motion with no ease. For example, suit jackets have high sleeve caps because the angle of the sleeve is optimized to a relaxes of slightly forward position (but don’t play basketball in your nice jacket unless it’s unbuttoned), but the padded shoulder increases the armscye and the long should requires minimal roundness.

    However, there are situations where ease is totally necessary: for example, a plump (round shoulder) woman with well-conditioned arms & shoulders (big bicep) who wants a nutaralistic sleeve (short shoulder-seam length, lots of roundness) that allows a wide range of movement (relatively small armscye). You’ll tear your hair out if you refuse to put ease in the sleeve in that situation (this is not a hypothetical situation, btw).

    SO put ease in sometimes, but don’t try to ease the top of the sleevecap, which is cut on the crossgrain-just ease the parts on the bias (unless it’s a bias cut sleeve-I’ve never tried one, but it could be good…), and for god’s sake, never sew a line of stitching to “ease” the sleeve before sewing it in -you’ll just gather it and the fabric will forever remember those gathers. And yes, don’t pin, it does make it harder.

    *unless you’re Ranma–extra points to fellow Japanophiles who got that reference.

    **”Why is there extra fabric?” you ask…when you raise your arm out to your side, your armpit doesn’t move. Instead, your shoulder becomes a bit higher and further in towards your neck. Conversely, when you lower your arm from the pretending-to-fly position, the upper part of your arm gets longer relative to the underside. Two balanced things happen: the sleeve opening rides up your wrist and fabric bunches up in your armpits. Of course, you’re more likely to move your arms forward than out, which I don’t understand nearly as well, except that the back gets even wider relative to the upper chest. All of this is true for ordinary movement. Dancers tend to move differently, which is why our sleeves need to fit really differently.

    ***How big is the gusset? Pin the sleeve to the armscye at teh point of reversal, and pivot it until the seamlines more or less match for an inche or so above teh pin. The more overlap between sleeve and bodice, the bigger the gusset.

    Hey, and just because I write like I know what I’m talking about doesn’t mean I think I do. So, feel free to lobby opposing arguments at me.

  25. Linda L says:

    I just decided to check your blog this morning and saw this discussion regarding sleeves. Your explanation and drawings make sense to me. Lately I have started removing some from the front sleeve cap area and adding to the back. Got this from a Sandra Betzina book. It works. I find this discussion interesting. Glad I decided to check it out this morning.

  26. Jan says:

    Thanks jinjer for the thoughtful information. I think the point should be made that we are all trying as hard as we can to create a sleeve that fits well, looks good, allows for ease of movement, etc. Your comments list the various “forces” (push, pull, drag, etc.) that work to impede a perfectly set-in sleeve. I would add that each body is different. I also think that no one way is perfect and different people have different ways of achieving the same end. I’ll bet that Jess and Josh’s mom can put in a pretty good sleeve and I admire and respect her for it. Other people like to use pins; I am one of them and I think I also get a good result. But then I construct my garments with a lot of hand-sewing; some almost entirely hand sewn and others with machine stitching depending on the garment. I would also add that someday somewhere someone might come up with an entirely new sleeve design/conception that will be better than anything any of us have ever seen. I try to stay open to any new ideas in my quest for better sewing and clothing.

  27. jane says:

    I have received my madeleine vionnet book,many thanks for letting me know it was available
    need more time to read it now tho!!!

  28. jinjer says:

    I certainly hope that my comments did not suggest that “no one way is perfect and different people have different ways of achieving the same end. ” What I meant to say is that for every body (yours or your fit model’s), and style choice there is an optimal armscye shape, and that the armscye shape, along with the bicep width(with ease built in), determine the sleeve shape through what could possibly be mathematically precise relationships. Not that I have those formulas, I just think they exist.

    I agree with Kathleen that ease should be minimized wherever possible–especially when working with fabrics that don’t like it.
    I just think that sometimes ease is necessary to fill all the requirements.

    That being said, I must confess about the example I gave for “ease is definitely necessary”–That particular sleeve was originally intended for a jacket, but at the very last minute, the client decided she wanted it set into the dress it matched. Thus, the sleeve really didn’t match the armscye, but I had no time to make a new pattern, much less fiddle around with the shape, so I eased* it into the very different armscye. Even if I had redrafted the sleeve, though I believe I would have used ease, just not nearly as much–but that’s unproven.

    Btw, I’ve found that “pushing” ease in works better than using a gathering stitch in every situation–hand or machine sewing. If you can’t easily push the ease in, that’s the fabric telling you not to add so much ease.

    *There was so much ease, in fact, that I was forced to sew it in by hand, with both the armcye and the sleeve pinned to a tailors ham so I could push the ease in and it would stay, compressed by the ham. So I did use pins.

  29. Jan says:

    Hi jinjer. I wasn’t referring to you at all; I am most appreciative of your long post on sleeves since it re-capped a lot of information that I have gathered here and there from other sources. I also liked your post on dress forms vs. a measuring tape and all that stuff on algorithms. I agree with you about that 100%. I am planning to revisit my sleeve pattern in the next few days to re-configure my last analysis. I think the problem is that the best looking sleeve doesn’t allow for enough movement and, thus, any set in sleeve is a trade off on those two issues (as you mentioned). If we look at this historically, the set in sleeve hasn’t really been around for all that long and that is why I am hopeful that someone might come up with something better. I’ve noticed other designers such as Isabel Toledo and Geoffrey Beene have experimented with this problem. I, personally, feel that fit and ease of movement are more important than appearance. I also think that men’s suits are a case in point. It is deplorable (to me) that any one would be willing to wear a garment that restricts movement to that degree. Sometimes I find myself thinking that the problems of the world stem from all our leaders wearing such uncomfortable, restrictive clothing. J

  30. Jan, you’re right–some people’s comfort levels restrict the design options that are feasible–that why it’s our job to know our customers!

