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On Fitting Sleeves

Your favorite off-the-rack fashions hold the secret to perfectly shaped sleeve caps and armholes.
Your favorite off-the-rack fashions hold the secret to perfectly shaped sleeve caps and armholes.

Your favorite off-the-rack fashions hold the secret to perfectly shaped sleeve caps and armholes.

by Peggy Sagers
excerpted from Threads #107, pp. 55-57

Sewers I meet through my seminars always tell me they can't get their set-in sleeves to fit. They're too small, too tight, don't allow mobility... Having compared the sleeves and armholes provided in current commercial patterns to those typically used in ready-to-wear, I'm not surprised. I've found that almost all ready-to-wear jackets and blouses have lower armholes and wider sleeves than the typical pattern for a similar garment. It's also common for patterns to be wider across the back than comparable ready-to-wear in the same size. But such observations can't do more than point the struggling fitter in the general direction of a cure. The most useful place to start solving a sleeve-fitting problem, is with a bit of "research" shopping-try on as many similar garments as necessary until you find one that fits the way you want only in the sleeves and shoulders. Don't look for a garment that fits everywhere-you may not find it-you're just looking for the sleeves and shoulders. I'll describe how you can turn such a try-on discovery into a lifetime fitting aid.

sleeves More on sleeves:

• How to Fit Sleeves
• How to Draft a Square Sleeve Cap
• A Forgiving Bias-Cut Sleeve
• Add a Fluttery Sleeve to a Sleeveless Garment
• Add a Quilted, Zippered Cuff
Measure what fits

Don't measure yourself, measure what fits
I've met hundreds of women who can tell me their measurements, but don't know the measurements of garments that fit them the way they like. I propose the following radical but practical notion: It's more useful for a sewer to know what works for her than to know what her own measurements are. (Sleeves are not the only garment details for which this idea is useful.) Once you've located your Holy Grail set-in sleeve or sleeves (a jacket sleeve and a blouse sleeve cover the set-in territory for me), all you need to do is measure it carefully in the relevant areas (including the garment's upper back, which controls the freedom of movement), then make sure that all your future garments with similar sleeves have the same measurements.

The drawings at the bottom of p. 55 (Threads #107) show what to measure on the garment, and the drawings on pp. 56-57 show how to use these measurements to alter your pattern sleeves, pattern armholes, and pattern backs to match your ideal.

If you discover that your pattern is more than an inch or so off from your measured ideal, use a closer size-this method is not meant for resizing a whole pattern. Otherwise, as far as all standard set-in sleeve styles go, it's really that simple. Good hunting!

Measure your garment
The text and drawings that follow explain what to measure on your garment.

On the sleeve

On the sleeve

1. Cap line circumference: Measure around the sleeve horizontally at the underarm level.

2. Cap height: Measure from the cap line vertically to the top of the armhole.

On the body

3. Armhole: Measure the arm-hole seamline. (This is optional; use it only for comparison when trying on garments and to see how close your starting pattern is to your ideal.)

4. Shoulder width: Measure the back horizontally from the end of the shoulder seam to the opposite end. Divide the measure in half, then compare it to the pattern.

5. Upper back width: Measure the back horizontally from armhole to armhole, about 8 inches down from the shoulder. Divide the measure in half, then compare it to the pattern.

6. Back width: Measure the back horizontally from underarm to underarm. Divide the measure in half, then compare it to the pattern.

On the body

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Comments (8)

CalebsGran CalebsGran writes: Peggy:This an excellent tutorial. Thank you so much.
Posted: 10:40 am on October 16th

KiwiLee KiwiLee writes: jjgg: I agree about the way the pattern companies are balancing their sleeves. I suspect its because the proliferation of knit fabrics means the stretch "forgives" lack of good fitting - ie, stretch means one size fits nobody.
Posted: 4:06 am on July 29th

LBeveryday LBeveryday writes: This information has been very helpful. Thank you for posting!! I had to favorite this article:)
Posted: 7:44 pm on January 1st

Candy_s Candy_s writes: Thanks I needed immediate Designer into fleece vest. This is the beginning and it looks like add 3" to capline then shorten to get this into too big armscye. It will be completed within two weeks.
Posted: 8:48 pm on December 10th

Sewnknit Sewnknit writes: Thank you!!
Posted: 1:21 pm on November 27th

GreenTrunkDesigns GreenTrunkDesigns writes: OH, I need this info bad! Thanks for sharing
Posted: 9:01 pm on July 12th

RosemaryB RosemaryB writes: I have a problem that has been on going for years. I love consignment shops and have either run on or bought things that were wonderful or just a terrific deal but they have been a size or two too large. The only item i have trouble taking in are blouses, no problem with the sides but then the shoulders look all goofy. I am afraid of taking off too much for obvious reasons. Please Help !!!!!!!!! Thanx
Posted: 8:54 pm on June 7th

jjgg jjgg writes: Lower armholes will cause less movement. A higher armhole allows one to raise their arm without pulling up the side seams of the garment. Also, I think part of the problem home sewers have with sleeve fitting is the poorly drafted commercial patterns (I am referring to the 'big 4' here only). Generally they have very balanced sleeves - front and back sleeve cap matches. There is also way way too much ease in the sleeve cap on these patterns.

RTW may allow more movement with the lower armholes, but they also generally fit rather poorly.
Posted: 12:07 pm on May 8th

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