Monday, March 3, 2014

Subtleties in Drafting: Sleeves


Hello, everyone! More drafting today, but not garment deconstruction this time. Instead, we're simply going to meander through some of the subtleties in drafting. 

Drafting is simultaneously an exact science and a nebulous art. On one hand, it is systematic and linear: there are rules, standard sequences, tables, guidelines and even formulae to enable a person to go from body measurements to custom-fit garments. You can read books that teach you all about these. You can buy computer programs that digitize these, implying that it is possible to create algorithms from these formulae and sequences. You can send your vital statistics to a human pattern-maker who would plot these into a personal sloper, in spite of never actually having laid eyes on you. There are even standard fixes for patterns (with code names like FBA, SBA, Rounded Shoulders and Sway Back) to make them better fit your body. With these come the promise that because it can be objectively quantized, anyone and everyone- provided they have the patience to absorb the information and act on it - can draft.

On the other hand, drafting is also completely subjective. Years after I first learned to draft and forgot and wanted to re-learn it again, I asked Mum to teach me. She responded, "We'd better ask Auntie Laura. She's much better." And when Auntie Laura turned up for my lesson and all three of us were hunched over our drafting table, arguing and scribbling lines all over our brown kraft paper, she mused, "If only your Grandma were still alive. She was very good, you know. The best. Only ever needed one fitting. One fitting and it was perfect! Imagine that."

I couldn't. How was this possible, I wondered, when both Mum and Auntie Laura were taught by the same teacher - Grandma - and all of them experienced by the same number of years, using exactly the same methods and techniques? Did Grandma draw straighter lines or swooshier curves than everyone else? Was she privy to secret mnemonics that allowed her to supercalculate the width of a bust dart based on a person's bra size? Did she have a magic wand? 

Much later, when I was finally back on the road to semi-successful drafting and preparing that Sewing From Scratch tutorial series for you guys, I started to understand. There is a feel to drafting that cannot be quantized. It's similar to how some people know which colors go well with other colors in a room, or how other people can taste a pot of soup and know how to tweak it to get it to taste just right. Certainly there are principles that govern their decisions - concepts like coordinating vs. contrasting colors and warm colors vs. cool colors, and standards like stocks and roux(es) and base flavors and all the other things that a person can learn in art class, interior design courses or culinary school. But when all the theory has been assimilated, and we begin to apply ourselves, we finally realize how short a distance that theory actually takes us. If we are sufficiently analytical, we might transcend our frustration enough to ask the right questions that allow us to break through an impasse. Sometimes, just the questions are enough to redirect us to a new book, a different experiment, a second muslin. Maybe we will be lucky and someone will come along who can answer those questions and save us the time of shooting in the dark. 

I am lucky that Mum and Auntie Laura were available and interested in answering my early questions when I was learning to draft as a teenager. They had so much to teach and often it was too much, because I was still learning the basics (how and where to plot a dart, how and where to draw the shoulder slope). Everything was rules-of-thumb, black and white, yes and no. Fast forward to now, when drafting blocks is as normal as writing a grocery list, and I'm beginning to see nuances. Greys. Shades. Alternatives. Better-thans. Appropriate-fors. Choices. It is empowering, surely. But it also feels completely subconscious, natural, congruent. I know this because I don't think about how I draft until I need to talk about it in a tutorial. Then, what makes perfect sense to me and could therefore be trivially explained in a single sentence ends up requiring three posts, usually with numerous diagrams, because each time I peel back a layer, there is some other principle underlying it, which needs to be first unpacked to something else even more fundamental. 

My reaction is usually, "Wow. That took too long to say for something that everyone should know." And then I have a headache and have to eat chocolate to get rid of it.

I think of those Somethings That Everyone Should Know as the subtleties of drafting. These are things that drafting books may not cover because they are either "obvious" (to which we roll our eyes, mouthing, "As if,") or something the authors hope you'll figure out for yourself after, say, 10 years of drafting experience. Or maybe they are troublesome to write about because there is no easy formula for them. Or they don't have a specific name. Or because they are incidental to the main focus of drafting, which is to produce a pattern for a garment, period. 

Here are some examples off the top of my head right at this moment as I type this:
  • What shape of sleeve cap to choose for a particular fabric.
  • What length of sleeve to choose for a particular figure type.
  • Where to position the seam on a sleeve, a skirt, a shirt.
  • Where and what kind of dart to use for which part of the garment for which kind of fabric for which body type.
  • Does the method of shaping (seams vs. darts vs. combination) matter for the kind of garment or muscle tone or body shape of a person?
  • How tight is too tight?

No formulae, code names or standard treatments for those, huh?

The most frustrating thing for a drafting student (at any level) is not so much what we don't know, but what we didn't realize we don't know. Until someone comes along and offers a counter-suggestion, plus its theoretical principle, and something clicks and we get one of those lovely eureka moments. 

It's a frightfully overambitious goal but that's what I am going to attempt in the next couple of posts. Rather than share how to draft a woman's sloper from scratch (really, just buy a drafting book, friends, if you are serious about learning), I'm going to try to talk about the whys. Completely bonkers, I know. 

So, before I chicken out, let's do sleeves today. 

Let's pretend that you came over to my house and sat at my kitchen table and we have a pot of hot water and my entire tea collection spread out before us, plus waistline-unfriendly scones and jam and cream and I have a pad of paper and my favorite pen and the children are miraculously entertaining themselves and someone (elves, probably) are taking care of dinner prep, and you are allowed to ask any question you like about sleeves and I have given you my word that I will not laugh at you, and you take a deep breath and say,

"My sleeves stink."

I raise my eyebrow but otherwise make no movement or sound.

You continue, "Regardless of whether I use a commercial pattern or draft them myself, they are never comfortable and they never fit properly and I. Just. Don't. Know. What. Or. Where. The. Problem. Is. And the worst thing is that up till recently, I wasn't even aware that they were bad. But one day I woke up and realized I had Stinky Sleeves. How, I don't know."

