I Have Fallen Down the Rabbit Hole–Turns Out, It’s Just a GIANT SLEEVE.

Oh, my friends, my friends. . .

I have been to some dark corners of the internets in search of sleeve-shaping wisdom.

Places where terms like “Pythagorean Theorum” are tossed about.

Places where I saw this formula given to calculate the perfect sleeve cap:

L = sqrt (x2 + y2 + z2) (Here)

Places where people know things so far over my head I’m not sure we exist in the same atmosphere–unspeakable things. . .


You know that I have been slowly going mad by perfecting my Simplicity 2444 muslin. The issue, if you remember, was that the sleeves did not fit–they were pulling on the side seams making it next-to impossible to raise my arms. The major problem was that the armscye was too low. So, I went a-searching to see if there was a particular method I should use to reshape it.

I. Found. Nothing.

Seriously–there are no tutorials that tell you how to raise the armscye. I know. I was shocked. I found lots of other tutorials that did not help at all. I did also find a lot of forums, but I’m not really a fan of forums. It’s hard to know who really knows what they’re talking about.

I figured that since no one was talking about it, it must mean that I needed to go with the obvious answer: raise the armscye at the side seam and then use a French curve to blend the seam line.

That part was easy. What came next is where the nightmare began.

I figured that changing the shape of the armhole meant changing the shape of the sleeve as well. So, off I went a-searching again.

I remembered this article from Fashion Incubator and took another look at it. Insisting that “sleeve cap is bogus”, she points out that most armholes in commercial patterns aren’t anatomically correct. I also read a different perspective from Madalynne on her updated sleeve drafting tutorial (bookmark it–those things are the best ever!). She says that all sleeves need some ease; it just depends on several factors (fit, style, fabric, etc.) to know how much. My thinking was that since I needed to reshape the sleeve, why not go ahead and try both reducing and removing all the ease to see who’s right in this issue.

I used this tutorial from Green Apples to remove all the sleeve cap ease, but it didn’t really turn out to be as simple for me as it seemed to be for her.

No matter how much I measured and reduced and folded and re-measured and double-checked, the sleeve head still would not fit the armhole. It was consistently too big. The odd thing was that all the markings and notches lined up just fine. It was only in the front of the sleeve that I was ending up with extra. So, I re-measured and recalculated and I kept coming up with the same number. Both the armhole and the sleeve head measured 16 3/4″ along the seam line (not counting seam allowance, of course). So, why wouldn’t the sleeve fit???

I really don’t know.

The one thing that I did figure out is that it simply wasn’t enough to remove sleeve cap height like in the tutorial. I needed to remove sleeve cap width as well–particularly on the sleeve front.

I went to crazy town for a few hours and did some truly insane things which I ended up undoing later. We won’t go into all that. It was wrongity wrong.

I did also remember that I had forgotten to remove my armhole dart measurement from the seam line. When I fixed that issue, I still had a inch to remove which I did by scooping the sleeve front curve rather than add to it like in the tutorial. I also removed a bit by folding the notch over about 1/2″ and shaving just a tad off the edge. Sorry if that’s confusing. It’s one of those situations where I can’t really explain why I did what I did. I just know that there was a crazy sort of logic to it at the time and it ended up working, hurray!

To experiment, I only changed one sleeve. For the other, I kept about an inch of ease and set it in like a normal sleeve. And here are the results:

I don't usually wear camis under my muslins, but I wasn't about to reveal the ol' midriff.

I don’t usually wear camis under my muslins, but I wasn’t about to reveal the ol’ midriff.

This sleeve is set in:

And I forgot to remove some  basting stitches.

And I forgot to remove some basting stitches. That big wrinkle you see is because I was twitching around trying to get a good shot and didn’t adjust the bodice again before taking the picture.

S2444 Muslin Set In Sleeve Side

This sleeve has no ease:

S2444 Muslin Sleeve No Ease Front

I’m seeing lots of wrinkles that worry me. But, let’s not forget that it will have a skirt attached which will weigh things down.

S2444 Muslin Sleeve No Ease Side

Can you tell a difference? Both of them feel exactly the same. I have a full range of motion on both sides. When I lift my arms straight up, the bodice still pulls up. But, I kind of think that’s just the way it’s going to be.

