Sleeve Cap Flap

This week, I have just about lost my mind about bad/skimpy sleeve caps. There was a challenge on the FabricMart blog for a simple t-shirt pattern to be manipulated into something quite unique by well-known sewers. Normally, I enjoy these challenges for the sewers discover faults and adapt their new designs and inspirations and make something super.

When you click on the link above you will see some darling fashions but every single one of them did not address the sleeve cap that is too short and causing drag lines in every garment…some way worse than others. Check them out…drag lines up the wazoo no matter what fabric they used.

It is not just this pattern, I would say a good 50% or more of patterns on the market cheat us out of good sleeve caps…and for heaven’s sake…it is simple…the shoulder bone is round and needs extra fabric to drape over it before becoming a tube.11002Front-arrows

If the stripes are 1 inch wide, you can see that with 1 inch added to the cap the stripes would line up well with the bodice. Here is another pattern, a new-upcoming jacket for Nancy with a bad sleeve cap:Tilton-jacket

Want more? Here are a couple from another blogger who I tried to help with her sleeves:SleeveSidev1_1MuslinSleeveFlatv5_1 She needed more than one inch so she could add it to achieve the result…the first photo shows the perfect sleeve with a few pins pinching out the excess and the second shows how she did it on her muslin. OK, you say…it doesn’t really matter in a print…OK…no one will notice…except the wearer when she has drag lines and cannot raise her arm.

Want to see a perfect sleeve cap with stripes? This is my new linen/cotton tunic, with a horizontal back slash of 3/4 inch to bring the shoulder seams forward and darts in the back neckline. The sleeve stripes are parallel with the floor as they should be.

tunic-sheeve-2 So, how do you get to this point?

I use the Mrs Mole method for everything- CL-TL…Cut large, trim later. If I am cutting a size 20 bodice, I cut the 22 or 24 sleeve because the cap is higher and I can just pin out and cut out what I don’t want later. Another method I have seen in tailoring books is to cut one inch or more beyond the seam line from notch to notch. You mark the original seam/stitching line and then use whatever extra fabric you need to make the horizontal lines parallel with the floor.tailor-trick Adding to the cap will definitely drop the sleeve lower into the armscye but the alteration of raising those areas up a little make it fit better. Of course we all measure our sleeve and armscye, don’t we? Don’t we all want to know what ease the designer left for us? YES WE DO! T shirts have little ease and flat sleeve caps while jackets SHOULD have more ease and higher sleeve caps…they can have up to 2 inches of ease. But you have to measure to know this:measure sleeve

Remember Nancy’s Vogue 8821 sleeve cap? It was a knit and needed more cap ease at the top and side seams…so out came the curved ruler to make that happen. If you don’t measure the front and back opening and the sleeve then you have no idea what you have. If you rely on the pattern company to get it right…guess again!!! OK if you don’t want to bother with measuring and recording it…then just “walk” the sleeve in the armscye to see how it will sew in…it might fit but the cap will pull up and then what?

Now try looking at blog photos for the sleeve drag lines…while the bodice will hang straight…maybe…without wrinkles…it is the sleeve that shows the true expertise/patience of the seamstress. Who do you want to be…the one with perfect or sloppy sleeves?

 

 

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79 Responses to Sleeve Cap Flap

  1. Bunny says:

    I’ve really learned a lot here and my next project will have those excess seam allowances. I am anxious to try this out. Thanks so much for your expertise.

  2. Bunny says:

    Do you think they could have at least tried to match the stripes to the shirt in the first tee shirt? That glared right out at me.

    • mrsmole says:

      This made me crazy too and if they cannot get a knit pattern right…what happens to the other woven shirt patterns they sell?
      http://shop.grainlinestudio.com/collections/all/products/archer-button-up-shirt
      have drag lines in their long sleeves too…again…short cap=drag lines. Even the front of the T-shirt has drag lines leading from the hem to the bust…again…if they can’t make a knit fit a mannequin…what hope is there for a real body with boobs?