And, as a visual aid to your frustration, you smash your fist into one of the scones.
(And I don't hold it against you.)

Hm. I notice immediately that, in spite of you not having actually asked anything, there is, in the middle of all your Stinky Sleeve Ventilating, a question. An image dances before my eyes, a specter from my shameful past:

It is a good self-disclosure story with some how-tos for your quick-fix pleasure, and I am tempted to share it with you to make you feel better. But we must delve much deeper than that, and peel back several more layers to where things are more fundamental so that we have something solid on which to build something good.

"Did I ever show you the armscye and the Kleenex box?" I say finally.

You stare at me as if I am either sadistically inattentive or utterly insane.

I ignore your stunned expression. It is, after all, not the first time people have given me that look. Besides, yours was a good question (even if you may not have been sufficiently aware of it to yet give it words. I rub my hands together in glee. Let's start peeling back the layers!

1 The Armhole
One of the very first things you must understand is that the armhole is more important than the sleeve. It does not matter if your garment is sleeveless or sleeved - you must aim to make a marvelous armhole. A marvelous armhole is 
  1. as small as possible while still allowing free movement of the arm. If you can make it smaller while your arm still moves freely, do it.
  2. as closely-fitted to your body as possible. Use darts if necessary to wrap it more snugly against your body. The principle is this: a snug armhole stays more stationary against the body while its sleeve (where present and attached) is moving. A loose armhole moves along with the sleeve while it is moving. This results in pulls, shifts and tugs. Which feel uncomfortable. Which makes it seem as if something is fitting poorly but is too vague to be immediately obvious. 

When you draft an armscye, and you are yet not confident in dart placement, do the best armscye you can and then sew a muslin and make corrections on it. Or unpick the offending sleeve of an existing garment - it is almost guaranteed that the armscye will be too large - and make corrections on it.

The first part of the armscye on which to improve is the shoulder seam. Many RTW garments and patterns are made to fit shoulders that are differently-sloped than yours. 

The next part - which is the part that produces the most significant results - is immediately to the side of the bust. This is where the armhole is most likely to gape, because the bust pushes the fabric forwards and away from the body. You know this because in children (who have no bust) the armhole never gapes in that way. 

To correct the gape, make a dart. The more well-endowed you are, the deeper the dart you need to make. When you make a dart, the bottom of the armscye gets raised a bit. This could be a fortuitous side-effect if your armhole is also too large.

The next part of the armhole to fit is the back. If your shoulders roll forward, so that your back is mounded (like a large, flat bust), the armhole might also gape in the back the way it did in the front, albeit to a lesser extent. Find out where it gapes and make a dart there. It will be a very small, skinny dart, if at all. Most people do not need this. 

The last part of the armhole to correct is the bottom (i.e. at the garment's side seam). If, after adding darts and perfecting the shoulder slope, the armhole still hangs too low, you will need to raise its bottom curve. Just make it higher in your draft. Period. 

Obviously if this is an existing garment rather than a draft, a too-low armhole cannot be altered because there isn't fabric to add to its bottom. However, sometimes, the side seams are too far out (i.e. the whole garment is overall too large) and when taken in, they naturally raise the armhole's bottom as well. If so, yay. If not, it is tragic but, as is, that garment cannot be saved. My mother always advised that if we are not sure how large the armhole should be, we should always draft and cut it smaller at first, because we can always enlarge it later if need be, not the other way around.

How small? You ask.

Like this:

But not as small as this - unless you are planning to make a mannequin.



2 The Sleeve Angle
Just so we're all on the same page, let's first look at the anatomy of a sleeve and define some terms.

  • The shaded blue portion is the sleeve cap. 
  • h = height of sleeve cap
  • L+h = length of sleeve
  • W = width of sleeve cap. Anatomically, W is also a measurement of the bicep.
  • The dotted vertical line divides the sleeve into the parts that are set into the front armscye and the back armscye, respectively. The widths of these two parts, Wf and Wb, may or may not be the same, depending on the shape of one's shoulder/bicep.
  • S = the shoulder point, where the sleeve intersects the shoulder seam.


I first saw this next box-and-tube visual aid as sketches on a website some time ago. I now cannot remember where that was so if anyone recognizes it, and can send me the link, I will be happy to acknowledge it.  (updated July 21, 2014) I found it! Whoo! Thank you, Ben, for writing to me with your link to your brilliant concept.

This is a box that represents the bodice of a garment. That oval hole is an armhole.

We are going to make three different sleeves and set them into that armhole. We will use different colored paper.


Sleeve #1 is a horizontal sleeve. The paper is rolled into a tube whose circumference fits the armhole. 
Garments whose sleeves are set in at this angle include kimonos, kaftans, dolman-sleeved garments and some relaxed-fit Tshirts (especially men's). 

A line is drawn to indicate where the top of the sleeve (ostensibly its midline) meets the shoulder seam.


Sleeve #2 is set in at a slight angle. Garments that have sleeves like these include most natural-fit garments like Tshirts, blouses and shirts, particularly short-sleeved garments. The paper is rolled to the diameter that allows it to exactly match the armhole at this angle. Again, the midline is marked.



Another line is drawn around the tube/sleeve where it touches the box/armhole.

Sleeve #3 is set into the armhole at a much steeper downward angle. Garments with sleeves like these include jackets and coats, and some other long-sleeved garments, in which the arms of the wearer are expected to more often hang down at his/her sides than animatedly move about. Again, the paper is rolled to the diameter that allows it to match the armhole and the midline, as well as the intersection of the sleeve and the armhole, is marked.


Here are those three sleeves, with their various angles of set. Note that it is the same armhole into which they are all set. 

Now, we detach them and line them up. Do you see? Their diameters are different.

In order for the sleeve to match that same armhole at different angles, the circumference had to change to compensate for that obliqueness.


Next, we cut them open along their bottom "seam". The circumference has now become the "width of the sleeve cap". And all three sleeve caps therefore have different widths.



Again, when superimposed, you can see the differences in the widths of the sleeve caps.


Also, you can see the differences in the shape of the sleeve cap.




