How To Draft A Sleeve Sloper: Update

slopermain image3 How To Draft A Sleeve Sloper: Update

Assuming that you used my tutorials on how to draft a front and back bodice sloper, then you’re ready to draft the sleeves.

Sleeves are tricky. In my opinion, a sleeve’s difficulty lies in the fact that a 2D, flat piece of fabric is being made to fit a 3D, rounded object – the armhole. It’s the same difficulty a painter experiences when making a 2D canvas look 3D. Although difficult, it is completely possible. While painters use perspective to make a painting look 3D, seamstresses use basting stitches and ease to make a sleeve fit an armhole.

There are many factors that affect the fit of a sleeve – sleeve cap height, sleeve cap width, and the relationship of the front sleeve cap to the back sleeve cap are just three. But the most important factor that affects the fit of a sleeve is sleeve cap ease. Sleeve cap ease is the extra amount (or length) that is given to the sleeve cap so that it fits over and around the shoulder joint. Sleeve cap ease also effects sleeve cap height, sleeve cap width, and the shapes of the front and back sleeve caps (example: increasing the amount of sleeve cap ease will and/or increase sleeve cap height and sleeve cap width). The secret to sleeve cap ease is that it depends. More simply stated, the correct amount of sleeve cap ease for a particular garment depends on its fabric and its silhouette. This is where textbooks go wrong. Many textbooks advise that all sleeve caps should measure between 1” and 1 1/2” more than the sum of the front and back armhole. In some cases, this amount of sleeve cap ease works (tailored jackets) but in most cases, it does not. For two and a half years, I worked in the technical design department for this company and shortly after I started (I was fresh out of college), I was shocked when I was asked to measure the length of the sleeve cap and the front/back armhole – the sleeve cap only measured ½” more than the front/back armhole. But it worked! It was a knit t-shirt and for this style and silhouette, that amount of eases was okay (on a knit t-shirt, the sleeve cap doesn’t “lift” as it does in a woven – it lays close to the body). After working on too many sleeves over the course of two and a half years (I changed departments since – I blog for the company now), I defined my own rule – it depends. Some sleeves will require little ease (1/2″-3/4″ for knits) while some sleeves require a lot of ease (1 1/2″-1 1/2″ for tailored jackets) and this is because some fabrics ease easily (knits) while others do not (suedes/leather) and some silhouettes require more ease (tailored jackets) while others do not (drop shoulder). Make sense?

In the diagrams and directions below, I will show you how to draft a sleeve for the silhouette and the fabric that is most commonly used for a sloper – a standard set in sleeve using muslin. When you manipulate the bodice pattern to create other designs, you will have to alter the sleeve cap (including ease) to fit that particular design (I posted how to change sleeve cap ease here).

Before I start with measuring and drafting, below are a few other points on sleeves. This will help you understand why my sleeve is drafted the way it is as well as make you more knowledgeable on sleeves.

Just like sleeve cap ease, the amount of ease for the bicep depends on the fabric and the silhouette. Some biceps require more ease (1″ on a short sleeve woven blouse and a sloper) while other require little ease (3/8″ on a knit).

Sleeves should pitch slightly forward. Why? Stand sideways in front of a mirror and let your arms hang freely. You will see that from shoulder to elbow, your arm pitches forward only slightly but from elbow to wrist, your arm pitches forward more. Since this is the way the arm hangs naturally, so too should the sleeve. The placement of the shoulder notch affects the pitch of the sleeve and if the sleeve is pitching incorrectly, the shoulder notch is moved forwards or backwards accordingly.

The shape of an armhole is an asymmetrical horseshoe with a flattened bottom (where the side seam meets the armhole).  This is why armholes on front and back bodice should intersect side seam at a ninety degree angle.

The shape of the front and back sleeve cap is different. The front sleeve cap is more shaped and sits more forward (just slightly) than the back sleeve cap. This is because the ball of the shoulder, a very rounded shape, sits at the front of the arm.