    On suits and restrictive movement:
    My husband has a really fab coat with a very attractively set sleeve that affords him an amazingly wide span of comfortable motion. The jacket is by Pendleton (, a company that’s had plenty of time to perfect it’s sleeve block :). So anyway, it’s definitely possible, and I plan to take the thing apart the instant it wears out to study the shapes.

  31. steve says:

    I was given this link by a friend. My wife and I do medieval and rennaissance clothes and the sleeve patterns for my doublets look just like your drawing on the right (once you put the two pieces together). The body of the coat/doublet has the armscye cut towards the front.

  32. La BellaDonna says:

    Horribly enough, my arms are both forward AND back. My mother, God rest her, wanted me to stand up straight, shoulders back and down, and I did. So nothing ever fits me off the rack, ever. I have a very narrow back, broad shoulders, a broad chest, and my arms are back and down, and pitched at a really acute angle – acute enough so that the 18th Century stance for ladies, with the arms held bent, is the most comfortable for me. My arms do NOT hang down at the side. Needless to say, my pattern pieces are … quirky, to say the least.

  33. La BellaDonna says:

    Jinjer, I have lately been cutting close-fitting sleeves on the bias; they’re much more comfortable to wear for a woman with well-conditioned arms and big biceps.

    And, Kathleen, in another of Jinjer’s posts:
    “the whole arm IS forward of center. Which makes sense, I mean, it’s hanging from your clavicle, which is in the FRONT of your body. (unless you have very Victorian posture, and then it’s pushed to the sides.)” That’s what I meant! That would be my arm posture! (I didn’t want to send another email because I was afraid of looking like stalker-girl; I’m not, just a little obsessive-compulsive).

  34. Laura Wilson says:

    I need help, QUICK! My daughter is a tiny size 2. I can only find suits in a size 4 in my small town, She needs a suit for next week, and I am not an overly accomplished dressmaker. I bought a beautiful suit, made properly with two-piece sleeves, and the caps are formed as in your sketch. I took up 1 inch across the chest at the side seam and tapered it into her waistline so the jacket now fits perfectly. Yes, there is ease in the top of the sleeve, but both seams are on angles such that the seams no longer align and one side is about an inch higher no matter which seam I try to take up. Can anyone tell me how to take up the sleeve so that it fits properly into the armscye? The sleeves are also about 3 inches too long. My email is Thank you SO much!

  35. dee says:

    I remember Style patterns that had set-in sleeves with the shape as in Kathleen’s drawing, right hand side. I am sure they were cut on the bias.

    Sadly I don’t have any of these old patterns any more. Does anyone know of a current pattern with this sleeve shape, such as maybe in the Vogue Vintage range?

  36. Bryn Tarr says:

    I need help convincing the head of the Pattern dept where I work as a designer that a Hockey Jersey does not need ease in the sleeve. We are laying up digital designs right on the patterns and need to match the designs/stripes across the sholder as well as at the bottom of the armhole to the side seams and the 1/4″ ease is messing up our designs. They think I’m crazy telling them they don’t need ease.. My gosh it’s an oversized off the sholder knit garment..yikes!

  37. Mary E. O. says:

    I can’t figure out why a company making hocky jerseys would want to add ease in the first place. I worked with finished jerseys for 10 years and never saw one with sleeve ease. I’ve drafted two different hockey jersey patterns and cannot even figure out how to put it in- in a way that would work without effecting the style- in the first place. You’re right. End of story.

    On Kathleen’s original post, and book sleeve/armhole information, my 20 years of professional alterations experience backs up all of her findings. I really enjoyed the feeling of validation I received from reading that chapter, that my observations and corrections made to patterns and garments over these years were backed up!

  38. Adam Arnold says:

    All this is hogwash! All this except for the statement about arms being toward the front of the body.

    If you properly set a sleeve with ease it just fits better. Anything else is just pure laziness. and if you take a closer look at the jacket photo you will see that only one vertical stripe matches at the seamline. The other stripe seems to because it is cut on grain and is seen on the edge of a three dimensional sleeve. there is plenty of ease in that jacket sleeve, I’ve eased enough of them to see it.

  39. Kathleen says:

    You are more than welcome to express a dissenting opinion -nicely- however, I don’t take kindly to being called lazy. That’s not a word anyone, ever, would use to describe me. If anything is lazy, it’s easing. Easing is a work around used to compensate for failing to cut an armhole and sleeve properly. Consider this an invitation to prove me wrong. You might also want to review part two. There’s also a lot more in the forum but you have to be a member to access that. In the meantime, go wild.

  40. Willow Baus says:

    This is in response to the armhole -sleevcap re- shape- you are a genious! I would have never thought to do this and it works! I will try to rethink what I learned in school now because this sleeve stuff is maddening- I am day 2 of reworking one sleeve. ugh! You saved me- thank you!

    I did add a little ease still, without it I think the movement is still too restricted.

  41. Simone says:

    This makes so much sense! When I draft a two piece sleeve, the shape is a lot like your modified sleeve. There is no ease and it fits fine. I am definitely going to try this right now on a blouse I am going to make.

  42. Sonia Levesque says:

    I think all this cap sleeve ease was meant for the sleeve to actually jut OUT a bit. I suspect this was taken from menswear jackets and coats eons ago… and applied just everywhere still.

    Maybe the ease aided with the big shoulder pads, or this was just a trick to had width so the shoulder line appear larger, no? Let’s not forget that most of the time, trend wise, large shoulders vs slim waist ratio is prefered in menswear.

