Do Sleeve Caps Need Ease?

If you have heard of Kathleen Fasenella at, you will know that she says 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 jackets 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


6 thoughts on “Do Sleeve Caps Need Ease?

  1. Too bad your other comments are spam. I agree with you about the sleeve cap ease. I think there are some situations where it's needed or warranted and others where it is not. I think the fact that Kathleen questioned the need is great though–as it's generally just a given otherwise.


  2. I've read Kathleen's piece about sleeve cap ease and the comments. The good thing about her writing is that at least it does make me think about accepted norms. But in this case she is far too dogmatic. Thank you for bringing a sense of balance – have you communicated any of this to Kathleen??


  3. I haven't mentioned to Kathleen. Other people have contradicted her on her blog post and she seems quite convinced that sleeve cap ease is unnecessary.

    Still, at least we can understand sleeve cap ease better now that we have all had a good think about it. 🙂


  4. Well, after my good think, I'm now convinced that a couple of cms of ease is okay, necessary even, you are dealing with curves after all. At least now I've actually thought it through though!

    Just tried to pm you but got into circles with google circles…


  5. Hi! I've experimented with the amount of ease and i must say that I've had great results following Kathleen's no-ease advice. Sometimes I've added a little ease in order to be able to get a wider upper sleeve without lowering the cap height, but I've always regretted it. Just completed a cotton lace (no stretch) dress w no ease in the sleeve cap and it came out wonderfully smooth. I would add a little ease if I wanted the sleeve cap to rise a little bit at the shoulder seam. I do try to get the length of the shoulder seam right – not too short, not too long. Thanks for a great blog, Sabrina! Tracy in Sweden


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