The closer the armhole fits to the body, the more shaped the armhole is on a pattern and the more mobility the sleeve will have. This may not make sense at first but think of an oversize or dropped shoulder silhouette. On such a style, the armhole is less shaped and therefore does not move with the arm as well. When the arm is raised in  an oversized or a dropped shoulder, the underarm “wedges” out. Initially, a pattern maker may want to reduce the bust width at the side seam but all that is needed is to add more shape near the bottom of the armhole.

slv measurements How To Draft A Sleeve Sloper: Update

Okay, now let’s get started…

Using the diagram, measure the following:

{OVERARM LENGTH} measure from shoulder tip (¼” from the end of shoulder. If you start to raise your arm, a hollow will form at the shoulder joint. This is shoulder tip – approximately) to ½” past wrist bone. Be sure to measure with arm slightly bent or else sleeve will appear too short when fully bent or too long when fully relaxed
(ELBOW LENGTH} shoulder tip to bone at elbow
(BICEP} measure around the arm and ensure measuring tape is level with the armhole depth/armpit (click here to find armhole depth/armpit). Add  1” to this measurement (for ease)
(WRIST} measure around the widest part of the hand
(SLEEVE CAP HEIGHT} – use diagram above to determine sleeve cap height for your size

sloper11 How To Draft A Sleeve Sloper: Update

STEP 1:

A-B = Overarm length

A-C = Sleeve cap height

A-D = Elbow length

Square out lines to left and to right from points C, D, and B (doesn’t matter how long; just make sure each line is at least 1” longer than ½ of appropriate measurement)

C-E = half of bicep (make sure this measurement includes 1” for ease)

C-F = C-E (other half of bicep - make sure this measurement includes 1” for ease)

B-G = half of wrist measurement

B-H = B-G

Connect points G and E and points H and F

Label elbow level I and J as on diagram

sloper23 How To Draft A Sleeve Sloper: Update

STEP 2:

E-K = ¼ of E-C

F-L = E-K

A-M = E-K

A-N = E-K

Square up or down from the following points as follows:

K = square up 7/8” and label O
M = square down 5/8” and label P
N = square down 3/8” and label Q
L = square up 5/8” and label R

With straight ruler touching points O-P and Q-R, mark midpoints and label S and T as diagram

With a curved ruler touching points A, Q, and T and pointing down, draw top of front sleeve cap
With curved ruler touching points F, R, and T and pointing up, draw bottom of front sleeve cap
Repeat the last two steps to draw back sleeve cap

Honestly speaking, I was not happy with the shape of my sleeve cap at this point. Because my bicep is so small, my sleeve cap looked too narrow and tall. So I ask that you do the same as I. Look at the shape of your sleeve cap and compare it to the one in the diagram. Does it have a similar shape? As written above, the shape of the front and the back sleeve cap is different. The front sleeve cap is more shaped and sits more forward (just slightly) than the back sleeve cap. Does your sleeve cap do this? If it does not, use your instinct at redraw what looks like a correct shape. Doing so may increase or decrease the amount of ease on the sleeve cap (making a line more curved increases line length; making a line less curved decreases line length) but don’t worry about that right now. Let’s get the shape looking right and then we will adjust the sleeve cap ease. 

sloper31 How To Draft A Sleeve Sloper: Update

STEP 3:

I-U = ½ I-D

U-V = 3/8” squared down from U

I-W = 1” (dart intake)

Connect points I and V and V and W

G-X = 5/8” (on wrist guideline)

H-Z = 5/8” (on wrist guideline)

Connect points W and X – extend line past point X  1” to compensate for dart intake

Connect point Y and Z

Connect points Z and J

Redraw front sleeve and ensure line transition smoothly from point F to point Z

Mark back sleeve cap notches with 2 lines (spaced ½” apart) with upper line 1 1/8” below point S (back sleeve always has 2 notches)

Mark front sleeve cap notches with 1 line that is 1” below point T (front sleeve cap always has 1 notch)

Lastly, let’s deal with sleeve cap ease. Because of the silhouette (standard set-in sleeve), the fabric (muslin/cotton), and the function of a sloper (fitted with only enough wiggle room to move), 3/4″ ease is a good amount of ease. So, if you measure the front armhole, the back armholes, and the sleeve cap, does your sleeve cap measure 3/4″ more than front and back armhole combined? Also, is the ease evenly distributed between front and back armhole, meaning is there 3/8″ ease on front sleeve cap (point A to point F along curve) and 3/8″ ease on back sleeve cap (point A to point E along curve)? If not, use this tutorial to change the amount of sleeve cap ease.

post footer pattern making How To Draft A Sleeve Sloper: Update

tags: Pattern Making Comments: 41

41 Comments
  1. hannah

    About the whole sleeve cap ease thing, I’ve been rather confused about it since I came across this Fashion Incubator post: http://fashion-incubator.com/archive/sleeve_cap_ease_is_bogus/. Thing is, she kind of went on this rant about how sleeve cap ease isn’t necessary for anything, including that couture-like finish on suit jackets, but didn’t really go into much detail on how you could accomplish that (as far as I could tell). I don’t know if you have any insight on that, because I’ve been wondering about it for a while now.

