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Ease Sleeves

sewwestcoast | Posted in Fitting on

Hello! I am making a jacket for my husband and I am having a heck of a time with the ease in the sleeves! they keep coming out to puffy. The fabric is a med-heavy wieght rain proof fabric. I have tried the methods suggested in Sandra Betzina’s book and what I could find on line. Any suggestions would be appreciated!




  1. Stillsewing | | #1

    I have had problem this several times last year. I can only sympathise with you in your difficulties. I have given up making any Vogue patterns from this out as I find they are the greatest offenders, although years ago they were very reliable. I might just make a sleeveless dress! no more. I have just finished making a dress from a Butterick pattern that is ok but only after following the instructions in Sandra Betzina's book to reduce the fullness in the sleeve cap.This difficulty in setting in sleeves will turn, the remaining few of us who still sew, totally off our hobby!I await with interest to see and read, other replies that you get on this problem which I must say has driven me almost to tears in this past year.

    1. sewwestcoast | | #2

      thank you for the comment - you will laugh because sure enough it is a Vogue pattern! 7004


      1. Stillsewing | | #6

        I'm quite sure that it is the pattern. I've measured and re measured and find that there is much too much gathers in the patterns. This was not so in the past. (I took about a ten year break from sewing for myself and since I returned to sewing I have found this problem) I used to be able to set sleeves in without any difficulty and my skills have not diminished - maybe got rusty - but setting in sleeves is either something you can or can't do. I can't do them nowadays with Vogue patterns. I wrote to their help desk but got a waffley reply. I'm sure that they are aware of the problem.

  2. solosmocker | | #3

    I really would doubt its the pattern. Rain wear fabric would be just awful to try and ease. Are you putting in the sleeves flat? It may also be a matter of removing some of the sleeve cap from the pattern to accommodate this fabric. Here is an idea:Get some Seams Great, a tricot strip sold by the roll in the notions dept. Outside of the seam line, but still close, toward the fabric edge, stitch the Seams Great down the middle from notch to notch, stretching as you go. Once stitched, the stretching will revert to normal and pull in the sleeve cap without pleats or puckers. I love using this stuff when tailoring to get a nice rounded cap with no puckers.

    Edited 1/30/2008 12:00 pm ET by solosmocker

    1. sewwestcoast | | #4

      thank you, I have never heard of Seams Great. Next time I am in town I will look for it. Sounds like it could be a geat solution for other projects also.

      Take care,


  3. scrubble4 | | #5

    sewwestcoast:  On another forum we were given this path to gain a different perspective on sleeve ease. 


    I found this enlightening.   If this makes sense to you then the problem is the pattern.  It will need to redesigned and recut.  I also agree that waterproof fabrics have no give in them, which just highlights the need to design the sleeve without ease in the cap.  It is possible you can recut the same piece of material you have already cut for the sleeve.  I am not sure about that. 

    Many folks who had created muslins and blocks for themselves commented that their sleeve patterns did look like the one on this blog and they thought they were just weird.  

    Let me know your thoughts on this, as it is a challenge we all continue to face. Scrubble4 

    1. sewwestcoast | | #7


      I read the blog and Kathleen's original article and it is not difficult to see where she sees the problem with fact/fiction sleeve easment issue or to not agree with her summations.  The sleeves will have to be recut to allow some ease and a proper fit. Which is what I presumed I would have to do.

      I also agree with the Stillsewing <!----><!---->  that the patterns have changed, i have some Vogue patterns from the 40's,50's & 60's and the sewings instructions and size by inch are completely different. FYI the size 12 isn't what it used to be....

      Water repellent fabric is the reality of West Coast life so keep the ideas coming as I love to learn new techniques.

      Thanks again!


      1. scrubble4 | | #8

        Su:  I too live on the west coast and bike daily except when it is below 3 celcius or there is snow on the ground, so I get the need for water proof materials.  I am sorry if it sounded like I was critcising you for using them, I wasn't.  Lucky husband that you will tailor for him. 

        I didn't incude the path for the first article on sleeve ease.  It is easily reached by clicking on Sleeve Cap Ease is Bogus in the first line of the article I sent to you.  It is at the end of that article that the picture of the corrected sleeve pattern is located.  Just below it are the comments from other viewers. 