Principle: The greater the angle of set (i.e. how downwardly slanty the sleeve is), the narrower and higher the sleeve cap.

Applications:

  • Depending on what kind of garment you are making, the sleeve may hang at a different angle of set. Often, the more casual the garment, the more movement is expected by the arms when wearing it, and therefore the closer-to-horizontally will the sleeves be set.
  • The more slanty the sleeve, the narrower the sleeve cap gets. Therefore a more slanty sleeve is also less comfortable.
  • This means you can choose, for the same armhole, the angle of set for your sleeve according to the function of your garment. If you are making a button-down shirt but you know you're going to move your arms around a lot (e.g. if you are a teacher or presenter and have to write on whiteboards etc.), you might want to deliberately draft a wider, flatter sleeve cap.
  • It also means you can choose, for the same armhole, the angle of set for your sleeve according to your body shape. If you have chunkier upper arms and shoulders, you can deliberately draft a wider, flatter sleeve cap because it translates to simultaneously having a wider circumference, which therefore will be more roomy.


3 Relationship Between The Sleeve And the Armscye
Let us first state the obvious fact that the sleeve gets sewn into an armhole. This is something on which everyone agrees, no matter what their expertise (or lack thereof) is in the area of sleeve sewing. Beyond that superficial association, there is a far more intimate relationship between the mountain-shaped sleeve cap and the armscye into which it fits. Here are two secrets:

Secret #1
The length of the sleeve cap (the curved distance) = the circumference of the armscye.


Duh. 
But you'd be surprised by how many people don't seem to believe this, based on how they try to cram into an armhole a sleeve cap that is too wide or too narrow, resulting in hideous gathers on the shoulder or sleeve itself.

But what about "sleeve cap ease"? You ask. 

Ah.
I will offer my personal opinion on this very controversial concept. I think that when people discuss "sleeve cap ease", they often are talking about completely different things without realizing it. My thoughts:
Everyone wants their sleeve caps not to be tight and constricting. The cure, they decide, is to add ease, whatever that means. Some people do it by deliberately drafting a longer sleeve cap curve (e.g. 16.5") than can fit into the armhole (e.g. 15.75" circumference). Then they gather the top of the sleeve cap into a slight puff in order to cram that extra 0.75" into the armhole. Now, unless they were honestly originally planning to draft a puff sleeve, this is cheating. The more effective (and less duplicitous) way to introduce sleeve cap ease is to change the shape of the sleeve cap in order to accommodate your particular arm and movement. We will cover that below, after Secret #2. 


Secret #2
The curves in the sleeve cap and in the armscye are actually meaningful and related!

Pretend for a moment that you are comfortable drafting a sleeve free-hand and without a formula. By way of guidelines, let me say two things:

1    The shape of the sleeve cap corresponds to the shape of the armscye. Specifically, the inflection points (those blue and red dots) on either side of the sleeve's center line match up with those on the armscyes. If you are drafting free-hand, it is as simple as how far from the shoulder point those red and blue dots occur on the armscye, and curving your sleeve cap at the equivalent locations.

As long as you keep the curved distance of your sleeve cap constant (so that it will still fit into your armhole), you are free to change the shape of that curve. This means you can make it flatter or pointier, curvier at different places than others, and whatever else you think will help that sleeve cap better fit your particular shoulder and upper arm.

Here is an extract from this earlier post, showing two different sleeve cap shapes for the same armhole. The red sleeve cap is higher, pointier and more shapely than the brown one.

(And now we meet that mysterious word, "ease".)

This sleeve cap is too high for my  shoulder shape- the fabric peaks in a fold at the shoulder.

The brown sleeve cap, being flatter and less curvy, has a wider bicep area,  

which means that while the overall sleeve might not look quite as sleek near the armpit, it is a lot more comfortable when the arm is raised. 

Red sleeve                       Brown sleeve


Therein lie a few useful applications:

(i)   When working with stretchy fabric (like knit), choose a sleeve cap that is pointier, like the red one above. The fabric will pool less at the armpit and the sleeve will look more sleek while still maintaining its freedom of movement (because it stretches). 


(ii)  When working with fabric with less give (like quilting cotton), choose a sleeve cap that is flatter and less shapely, like the brown one. The fabric will pull less at the armpit during arm movement.

(iii)   For a garment in which you don't plan to move your arms very much (e.g. a jacket or coat), pick a sleeve with a pointier sleeve cap. It will result in a more vertically-hanging sleeve (remember the Kleenex Box Illustration?), with a more streamlined armpit area.

(iv)   For a garment in which you plan to move your arms a lot (e.g. an everyday shirt or Tshirt), pick a sleeve with a flatter sleeve cap. It will allow more freedom of movement.


4   Variations - Sleeve Seam Positions
In many garments, the seam of the sleeve is at the lowest part of the sleeve cap i.e. in the armpit region, where the sleeve connects to the side seam of the bodice. It is a convenient place for the sleeve seam. Sometimes, that seam is placed elsewhere. There are many reasons for this, including
  • the overall seam pattern of the garment. Some shirts and coats have back yokes and the sleeve seam is deliberately situated at the back to form a continuous line with that yoke.
  • sleeve shaping. Sometimes, the sleeve is not meant to hang straight down, but with a bend in the elbow. This is not uncommon in costumes in which the sleeves are very fitted and, for comfort, drafted to allow the arms to rest in a more natural, not-totally-straight-all-the-time position in them. In such cases, there may be more than one seam in the sleeve, plus elbow darts.

The important thing to note is that, regardless of the shape of the sleeve draft, it is still the same sleeve- it has a sleeve cap and some rudimentary symmetry about the shoulder point.

Here's an illustration, using our old friend, The Kleenex Box, with a green paper sleeve, set at a random angle.

This is where the seam commonly is in many garments - at the bottom. If we were to cut the sleeve apart here, it would look exactly like a regular sleeve draft.

If, however, we locate the seam at the back of the sleeve instead, and flatten it out,

This is what it would look like (in green). The yellow sleeve is the "regular" sleeve with the seam at the bottom, at the armpit.