    Reply
    • Maddie Flanigan

      I read that article too! She argues her point well but personally, I have only come across a handful of sleeves that had NO EASE. This was when I worked in technical design and the sleeves were for a basic knit t-shirt (think boyfriend tee). Like I said in the post, knits need less ease because the fabric stretches. But I have never personally sewn a sleeve with NO EASE. The sleeve on a dress I made for a friend’s wedding last year had 3/4″ ease while the sleeve for the top I made using tweed fabric (Matchy Matchy) had more ease. Maybe the shape of her sleeve cap, which is very different than the one in the above diagrams, allows for no ease. Does this make sense?

      Reply
      • Natasha Estrada

        I’ve just finished a few minutes ago setting a sleeve that had 0-1/4″ of ease it. I also did the bagging tutorial with Kathleen a few years ago where she sent us the components where the sleeve had little to ease.

        (There were some follow up posts that make it a little more clearer. http://fashion-incubator.com/archive/how-to-remove-sleeve-cap-ease/ and http://fashion-incubator.com/archive/how-to-re-shape-armholes/ )

        But is not as simple as just taking out all the ease of a cap. Do that alone and its not going to work and your going to end up with unhappy results and be placing a pox on my house for even suggesting it.

        It really comes down to the shape of the armhole your putting it into and the shape of the sleeve cap. If the armhole is too low your going to need more ease in order to be able to move. If your armhole is not anatomically shaped then you’ll need more ease. If you sleeve cap is not asymmetrical or if it doesn’t mimic the armhole then you need more ease.

        If you like the way more ease looks then you’ll need more lol but thats a design issue not range of movement. So thats basically argument for more ease.

        Here’s the proof of pudding of the jacket I am currently sewing up. http://leko-mail.net/k/4162.jpg

        As usually awesome post.

        Reply
        • Maddie

          Natasha, thank you for proving my point. The correct amount of ease DEPENDS.

          Reply
          • hannah

            Alright, awesome. Thank you to everyone here for clarifying things, it definitely helped.

          • Natasha Estrada

            Yup there are no absolutes really.

            Also as before ease is proportional too. Smaller sizes will need less and larger sizes more to have the same “fit” at the baseline size. Partially why the grades tend to be numerically closer together in the tiny sizes and further apart in the plus sizes. Might be a 1/2″ grade between a 0 or a 2 and maybe 2″ between a 18 and a 20.

            Oh and sleeves can be bloody hard to get right

  2. true bias

    thank you so much for this post. i have been trying to draft a sleeve this very weekend and have run into so many problems. i am going to follow your directions to draft up a new one today and tomorrow. fingers crossed that I have better luck this time.

    Reply
    • Maddie

      let me know how it goes!

      Reply
  3. Janey

    Thanks for this post! Things make much more sense now. I agree that most sleeves need that ease!

    Reply
  4. angel araphi

    Thank you for this post, is has helped a lot! Funny thing is, I have been trying to design a sleeve for the past couple of days. And I can’t get it to match the length of the armhole… My last option is adding to my bicep measurement, but it’s a knit, and I don’t really want it to be too droopy.

    Is there some technique for getting that right?

    Reply
    • Maddie Flanigan

      Aren’t sleeves terrible? If you don’t want to mess with the bicep width, sleeve cap height, or sleeve cap width (or any other part of the sleeve), then I suggest to alter the armhole. Could you raise or lower the armhole to get the correct length?

      Reply
      • angel araphi

        Absolutely terrible! :)
        I raised the armhole and made the cap curve steeper. At least the measurements seem to be ok now :)

        Reply
  5. ΕΙΡΗΝΗ ΠΑΥΛΙΔΟΥ

    Thank you for the post, it was what I needed! The only thing I am not sure about is the sleeve cap height in relation to the garment sizing. Could you provide us with a table showing the corresponding European sizes (for example 0 corresponds to 34 and so on?) ?

