The great cap sleeve debate pt.2

This post has been amended 7/30/11

Thanks for your many comments in response to part one. I was unable to respond more promptly due to a spotty internet connection over the past two days.

Kate mentions in comments (and this post was accordingly amended) that she thinks the confusion arises at L’s company based on the description and instruction of an “inset cap sleeve” found in Metric Pattern Cutting, page 108/109 of the 1997 edition (see image below). She also mentions that Shoben’s book shows much the same and Donna mentions that Armstrong does as much. Counterpoint and contradiction arises with Nowak’s mention that Aldrich’s children’s wear book (pg. 109, 3rd edition) illustrates a cap sleeve to be like the fitted short sleeve. Kate further suggests that a straight hemmed cap sleeve seems to be more typical in the UK, perhaps because Aldrich and Shoben are used almost exclusively there. So it would seem the definition of a cap sleeve could largely be regional.


I had been instructed that a cap sleeve looked more like what Aldrich describes as a “fitted short sleeve” (#7) on page 49 (Anir’s link, do check it out). Coincidentally, I discover I don’t have this book. Imagine! I’d confused this title with others I have of hers so I will amend the oversight promptly. I see there’s a new edition too. [Anir: any email I send you bounces.] Again, Nowaks points us to Aldrich’s children’s wear book (pg. 109, 3rd edition) that illustrates a cap sleeve to be like the fitted short sleeve. The only difference being that the cap itself seems a bit flattened.  So, we have plenty of confusion and contradiction to go around. Maybe Winifred is as uncertain as we are?

Judging from comments, the educators and old school practitioners (including me) in our midst seem to think the short fitted sleeve is a cap sleeve so maybe the difference is also generational?

Our friends in the UK posit the cap sleeve has a straight hem, possibly owing to the influence of Aldrich and Shoben with the contradiction that Aldrich’s children’s book shows a curved hem on a cap sleeve.

Other people in a position to know (designers and adept enthusiasts) seem to have mixed response with a slant among designers toward the short fitted sleeve being a cap sleeve.

I don’t know the answer. What is certain is that an ambiguity exists where I didn’t realize there was one. That is very good to know. Meaning, one must rely on an illustration which is best anyway.

To L, your answer is this: Regardless of what you call it, if your team wants the look of the “short fitted sleeve”, the hem must be curved. Cutting it that way would probably eliminate the winging of the sides of the sleeve.

Get New Posts by Email


  1. Irene says:

    I’m not sure if this is a generational difference or just a contextual difference, but working in bridal / evening wear I definitely associate cap sleeves as being straps, despite the name. I don’t want to link to anything specific, but do a search for “bridal cap sleeve” and you’ll see what I mean.

  2. Kate Rawlinson says:

    I don’t think these are the sleeves that your original request referred to.

    If you look at the pages leading up to this one in the link, these are all listed as variations on the kimono sleeve – as I posted in the comments on part 1 of this discussion, I think the sleeve the original request refers to is the “inset cap sleeve” – in my copy of Metric Pattern Cutting, it’s on page 108/109, but in the link Anir posted, it’s page 52, illustration 20, with the pattern diagram on page 53.

  3. Kate Rawlinson says:

    I don’t know if I can post images directly in the comments, but the I have snipped these illustrations: this is the inset cap sleeve Aldrich talks about:
    And this is the drafting instruction:

  4. Hi Kate, I see what you mean. My error was in confusing what you said earlier based on page number. Page 109 in the metric children’s book (aldrich) is also this cap sleeve so I thought it was a repeat. I will be updating my post and correcting the image with the image files you provided. Thank you very much!

  5. Kate Rawlinson says:

    Thanks Kathleen – I should have been clearer about the book I was referring to, which is just called Metric Pattern Cutting (although it is all womenswear) – I have the third edition, printed c1997.

    FWIW, the Aldrich book is pretty much ubiquitous here in the UK. The only alternative text we used at college was Pattern Cutting and Making Up, by Martin Shoben and Janet Ward, but I always suspected that was because the authors were former tutors at the college.

    Anyway, as a comparison I looked in the Shoben book and found the same instructions for drafting a cap sleeve – I’ve uploaded the pictures here and here – so it seems that, in the UK at least, a set-in cap sleeve is traditionally drafted with a straight hem.

  6. Laura Haney says:

    In the US, colloquially, a cap sleeve is one that covers the top of the shoulder. I consulted a person born in 1928. The curved/noncurved debate doesn’t apply, but the cap is rarely more than about 3 inches, hemmed.

  7. Anir says:

    I appreciate the amended post–I was wondering about the draft I pointed to–since other folks had come up with drafts/suggestions that made more sense. Thanx Kate for pointing out that the ‘cap sleeve’ I mentioned was a kimono sleeve variation–I had not noticed that. On the other hand, I have worked with many people who know how to do the work but don’t know the ‘right’ name for, say, a stitch or construction technique–but they can show you how it’s done. So I would underline Kathleen’s assertion that illustrations are probably a better way to get what you want.

  8. I start to wonder if Aldrich sees the “inset cap sleeve” as a variation of a “cap sleeve”?

    Because what is shown in the mentioned children edition as “cap sleeve” is not just a fitted short sleeve but extremely short and strongly curved and it looks quite the shape that is used in the instructions for “inset cap sleeve” as the starting shape. From where the pattern with the straight hem is developed?

  9. Lizette says:

    WOW!!! I’ve officially found my internet “home”!!! Really loved the replies here and the debate rages on in this office. I think my solution is now somewhere in the middle….

  10. Birgitte says:

    I might be a little late to the party here, but in my mind the difference between a short fitted sleeve and a cap sleeve is this: The hem of a cap sleeve, looking at a person straight on, has an upward slant from the inside (or armpit) to the outside. The hem of straight (and/or fitted) sleeve would be parallell to the ground. I also think cap-sleeves don’t have to connect all the way to the underarm side seam – as in, being sewn in as one piece instead of a tube that is then connected.

    I realize this is a lot murkier than probably any of us thought – which can often be the case with definitions!

Leave a Reply

You have to agree to the comment policy.

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