        I have also been sewing for decades and I have many old Vogue patterns.  If I go back to sewing with patterns at any point, I think I will try my old patterns first.  Currently, I use a software program.

        I am sorry for the frustration this experience has given you.  Scrubble4

        1. sewwestcoast | | #11

          Hi - thank you for the update. I never thought you were critising at all- I probably should of added a "heavy sigh" to the recut comment LOL. Just learning the posting lingo! You said Celcius - that means CDN to me - are you in the lower mainland or on the Island. I'm in Ucluelet.

          Thanks again for the tips!


          1. Stillsewing | | #12

            Thanks for all the very interesting comments. The links by Scrubble4 were a revelation to me and I want to study them much more. Someone else mentioned that the easy way to take in the fullness was sew a stretchy tape to the sleeve head and when it gathers hey presto it will fit into the shoulder.
            My question is ---- if you stretch the sleeve head to attach this magic tape will this not also make the offending sleeve head even bigger and even more difficult to insert?As an interesting aside in the eighties, I made a quite a few garments, dresses and jackets, using a flat sleeve insertion. I believe this a "shirt" sleeve ? Are there any patterns currently available with this type of construction? This is because a) I am lazy b) I need encouragement to keep sewing but in the near future I will design {or make a block} to compare my shape with proposed projects. Maybe this will end some of my problems.

          2. starzoe | | #13

            The flat-sleeve insertion is mainly (as you say) used for men's shirts where the armscye is wide and the sleeve head relatively flat. Or, it is almost universally used with knits, to which the technique is well adapted. I wouldn't use it on close-fitted set in sleeves, after a while you can tell which ones will work well and which ones do not. I use the technique a lot, whether the pattern says to or not.

          3. Stillsewing | | #14

            Thanks very much for that I'll bear it in mind.So now I'll have less fullness to the front of my sleeves, more to the back, less on the top and a flat insert when I make a loose fitting garment! This like going back to school but this time to relearn my reliance on these expensive patterns that I have been using up to this.

          4. lorisews | | #15

            No, I think the idea is to stretch the "magic tape" (I think this would be clear elastic) to the sleeve head and sew it on. The magic thing is clear elastic always goes back to its original length after you stretch it, so you can figure out the right length to use to take out the ease (actually give it a few good stretch pulls before you measure it, after that it will behave as described above)

          5. Stillsewing | | #17

            Thanks very much for this clarification. I can appreciate that if you stretch the tape the fabric will then be nicely gathered ready for insertion. Knowing my luck it would not be evenly gathered but it does sound like a good idea. I still think that a lot of the patterns have too much fullness in the sleeve head and have to be reduced before cutting out the fabric.The magic tape seems a very good idea! There are so many extra helps out there to use. I recently bought 'Fabri-Baste" a fine transparent type of fabric. Great for drafting patterns/changes to patterns, and I have used it a few times already. just another idea.

          6. solosmocker | | #20

            Thanks, Cafms, for the great explanation of the Seams Great. Lets not get it confused with something called Wonder Tape, different animal completely! What you do is match up your notch points and find the center of the sleep cap in between. Mark that. Now mark the center point on your strip of Seams great. What I do is pin the center points together. Pin the Seams great to a notch and trim. Do the same on the other side. Now pull the Seams Great a 1/4 inch out and repin. Do the same on the other side. That should ease in a half inch of ease. If you feel you need more just take out more equally on each side. Stretch till flat and pin in the middle. Do this again several times until the Seams Great is all pinned, not too many pins, and then stitch into the sleeve cap seam. solo

          7. Palady | | #21

            Coming in late in this thread.  Reading through the all had me realizing a method taught to me by my mother back in the 1940's might be of use.

            This MUST be done in one sitting-at-the-machine session, because the fabric will relax.

            Have at the ready a flat thick ruler or like item.  I use a pair of closed scissors with very flat blades.

            Starting at one notch, and sewing between the seam line and fabric edge, stitch slowly, butting the tool up against the presser foot.  What will happen is you'll be making small "mini creases" in the fabric.  You may have to move the tool as you stitch.  What needs to be accomplished is to have the "mini creases" continuous.  Finish stitching at the second notch set.

