The great cap sleeve debate

favorite_shirt_capped_sleeveSays L who works for a sporting goods manufacturer:

We love your site here at work. Can you settle a debate on cap sleeves, both woven and knit?

Our senior is an amazing patternmaker, we’re just not all on the same page. Our senior insists that cap sleeves be drafted as in Aldrich’s pattern book by spreading from the cap and having a straight line at the hem. Our samples are coming in with sleeves that wing out at the hem. Our senior is strictly adhering to this method and thinks that the hem of a cap sleeve should NEVER be curved. However, when we look at our sample and manipulate it on the form, we see that this would be a simple solution. Please please please help us! We’re waiting with bated breath for this post, then we’re gonna print it and plaster it all over our office. Just kidding!

This is what I wrote to L:

Which Aldrich book is this? And which page of which edition? I’m not finding it.

I didn’t know it was possible to have a capped sleeve with a straight hem. I’m rather partial to cap sleeves (so I have a few personal patterns with them). I think they’re flattering and more comfortable than the traditional short sleeve. None of my cap sleeves have the straight hem.

So now it’s your turn to either confirm or deny any and everything I’ve said.

Or maybe we disagree on what a sleeve cap is? At top right is a shirt I made with a cap sleeve. It is a bit longer than is typical but it is the draft (in my opinion) that determines whether it is or not because the sleeve hem is curved. Oh wait, that’s not right either. Plenty of long sleeves have curved hems (or did in the olden days). So maybe this image (A below) is a better choice.


But eek! this undoubtedly (?) capped sleeve (B above) has a straight hem although it doesn’t sew completely into the armhole either. Which brings me to what is sure to be a source of raucous debate- I’d call this one (C) a short sleeve, not a cap sleeve even though it is claimed to be one. Oh my, now I’m becoming very confused.

So then I thought, a capped sleeve could be defined by fit (see the photo of my blue shirt on me) but that doesn’t hold either. Now I’m not sure what a capped sleeve is or how you’re supposed to draft it.

Not wanting to be accused of sophistry, is it possible that we could we agree that a cap sleeve is a short-ish sleeve? If so, the only issue is a matter of fit. If you want a sleeve that hugs the upper arm just below the shoulder point, you will probably have to draft it with a curved hem (if it sews completely into the armhole, not like B above). If you don’t care that it wings out on the sides or even want that effect, you could draft the hem as a straight line.

What do you think?

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  1. Anir says:

    Perhaps this is the draft instructions they are talking about
    click to page 64-65
    (Metric Pattern Cutting, 4th ed.)
    Up to this point, my understanding of a cap sleeve is one that covers the shoulder cap but, as Thomas says, does not extend from the underarm. So B above would be one but not A or B. Looks like Aldrich has a different definition that does not include A, B, C or Kathleen’s nice shirt. Judging from the illustrations, I’d say a cap sleeve is a sleeve that is cut one with the body/bodice front and/or back of the garment. I’m guessing when L says that the senior drafts the line straight–they are talking about the shoulder line–which yes would make the sleeve bell out.
    Others might have a different take…

  2. Lisa Brazus says:

    I have always taught my students that a cap sleeve has a curved hem. I have not seen it any other way in my books. Curoius I may have to take a closer look.

  3. dosfashionistas says:

    I am agreeable to definition. A very short sleeve has always been the way I have understood a cap sleeve. And I have always (that I can remember anyway) drafted them with a curved hem for ease of movement purposes. They are generally made to fit closely, and the curved hem makes the sleeve end higher on the bicep, thus giving more range of movement.

    I do like Kathleen’s gusset. I am going to start putting those in my husband’s shirts.

  4. B is a cap sleeve. The other examples are just short sleeves, though since we don’t have a standard word for “very short sleeves” AND cap sleeves haven’t been in fashion lately, I can see why “cap” may have been borrowed to describe them.

  5. Kate Rawlinson says:

    I think they mean the inset cap sleeve – in my copy of Metric Pattern Cutting, it’s on page 108/109, but in the link posted above, it’s page 52, illustration 20, with the pattern diagram on page 53.

  6. Liz Cademy says:

    Like Alison (hi!) I always thought of cap sleeves as not covering the underarm, just the sleeve cap. If there’s a sleeve seam, no matter how short, it’s a short sleeve.

    I personally find the very short sleeves unflattering to anyone with any upper arm fat or loose skin. I like my short sleeves longer, like the men’s shirt “half sleeve”, but these are quite hard to find.

  7. ThomasM says:

    I believe the cap sleeve to be very much alive with the younger crowd. For the reasons Liz mentioned the cap sleeve reveals any under arm fat making it unfaltering to most. However, we find the style to be very much desired by the under 21 ladies. It’s worth reviewing.

  8. Donna says:

    According to Armstrong capped sleeves jut away from the body as in cutting straight. She goes on to say they can be either straight or curved. Apparently what makes it a cap sleeve is the removal of about an inch from the cap height and trimming 1/4 inch from the side seams. What I remember about capped sleeves was making a lining instead of a hem to give them a nice smooth finish.

  9. marilyn says:

    This is what I know a cap sleeve to be, from “textileglossary”
    Cap sleeve:
    A small, short sleeve which sits on the shoulder, either forming a stiff cap or falling on to the arm to provide minimal coverage.
    A very short sleeve not extending below armpit level.
    A little sleeve that covers the top of your shoulders.

  10. Paula Hudson says:

    Not sophistry. I think definition of the definition is important. A sleeve set fully into the armscye, regardless of the length from under the arm to the hem of said sleeve. Be it .5″, 5″, or 25″, it’s a sleeve.

    A cap “caps” the arm. It does not “sleeve” the arm.

    At least, that’s how I always saw the difference in my own brain, which is admittedly not fully firing on all synapses lately!!!

  11. Amanda says:

    The pieces we make with “cap” sleeves are actually differentiated from our “short” sleeves by the fact that they DO have a curved hem, which allows them to be shorter than the shortest “short” sleeve, and still be set fully into the armscye. I am not a patternmaker, so I don’t know how far off my nomenclature is, but nobody has ever misunderstood what I meant (including my patternmaker) by “cap” sleeve so far…

  12. Clarisse says:

    I always thought of cap vs. short sleeves in terms of amount of arm/shoulder coverage, regardless of whether the piece is sewn completely in or part of a sleeveless armscye. I’ve seen both versions. But I don’t have any reference to an official definition.

  13. ThomasM says:

    I have never known the sleeve type, such as “raglan” or “set in” to be a determining factor to if the garment is has a cap sleeve, short sleeve, mid sleeve or long sleeve. In fact I have many samples of capped sleeve using both raglan and setin. My daughter (who works for me in the summer) just walked in my office with a question and lordy, she is wearing a cap sleeve today. My observation is cap sleeves seem to be used more on knits for younger ladies casual wear then in the past when it would have been used with a woven semi-formal wear. Again this is only my observation (exposure) and not a fact. I am providing 200 cap sleve shirts to an elementarty school this year. Parents choice of style. As I mentioned before, my understanding of cap sleeve has always been one that did not extend from the underarm or armseye. I do enjoy discussion like this and learning from others versus being in my own little world.

  14. twitintweed says:

    The real answer is don’t argue with your senior patternmaker. Watch, ask questions, and learn. When you are senior you’ll get to do it any way you want.

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