    How weird to just follow a rule when you just can’t explain why… That reminds me of a (completely unrelated ) story that puts that fact in relation. A girl learned how to cook a whole ham in the oven by her mother. One of the steps was to cut both ends of the ham piece. When asked why they had to do that, the mother replied; “Don’t know, but you Grand Mother did just so… And so it’s the proper way.”
    This would not suffice as an explanation for our girl, and she went to the source. It would appear that the Grandmother was cutting the ends for the simple fact that her old fashion oven was too small for the big whole ham… Her daughter had never asked, and just assumed the missing ends had some special purpose…

    Makes you wonder about a lot of things, doesn’t it?

  43. Ioanna says:

    Hey, when I first read this post about a year ago it seemed interesting but didn’t investigate further until I got Kathleen’s book about a month ago (better late than never, right?) Then, reading the part about how the armscye, shoulderlines etc should be drafted, I got worried and promptly went to check my patterns!

    Turns out, because I started learning from the British books (I’m in Europe so it made more sense to start out using metric books when I was a complete newbie) I lucked out. It wasn’t until recently that I got the Armstrong book and I finally found out some of the no-nos Kathleen’s talking about.

    Was it out of trying to over-simplify things that American books ended up like that, or are the British books better just by being older? It seemed that the older the book was the more information it had on WHY something was done, versus just telling you to do something just because…

    Still I’m not knocking down the Armstrong book completely since I just started going through it. I’m just glad that I didn’t have to pay full price for it (I got the international version, identical to the US one but softcover and half price!)

    Oh and in case it wasn’t obvious, Kathleen is right on this one like she’s right about a lot of stuff, her book rocks, sign me up for the fan club ;)

  44. Sally says:

    I just found your blog a few weeks ago and have been reading it religiously….thank you so much for this entry. I always thought it was “me” when it came to my frustrations regarding sleeve pattern-making and garment construction. Interestingly enough, this sleeve style is very similar to the sleeves I’ve seen on 18th century ballgowns and bodices.

    My only question now is…how would we go about drafting a “corrected” sleeve? Is that covered in your book, and what’s the title?

  45. Valerie Burner says:

    Kathleen, I purchased your book about a month ago, and am almost finished reading it. (In bed at night is about the only time I have!) I could write a book in response to all of your wonderful information- things that have bugged me for years about patterns and sewing, as well as most of the other things you covered. As a home-sewer-turned-fashion-school-graduate (I’ll post a bio soon), I agree with all you’ve said about sleeves and other fitting issues. These have been my biggest pet peeves with fit. I draped a muslin and tried it on an elderly client last year. After much tweaking to her contours, the armholes and sleeves turned out just like your illustrations! As did the front princess seams! And the back curve! I thought I was on drugs! I even “blended” them to make them look “more like patterns” and now I know that I was right all along. I LOVE your book, and wish I’d found it several years ago- it could have saved me $100,000 on school!!!!!! Thank you for your outstanding work- I come to this site every day. It may take a few months to read it all, but it is worth every minute. And the tutorials are amazing! (I’ll be leaving a donation soon!)If I can figure out how to get photos on here, I’ll show you my welt pockets on my blue jeans! I also want to thank you for addressing the issue of FEAR. (Perhaps you could do a post on that again soon. Every little bit of encouragement helps!) The past five years have been the worst of my life, and after several life-changing events and attending FD school, I was at the lowest point of my life- wondering why I wanted to do this and thinking that it would never work. I was embarassed to tell people what I was planning to do- thinking that I was the only one with such ideas. I even had an instructor tell me that I needed a shrink when I told her that I was afraid to get out there and get started, and that I didn’t want to become a huge corporation. Back to the sleeve and armhole issue- is there a dress form that represents that shape? I read about your new form, but don’t know if it does… I did a drape yesterday and drew the armholes like they should be. I just need to make the muslin and try on the fit. Then on to the sleeves! Thank you for everything!

  46. Melinda says:

    Valerie: I am going through the same thing. I worked as a Production Artist in Graphic Design for 10 years and wanted to try something different. I enjoyed home sewing so I enrolled in the Fashion dept of the local community college and decided I really liked pattern making and “wondering why I wanted to do this and thinking that it would never work.” is something i’ve said many times over the past year.

    Misery does love company. :) Nice to know I’m not the only one.

  47. Matt says:

    I had always thought that “easing” the sleeve cap wasn’t so much about easing the cap itself, but more about easing the seam allowance. When I was taught drafting, we were told that any seam has to be the same length as the seam it is meant to be sewn to. No exception was made for sleeve caps.

    BUT, when you have a convex edge on a piece, the cut edge will necessarily be longer than the seam line. So, the seam allowance needs to be eased in somewhat, but the two stitching lines are the same length. Just as I was taught to stretch out the seam allowance on a concave seam (rather than clipping), you must ease it on a convex one (and possibly steam shrink it if you’re using wool).

  48. Esther says:

    I have a question about pattern drafting convention. In the tutorial above you mention that the front of the sleeve is scooped out more than the back. The draft shows the front of the sleeve on the left. I normally place the front of my sleeve on the right. I am just curious about why yours is drawn with the front on the left? I have to admit it did confuse me a bit…

  49. Yolanda says:

    Wow! What a site. I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. Such expertise. I am a second year student, in an adult education class. I started sewing at 70 and just fell in love with it.

  50. Laurie says:

    Jinjer markley…Dec 5th 2005…Ah good luck with that one a pendelton wearing out…Mine is from the 40’s and in still perfect condition :) …I can just see your post now


    Anyway what an interesting Blog!!! And I’m suppose to be working! All I want to do is go home and throw all the patterns out (keep the envelopes though and buy your book…My friend got it and now I have to get my own copy!

