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Tutorial: removing sleevecap ease

After much prodding, here is my tutorial for dealing with sleevecap ease!

Before we begin, a question: What is sleevecap ease, and why should I remove it?

Sleevecap ease is the difference in seamline length between your sleevecap and armhole.  Most sewing patterns have a cap that is at least 2″ larger than the armhole.  Most (but not all) garments that you purchase do not.  Not only does the ease make sleeves difficult to set in neatly, it also (for me at least) causes the sleeve to bind under the arms.

I decided pretty early on that sleeve cap ease was not working for me, and it was confirmed when I read this post from Fashion Incubator.  I set about trying to come up with a method of removing the ease that wouldn’t make the sleeve hang wonky.  Here is what I came up with (note: I am not a scientist or a mathematician!)

Here is the pattern I’m going to make.  Vogue 8815 is the popular peplum top pattern that everyone seems to have made!  I’m making mine in a leopard print double knit.  Since I’m using a knit for a woven pattern, I will be removing the center back seam and zipper.   No matter what you think about wovens, knits most definitely do not need sleeve cap ease!  Here is how I set about removing it.


Seam gauge or flexible ruler
Clear acrylic quilting rule
French curve (optional)

A note about materials: You can make due with a seam gauge, and that’s what I’ve used here, since I figure everyone has one.  However, you will make your life much easier if you purchase a flexible ruler – it can stand on end and be shaped to the seamline, making measuring the armhole a breeze!  If you’re going to do this often, you will also want a set of french curves (they’re good to have anyway – I use mine all the time!)

Begin by cutting and pressing your pattern pieces.  You need the sleeve and whatever body pieces comprise the armhole (usually a front and back, but occasionally it also includes a yoke or some such piece.)

Using your seam gauge, make a line on your sleeve piece at the 5/8″ seamline on either end.  You will not include this in your measurements.  Do the same for the front/back pieces.

Now you will measure your pieces, beginning with the sleeve. Place the 1″ mark on the seamline you just marked.   Remember that you are measuring seamlines, not the edges of the piece – you want to measure 5/8″ in from the edge all the way across.  Your seam gauge is 5/8″ and will work.  If I use the seam gauge I like to mark every inch – that way I know I’m being accurate (though it will never be as accurate as the flexible ruler, it’s close enough for most things.)  My marks are shown in pink below:

Count the number of inch markings from seamline to seamline.  This number is the length of your sleevecap.  Write it down, and do the same measurement for the front and back armhole pieces.

Now you will add the front and back measurements together and subtract them from the sleeve measurement  (Sleeve length – armhole length = ease).  I ended up with 1.75 inches of ease in my sleeve.  It may not seem like a lot, but removing it will make my life a lot easier (and give a nicer fit!)

In order to remove the ease you will draw 2 lines on the pattern.

You want to create a line that is perpendicular to the grainline, going between the notches on the piece.  Line the top of your ruler up with the notches (I usually aim between the 2 back notches.)  Now make sure that your grain marking lines up with one of the straight lines on the rules.  Draw a straight line on your piece between the notches.

Now you will need to fold out the excess.  Since we are making a double fold, you need a mark that represents half of the total ease:

I need a mark .875 inches above my original line (making it above preserves the notches for setting in the sleeve.)  I will round that number up and mark:

You can see that my original line is at the 7/8″ mark, marked in pink above.  I’m also continuing to line up with the grain marking, ensuring a line that is parallel to the first.  Draw your second line.  (Not shown above – ignore the mark above, it’s a mistake!)

Now your will fold a crease on the top line:

and then you will crease on the bottom line, folding the top line over the bottom:

You have now folded out the sleevecap ease.  The fold will only appear to be 1/2 of your ease measurement, but as it’s doubled over the entire amount is folded out.  Pin the fold in place and prepare for cutting.  In order to cut you will need to recreate the sleevecap curve.  Here is where your french seam will be handy!

Pin the piece to your fabric and trace around the new curve with chalk.  Now you can cut, being careful to follow the chalk lines.  This bit is optional – if I’m being honest I often just eyeball the new curve and it turns out fine, but the french curve is useful when you are new (or if you want consistency!)

Now you can sew your sleeve to your bodice.  I generally sew in sleeves after sewing the shoulder seams, but before closing the bodice side seams.  This allows me to fit my garment at the end, and I find sewing in sleeves flat to be much faster!  The only exception is for a tailored garment (jacket etc.)  For knits and casual garments I think sewing flat is just fine.  You should be able to match your notches and center sleeve dot to your pattern as usual.  The only difference is that you will not need to run a line of basting stitches – it should line up!  If you measure wrong and wind up with a bit extra you can adjust this in sewing – just allow the top of the cap to extend over the armhole and sew on the armhole’s 5/8″ seamline.

I hope this tutorial is helpful!  I know it looks like a lot of steps, but after doing this repeatedly I can now manage it in five minutes – worth it to avoid the headache later on!