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How-To: Sleeve Cap Ease

Sleeves are hard. Hard to draft, hard to cut, hard to fit, and hard to sew. So many factors determine an impeccably sewn and fitting sleeve – sleeve cap height, sleeve cap width, and sleeve cap ease are just three basic ones. But the hardest part about sleeves, in my opinion, is that they’re fickle. Every factor that goes into a good sleeve changes with each style. The sleeve cap height on a tailored jacket will be greater than the sleeve cap height on a knit jacket. Also, the sleeve cap height on a shirred sleeve will be greater than the sleeve cap height on a nonshirred sleeve, even if the fabrics and the silhouettes are the same (in order to created the “poof” in a shirred sleeve, extra height is added at top sleeve cap). The same goes for sleeve cap ease. Like I wrote here last week, the right amount of sleeve cap ease depends on the type of fabric and silhouette. Some sleeves require little ease (knits) while some sleeves require a lot of ease (tailored jacket) 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). This is why it’s important to know how to increase and decrease sleeve cap ease.

The key to increasing or decreasing sleeve cap ease not how but WHERE. This is what I struggled with for so long. Every pattern making book I read suggested a different method for increasing or decreasing sleeve cap ease but they were all right. There are many ways to increase or decrease sleeve cap ease. Essentially, you’re just making a line longer.

When I am increasing or decreasing sleeve cap ease, I ask myself where I should increase or decrease it. Should I increase the sleeve cap height? Or should I increase bicep width? Or should make the sleeve cap more scooped or curved (the more curved a line, the longer it’s length – a straight line measures less than a curved one). Which one I chose to increase or decrease depends on the measurements of the current sleeve cap. If my bicep width is small and can afford some ease, I’ll increase sleeve cap ease here. But if my sleeve cap width at 3” down from shoulder notch (a standard point of measure) is small, let’s say 6 ½” (sleeve cap width at 3” from shoulder notch should be around 7” for a size 6), then I’ll increase sleeve cap ease here.

Below I show you three methods I use to increase or decrease sleeve cap ease. Ease can be increased using one of my methods or a combination of the methods (increase sleeve cap height AND bicep width). Also, in the diagrams below, I only show one way for each method (I DON’T show how to reduce AND increase for each method). If the method shows how to reduce sleeve cap ease, then do the opposite to increase sleeve cap ease.


  1. Reply


    Delightful.  I understand all three methods!  Filing this one in its proper place…..

  2. Reply


    Great information, thank you.

  3. Reply


    As always – super informative! 

  4. Reply


    Wonderful info!

  5. Reply


    I hope one day to understand the mystery that is sleeves.  All the information you’ve put up on them is valuable and well laid out.  So thank you for that! 🙂

  6. Reply


    This immediately got saved to my desktop so that I can reference it when I’m at next to my pattern and without internet access. Thanks!

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    Hi Maddie, I drawed all parts of the sloper and have now a problem with sleeve cap ease. The total sleeve cap ease is about 1/2 inch, but the ease on the front sleeve cap is about -3/4 inch, whereas the ease on the back sleeve cap is about 5/4 inch. Can it be that I didn’t take the measurements correctly? Do you have any advice of how to solve this problem? Would it be a solution to move point A of the sleeve sloper to the left or would that destroy the pattern? Thanks a lot for your help in advance.

  8. Reply


    Hi, I am learning to sew, but frankly, sleeves have me confused. I never heard about ease in sleeve caps before just now. I thought the length of the sleeve cap had to be the same as the armhole length, so that they line up when sewing. Adding in ease makes sense, but how can you sew them together correctly if one is longer? I know some styles are gathered, but what if you don’t want the sleeve to look like that? Please help; I have a lot of trouble fitting sleeves and armscyes.

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