      • Tia Dia says:

        I think drag lines are “normal”. Y’know, everyone has them except when wearing skin tight knits. I think the average person doesn’t see enough well-fitted fashion on a daily basis, perhaps because most people don’t know about it. I still remember seeing all the perfectly fitted outfits on the guests at the last royal wedding. The most ‘difficult to fit’ shapes had no drag lines in their top-end designer garments. Very interesting, and a huge goal for sewistas!

      • This is probably a really silly question…but when you say ‘drag lines’…what exactly are you talking about? I see there is a kind of diagonal line from the outside shoulder to the bust on the link above…but I’m missing the sleeve thing.

        Explain for a newbie?

      • Clio says:

        In point of fact, the Scout is “woven t-shirt”. But I don’t disagree with you on the other points.

      • mrsmole says:

        Thank you, Clio for correcting me…funny how it just looked so much like a knitted stripe! So many t-shirt patterns out there look exactly the same…sleeves with stripes at 45 degree angle to the shoulders, just try to find one that is straight? If we could find one that was nice it would be a great basic sleeve/armhole to trace over lots of other tops don’t you think?

  3. Thankyou, I never realised the problem but it makes so much sense!

  4. Tia Dia says:

    Fantastic post! Thanks, Mrs. Mole! BTW, the next FabricMart challenge is about fit in a fitted woven garment. Let’s see what the contestants do with that! :O

  5. Deb Holland says:

    What do you do when the bicep is larger than the pattern? (I’m SO addicted to your posts. I read all the funny ones to my husband!). Thank you!

  6. Mary D says:

    I agree that almost all patterns today have skimpy sleeve caps. I usually need at least two sizes larger in the sleeve than I do in the bodice. However, how do you fit that sleeve into the bodice with all of that extra ease, especially in wovens? This seems to be the ultimate challenge for me, no so much in the knits because of the stretch factor, but the wovens are tough.

    • mrsmole says:

      Mary, measure the front of the sleeve and the back of the sleeve…record those and then measure the armscye front and back…record those. To keep the sleeve cap tall you can raise and narrow the underarm of the sleeves at the side seam as in the photo of the floral sleeve…see the red lines? It will take some fiddling and practice as each sleeve is different but once you have one great one…you are in business. If all your armholes are 9.5 in front and 10 in the back then your sleeve can measure 9.75 in front and 10.25 in back leaving you with a 1/2 inch total of fabric to ease in…in a jacket it could be an inch or more depending if there are shoulder pads.

  7. Lisa D says:

    Is it a sleeve cap problem that is causing the wrinkles in this new dress pattern? Even taking into account the wrinkles usually found in linen, the sleeves do not look like they fit correctly:
    http://oliverands.com/blog/2014/09/introducing-the-liesl-co-cinema-dress-sewing-pattern.html

  8. Very interesting post! I’m usually not a big fan of cap sleeves in ready to wear because they always seem to look awkward and ‘chopped’ – now I see why. I’ll have to try a cap sleeve using your info and see how that works out 🙂

    Thanks for an informative post!

    • This is probably a really silly question…but when you say ‘drag lines’…what exactly are you talking about? I see there is a kind of diagonal line from the outside shoulder to the bust on the link above…but I’m missing the sleeve thing.

      Explain for a newbie?

      • jen (NY) says:

        Drag just means pulling. Take a look at the pink gingham sleeves – see how the checks are not in a horizontal line? The short cap is pulling the sleeve up. The sleeve is also pulling at the sides.

      • mrsmole says:

        Drag lines or directional folds occur everywhere and they “point” to the problem. See the drag lines running upwards from the hem to the bust on the first striped t-shirt? They point to the bust which needs better shaping like with darts. Drag lines are your friend…they show you all you need to know. Here is a link to some mighty powerful drag lines:http://www.fashion-incubator.com/archive/pop_quiz_477/

  9. jen (NY) says:

    Thank you for a very informative post. I hadn’t really figured out the sleeve cap issue, but now it makes sense. I will definitely be examining patterns and fit more closely now!