    Reply
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  7. Meghan

    Wow, thank you for all of these pattern drafting tutes. A few months ago I took a class from a woman on making the front and back bodice and sleeve blocks but it was crammed into about 2 hours and it was in Spanish (mine is not so great). I bought a book (in English!) to clarify things for me and am working on making some tops for a friend. But once I got to the sleeve, I got stuck. The sleeve cap length was way too long for the arm hole! I am talking about 3 inches on each side. I came across your site, noticed the different methods to draft the block (different from the book but much more similar to what I learned in the class) and redrafted the front and back and verified that most of what I had was correct, especially once compared to the fitted muslin I had done. But again, I am having trouble with the sleeve cap/arm hole. The sleeve cap is still about 2 inches longer on each side than the arm holes. I tried lowering the top of the cap by 3/4″ (when I did her sleeve cap measurement it was 5″ so I reduced it to that) but that only changes the length by about 1/2″. Perhaps I should reduce the bicep in addition? She is a petite girl (I think about 5’2) – are there any changes I should be making because of that? Thanks!!

    Reply
    • Maddie Flanigan

      Meghan, I am glad you found my site and that you are finding it informative.

      You’re on the right track with your sleeve – sometimes it takes several approaches to get the right amount of ease (i.e reducing cap height AND reducing bicep width). I worry about your sleeve cap height – 5″ is very small. Since it only eliminated 1/2″, I would increase it to 5 1/2″ and reduce the sleeve cap ease from the bicep (the bicep should measure 1″ larger than the bicep of the actual arm). Let me know if this would work.

      Reply
      • Meghan

        Yes, I definitely think I need to increase the sleeve cap height. I tried making the bicep smaller but I think now it is too small. I’ve tried various things to get the lengths of the cap and the arm hole to match up, like lengthening the armhole but if I do too much more it’s going to be down to her waist :) Sorry, I am new to the pattern-making! I would like to take more classes but my only options locally are going to be in Spanish. Are there ANY good books or online classes out there, in your opinion?

        Reply
        • Maddie Flanigan

          Sleeves are difficult. I have learned most through trial and error, which is not always fun. Ebay is a great resource for vintage pattern books (which usually have it right) and YouTube is a great resource for video tutorials.

          Please keep in touch and let me know how it goes.

          Reply
          • Meghan

            Finally getting back here to update. I decided to go ahead and dive into my project with the patterns that I had, knowing that I was working with a knit fabric and the sleeve was gathered at the cap. So I figured it would be forgiving and might not look awful and putting it together would help me see where my problems were. The top turned out well, actually, but the problem was that the shoulder was too long and so extended past the shoulder point a bit. The armhole length was perfect for the knit so for a woven top (which I am working on now) I have lowered it a bit. So with those two things fixed, my armhole and sleeve cap lengths match up the way they are supposed to! Hoping for smooth sailing from here on out. Thanks for your help!

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  10. Dana Gray

    Your tutorials are amazing. Thanks for posting this!
    I’m trying to draft a pattern that has flat felled seams attaching the sleeve to the body, and so can have no ease in the sleeve cap (I want a button up shirt using traditional shirtmaking techniques, so I’m constructing the sleeves flat). Can you direct me to any tutorials or books that discuss this? I’m trying to modify either a commercial pattern or a self drafted bodice block (both were designed with set-in sleeves) to have this kind of sleeve/armscye seam but when I remove the ease from the sleeve head, it ends up being pretty tight on the point of my shoulder. Do I need to extend the shoulder out a little further to compensate for removing the ease in the sleeve? Help!

    Reply
    • Maddie Flanigan

      I’m unsure what you are trying to ask. Do you want a tutorial for constructing flat felled seams for removing sleeve cap ease?

      Reply
  11. Crystal

    I’m a little late in discovering this post. I can see you wrote it about 8 months ago but I hope you don’t mind trying to answer my question about drafting sleeves. I am trying to make a pattern for set in sleeves that will fit a girls dress pattern that I’ve drafted. I think your post will really help me out, so thanks! My question is how (or do I) adjust the amounts that I square up and down. I’m not sure that a size 1T for example will require the same additions and subtractions in inches that you mention in your tutorial. Can you guide me on this or do you know of any resources that could help me? (I hope my question makes sense – I’m pretty new to all this pattern drafting business!!) Thank you!

    Reply
    • Maddie Flanigan

      I am more than happy to help! For the future, you can always email me with any questions you have (my email is on my contact page).

      Unfortunately, I don’t understand what you’re trying to ask, specifically: “My question is how (or do I) adjust the amounts that I square up and down. I’m not sure that a size 1T for example will require the same additions and subtractions in inches that you mention in your tutorial.” Can you reword what you’re trying to say?

      Reply
  12. Stacey Moss

    Hi Madalynne!
    Great tutorial. It doesn’t seem to matter which combination of ‘sleeve draft armscye shaping’ I type into Google- your page is always the first or second result!