My verdict?

Well, I can’t say that I fully agree/disagree with either theory. It seems that removing all sleeve cap ease can be a viable option, but it depends on the shape of your arm and the fabric you’re using and the style you’re going for. Is a certain amount of sleeve cap ease always necessary? I don’t know. Yesterday when I was writing this draft, I would have given a completely different answer. But after looking at the pictures, I have to say that these sleeves, at least, need some ease.  (Disclaimer: I am no expert. Both of the ladies mentioned (Fashion Incubator and Madalynne) are. Obviously, my conclusion is based on this one experiment.)

Here’s my reasoning: At first I was all about the ease-less sleeve. It’s so much easier to insert and I spent about a thousand hours modifying the sleeve to make it fit. But look closely at the pictures of the ease-less sleeve. Notice how the sleeve seems to pull at the shoulder. Look again at the set-in sleeve. The seam where the sleeve meets the shoulder (does this have a name?) runs right along the end of my shoulder. Yes, it’s a bit poofier–especially at the back–but (ignoring the basting stitches I should have removed) it looks nicer and clearly fits better.

Here’s my plan: I’m going to start with my ease-less sleeve (it’s either that or going all the way back to the original–which might not be the worst idea) and add probably around 1/4″-3/8″ back to the sleeve cap height. Then I’ll add 1/4″ to the sleeve cap width on the front and back.

I also discovered during this last muslin that if I pinch all the extra from the neckline at the shoulder seams, I can fix the gaping neckline issue that I couldn’t get rid of in the first version I made. SUCCESS!!! I am just a bit worried that the neckline stretched a bit during the process because I didn’t think to staystitch. Is it worth making up one more muslin just to check the neckline? Nope. I’ll stay on the safe side of removing the extra–it’s something I can easily tweak as I’m sewing the real thing.

Also, I toyed with the idea of recutting the back bodice using a straight center line (I talked about this issue here. Turns out, it wasn’t a drafting error after all. Thanks to Oona for setting me straight!), but once I pinched at the shoulder seams, it fit just fine. And, wouldn’t ya’ know it, I had to add exactly 0″ to the shoulder length. Sonja pointed out that my drastically elongated shoulder seam (from muslin #1) was probably adding to my sleeve woes. She was right (Thanks 🙂 )! Leaving the shoulder seams be solved half the problem.

And thank you to my commiserators!.

And thank you, finally, to Simplicity 2444 for being a pattern tempting enough to make me work for a decent fit and for providing me this oh-so-frustrating learning opportunity.

And now this post has turned into an Oscar acceptance speech. . .

Seriously, I feel like I just passed the exam of the century–that’s how obsessed I have been with this muslin. All that’s left to do now is redraw the sleeve pattern piece because the one I have now is looking a little worse for wear. . .

S2444 Sleeve Pattern

Yeah. . . starting with the original pattern piece is probably the way to go. . .

I also need to true some things (notches and edges and such). And then I’m going to do some happy experimentation (file this under “Not Content to Leave Well-Enough Alone”) because I Have an Idea and I want to try it out before I begin. I’m not so sorry to delay the making of the dress a leettle bit longer because at least I can start working on something new.

I have a good feeling about this one. . .

So what’s up y’all? Working on anything fun? Challenging? Tell me all about it! More importantly, what’s your take on the sleeve cap ease issue?


19 thoughts on “I Have Fallen Down the Rabbit Hole–Turns Out, It’s Just a GIANT SLEEVE.

  1. Well, I have returned to sewing, so I think that is the biggest challenge so far 😀 I am so glad that you have been able to find a solution. I find the sewing community so helpful and encouraging 🙂

  2. It’s good to know I’m not the only one obsessed with sleeves :). I know the math is crazy scary but I went ahead and made a sleeve based on it anyway and it did fit nicely into the armhole on the first attempt. This first edition did have ease though — I added height ease back in based on the original pattern. It turns out this was way too much ease. I’m about to sew the 2nd muslin (hopefully will have post up with muslin photos later today). In this 2nd version I took most of the ease back out but left a little sliver at the back shoulder. I also made a deeper scoop in front so that the sleeve cap now looks pretty much exactly like Kathleen Fasanella’s sleeve cap in the link you referenced in your post. We’ll see what happens, but I have a feeling my results will be similar to yours, meaning that I may want a little more ease. I’m not sure where to put it though.