  10. Angela says:

    THANK YOU THANK YOU for another informative post! You just made this topic make so much more sense, and I will put your advice to good use in my next top. Your simple statement that “The stripes are parallel to the floor as they should be.” regarding that tunic was eye opening for me. I’ve seen SO many sleeves with stripes that weren’t parallel to the floor that it didn’t register as a problem. 😦

    In the picture of the striped shirt, it is the same picture used to advertise the Scout Tee on the website selling that pattern so I assume that would show how the pattern is drafted fairly accurately. So, for those of us still learning at a rather basic level …. can you please explain why the same shirt would have one sleeve that looks poorly designed, but the other sleeve seems to hang appropriately? I thought that both sleeves would be good or bad, but not one of each. Having read your post, I will be scrutinizing sleeves in many pictures now, trying to train my eyes to see these things….and coming across that picture I would see that the sleeve marked “right” seems lie smoothly around the arm without the drag lines that are visible on the “wrong” sleeve. Also, I would now immediately see that the stripes are not parallel to the floor – but they should be, correct? So the “right” sleeve doesn’t show drag lines but also doesn’t have the lines parallel like they need to be. I’m sorry if I am dense on this, I just want to be sure that I understand you clearly since I will print out this post and have it hanging by my sewing machine for easy reference.

    Just saying… while I realize you are very busy with your business…. if you ever choose to teach an online class I would be the first in line to signup! I am positive that it would be well worth the price. 🙂

    • mrsmole says:

      Oh Angela…I drew lines on the stripes and across the stripes showing how they SHOULD be on the “right”. The “wrong” side is how your garment will turn out if your just cut it right out of the envelope. While using this pattern with a solid or floral might be ok…as soon as you do stripes…see what happens. The gingham jacket sleeve photo is way better at seeing this shit up close…to be off one full inch in a jacket that needs extra ease for clothes underneath is not right. Making muslin sleeves from gingham really shows the problem…I try to use them for new patterns especially for the blog.

  11. $ummer2014 says:

    I can’t believe that for 20 years I have been asking why I have those stupid lines in every sleeve I make! Thank you so much Mrs, Mole, I’m going to go into my sewing studio tomorrow and alter my patterns and give it a whirl! P.s., will you come over and help me?

  12. Angela says:

    Thank you for clarifying that! I had a hunch I had misunderstood something, glad I checked with you!
    Also, I will get some cheap gingham to use for muslin sleeves – that definitely made the point!

  13. With my linebacker-style shoulders i’ve been adding to the sleeve cap for decades now. For me it’s a matter of comfort and not ripping out the shoulders of garments.

    However, regarding your closing sentence: “Who do you want to be…the one with perfect or sloppy sleeves?”

    I can’t say as this issue has ever kept me awake at night. steph

    • mrsmole says:

      These things keep me up at night along with working on wedding gowns…You must be a pro at adding to your shoulders and sleeves! Brava! Having narrow sloping shoulders is a much easier fix with shoulder pads.

      • “You must be a pro …” haha! i am a blooper-producing-machine! But i mostly sew for me, and let’s face it even the most rudimentarily-sewn home garment is soooo much superior to current RTW (esp. fast fashion) that even if i ‘score’ around 75% on all aspects of a garment i am well pleased. And it’s just clothes.

        re: shoulder pads. I loved the 1980’s – sew the pattern as drafted, don’t put in shoulder pads and bob’s yer uncle!

  14. Thank you for this. I’ve seen a bunch of tutorials for taking out sleeve cap ease, not necessarily from anyone with a background in pattern drafting and/or fittings, but just because they find it easier to sew sleeves in flat. So glad you explained why the ease is there and what to look for fit-wise to adjust it.

    • mrsmole says:

      The flatter the cap, the less fabric you have to drape over the round shoulder bone…and then where does the extra fabric go??? Under your arm and behind your arm…not at all where it is needed…who needs that? OK faster sewing…sadder wearing and sadder fitting. I have never seen a sleeve cap too high…have you ever seen a drooping sleeve cap in a commercial pattern? Maybe this might occur if you had stick thin arms but most of my clients do not.

  15. Monique says:

    Thanks again for training my “eye” for good/correct sewing. As it happens, I was experimenting with the sleeve cap recently too and this helps! Enjoy your weekend!