Which, if we were to cut apart and re-assemble like a jigsaw puzzle, will easily revert to the more normal-looking draft.



   Variations - Below The Cap
Having successfully fitted the sleeve cap to your armhole, everything that happens below it is frosting on the cake. By changing the slant of the side seams originating from the ends of the sleeve cap, you can make many different styles of sleeves. Here are three examples:

The only rule is that the side seams (S) must be identical in length so that, when sewn together, they will match up.

These variations are a staple in all drafting books. Jen covered that in her post in our previous drafting series, and I will link to that here

Note that throughout this post, we concentrated on drafting a set-in sleeve without gathers (i.e. we avoided puff sleeves). This is so we could focus on getting the sleeve caps to properly fit armholes and biceps and shoulders without superfluous ease. Many, many ready-to-wear garments have puff sleeves because those are an easy way to introduce more room in the sleeve cap area for a wider range of arm shapes. Many sewing patterns also employ puffed sleeves because they more easily accommodate different arms and compensate for the inability to draft to fit. By that, I don't mean that those pattern designers have inferior drafting skills; I mean that it is near impossible to custom-draft a beautiful sleeve cap for the arbitrary range of bodies that will wear their patterns.

End of sleeve lesson! I hope this has been helpful. Sleeves and armholes are soooooooo important in that they can make or break a garment, and yet, beyond "Personalize Your Garment -Magically Make 100 Different Sleeves From The Same Pattern!" I have seen very little on how to actually look and feel good in those sleeves. Perhaps this return to the fundamentals of sleeve theory will help you make better-looking and more comfortable garments in the future. Good luck! 


130 comments:

  1. Thank you for such a great post. Incredibly straight forward and informative. I just finished my second muslin on a fitted shirt and this post is like a revelation. I have a decent fitting sleeve but I may be able to tweak it and make it even better now.

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  2. The kleenex box illustration is by far the best thing I've seen. Thanks for so much helpful info! I'll be saving this page for sure :)

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  3. Wow! Thank you so much. I've been struggling with perfecting my sleeve fit and this has helped me to wrap my head around the concepts. I'm printing this off and getting to work! ;-)

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    1. Wow, I concur with all comments. Excellent post. Thank you so much!!

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  4. Wow, I see what you mean when you say that what seems like a sentence can fill out to pages and pages, but somehow all of it is important stuff. Thanks so much for writing this. Now I know how to fix most of my problems: smaller armscye. So excited to try it! (Which is saying something, because sleeve fitting is not usually cause for excitement, but for swearing.)

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  5. This is fabulous! And fascinating. The Kleenex box visual aid is so helpful. I have trouble with sleeves, which is why I gravitate towards kimono sleeves a lot of the time. The info about sleeve angle is especially helpful.

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  6. Incredib!e, thanks a lot for sharing this :)

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  7. Thank you so much! I have, unfortunately, no relatives who sew. Your lessons are wonderful!

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  8. I just want to say thank you, thank you, thank you! As silly as the tissue box demonstration is, it really paints a very clear picture! This post is awesome and I feel like I've learned a lot!

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  9. You are a well of information on drafting, and thank you so much for sharing it with us!

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  10. Gosh, reading all this makes me think I'm not going to be as comfortable in my store-bought garments anymore. ;)

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  11. Thank you for this post!! This finally made the shape of sleeve caps make sense to me!!! I've got a Craft Gossip post (scheduled to publish in an hour) that links to your post:
    http://sewing.craftgossip.com/tutorial-how-the-shape-of-a-sleeve-cap-affects-the-fit/2014/03/03/
    --Anne

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  12. LOVE love love the kleenex box demonstration! Brilliant!

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  13. very very very interesting. I have fat biceps and sleeves often did not fit me. Now I have a few things I could do depending on what I want out of it. It also explains why a sleeve I recently copied from a book for a woven blouse (with a flattish curve) still works for me even though its nothing like the shape of the knit sleeve cap I use in my knit tops (with a much steeper curve) and yet both seemed OK in wear.

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  14. That's really useful. I kind of understand this but need a bit of practise with it.

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  15. Wow! This is a great post! Thanks for sharing all this knowledge!

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  16. Thank you very, very much. I'm so grateful you took the time and effort to explain this all so clearly! This will really help me.

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  17. This was really fascinating. I have been using Alabama Chanin patterns without sleeves and have so badly wanted to add some, I might be able to try it now. I found, in making the Alabama Chanin garments that the sleeve holes were too small for my comfort, mainly because I wanted to be able to wear a t-shirt beneath it, but also because I cannot stand a restricting armhole. Would you say this problem is more the shape of the armscye or the size of it, or is it possibly both. I just made the armhole bigger with a little less fabric at the front where it was binding.

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  18. Thank you so much for this post. I have been wondering for ages why some sleeves fit so poorly and why they either pull under the arm or puff at the shoulder seam. I typically sew from patterns rather than draft my own, bit I am often unhappy with the fit of the sleeves. Now I can try to re-draft my own. That tissue box was a fabulous demonstration; just what my mind needed to visualize everything.

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  19. Thank you so much! So clear now. I think your explanation also relates to why we can get away with inserting sleeves flat when the sleeve shape is like the blue or pink examples but really should be set-in for the yellow example as the seams mirror the body best that way.

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    1. Good point, Karen. Thank you. I hardly ever set in my sleeves the flat way, unless they are raglan sleeves or for doll clothes (small and fiddly). Habit, I guess. But yes, you're right. I think there is a name for that concept - dominant seams, I think. I have to go read that up to be sure I got the name right.

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    2. I was only reading about dominant seams this week. Here is the link to Kathleen Faesanella's post in which she mentions dominant seams.. http://www.fashion-incubator.com/archive/a-better-way-to-sew-linings-and-facings/

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  20. I learned so much from this post, LiEr! I care a lot about how sleeves fit, and while I had figured out how to take in the shoulder seam I didn't know about the trick of adding a dart. I also didn't realize that you could alter a too-big shirt to make it fit the way you described her. Thank you for all of the drawings - they were very helpful for this visual learner!

