Do Sleeve Caps Need Ease?

If you have heard of Kathleen Fasenella at, you will know that she purports that "sleeve cap ease is bogus" and that if you have a well cut pattern, you won't need the ease. Many people seem to agree in the comments (and of course some heartily disagree).

For a long time I blindly followed along. After all, she's the one with all the experience and expertise. What do I, a self-teaching student, know?

Well, I've tried it her way and have found it to be unsatisfactory, having made some rather uncomfortable garments.

Nope, I think that with dresses and tops, sleeve cap ease is essential. Kathleen specialises in jackets, and jackets have long shoulder seams. Dresses have shorter shoulder seams, for aesthetics. As you can see in the illustration below, the sleeve cap of a dress sleeve must be longer to go over the shoulder and meet the shorter shoulder, while the jacket sleeve cap needn't go up as high because the shoulder seam extends beyond the person's shoulder.

Now, maybe jacket don't need sleeve cap ease -- they don't have much of a curve to go over; but saying that dress sleeve caps don't need ease is like saying that you don't need a bust dart -- how are you going to fit smoothly over the curve without extra fullness and some way to take said fullness in? You'll end up with fitting problems such as a illustrated in every big sewing book and every fitting book. So I'm going back to sleeves with ease. I'll draft them more or less like Metric Pattern Cutting author, Winifred Aldrich does. (I have my own method for the armscyes, but the result is very similar most of the time.)

Kathleen's "proof" that sleeve caps don't need ease is two photos of plaid jackets with matching plaid at the armscye. Now, if you look in Claire Shaeffer's Couture Sewing Techniques, pages 181 and 182, you will see two Yves Saint Laurent (pronounced "Eevs Sa Laron" with a French accent for those who don't know) jackets, each with matching plaid. Here it is achieved by shrinking the sleeve cap over a tailor's ham or a sleeve board or some such thing. I suspect (I don't know) that at least one of Kathleen's proofs was done this way as well.

Maybe Kathleen is right about the shape of the armhole -- more or less. I don't think is should be as extreme as she illustrates, at least not for me. The latest shirt I made is uncomfortable unless I slouch or fold my arms -- that's when the shirt looks best! : ) I need a little more fabric across high chest as well.

What are your experiences with sleeve cap ease? How much do you like to have in a dress/blouse sleeve? I think about 1"- 2" (maybe 1 1/2") is about right, but I haven't tested that yet.

Have you blogged on this topic? Please leave a link below if you have. It's very important to a lot of sewists and home-pattern-makers (professionals as well for all I know.)

Until I have something else interesting to blog about, Happy Sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown

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