  16. fabrickated says:

    I love this post Mrs Mole. I have a thing about sleeves. I love wearing a well fitted sleeve that comes up fairly high at the underarm, allowing a full range of movement even with a close fitting style. I think you have explained this brilliantly.

    For those in the know a bad (graduated or uneven) hair cut, tiles that are lined up with the wall rather than centred, or a poorly set in sleeve can drive you crazy. I just hope the ignorance of the general population about how things should look will protect the poor work of those who claim to be professionals.

    Thank you for sharing your amazing knowledge so freely.

    • mrsmole says:

      These posts just evolve the longer I see “Professionals and experts and the famous self taught” producing garments with drag lines up and down and sideways. I save some of the worst and draw red lines all over them for myself and to demonstrate to students and fellow bloggers. Just troll through Pattern Review for lots of drag lines and badly fitting patterns…there is no end to them…I want to visit each one of them and open their seam allowances until I hear the garment say “ahhhhhh” with relief. Working with Nancy gives me that honor when we open her seams and tweak the patterns.

  17. kathy says:

    Excellent post and explanation of how to fix the problem. Surprising to see how many of those sleeves were also too tight – I was uncomfortable just looking at the pictures.

  18. Barbara says:

    Thank you so much for explaining this. Will definately look out for this in the next shirt I make.

  19. accordion3 says:

    Confused! I dislike I’ll fitting sleeves intensely, mostly because of my job. I have an occupation where I lift my arms up and out a lot, I have large biceps as well. I find sleeves with a domed cap to be too restrictive. When I lift my arms up, the shoulder seams go up. The flatter sleeve cap, as seen in men’s shirts are so much better. I frequently alter sleeve caps to make them flatter and add width to the biceps.

    This would seem to be the opposite of what you are suggesting. What should I be doing?

    • mrsmole says:

      What you are doing seems right for your job. Having raglan sleeves might also work better as they have no cap and more width in the biceps. Bat wing sleeves also allow more movement. You bring up a good point, choose the right shirt for the job. I pin hems all day, I reach forward and up so regular long sleeves are very restrictive. All mine are short or 3/4 or none at all. Knits make my job easier along with elastic waist pants for sitting on the floor.

  20. Alicia says:

    It’s times like this that I am glad I only sew for myself. Being one of the “self-taught” people means that things like this never get brought up unless super knowledgeable people like yourself bring them up. I would hate to be trying to make a living out of it and not knowing these types of things, and I think the way most people learn sewing these days, it’s easy to have knowledge gaps without formal training. Anyway, always a learning experience reading your posts!

  21. mrsmole says:

    Thank you, Alicia…for me every wedding gown is a learning experience as they are all made differently inside. If we can learn one new thing and be able to use it on another garment…it is a bonus. Finding a new way to pin sleeves into a blouse or a trick to make buttonholes…it can be anything that makes life easier. I save so many blog posts from others in my files in case the day comes when I need to use a certain technique that I am unfamiliar with…someone else has worked it out and photographed it for me…hooray!

  22. very entertaining post. that “woven” tee pattern is an accident waiting to happen on lots of people. I also think a poorly designed armhole is also the culprit on a lot of patterns. Couple that with a too tight upper bodice and eek, the result is what I call “the robot” – inability to move the upper arms at all.

  23. mrsmole says:

    Ha ha…you got that right, Beth…and then toss in too long darts misplaced and you have a whole lot of ugly. But I believe if you pose with Mary Jane’s on your feet and stand pigeon toed it works and looks charming….no? Then why do we have so many blogs with pigeon-toed girls modeling too-tight restrictive clothes? Trendy?

  24. Darla in PA says:

    Interesting topic! I think that most people wouldn’t know that there was a problem and that is why it wasn’t mentioned. It was obvious to me that there was a problem with the winner’s top because of the sleeve tucks were not level. What isn’t obvious to me is the actual fix on the armscye. Isn’t there more to it than just adding to the side seams? Thanks for educating us. I’ll never look at a sleeve the same way again.