  51. Heather J Knight says:

    Using far less sleeve ease has changed and improved my sewing skills. I alter ease out of commerical big 4 sleeve caps, and they go in more easily. They also look and fit better.

  52. vidya says:

    Dear Kathleen,

    I attended a tailoring class for 2 months.The teacher there ws insisting that the front and back armsyce is differently the sleeve cannot be the shape on the left I feel.She would say it will never fit properly if the armsyce were made similiar at teh front and back.Only now I understand her statement.

    Thanks for your time and knowledge

  53. Jennifer says:

    Would you mind writing some additional instruction on how to make sleeves that look good while allowing more freedom of movement. So far all the dresses I’ve made, I just turned into sleevless versions so I could have enough movement, but I want to learn how to put on sleeves that let me move, if such a thing exists.

    Thanks for the great site.

  54. nutty one says:

    well, i am saving for your book. you make a lot of sense but I must admit I think I need to spend time re reading to understand it all

  55. Alexis says:

    Thanks for this article…as I have an avid hatred of sleeve ease myself. I was the one person in my class who didn’t set and reset sleeves because at the first attempt I thought, “There’s just too much fabric here!” and cut the ease off! The teacher marveled at how I got the sleeve to fit so nicely, but I was too embarrassed to tell the truth because I didn’t want to get a bad grade! From then on I strayed away from smooth, fitted sleeve caps, opting for relaxed styles or gathers, but when I had to, like for my tailoring project, I removed as much ease as possible. I considered myself horrible at patterning and eventually quite sewing as much. Learning to make my own patterns was the major factor for going to design school. Now that I’m a little more mature and more interested in reviving the skills I’m still paying monthly for (school loans), I’m glad to see my observations weren’t so off base.

  56. Nicole Siskind says:

    I just found a pattern making book that breaks down how to make this sleeve shape.
    “How to make sewing patterns” by Donald H McCunn.
    It is very clear and simplistic. I made it last night and the sleeve is so much better…
    I can actually move in it!!! I don’t know how long I have been trying to fix this problem. ( I am a home sewer)
    You have to measure your biceps up higher than I was doing, add three inches biceps ease, and then it shows you how to draft the shape Kathleen describes. I am so glad I found this site – Thank you all.

  57. Ade Philpott says:

    From my own research on historical patterns, the Regency tailors were using two piece sleeves that had the shape shown on the right of those two drawings. From reading the explanation (about where your arm sits) I now understand why.

    Another aspect of regency tailoring was the lack of seams. A jacket consisted of the back panel and two front panels and that was it. None of this extra side seem, chest seem etc etc.

    Modern tailoring is like everything else modern, devoloped for us lazy human beings.

  58. Kathleen, my sleeves look just as the ones pictured on the right (the “right ones”) and still making them without any ease and sewing them into the armhole will result in an ugly sleeve. There doesn’t need to be much ease though…much less than I usually read in books. What works for me is something like 1cm for the front part, 1.5cm for the back part of the sleeve.

    Have you ever sewn a sleeve with no ease into a bodice? Can I see a picture of it?

  59. Kathleen says:

    Zuzana, have you also fiddled with the armhole shaping? That is the foundation of the sleeve.

    Yes, all of the tops I’ve sewn have no sleeve ease. I don’t have many photos of them on this site but there are two of them.

    I’m not saying it’s easy, because it’s not. There is little I dislike more than fixing a sleeve and armhole. It’s nearly all by eye and then you have to sew up test garments. I have literally spent 8 hours reworking a sleeve and armhole on a pattern.

  60. Marcie G says:

    I have really enjoyed reading this web site, after having stumbled on it while searching for information on the standard ease for a sleeve (biceps not cap, but hey…) I’ve thought a lot about this sleeve cap discussion since yesterday and just wanted to add my nickle’s worth from 50 some odd years of home sewing.

    I knew I recognized the sleeve shape… it’s a classic two-part tailored sleeve usually used in jackets (probably dinosaur sleeve patterns…) It has the added advantage of allowing darts at the elbow and other tricks.

    Sleeve cap ease as I always understood it was only at the cap and had two purposes: to round the sleeve over the transition from shoulder (pad) to arm and to provide a receptacle for the sleeve header. You can see that in the photo… there is a little too much uncontrolled ease for my taste… it should have been steam-shaped so it doesn’t bunch up so much. It’s good to remember that sleeve seams used to sit higher up and not fall off the shoulder like they do now. Today’s styles use the weight of the sleeve and drap of the fabric to make the transition off the shoulder, then start the sleeve after.

    I dragged out my venerable copy of Vogue Sewing and the whole idea of setting in a two-part sleeve was considered difficult and time-consuming. Another thing occurred to me, and that is the history of the shirt sleeve in David Coffin’s book, which is quite different from the jacket sleeve. In this context, the shirt sleeve pattern profile makes more sense and it’s my guess that it has simply been adapted to the jacket over time. Given air conditioning and the more casual attitudes, the soft unlined jacket has made inroads allowing easier-to-produce shirt construction techniques to be used.

    Making a short leap here, I would assume that is why designers like Loes Hinse insist that their patterns are only for use with “drapey” fabric. Their jackets are just medium weight shirts instead of coats (and they say so!) so the fudge factor allows for a less constructed and difficult sleeve. Unfortunately sewists tend to push the envelope of what constitutes “drapey” and end up using fabrics that do not have the correct properties to allow the imprecision of the pattern. Include “quilt” cottons here. They have so little drape that even a camp shirt invariably sits wrong on the body and could use a different sleeve profile. I would guess that’s why cotton camp shirts try to crawl down your back in an effort to relocate the underarm seam where it oughta be and why the same basic shirt in rayon or silk doesn’t.

