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Patternmaking & Sewing Notes
by Don McCunn

How to Make Sewing Patterns
Update: Adjusting the Sleevecap and Armscye

My current thinking about sleeve caps is a little different from what I have in my book How to Make Sewing Patterns. I have used the approach described in my book for a long time. But since I taught my Online Classes, I have had some additional thoughts and observations which I want to share.

Background First:
The reason for ease in sleeve caps is a little different than the reason for ease in other parts of the slopers. A minimum fitting ease is added so you can move comfortably in a garment. If your design calls for additional fullness beyond the basic comfort factor, this is design ease.

The ease in the sleeve cap is to adjust the fabric of the sleeve so it can be shaped over the shoulder. This ease, unlike other ease factors, can be referred to as "sewing ease." The sleevecap needs to be worked into the armscye (aka armhole) during the sewing process. I show why this is required in more detail in my note "Sleevecaps - The Reason for Ease."

When I was researching my book I found the sewing ease that seems to be not only a "standard" but something that actually works on most bodies is to add 3/8" of ease to both the front and back of the sleevecap making the total sleevecap 3/4" larger than the armscye, see page 74 of my book.

Always Fit the Bodice First:
Before you start to develop a sleeve sloper you need to have the fit of the armscye worked out for the upper torso (aka Bodice).

  1. The shoulder seam should be adjusted so it is on top of the arm at the armscye. This is the highest point of the body which you can see by placing a book on the shoulder and holding it parallel to the floor. The shoulder seam at the armscye should be under the book.
  2. Adjust the length of the front and back armscye so that the top of the side seam is 1/2 the total circumference of the armscye. This adjusts the armscye so that it works best with my procedure for drafting a sleeve sloper. If you look at the suggested position for the top of the side seam I show below, you will see it is not one that is usually visible.
Relation of the armscye to the shoulder and side seams

Adjusting Side Seam and Underarm Ease:
Once you have drafted the sleeve as I show in my book you need to verify that the length of the sleeve cap has the necessary sewing ease as described above. It has been my experience that for a lot of bodies, the sleeve cap drafts very closely to the appropriate length. I show how to make any necessary adjustments on page 73.

Caveat: After listening to the issues of the people in my online classes it has occurred to me that the "standards" of ease for the bodice and sleeve may not be appropriate for the proportions of some bodies. It may be possible that some people have a smaller or larger arm than is accommodated by standard ease measurements. If this is the case, ignore the "standards" of 4" of ease for the bodice and 3" for the sleeve. Adjust your sleeve cap or bodice to which ever is the largest length required, see Figure 150 on page 73.

Use the following steps to create a fitting shell to determine if you have the correct amount of ease for the comfort and fit you want.

  1. Sew the bodice together at the shoulder seam.
  2. Sew the sleeve cap to the armscye.
  3. Sew the underarm/side seam.
  4. Try on the fitting shell wrong side out.
  5. If the fitting shell feels too loose, pinch out the excess where the side seam meets the underarm seam.
  6. Resew the side/underarm seam to the new fit.
  7. Try the fitting shell on a second time to verify the fit.
  8. Once the fit is correct, adjust the sloper patterns to the new fitting ease.

Copyright © 2015 by Donald H. McCunn