    • Darla in PA says:

      Mrs Mole, I read back through the provided materials and see that I missed the additional change on the sleeve. On a long sleeve item, how can you tell that the drag lines are being caused by the sleeve cap or from a one piece sleeve? Do you have an example hidden somewhere that shows a well fitted sleeve cap in a one piece sleeve that still has wrinkles?

      • mrsmole says:

        The drag lines always point to the problem, always point to where the garment needs more fabric. In the examples I used, they were all about the sleeve cap being too short/shallow and making drag lines vertically. If the problem is a one piece sleeve that needs more ease at the bicep then the drag lines would be horizontal across that area. Wrinkles/drag lines point because they are being stressed to the max and trying to give the offending areas more fabric. If you have a skirt with a tight tummy, the drag lines will stretch across the tummy…pointing to the side seams to be released. Vertical drag lines tell you that the front section needs more fabric at the waist…like the cap of a sleeve. The horizontal grain lines (that you draw or thread trace) across the skirt will go UP in the middle and point to the waistband…skirts or sleeves… we are dealing with a tube. Same with the back of a skirt…grainlines go up for high hips and rounded cheeks. Follow the lines and add to make them parallel with the floor. It is addicting to thread trace or draw on muslins…it shows everything that is wrong.

    • Beth says:

      Hi Darla. This is Beth, the winner of the challenge. The sleeve tucks actually follow the curve of the sleeve hem, as provided on the pattern. They aren’t meant to be level.

      And if anyone reading here feels she can do a better job than the contestants, feel free to apply next year.

      • mrsmole says:

        Thank you, Beth for reminding all of us about your win. I thought that contestants were specially selected for their skills, experience and expertise, asked and chosen to compete, I didn’t know that anyone can apply. Looking forward to the next round where fit is crucial.

  25. Meigan says:

    Thank you Mrs. Mole for sharing your wisdom. I would also be interested in how to adjust sleeves for larger biceps. I like the idea of CL…TL. Seems like a very good idea.

  26. melanes says:

    Kathleen talks about this. Sleeve cap height is only part of the problem. The biggest problem is the sleeve cap shape. The sleeve cap should not have any ease at all, otherwise the stripes will not match. Instead the sleeve cap should have no ease. A sleeve with 2 inches of ease is considered a mistake in production sewing. That much ease is not necessary for a proper fitting sleeve. A proper fitting sleeve has everything to do with the correct shape of the sleeve cap and armhole. I suspect that by cutting wider seam allowances and then pin fitting them to your client, that you are adjusting the pattern to a more anatomically correct pattern. It would be interesting to pull one of those sleeves out and lay it flat to see what it looks like after your alteration. Kathleen’s relevant blog posts are below.

    http://www.fashion-incubator.com/archive/sleeve_cap_ease_is_bogus/
    http://www.fashion-incubator.com/archive/sleeve_cap_ease_is_bogus_pt2/

    • mrsmole says:

      Yes, making custom clothes allows you to tweak front and back and also cap height. My goal is always to point out what pattern companies are passing off as good fit but falls short of. If the cap is right and sitting with horizontal lines, then the rest can follow. Kathleen is a master and I have her book. At this point I cannot see everyone’s problem like narrow sloping shoulders or square shoulders but just want people to be aware that there are small things they can work with to make their sleeves start to look more professional and even and hang right without drag lines. Thank you for the links, Melanes…so much depends on fabrics and content as well when setting in sleeves in blouses or jackets and the experience of the sewer be they a newbie or experienced. Discovering your own personal measurements and how they relate to the paper pattern is a good place to start but so often we read on blogs that the sewer just guessed at a size, never measured any dimensions, cut it out and then was disappointed and it became a wadder. Sewing should be fun and not a discouraging exercise. Learning never stops with so many methods and techniques and so many fabric combos to deal with…we are truly blessed with internet resources and good teachers online too.

      • Mrs.Smith says:

        “Sewing should be fun and not a discouraging exercise”

        So true. But I guess we’re just so unlucky to be subjected to a “whole lot of ugly” from at-home sewers. Hope we are entertaining on Wednesday!