  61. Elaine says:

    Thank you, thank you! I never realized this, but now that I think of the most well -tailored jackets I have seen, they had a sleeve like the one you modified to fit the anatomy correctly. I just thought it was an extra gusset that was sewn in towards the back of the sleeve. You have really done a favor to everyone who sews in sleeves, and I have been doing it the old way for at least forty five years, always vaguely discontented with the results. It’s never too late to be informed.

  62. Ruth says:

    Like Susan McElroy, I sewed thirty-plus years ago with Style patterns and remember well their asymmetric sleeves. I am positively grief-stricken every time I have to alter a sleeve pattern these days. Why DID Style go out of business and not say S….? And if you don’t alter those sleeves they don’t hang right.

    But seriously, Kathleen, in this day and age how does such useful knowledge fall out of use? I mean, here you are training lots of people and the pattern companies actually employ pattern drafters who put ease in sleeves atttached to DROPPED shoulders. I mean, that makes a person look deformed. What is going on? Who gets the jobs and why?

  63. Cindy D says:


    If you ever considered what blog content you’d might want to move into the book for a later edition, this post gets my vote. I read this and the armscye correction section together ALL THE TIME.

  64. Lisa L. says:

    I am trying this pattern adjustment today on my very first (hobby) shirt for my fiancee. What a revelation. I have been working from a pattern from an “industrial sewing systems” company, and the draft (toile) shirt looked and fit awful, I thought I could never buy such a horrible shirt in a store (incredibly huge and boxy torso, with short sleeves that were incredibly full and stuck out like bat wings). I’ve adjusted the pattern with curves: curved and trimmer torso, and now these curved (and already trimmed) sleeves. I’ll post photos in the forum or on Flickr once this project is complete.

    Thank you for this post. Obviously : your armpits are not at your sides, they’re at your front.

    Ordered your book, can’t wait for it to arrive, sewing will get a lot easier.

  65. Chrystal says:

    Hi: Where do I get a copy of your book “the Fundamentals of Fitting” Google doesn’t know where to get it. I love this post and I will read more. I have been sewing for more than 15 years and I never make shirts for myself because I cannot get them to fit correctly in the arms..and then I read this post and understand why.
    Love your site and would love some information that would help me to increase my sewing skills to a higher level than they are now.

  66. Kathleen says:

    Hi Chrystal, I agree the wording was awkward; “Fundamentals of fitting” is the chapter heading of pgs 163-169. The book’s title is The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing. Did you see the most recent entry on shaping armholes?

  67. YEAH! I have always hated “basting, pinning and praying thing”. I always found it a pain to sew, so i would avoid it if possible. Now, I am totally jazzed to give this a go!
    Thanks for posting!!

  68. Donna says:

    My drafts always end up with 1/2 ” of ease so I gave up. Now I lay the back and front pattern pieces together at the shoulder line and use my blue flexible thing (have no idea what it is called) and make a shape to fit the sleeve. On my paper with a “T” for the grain and underarm line I place the blue thing on the lines and trace a sleeve cap. I get better results with this not so technical approach.

  69. Andrea says:

    Thank you for this post, Kathleen!! Armholes and sleeves continue to baffle me and I am always astounded by the wealth of information your articles and the member comments to follow provide. Such a wonderful resource, thank you again.

  70. Joelle Hodson says:

    This explains why armholes upset me! The picture and instructions in the books seem to contradict my instincts. Then I get angry when trying to sew the result together.

  71. Marie says:

    OH! OH! My favorite blog post from Kathleen! I have actually tried this! Go ALL the way! Take all of the ease out of your sleeve cap, and tell me you DON’T see a HUGE difference! Try it before you get on here and say Kathleen is wrong or lazy, BTW how in the world could anybody think Kathleen was lazy? Look at these blog post’s! That doesn’t take work? DUH! How did the rumor that we need so much ease in the sleeve cap get started? Is it left over from back in the day when the leg-o-mutton sleeve was the rage and “they” think we have to have some ease or else? Or else what, my sleeves will actually look great and not home becky ecky? I feel like I have been set free b/c the truth will set you free! NO MORE SLEEVE CAP EASE=pretty sleeves!

  72. Rebecca says:

    Woo hoo! I just came to this same result, draping a problematic sleeve onto a jacket right on the mannequin. I was pretty confused about the position of the side seam until I just re-read this post! Now I did find that my seams for the 2 piece sleeve had moved to inappropriate locations, and they’re not lining up right when I try to redraft them from my new sleeve cap seam… but it’s after midnight and I probably shouldn’t be thinking about it anymore tonight.

  73. Nidhi says:

    Hi! I have been taught to make sleeves exactly as you say should be done : no ease and shaped differently. Though I am able to get the correct shape, I have a problem with the ease. I either end up with ease in the back sleeve cap, or a shorter-than-needed front sleeve cap. I did a lot of experimenting and realised that there is a basic problem. Despite the difference in shapes, my front and back sleeve caps are almost the same size (max 1/4″ difference). Yet, the front armscye is longer than the back armscye. The curvier it is, the more the difference in length. I am not able to eliminate the extra length without making it the exact same shape as the back armscye. Nor am I able to make the front sleeve cap longer than the back sleeve cap. What should I do?

  74. Susan says:

    Hi Kathleen,
    Thank you for the wealth of information you provide here. I, too, have struggled with fitting sleeves that won’t bind when raising my arm – with or without ease! I do agree that better shaping is most of the solution, however, there is absolutely no way I could create a sleeve cap without ease. In order to get the necessary height on my sleeve cap so the sleeve does not flare away from my arm, I have to create a longer cap seamline than armhole seamline. I think this may be true for you too? If I look at your photo of the blue blouse, it looks like the cap height is creating some drag lines on the sleeve, indicative of a short cap height? Or am I wrong? I’d love to hear that I’m wrong!!
    I’ve spent 2 weeks straight trying to work around this, but I just don’t think it’s possible for me.