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  21. oh my god. revelations! Thank you!

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  22. Thank you thank you thank you for taking time to do all this. I love trying to wrap my head around what you know and I love the aha moments that you give me every time you post.

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  23. Wow. Thank you so much! I feel like I can try this now :)

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  24. Thanks for sharing!!!! I may try a muslin to experiment all concepts

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  25. This was an excellent lesson, and much needed. Understanding the reasons and the science really helps out when drafting. I have never been happy with the sleeves I have made, now I know why. Thank you for the time you spend educating us !

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  26. Thanks for taking the time to explain this so clearly - it's one of the most useful articles I've read in a long time. It puts into words some things I had come to understand, but couldn't explain :)

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  27. Wow, this is a fabulous post and the tissue box example clearly shows exactly what happens. I love it. I have learned so much. Thanks for soooo much information and the time it took to write.

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  28. I'm going to echo everyone and say a big thank you for taking the time to write this post. I read this over the dinner and the sewing nerd in me was thoroughly fascinated.

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  29. I love you forever and ever, amen. :)

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  30. Thank you so much for taking the time to explain this, this answers so many of my questions! Your kleenex box model really hit home and I finally understand why some sleeve patterns work for me and why others don't! You are a brilliant sewing teacher!

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  31. What a lot of great information! Thanks!!

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  32. Great post! Thank you. I have one question - would you incorporate the dart in the armscye into your paper pattern, or sew one in the garment itself?

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    1. Definitely incorporate the dart in the armscye. There is no guarantee that you can insert a bust dart into an already-sewn armscye without reducing the size (and skewing the shape) of the armscye in a way that you don't want. However, if you happen to have a huge armscye already, you'll have some freedom/room to insert darts and fortuitously shrink the armscye in the process - a win-win situation.

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    2. Thanks for answering my question, I'm afraid I was a bit unclear though! I really meant to ask - would the pattern alteration to get rid of gape create an actual dart in the finished garment, or reduce fullness by just changing the shape of the armscye? I imagine you can solve it either way, but wondered if you had a recommendation. Thanks again!

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    3. Ah, I think I'm beginning to understand. My suggestion would be to consider the shape of the bust. Not all B-cups, for instance, are equal, in other words. Some people's busts are perkier and some are more uh... widely distributed. Depending on the specific shape of the bust, you might either introduce a dart in the armscye, or a french dart in the side seam or reshape the armscye without a dart. I'd say that the perkier/more protruding/more well-endowed one is, the more one should gravitate towards an armscye dart rather than just raising the bottom edge of the armscye.

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  33. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your knowledge. This is very helpful.

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  34. I've read your posts for years and never once commented. I'm sorry (even my husband chastised me for this!). I've emailed you before and you were incredibly helpful while I attempted to draft a sloper for my daughter and got tripped up on the sleeves. Unfortunately, mommy-hood took me away from being able to complete that project, but I remember sewing up the muslim, knowing the sleeves were uncomfortable, but being at a loss as to how to go about fixing them. Thank you SO much for your help and for this post. It kind of makes my brain want to explode, but I'm sure as I mull over it the next few days something might start to filter down. ;) My problem is that I need a week sans-kids (I have five who are 7 and under--including 18mo old twins!) to concentrate, but I also need one there for fittings! ha! I wish I were your neighbor so I could bother you on a daily basis. Thank you again!

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  35. This is amazing stuff! First time I've read your blog and believe me, I intend to read a lot more of it. I have hard to fit arms, and this information is SO helpful! Next time I put a sleeve in, I'll be referring back to this. Thank you! Karen

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  36. I love this post. I always have trouble with other people's patterns because of sleeve cap. Thank you for bringing the issue to light :)

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  37. What pattern did you make the light blue dress that has the flowers and branches print?

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    1. Gemini Gypsy Girl: That was a self-drafted dress. I don't use commercial patterns. Here is the post:
      http://www.ikatbag.com/2014/02/the-frock-darted-sloper-21-in-knit.html

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  38. Thank you so much for this! I am supposed to be working, so I've only read half so far, but I'll be back because I've already had a significant 'ah-ha' moment!

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  39. Can you please elucidate further - "When working with stretchy fabric (like knit), choose a sleeve cap that is pointier..." vs "For a garment in which you plan to move your arms a lot (e.g. an everyday shirt or Tshirt), pick a sleeve with a flatter sleeve cap."

    So I have a knit fabric that I'm making into a t-shirt - do I go pointy or flat? :)

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    1. June: pointy. Knit fabric's stretchiness trumps function. In other words, you can stay stationary OR be animated in knit and your sleeves won't restrict you. BUT you can't be animated in a woven garment without your sleeves potentially protesting.

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    2. *Grin* I recently drafted a t-shirt sleeve by draping it on myself (complicated maneuvering, that). I'm fairly pleased with the fit, but the resulting flat pattern sleeve shape is so... odd looking! It is indeed very pointy, and it also has a major scooping out of the forward side (plus very asymmetric from front to back). Thanks for boosting my confidence that I'm on the right track!

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  40. Thank You!!! I am in the process of trying to create a sleeve pattern ...love the Kleenex box example...I get it now!

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  41. Can I just say... I love you. You're the best.

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  42. I, too, have stinky sleeves. Thank you!

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  43. THANK you! It is so hard to find information about sleeves and sleeve caps. The kleenex box made me have a little moment of mind-blowing. I actually teared up at a couple of points as things became clear. That may seem like an overreaction but as you said, I've spent hours struggling with sleeves, knowing SOMETHING was wrong but not WHAT. And then when I worked out WHAT (armscye too low, sleeve too pointy) I didn't know how to fix that without creating five other problems.

    I will definitely be visiting this page quite frequently for sleeve assistance!

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  44. Thankyou so much for this wonderful explanation of sleeve fitting, I have only just found your blog and I am sure I am going to learn lots from you. I really appreciate this post and all the work you put into creating it, looking forward to checking out the rest of your blog.