      • mrsmole says:

        Contestants are chosen for a reason and patterns are selected for a reason. We sewers are at the mercy of the pattern designers and hope we can ferret out the good from the bad. I truly believe it is not the sewing skills, it is the pattern that lets the sewer down. Good luck this week in your sewing must most of all in your detective skills in finding out the best way to tackle the challenge! Loved your outfit last week except for the sleeve cap!

  27. prttynpnk says:

    Im going to starting cutting bigger sleeves- that makes perfect sense.

    • mrsmole says:

      Just cutting the sleeve cap an extra size higher up can solve lots of problems. If you don’t need it and the sleeve fits great, hangs well…then cut off the extra.

  28. Shams says:

    EXCELLENT post, Mrs Mole!

  29. Elle says:

    Hmm, the other variable is the finished hem angle on a short-sleeve shirt. On many people, it is more flattering to have the hem at an angle–longer on the underarm side, as in the first photo of the striped t-shirt–rather than straight across. So there is a design element too, especially on a striped shirt.

    (And we do have Key Lime Pie here in Seattle, should you want to venture north.)

  30. mrsmole says:

    Yes, an angled hem would be nice but you still have the short cap and drag lines. Keep that pie chilled, Elle…you never know when I might get an urge to drive up the I-5!!! At least you would have more fabric stores than a single JoAnn’s…wouldn’t you?

  31. I haven’t read through all the comments, but CL-TL… halleluia!!!!!!!
    Preach it, sister.

  32. mrsmole says:

    Your ingenious bra tab is quite the little handy thing for wrap dresses: http://blog.gorgeousfabrics.com/ Thanks for dropping by!

  33. Deb Holland says:

    Just so you, mrsmole, and Elle know, we also have Key Lime Pie here in Florida, should you want to venture south. Lol

  34. mrsmole says:

    Oh Deb…isn’t that where it originated?

  35. When you raise the curved areas of the sleeve underarm, do you also raise the underarm on the bodice? I’ve raised the cap, which works well, but I had a hard time easing in the extra length to the armscye. Your solution makes sense, but I wasn’t sure whether or not you also raised the bodice underarm curve. Thanks in advance!

    • mrsmole says:

      What you are doing when you raise the curved areas, you are shortening the length of the sleeve curve to resemble the correct length of the armsyce measurement. As the sleeve would drop lower into the armscye after adding to the cap, say by about 3/4 inch, you bring it back to the original position and shape and it should fit the same armscye without raising anything on the bodice. I will be removing that final gingham sleeve and doing some further tweaking once Nancy tries it on so that will add to the adjustments. If you wanted to raise the sleeve higher in the armhole to begin with, you would certainly raise the bodice side seams up whatever amount you needed and also raise the sleeve curved sides up to match. It’s hard to say how much until it is on a real body or mannequin since we are working in the round all the time. Some women have lots more going on under their arms than others and want air and ease instead of tighter fit.Also our jobs can determine what the sleeves have to do whether it be pinning up hems all day or carrying children or groceries.

  36. mrsmole says:

    It is just engineering, Mary and common sense along with a measuring tape and maybe Diet Dr. Pepper on the side. So glad you dropped in! Thanks for asking the question!

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  39. amcclure2014 says:

    I’m not sure why I missed this post at the time. I found this absolutely fascinating. The rugby type shirt my husband is wearing today has perfect matching on sleeves and body with stripes parallel to floor. In a store today I saw a few striped tops that I now wouldn’t touch. My husband and I looked at one on a model and we both concluded there needed to be an extra inch at the top of the sleeve. And what do you think of the Simplicity spring patterns? In one of them in particular, the diagram and the pictured finished top differ dramatically. I prefer the diagram. It’s quite depressing though. I’m a beginner, getting some experience, but thought all I had to worry about was altering pattern to fit me – now I realise (especially after reading your link to KF) that I also have to worry in case the pattern was drafted or graded badly in first place. I am attending a pattern cutting course which will hopefully teach me the basics so I can modify a self drawn block for myself.

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