  75. Kathleen says:

    Susan, you (mostly) have one of two choices.

    1. If you want a suit jacket fitted sleeve (requires an extended shoulder line), you can’t also have the range of motion to chop wood. The whole reason suit coats came into vogue was because they indicated that the wearer did not do physical labor.

    2. For enhanced range of motion, you may need to shorten the shoulder line slightly which may introduce drag lines depending on your weight.

    Maybe you’re referring to “drag lines” in this photo, specifically my arm holding the camera. It appears there are drag lines but my elbow is extended to the back so that the camera is flush with the front of me. This sleeve was cut to flatter a forward arm movement (PROM: Primary Range of Motion), not a backward movement.

    Even if my blue shirt had drag lines in the forward position, I wouldn’t care much. It was an interim project to test the gusset and I threw in a cap sleeve I had lying around from yet an earlier style (but yes, you’re right, the sleeve cap was shortened). It was a basic sportswear item intended for comfort and wearing ease. I can’t speak for anyone else but if every project I put up had to be a perfect statement or a testament of my sewing or drafting prowess, I’d get even less done…

    As far as becoming successful with your project, keep in mind that the sleeve is only half the story -the shape of the space it is set into is the other half. And fwiw, this isn’t fun stuff to fix, my least favorite thing to do. I wish I could say I’d only spent two weeks of my life fixing these things!

    Btw, here is another lovely photo of a match stripe across the sleeves, courtesy of Advanced Style blog.

  76. Archnar says:

    Wow, my suspicions were confirmed! I stumbled onto your site a few days ago looking for “industrial sewing techniques” and was delighted to see a site that actually dealt with and explained it. I also eased my sleeves and hated every minute of the hours I have spent with each shirt. Sadly I just sewed in the sleeves on my fourth shirt when I decided to look up ease since I couldn’t imagine factory workers setting in eased sleeves daily. I did cheat though and fudged the easing by sewing the sleeve with a larger seam allowance and extending the excess past the armscye length. I think that I have no choice but to draft a shirt pattern for myself instead of the crappy vogue pattern I have now. I think I’ll try to modify it first if I can.

    I’ve only been sewing for less than a year btw.

    I have been using the Vogue mens dress shirt pattern and it’s a wonder I can wear any shirts I’ve made from it. Sleeve is symmetrical but split in two part to allow for a sleeve placket, if you can even call it that, along this seam. Luckliy, I now know how to make actual plackets. The only part I like is that it has a back and two side panels which give a more fitted look rather than a pleated single back piece.

    Thanks again for your work on this site, I think I’ll be adding your book it to my shopping cart along with my textbooks for school since it seems just as useful for home sewers. Sewing seems less daunting now and I might continue sewing other pieces beyond shirts.

  77. Alice Elliot says:

    Just want to add my 2 cents. I always think in terms of circles. As you move in toward the center of a circle, the circumference gets smaller. So at the cut edge of the sleeve cap the circumference is larger than the cut edge of the armscyce. But at the seamline of each, if the drafting is perfect (ha-ha) then the circumferences should be equal because you’ve moved in on the circles.
    I appreciate this post so much. Many modern garments are drafted for novice sewists, with a sleeve pattern appropriate for a bathrobe. I love to find a really well-drafted fitted sleeve pattern, with just the shape you describe, when I open a pattern.

  78. anne jewell says:

    thanks so much for sharing your insight! i always wondered why my sleeves pouffed at the
    shoulder seam and now i see why!–anne

  79. Valerie says:

    Good grief! I have always hated sewing the ease in sleeves. My instructors have always said it’s necessary. Yet in patternmaking class we were instructed to alter the pattern as you illustrated, except we did that after adding ease. Sleeve ease is the devil. Literally every student’s sleeve sample looked like crap. If you say I don’t need it, great! But I will have to use it if my teacher instructs us to, because I need to pass the class.

  80. Peter says:

    thank you so much for this post! i know it was published seven years ago, but i am a rookie seamstress and while able to draft my own jacket pattern, was unaware of there NOT being ease in many “professional” drafting books. i had learned from big 4 patterns to ALWAYS do ease–it was second nature. NO MORE! i am really thankful because you just save me a whole lot of headache (haven’t set the sleeve in yet but have drafted it) if i sound like a recent convert it’s because i ammmmmm omgomgomgthankuthankuthankuuuuu

  81. Michele Killman says:

    Wow. This is a revelation. I’m going to change my sleeve pattern and blow my teacher’s mind. Of course I will give credit where it is due. Thanks again Kathleen…you never cease to AMAZE Me.

    BTW..Hope you are well. I think of you often.

  82. Amy says:

    Wow. Thank you. I have been redrawing the armcyes on several patterns I bought recently, because they had the sleeves cut on the fold (front and back identical) and I knew that was not right. I didn’t know about eliminating the ease though. Doesn’t the ease help create the cupped shape of the sleeve cap?