    The issue I’m having while trying to shape my sleeve cap is that I can’t manage to fit the entire armscye circumference within the height and width parameters set by my bicep width (plus ease) and my sleeve cap height (which I have even increased from 12cm to 14cm to try to accommodate the necessary length of the armscye curve.

    I have read your other post on how to adjust the sleeve cap by widening at the bicep, and/or the height and/or increasing the curviness, and I’ve done all 3! But I have to draw the line somewhere for the bicep width (currently 28.5cm including ease) otherwise the sleeve will VERY loose around my bicep (which is 24cm).

    I’ve gotten to the point where my armscye curve is SO curvy to try to generate the necessary length (45cm), that I’m worried the shape is too distorted from the gentle curve described in all the tutorials I’ve read.

    So I have 2 questions:
    1) Is there a limit to the extremity of the curvature of the sleep cap shape?
    2) The only other way I can think to increase the cap length is to increase the height, again. I’m just not sure about your size guide because sizing varies so much between clothes and brands, etc. Sometimes I’m a 0, 2, 6, 8… an XXS or a S… it’s really ridiculous. So as you can imagine, I have no idea how to interpret your sizes, haha!

    Any help would be gratefully received. I have spent 4 hours trying to draft this darn sleeve cap already ><

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Maddie Flanigan

      Hi Stacy!

      I’m sorry that you’re experiencing trouble with your sleeves. They are tricky, aren’t they?

      To answer your first question, yes, there is a limit to the extremity of the curvature and I ask that you use your common sense to determine this. Does it look distorted? If so, then it probably is.

      Next, how much longer do you want your sleeve cap to be? The type of fabrics plays a great role in the amount of ease needed, but generally it’s around 1/2,” not the textbook recommended 1 1/2.”

      When I’m stuck in this type of situation, I start testing. So, my next step would be to make a couple of sleeve samples and see how much I could increase the sleeve cap height before it becomes too big. Make one where the cap height is 1/4″ higher, 1/2″ higher, and so on, until you get to the right fit (also increase the sleeve cap width accordingly to maintain the integrity of the sleeve cap shape). I know it sounds tedious, but sometimes pattern making is.

      Also, remember that the size guide is just that – A GUIDE. Every individual is different and it should be used as a starting point.

      Let me know how this turns out and we can go from there. I’m more than willing to help you until you get a good-fitting sleeve.

      Reply
      • Stacey Moss

        Hey, thank you for the prompt reply! I am currently lying on my lounge room floor, french curve in hand, giving my sleeve cap another go.
        I think you’re right- testing is the only way to know, so I’m going to start making mock-ups tomorrow.

        Thank you for the encouragement. I’ll let you know how I go with allowing for slightly less ease (say the 1/2″ idea), and see what a length/height of sleeve cap I can get away with.
        :)

        Reply
        • Maddie Flanigan

          You sound like me on a Saturday – on the floor
          with a ruler in hand! Let me know how it goes and remember, I’m here to help!

          Reply
  13. gautam verma

    hie madalynne, i use your information to make pattern of mens t-shirt . but some confusions arrived while drafting pattern . 1) how to calculate cap size for different sizes of armhole (measuring straight ) in my pattern 9.4″ .( 2) in above step 2 :-
    K = square up 7/8” and label O
    M = square down 5/8” and label P
    N = square down 3/8” and label Q
    L = square up 5/8” and label R
    are these parameters are fixed or variable in different cap height

    Reply
    • Maddie Flanigan

      Hi! Thank you so much for reaching out to me. I wish I could help, but I don’t have any experience in drafting a sleeve patterns for men.

      Reply
      • gautam verma

        ok alter my above comment with girl instead of men ..

        Reply
        • Maddie Flanigan

          Those variables in step 2 are fixed, meaning that the amount you square up and down do not change according to size.

          Reply
          • gautam verma

            thnkx and how to find cap height in sleeve .

          • Maddie Flanigan

            That’s because your cap height is too big (9.4″). Use the chart above to find your cap height for your size.

          • gautam verma

            no no 9.4″ is my armhole length as straight measured (from shoulder tip to underarm).
            actually i can’t understand the above chart
            size 0 , size 2 ,4,6,8,10,12 stands for .

          • Maddie Flanigan

            Size 0, 2, 4, etc refer to your size in RTW (ready to wear)

          • gautam verma

            can u tell me from where i get all these measurement in concern to men in different cap heights

          • Maddie Flanigan

            I apologize, but I’m not trained in drafting men’s patterns, so I don’t have an answer for you.

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