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  45. Thank you so much for that detailed writeup on sleeves, I couldn't have understood it better ! and those examples at different angles, thank you again for that. I am confident if you compile all your writings, you could easily create the science of Tailoring or dress making, and i am already booking my copy today !

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  46. OMG--I've been altering sleeves for years without a really concise understanding (sewing lots of vintage patterns does that to a person--did no one raise their arms before 1960?). What I was doing worked pretty well, and I'd figured out the general principles, but this really linked everything together so now I understand *why* it works. Thank you so much!

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  47. Wow, thank you for giving me an aha! sewing moment--I finally "get" it!

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  48. Wow. You are fab at explaining!

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  49. Thanks so much for this post! Question for clarification about ease...if my armsye measures 9" and my sleeve cap measures 9", do I need to add ease? The sleeve cap is lower and wider (like the casual shirt, the middle example.) My armsye fits well, I think.

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    1. Sheila: What do you mean by "add ease"? If your armscye circumference and the sleeve cap distance match, any extra width you add to the sleeve cap will have to be crammed into that armhole somehow - either by pleats or gathers (i.e. you will have to make it a puff sleeve). The short answer is, "It depends on whether your sleeve cap fits your upper arm/shoulder comfortably or not. If not, either change the shape of the sleeve cap (while keeping its width still 9") or make it puff if you don't mind it."

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    2. As I understand from books on the subject, the traditional way for drafting sleeves adds 1-2" (the ease I was referring to) to the sleeve cap to accommodate the shoulder ball shape - then you ease that extra fabric into the smaller armsye (like you said). I'm new at this - but,my sleeve draft (the 1st one I've ever done) resulted in an equal measurement of the armsye and the sleeve, and that results in a better look/fit in my muslin than the sleeve with the additional ease. But, I am hesitant to actually cut my fabric before I am sure I understand what I am doing. As I understand your comment, it's the shape of the sleeve cap and not additional inches of ease that makes it fit correctly. Am I understanding you correctly? Thanks so much for your help.

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    3. Sheila: When I was growing up, my mother used to "add ease" to the amount of 1/2" to the sleeve cap in just the way you mentioned, to accommodate the shoulder. She'd ease it into the armscye without gathers (by hand-easing and basting, not gathering stitches or pinning) and it would definitely give more a more roomy fit. Done poorly, though, this "hand easing" would result in accidental gathers or asymmetrical positioning, and would look quite weird. I don't include any extra ease in my sleeve caps when I draft - they fit the armscye exactly.

      So yes, it is completely possible to get just as comfortable a fit with an exact-match sleevecap-armscye measurement, if the shape of the sleeve cap is appropriate. The key (in addition to the sleeve cap shape, I mean) is to know how to hand-ease that sleeve cap into the armscye. To do this, all you need to do is ensure the STITCHING LINES match up, NOT the seam allowance edges. This is because the sleeve allowances of curved edges (esp a concave armscye to a convex sleeve cap) will never match. However, the stitching lines themselves, which are the lines that were measured to match each other, will. So hand-baste on the stitching lines themselves and your sleeve cap will automatically match your armscye. I rambled on about that in an earlier post involving hand-easing princess seams (same concept, different curves) and there is a video. Here it is:

      http://www.ikatbag.com/2013/05/converting-to-princess-seams-sloper.html


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    4. Thanks so much for your thorough explanation and the video. Both were very helpful...I am excited to move ahead with my project! Yeah!! I'll keep coming back to see what wonderful tips and encouragement you have to share! Thanks again!

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  50. Thank you so much for the kleenex box illustration! I've drafted a wonderfully fitting bodice but for the life of me cannot draft a sleeve that is comfortable. You have motivated me to get back to work on it. I think maybe the most difficult part for me is not being sure that the armscye is located correctly on my body; i.e., too small or too large. Trial & error - here I go!

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    1. Gail: If your armscye fits your body well, the battle is more than half-won. So you're on the right track! Don't give up!

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  51. Wonderful article! So much information! Thanks for taking the time to put it all together. Definitely bookmarking this one!

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  52. What a great, complete tutorial! I love your descriptions and the way you broke everything down to make it easy to understand. Pinning!

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  53. I have just found your wonderful site from a link that Mel shared in PatternReview.com. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge - the kleenex box demo is a brilliant one! I am in the process of drafting a woven sloper, and was planning to take that learning to design a knit block; now I see that I can't simply shrink the woven sleeve to become a successful knit sleeve - and I kind of get the 'why' as well. Off to my cutting board (after signing up to follow your blog, first)

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    1. TinaLou: here's another post that might be slightly helpful to your converting woven to knit slopers:
      http://www.ikatbag.com/2013/05/dartless-sloper-version-22.html

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  54. This is an AMAZING post! Thank you for sharing your knowledge, which I found via the Sewing Pattern review website. I have been at my wits end trying to find more info on sleeves all week and this is brilliant. Thank you again!

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  55. wow - this will take me back to square one designing my ballroom competition gown bodices and sleeves, a task that I stumbled through and am fairly happy with. This info will make fitting sooooo much easier and better! Thanks to Pattern Review for sending me here!

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  56. This is fabulous. Thank you very much!

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  57. THIS is the website I've been looking for all day! No one but no one had rendered a 3-D model paired with the actual shapes of the different sleeves. And I'm SURE they all had Kleenex boxes available, the lazy bastards! Ha, ha!

    Thanks so much, I can now make my freakin' jacket without stealing someone's Xanax.

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  58. Thank you a million times! I've been making tank tops for months so I don't have to think about sleeves. Now I just want to try them again!

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  59. This is incredible. The information about how to fit larger biceps and choose a cap shape / height based on body type and fabric was a lifesaver for me, thank you SO much for writing all this up!

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  60. Excellent post!! I wish I had read this before the sleeve drafting section of draping class.