  83. Fliptruck says:

    Hi K,
    I’m just writing as while I found your article interesting, your initial statement used for your ‘null ease’ argument seems flawed… “Obviously, the total length of the sleeve cap must be equal to the total length in the armhole, otherwise these stripes would not be matching…” In this case, the maths is wrong.
    The armscye is cut essentially parallel to the vertical stripes and perpendicular to the horizontal strips, whereas the sleeve cap is cut on a diagonal. This means the diagonal distance between stripes on the sleeve is a lot longer than the parallel distance between the stripes on the bodice. This in turn means the sleeve in that picture MUST BE EASED ON – by quite a lot, roughly 1.41 inches of sleeve cap for every one inch of armskye (see – for a basic math formula to explain it).
    I wish I could upload a sketch or whatnot to explain better, but sadly don’t have that function. The point is that this jacket does have ease, and probably should have as it’s a thick jacket with a slanted set-in sleeve. I completely agree, some sleeves need no ease – stretch etc among them, but as other comments have said, at a minimum the sleeve should be equal to the total armskye. My other half is massive, so he gets extra ease to allow for his ludicrous biceps.
    On a more helpful note, here’s a method I was shown that gets perfect set-in sleeves with ease just about every time: machine sew two rows of stitching from about the ‘notches’ on the sleeve cap, one on the finished sleeve line, one in the seam allowance half-way to the edge; pin sleeve onto bodice from notch to underarm to notch; using your two rows of stitching, gather the free sleeve cap tightly, then remove the gather by gently pushing it flat again – not too flat though, just enough to let it fit into the remaining armhole. Pin rest of sleeve cap to armhole, and stitch on the gather line to sew sleeve in. I find this smoothly gathers the sleevecap without bunching, but with enough ‘eased in’ to make the bicep, shoulder, back etc not pull.
    Hope that helps, ESH.

  84. AA says:

    Of course, it’s possible that the lengths of the sleeve cap and the arm scye are *NOT* the same – any couture textbook will show you how to shrink and stretch woollen fabric to increase or reduce ease so that stripes and plaids can be matched up. A very interesting article, but the first premise is flawed.

  85. Aimee says:

    I just have to leave a comment, after reading this post (referred from a blog post result to a google search).
    I have sewn sporadically since I first owned a Magic Attic doll and my mom wouldn’t buy us those gorgeous outfits and accessories in the magazines. I made a nightgown, a fur coat with leftovers from a wolf puppet project, all kinds of things. I made a couple Halloween costumes.

    When I got a dog, he had such bad nameless allergies that I put him in clothes to protect his skin from his teeth and any low edge he could rub on like bed frames. I made the pattern myself, and each “suit” was better than the last. At one time he went through a phase where he required sleeves (and socks) to protect his legs.

    Even DOG patterns are not properly constructed!!

    And now that I’ve started wanting to sew my own clothes, and begun working with real patterns. I’m learning that it may just be easier for me to use my new duct tape dress form and create what I want from scratch- I have some weird issue with my shoulders that I haven’t figured out yet. I guess they are forward shoulders? Standing upright and relaxed, it might appear that what I made actually fits. But the minute I reach for anything, the armhole and sleeve is digging into the front of my shoulder/chest. If I’m not careful it can actually be painful!

    I’ve done google searches and gotten quite confused, as well as inspired, but maybe I should just go to the library and find some fitting books.

    Anyway, thanks for this post. I’ve done maybe 2 sleeved garments so far, and that mismatched crap REALLY bothered me. I mean, I seriously thought my pattern was defective. WTF??

    Also, I WANT that coat. It’s gorgeous!!

  86. Cynthia says:

    Eight years later, and your post is alive and well! This one post has taught me so much. I make custom outfits for… well unless you show horses, it’s hard to understand! Jackets and shirts for the western horse show-er, they’re usually loaded with bling, and now very detailed laces are being used. Anyway, the pattern I’ve previously used has a sleeve as in the first drawing. However, when riding western, arms are slightly forward of center to hold reins. No wonder the front bunches, and the back pulls at the sleeve! I’m going to try this technique on a muslin. I think it will be a great success. Thank you, Kathleen!

  87. Alex Hart says:

    hi – just found this post, but cannot find your book “Fundamentals of fitting” – is it still in print please? thanks

  88. Pia says:

    There’s another fabulous example of matched stripes across a sleeve in Thomas von Nordheim’s Vintage Couture Tailoring pg 111. He doesn’t explain how he achieved this and the rest of the sleeve chapter demonstrates a sleeve with 3.5″ ease – just to show that it can be done successfully sometimes. So it’s unclear whether the matched stripe sleeve had any cap ease or not.

    I’m struggling a bit with this issue. Does it depend on the fabric, where the shoulder seam ends, and shape of the arm at the top? If my shoulder seam ends at my shoulder point, then the top of my arm curves out a bit. For the sleeve to follow this curve it would seem the armscye would have to be darted or eased to accommodate this mound. But if the shoulder seam extends a bit further out, so the sleeve can drop straight down, then I can imagine that it doesn’t need ease. Could it also be possible that with some fabrics, it’s possible to stretch the area just beyond the armscye to create the necessary bulge? So rather than shrinking the seam line you stretch out the interior, so that the seam line doesn’t need any ease, making it easier to match stripe patterns?

  89. Simeon says:

    Um, you know that there is ease in the sleeve head of that jacket in your example image right?
    You can see that, right?
    Also, you can see that the stripes don’t actually match. The horizontal one near the crown of the sleeve on the left is slightly out of line.
    Also, you know this is a very loose weave fabric, making it easy to make adjustments in the sleeve head fit without disturbing the stripe too much.

    Above all, if there is a shoulder pad in the jacket, then it is simply impossible for a sleeve head to turn the 90 degrees needed to navigate around the edge of the shoulder pad, and then set into the armhole without some ease in it. You can go on, and on, and on about how you have discovered something that no-one else in the history of clothes making had discovered, not the greatest couturiers, neither Balenciaga, a self confessed sleeve madman, nor Chanel, famous for spending half a day fitting one sleeve, nor all the Master tailors of decades, but you are simply and unequivocally incorrect.