    One more change I made to my 2nd version is that I added some width to the sleeve in the bicep area using the adjustment in Palmer/Alto Fit For Real People. It’s kind of like the Full Bust Adjustment — you spread a little to get room where you need it, but you don’t change the side or armhole seam.

    Congratulations on successfully raising your armscye!

    • Thanks! A little success goes a long way 🙂

      When I redid my sleeve this morning, I was a little more methodical about how and where I removed ease, but my pattern still didn’t end up as much like Kathleen’s version as I wanted. I’ll get there someday!

      I found that I wanted less ease at the back and a little more in the front. And I definitely wanted to keep some of the cap height. I think that’s why my ease-less sleeve was pulling so much at the shoulder.

  3. sheesh! sleeves are tricky! I think a little ease is a good idea too. no ease and they seem to lay funny in my experience. As for your neckline issue, maybe you can just measure it to see if it stretched. A whole new muslin might really drive you crazy! I’m excited to see the dress! Good luck!

    • So, I feel a little idiotic for not thinking of that oh-so-simple solution 🙂 I should probably try to get that right since changing the neckline means changing the facings and the collar.
      Thanks! I hope it won’t be too much longer. . .

  4. Oooh, sounds like you have done A LOT of homework. I am not too much help, as the only sleeve I’ve drafted has been from my own measurements in a sewing class and seemed to fit fine. So, since I didn’t have to alter it, have no idea how I would go about it!

    But, I’m going to keep mark of this post with the links, in case I have some of these problems with future storebought patterns. Thanks for posting them. Good luck with your dress!

  5. I’m sorry my method didn’t work for you! It’s true, we are all different, so not one method will work for everyone. I don’t like really fitted sleeves (except in a knit) so I haven’t tried it on a sleeve like yours. I hope your hard work turns out!

    • It may not have worked perfectly, but it got me going in the right direction. So, I’m still really grateful you shared your tutorial 🙂
      Thanks! I think they just might work. . .

  6. This. I have done it. Unfortunately, I also have no good answers, but I can make a sleeve pattern piece looks like it should star in it’s own Frankenstein movie. So while I have no witty advice, I can offer my sympathy.

  7. I’ve come here because I’m having similar issues with this pattern. I graded up the size 12 to something that resembles a 14 and it fits ok over the bust BUT It pulls across the high bust and yet there is too much fabric around the collar area. So the sleeves look like they are pulling and when I try to lift my arms up, it’s just not pretty.

    I’ve put it aside for a while. I thought this pattern was going to be great based on the “It fit great straight out of the packet” reviews I’ve read. Well, it’s not great for me. Now the question is – do I bother with it or use one of my bodices that I know already fit???

    • Well, I’m certainly no expert, but I’ll help if i can!

      If you try on the muslin without the sleeves, is it still tight around the upper bust? Do you notice the armholes pulling in? If not, I’m wondering if maybe you need a bit more room around your shoulders and upper arms in the sleeves. Susan Partlan mentioned above that she added some width to the bicep without altering the sleeve cap. Maybe that would help?

      Also, I’d recommend experimenting with raising the armscye at the bottom. It seems counterintuitive, but I was having serious issues trying to raise my arms because the armscye was too low. I ended up raising them about an inch and I have my freedom of motion back! Of course, if you’re not doing the long sleeves, this might not be an issue. I’ve made this pattern before with the cap sleeves and didn’t notice any problems.

      As for the neckline, try pinching the excess out at the shoulder seam. When I did that, I got rid of the gaping at the front. I’d be careful though if you haven’t staystitched your neckline. I didn’t and found it had stretched significantly during fitting.

      All that said, if you have a bodice that fits well, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to use that one instead. You can always modify the neckline and move the darts around to match S2444 if you want. This is exactly why I’m working on a bodice sloper–I’m tired of having to drastically alter every pattern I work with!

      Good luck to you! I’d love to know how it all turns out!

  8. Thanks for sharing with so many others the “obsession” with sleeves. I have too obsessed with this and found a sound technique based on mathematical principles that helps us draft no-ease sleeve caps. Please check it out. Thank you.


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