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  61. This is so interesting, I want to learn how to sew but I'm very intimidated. I want to be able to make excellent garments but that seem so far from me right now, I kind of get this a little bit and I'm sure if I was sewing anything I would get it more. Thank you for making it understood and not seem like gibberish.

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  62. Thank you for the illustrations. I am more of a visual learner and this has helped me quite a lot.

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  63. This is one of the best posts on sleeve drafting I've ever come across. Bookmarked! Thanks!

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  64. Amazing post, I was always wondering how the two dimensional odd looking shape is matched up with an apparent circular armhole. Thanks for the example of the Box and paper !!!

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  65. Thank you thank you thank you. I had a grasp of this stuff, but now I UNDERSTAND it!

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  66. Wow! Thank you! This is fabulous information!

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  67. It was shared on Face book by a friend and I am so going to do the same. You are wonderful to share this information in manner which people will "get" I love the Kleenex box. That so works!!!

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  68. I'm a self-taught beginner sewer. Thank you soo much for this post! You made everything so clear and obvious! I admit it, I had no idea ... I just made the sleeves that the pattern gave me and thought that I assembled something wrong when things didn't turn out how I expected. I understand now. Thank you.

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  69. Along with some of the other folks who've commented, I am also a self-taught beginner. This was just perfect!! You did such a wonderful job of explaining the process, and it just made everything click and make sense! So far I've only been brave enough to sew for little ones, but you've inspired me to try and tackle an outfit for myself. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!!

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  70. this article really fixed my 'sleeve theory'.
    ive been told to add 1/2' and 5' heigh of cap. but i alwys thougt that i wpuld just give some gap that may accidently make the puff then i do pattern of my own theory. then i found your articles and im just 'i knew it'
    thx your explanations are so much helping :D

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  71. Beautiful post! And so much information given in such easy instructions! God bless you!

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  72. Just came across this post - it's so well done! I've saved the link. Nice job!

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  73. I just found this today and am extremely grateful for this very clear presentation. Fantastic!

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  74. How funny that this is actually a problem discussed by a pro. I have had to manipulate my sleeves for years. My body does not match anything I buy especially in the shoulders and it's why I like patterns. I have been changing sleeve shapes for years. Never knew others did the same. Many who sew say, "What are you doing???" I love this tut.

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  75. WOW!!! Just found this, and you have made crystal clear a concept I have been struggling with for quite some time! How much I wish I could come just watch you draft patterns for a few days.... like so many others, I am totally self-taught, relying on books and the internet. I will never be able to go to fashion school and learn drafting; posts like yours are worth their weight in gold.

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  76. I learned something new with this. I feel so satisfied with learning about the sleeve caps. I loved this post. Thank you. I feel like I could just go create a million well fitting tops with this new knowledge!

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  77. Absolutely amazing for someone who has never 'gotten' sleeves - thank you!

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  78. Thank you for taking the time to write this! It is very helpful and interesting to read. A friend shared this link with me so I look forward to seeing what else you have.

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  79. Finally somoeone who explains not only how to do something, but also why it should be done this way. Very important and very helpful! Thankx

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  80. Thank you, I've been struggling with sleeves since I started sewing, and I've started to suspect that it wasn't just the sleeves, but the whole armhole that was the problem. I'm also going to flatten the sleeve cap rather than just making everything bigger for my chubby arms.

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  81. Found you via Melly Sews. I sew costumes professionally and have never seen this topic covered so well. Based and your post here and cooking with my DIL I have concluded physics teachers make the best seamsters and cooks. (Small sample size I know, but I was not a science major.) I will be going back into your archives and following your blog. Wish you and your family lived next door.....

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  82. This is the most instructive information on drafting and fitting armscyes and sleeves that I have ever, ever seen. Awesome! I just found this post when American Duchess pinned it on Pinterest and I am so glad! Thank you!!

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  83. Très bien ce tuto avec de super explications Merci beaucoup .Vous avez amenez beaucoup de réponses aux questions que je me posait sur les différentes formes de manches .

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  84. Thak you so so so much !!
    You made my day ! :-)

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  85. Awesome, especially the Kleenex box. Five stars from me!

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  86. What an awesome post, the best tutorial on sleeves I have ever read. I found you via Crab and Bee, I'm so glad I clicked on the link!

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  87. Fantastic article! I am very full busted and petite. I learned a few years ago that a BIG problem with fitting for me was related to fitting the armhole/sleeve. I did learn that I need to "pull everything up from the shoulders" but I have never seen a well thought out technical explanation. And the box/paper demonstration is very enlightening. Thank you

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  88. Thank you for this very helpful explanation. There is one thing I don't understand, relating to the Kleenex box demonstration. If the armhole size in the bodice is fixed (make it as small as possible) then the sleeve circumference in the angled-down case (yellow tube) will be quite small; obviously much smaller than the armpit circumference (simple trigonometry) and therefore potentially unwearable .... ?

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    1. Anonymous: Exactly. Hence why the angled-down case is not preferable in drafts for normal-sized people who are planning to move at all in their garments. The possible exceptions are garments in which people want a sleek silhouette (e.g. knitwear), or formal wear in which people don't plan to raise their arms much (e.g. jackets), and really thin people with really skinny arms. Otherwise, on regular people with regular bodies, it can be, as you surmised, excruciatingly uncomfortable.

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    2. Thanks; once again let me say I am grateful for a methodical and objective discussion of the detail of this. HF

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  89. Thanks so much for this post! I'm a self taught beginner and I'm trying to alter a button-down shirt (from L to M). I have a question though, if I opt to reshape the sleeve cap to a much flatter one instead of the pointy one, when I make my draft, am I allowed to shorten the height (distance from shoulder to armpit)? I noticed in your drawing that the much flatter sleeve cap no longer has the same height as the pointier sleeve cap. Thanks!

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    1. Imp: Yes, the height of the sleeve cap, h, (i.e. the distance from to top of the sleeve to the armpit line) will be shorter. If this results in the curved sleeve cap length becoming too short to match your armhole circumference, you must either reduce the size of your armhole (if this is what you want) or else extend the curved sleeve cap length to match the bigger armhole.