    No doubt, that makes me a ‘blind’ ‘sucker’ to the ‘lies’ I’ve been fed, but having a couple of decades of making clothes under my belt also, I think I’d know a thing or two about it as well. I am interested to try out your sleeve shape, to see what it may have going for it, but I know for certain that ease is necessary with certain fabrics, and with a shoulder pad in place.

    Just to be clear, I think your website is very interesting and full of useful stuff.
    I just think you are wrong on this occasion.
    Otherwise, thanks!

  90. JennieRose says:

    I recently purchased Simplicity pattern 5194 dated 1973, and the sleeve for the blazer jacket is shaped very similar to what you are suggesting. At first I was confused as to why the sleeve was shaped in such a way, especially since I’m so used to the “standard” shape. But after reading your blog, it all makes sense to me now.
    Thank you for the insightful bog :)

    link to image:

  91. Erin Orea says:

    Can anyone tell me whether the front or back of the armscye is bigger in a corrected draft. The back of my arm scye drafts keep ending up smaller, however, my pattern books are telling me that the back should be half inch longer. Thanks in advance for any help.

  92. Roger says:

    Why would anyone be putting what is essentially a one-piece shirt sleeve (the left sleeve in the diagram) on a jacket anyway? The reason for having a two piece sleeve for a jacket is to be able to cut it to fit and working just enough ease in as is necessary. This is not a new concept.

    RTW is one thing, but sleeves need to be cut for people with all kinds of requirements. There is no magic average of ease-for-all. On RTW coats one of the major common problems is poor construction of the shoulders. The bigger myth is that fitting problems can be solved in the pattern drafting stage.

  93. Lo-Ann says:

    I’m on a quest for a nice fitted sleeve for my shirt and after the 5th iteration of redrafting, my sleeve is ending up very lop sided. I just got confirmation that it should look like the before and after image above: tight curve at the front and almost straight line at the back. I don’t have any pattern drafting experience; I simply try on the shirt then proceed to add or subtract here and there. My back sleeve cut out is quite minimal because I like some ease in the back for movement (such has straighten my arms out in front of me). My front sleeve cut out is deep because I want my arms to move easily and still have a straight silhouette at the front of the shirt. The lop sided shape totally makes sense to me. I’m not sure why this shape isn’t more common for shirt patterns.

  94. anya says:

    Im very very confused how this photo could possibly show that sleeve head ease is a lie. This is a loose weave wool fabric and this jacket 100% has sleeve head ease. I feel like this article will promote a lot of badly made sleeves please revisit.

  95. Ina says:

    So I thought myself most of what I know about my sewing. I don’t usually have problems getting physical tasks like matching up seams, or crafting stuff, so when I started sewing with mostly scrap fabric and mostly sleeveless stuff, it went quite well with everything.
    So I didn’t really look into how to make sleeves.
    Now I tried sewing a sleeve into a (muslin, thank god) bodice the other day (and since I had no idea what skeeve ease was), I was very confused by the fact that matching up notches was sort of impossible without gathering anything.
    Which seemed very strange to me, because why would there be a seam where the pieces don’t match, without having a gathered detail?
    I mean, this hadn’t been a problem with the sweater I’d made a few days earlier, why would a coat sleeve work so fundamentally different?
    So I went online and found out that I was doing it wrong, because I didn’t gather my sleeve head.
    So far so good. Not that there is a lot of explanation for the phenomenon. So I was real happy to find this article. Both because it explains what I did wrong and because it gives me the satisfaction of being right about the sleeve being stupid.^^
    Thank you!

  96. Rachel says:

    This is all such good information. The way you drew the sleeve pattern is almost exactly what 18th c sleeves looked like flat. I’m kinda wondering how our modern sleeve cap came into being because sleeves of the past didn’t mess with this whole huge sleeve cap nonsense.

  97. Zacky says:

    Burda and Neue Mode patterns have sleeves drafted the correct way. Ever since I read your article, I replace sleeves/armholes on patterns drafted based on the American method with a Burda or Neue Mode one, choosing a similar pattern style. I have a large Burda/Neue Mode magazine or pattern stash dating back the 80s up to early 2000s. When making an American drafted jacket, I find a Burda or Neue Mode jacket with similar style and replace armhole and sleeve. Same for dress shirts, dresses, blouses, coats, etc.

  98. Allan says:

    Having a steeper cap and some ease allows you to accomodate a fleece sleeve head in a mens suit jacket which gives a very aesthetically pleasing look. As most luxury suits are made of wool then some shaping can be done with steam to set the sleeve. So whilst I agree in principle with your argument and particularly the correct shape of the cap line and differences between from, back and the oval shape of the hole I believe there are still some valid reasons for ease in the cap.

  99. Sallyee says:

    I have lost 3 days trying to draft a fitted sleeve. Sadly, although I am not large, my biceps certainly are. I am adding a sleeve to a corset bodice and I can’t change the armhole. My problem is, my armhole is small and my bicep large so I end up with masses of ease. I have found no way to do it. I really dislike gathered sleeves, but it seems the only option. If anyone could direct me to a solution I would be very grateful!!

  100. Jill Schmutz says:

    OMG! I just found this. I’m going to be changing a lot of sleeves. It makes so much sense. I’ve seen a lot of suit jackets and coats that the sleeve was more like yours. It’s always been shirts an dress sleeves that have never seemed right. I may be late in coming to this article, but thank you so much.

  101. VC says:

    I am sold on your logic and reasoning. However, I am struggling because my armscye on the bodice is much smaller than what is needed to ensure enough cap height and bicep length for a sleeve to fit my arm. So what do I do to accomplish matching the disparate measurements between armscye on the bodice and on the sleeve itself? I am stumped. I’ve tried darts, which look awful, lowering sleeve cap height, raising the sides of the sleeve…no luck. Help!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.