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Sleeve Cap Ease

Just like I said here and here, sleeves and armholes are tricky. So many factors determine an impeccably sewn and fitting sleeve – sleeve cap height, sleeve cap width, and sleeve cap ease are three basic ones but the shape of the front sleeve cap in relation to the back sleeve cap as well as the pitch of the sleeve are important factors as well. Achieving a good fitting sleeve goes further than just sewing it well – it is the result of experience and lots of study. A good starting point to becoming an expert on sleeves is to learn about sleeve cap ease.

In my post How To Draft A Sleeve Sloper, I wrote that many textbooks and commercial patterns have too much sleeve cap ease, usually between 1”-1 1/2”, and that the correct amount of sleeve cap ease is ½”-3/4.”. I still stand by what I wrote but I want to make a change to it. During my two and a half years in technical design, I worked in the sweaters, knits, and intimates department. The patterns for the styles we worked on had ½”-3/4” sleeve cap ease (some had none!). This amount of ease worked because of the fabric – knits and sweaters. On a knit or a sweater, the sleeve cap has no “lift” as it does in a woven -it lays close to the body. So it’s no surprise that I held this to be true. But when I was sewing the first muslin for my project, this amount of ease did was too little. The sleeve cap was flat, didn’t “lift”, and looked plain ole ugly!  So for the second muslin, I drafted another sleeve so that the sleeve cap ease was 1 3/8” and it fit beautifully! So I am updating the post How To Draft A Sleeve Sloper to say that 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). That’s why it’s important to know how to increase or decrease sleeve cap ease, which I’ll show you next week.

I apologize for writing “misinformation” (I don’t know if i can label it that as my intentions were not such) but that’s what is great about this hobby – it keeps me on my toes and I learn something new every day. I’m also not afraid to admit when something I thought to be true isn’t.


  1. Reply


    Sleeve cap ease certainly is interesting.  Have you seen these posts?

    Men’s shirts don’t seem to have any ease when sewn.  When I make t-shirts, I don’t use any ease.  I haven’t made a woven top with sleeves since I started learning more about sleeve cap ease, so I have not played around with removing ease.

    I will interested in your post on how to change sleeve cap ease.  I have only discovered your blog recently, but I do want to try out your sloper instructions.

    • Reply


      I have read those posts (one was on Coletterie last week) and I think it’s very interesting how such an topic can have so many opinions, right?

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    Isn’t it amazing that the more you learn about sewing, the more you realize you still need to learn?  It’s crazy!

    • Reply


      It is crazy! I can be frustrating at times but it keeps this hobby interesting!

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    From what I’ve read, sleeves and everything associated with them is a real doozy!
    I have loved your posts and all you have to say on them.  I can’t wait to see your thoughts on how to remove/increase cap ease.  I have a cap sleeve fail that needs you!  lol!
    You have a fantastically easy to understand style.  🙂

    • Reply


      Thanks for the compliment!

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    I love the technical aspects of sewing. I have trouble drafting my own sleeves (5 tries to get it right), but I do okay when I use commercial patterns, rarely having to adjust the amount of ease they include. The knits versus wovens  just opened my eyes!

    • Reply


      Five tries! Wow girl, I’m surprised and glad that you’re still at it! Keep practicing! I have faith you’ll become an expert one day!

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    Janice Garingo

    Should we go by 1 3/8 with wovens, or does it still depend on the fabric? I usually find that a lot of patterns have waaaay too much ease in the sleeve cap department and I usually remove it (when using wovens), but maybe this is because my skills at setting in sleeves are measly? The last time I did this (some Dubarry 40s dress pattern) it worked ok though, and the sleeve top wasn’t so poofy. 

    • Reply


      Good question! My answer – and I know that you’re going to hate me for saying this – is it depends. Both the fabric and the silhouette of the armhole and the sleeve have to be taken into account. On the blouse for my project, which will be made with a woven, the armhole is fitted and the sleeve cap has a tailored looked (it poofs up just a bit just as in a jacket). Therefore, the sleeve cap ease is at its maximum. But on a men’s style button down blouse (think one from The Gap), which is also made with a woven, the sleeve cap doesn’t have a tailored look (the sleeve cap is flat – it doesn’t poof up). Therefore, the sleeve cap ease will be less. Does this make sense?

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    That’s so interesting! I guess that’s just another reason why it’s so important to test your patterns before you jump into the fancy fabric!

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    Thanks for this post.  The ease in knit vs. woven makes a lot of sense.  I just went through a bunch of clothes to grab some stuff that is ready for Goodwill, and I swear that most of the handmade things I am donating are from funky armholes and sleeve caps.  Maybe someone else’s body will fit those better.  I did draft a new sleeve for a “TNT” pattern and will have to test out the sleeve cap ease against what I have.

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    I’m working on a vintage pattern that is supposed to have a smooth cap sleeve with no gathers yet has 4 inches of ease. I find that 2 inches is about the perfect amount. I appreciate your candor.I’m always learn g too and sometimes go back to change things too.

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    I clicked the tutorial link for “slashing and opening part 2” and was linked to this instead. Which is good information, but not what I was looking for!

    • Reply


      I’m so sorry! I just updated so the link should be working now.

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    What about long sleeve vs short sleeve in a woven? It seems like my long sleeves need more ease to move comfortably. Do you find that to be the case for you?

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    I have a question for you… I sewed a V-Neck Tee Shirt (using the Jalie Woman’s Tee Pattern) for my wife. After making some adjustments it is fitting very well except there are 3 horizontal roll lines under her directly under her armpit. There is maybe a 1/4″ ease in the sleeve, but I noticed it was more on the back side than front. I need to modify the pattern and I am hoping you can provide some suggestions. Thanks in advance!

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