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  90. Is there a rule of thumb on how short I can go? I mean, if my H is 7, am I allowed to make it to 3 or maybe a 2? Assuming if at 3 or 2, I was able to match my sleeve cap length with my armhole. Wouldn't it affect on how my sleeve will hang? Thank you and I hope my question doesn't sound so silly :)

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    1. Imp: Personally, I've never made a sleeve whose total length was shorter than the height of the sleeve cap. No reason other than I don't enjoy wearing cap sleeves. Go ahead and cut out a sleeve muslin and try it on to see how it looks and feels on you!

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  91. Thank you thank you thank you.
    Brilliant and now I understand the principles rather than the formulaic instructions I've found elsewhere.
    You just saved my sanity - I've bitten off more than was sensible for my skills, and on my 2nd muslin still struggling to sort the fit and with a week to finish a dress for my 50th birthday.
    Did I say thank you!

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  92. This was brilliant and better...way way better than anything I have been taught about sleeves before. Thank you so much.

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  93. An excellent article. I've come back to it a few times. I particularly value the argument that mis-fitting sleeves relates to a mis-shaped armscye. - Have you read Morris Campbell's thesis "The Development of a Hybrid System for Designing and Pattern Making In-Set Sleeves"? YES! A PhD thesis on setting in sleeves. Who woulda thunk it. Morris did. ...Being of a mathematical bent, I have been building a mesh of formulas to assist in drafting but determining the 'angle of set' and plotting for a particular angle has me a bit flumoxed. It is to do with the trigometric plane shift of the truncated cylinder. I'll get there!

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  94. I have been searching so hard for anything to help me understand what the shape of the sleeve cap does, and this is the only thing that helped. It made it clear as day. Thank you thank you thank you! Now I can finally finish drafting the blouse pattern I've been working on since sometime last month. :)

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    1. Beth Jennys: I am so happy that this post has helped you. I hope your blouse (and its sleeves) turns out beautifully!

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  95. I was so confused about why sleeve caps take that bell shape, but that tissue box demonstration was GENIUS!

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  96. This is just the best info. No book I know of has gone this deep into the science of armholes and sleeves. This is the first time that I have learned that the armhole is the first and most important step in getting a good sleeve. Good job!

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  97. Finally some theory on sleeve drafting! I was taught one formula with a constant cap height from a home tailor, then did a draping course which opened my eyes to different armscye styles and the corresponding sleeve draft, then searched online 'how to draft a sleeve' and got so many different methods! It was only online did I know about bicep measurement and cap height. I have a few questions though:
    1) If I want my sleeve/armhole to be more roomy, do I just increase the circumference of the armscye or can I lengthen the vertical length from the end point of my shoulder to below my armpit? (i.e go even lower the armpit) because I tend to find my fabric at the side bust area to pull into the armpit. Or is it just a matter of increasing bicep circumference?
    2)Must the front circumference of the cap slope always be longer than the back? Or is it ok for the front and back to be equal length? Actually I've seen one tutotial online that says the back is longer than the front (but that's cos the back shoulder seam is more forward.
    I really appreciate your clarifying my queries!

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    1. Nasihah:
      1) One is related to the other. Significantly increasing the circumference of the armscye means drawing a bigger "oval", meaning the axis of the ovals will have to lengthen, meaning the armpit point drops lower. The converse is true. You can also increase the armscye circumference by cutting the front/back armscye curve deeper which may not affect that armpit point. It really depends on the shape of your upper arm - without a photo, it's hard to suggest which area to adjust. I would generally put a dart in the side bust area first, before ever enlarging an armscye.
      Re: bicep circumference. If your sleeve is tight even when your arm is hanging by your side, you'll probably need to increase the bicep circumference.

      2 Not always. In people who slouch/hunch/have medical conditions that result in pronounced back curvatures, the back armscye length is often longer than the front. Sometimes, in loose garments (e.g. a loose-fit Tshirt), the back and front armscyes are cut exactly the same length i.e. the sleeve is symmetrical, because the extra ease in that area nullifies the need for a precise fit.

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  98. Very useful. Thank you for sharing. Going to try it out soon.

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  99. I'm so happy to have found this post! But I still have one questions. I'm making fitted sleeves with an S shape shoulder cap. I flattened the sleeve head like you proposed in the post and I have great mobility in raising my arms and putting my arms. The only thing is that when I cross my arms forwards, it's really tight. Do you have any tips on fixing that? Thanks in advance for you answer!

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    1. geneb181 - without seeing the sleeve draft or your particular shoulder/arm, I can at best guess what the problem might be, and suggest a solution based on principle only, but let's hope it will help!
      The S-shape cap sounds as if the sleeve has its seamline somewhere other than the bottom (i.e. it is not a continuous line with the side seam of the bodice) - perhaps at the back of the arm, for instance. Hopefully you will have cut it apart (like the green and yellow illustration at the end of this post) and reassembled it to look like a regular bell-shaped sleeve cap. This is not always necessary, particularly if you have a fair bit of experience in drafting. However, it is helpful to make adjustments on the bell-shaped sleeve cap because it is easier to visualize how each change affects the fit on the body (or in this case, your upper arm).

      Once you have the bell-shaped version of your sleeve cap, you can adjust its shape according to the earlier part of this post.

      If the sleeve is still tight, as you've said, it could be a bodice or armhole issue rather than a sleeve issue. The chest could be too tight, for instance. Or the armhole is too large, or cut too deep, so that there is less bodice fabric in the upper back area (a deep or oversize armhole removes fabric in this area). You will possibly have to redraft that armhole and/or the chest width on the pattern.

      I hope this is a helpful starting point for getting your pattern to fit more comfortably.


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  100. This is a really useful post! Thank you so much.

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  101. I have seen this phenomena described in different ways, but I have to say that the kleenex box is brilliant visual explanation. Thank you!

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  102. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I really needed this today! I free-hand design my patterns, and I get decent armholes instinctually, but I never felt comfortable drafting a sleeve until now.

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