            Now - immediately take the "mini creased" sleeve and pin it into the armhole.  Match the shoulder mark, the front/back notches, and the underarm.

            Place the joined piece under the presser foot with the sleeve up.  Begin the sewn joining at the underarm.  Slowly working toward the "crease."  Sew slowly but as continuously as possible.  As you approach the "mini creases" carefully ease them  under the presser foot.  You should accomplish this w/o any puckering.  If you have to stop to adjust the fabric, be certain you leave the needle down.  Continue stitching all around until you get back to the underarm.  Overlap the stitching at this point and secure the thread tails. 

            The doing may take some practice, but in my many years of setting sleeves I found this made for the neatest finish.

            On flat sleeve sewing, I prefer to flat felt.  Regardless of what the pattern suggests.  Granted serging can be done at times.  But my refererence is w/o one.  Hand basting is involved.

            Sew the sleeve into the armhole with wrong sides together.  Your first stitching will be on the right side.  Work from underarm to underarm.  Next, you'll trim away at least 1/2 of the seam allowance on the sleeve.  Carefully, cut V's into what is left of the sleeve edge.  Turn under 1/4" of the body armhole fabric, and hand baste into place all along the sleeve.   Once hand basted is complete, stitch the body armhole. 

            Making the V cutouts facilitates the folding under to do the flat fell seam.

            I've been given to understand these techniques have a name.  But I know them as taught to me from a very talented seamstress.






          8. starzoe | | #22

            My method for easing set in sleeves is much like yours. I gather the sleeve head as usual, match notches etc and adjust the gatherings. While stitching I use a tool, sometimes a long needle with a large flat head or a stitch ripper flat edge down to flatten the gathers in front of the machine needle as I stitch. Trick is again, no speeding. It works really well.

          9. Palady | | #23

            Kind of you to post your success with this "mini crease" method for setting in sleeves.

            There's a notion, the name escapes me, that works for managing the "mini creases."  It is basically a # 13 tapestry needle welded to a piece of metal that is open and fits on one's finger.  Also, sewing stelletos can be used.

            As you also mentioned, the watch word is indeed sew slowly.


          10. starzoe | | #24

            Yes, I find beginners sew at 100mph!

          11. solosmocker | | #25

            This is a wonderful sounding technique that I will definitely try. My current project has raglan sleeves so no need, but thanks so much. solo

          12. cafms | | #16

            Seams Great was the product mentioned by Solosmocker  to use in easing the sleeve cap.  This is not elastic but a bias strip.  This would ease more gently than elastic. The sleeve cap is not stretched.  Only the Seams Great is stretched while it is being stitched to the sleeve.  Nancy's Notions carries it in three colors. https://www.nancysnotions.com/NNVia/viaListProducts.jsp?searchText=seams^great&modifier=SEARCH&reqTitle=TITLE_VIASEARCHRESULT

            It is also good for encasing raw edges.  It is very thin and doesn't create bulk in the seam. 

            Edited 1/31/2008 11:25 pm by cafms

          13. Stillsewing | | #18

            Thanks for the info on this. I have checked the website you mentioned and book marked it for future reference. Sounds like a good idea but knowing my luck I would still make a mess of setting in these too too full sleeve heads.I would like to use Seams Great for finishing off seams though and thanks again for the info.

          14. educo | | #19

            I'm having trouble with sleeves too. When using Seams Great, which part of the sleeve you ease in? From notch to notch?

          15. busybee | | #26

            Hallo, I've read this thread with interest and remembered something I've read several times. It might or might not be of use to you now but certainly in the future. There should never be more than 1 and half to 2 inches extra measurement in the sleeve head when measured against the armhole. For info I've just looked at Anna Zapps Couture book. If you have more than that or if the fabric is tightly woven or lightweight she says to put two tucks each side of the sleeve head on th pattern., Place the tucks 1 and half inches from top and then 1 inch apart on each side. Hope that makes sense. You can also slash the pattern in the same places taking it to the centre point diagonally down to level of underarm, taking out quarter inch for each inch needed.

            Others suggest taking a deeper seam allowance on the sleeve head but watch that the sleeve still hangs OK. Never cut anything off tempting as it may be, because it will cause drag in the sleeve front apparantly.  Does this help at all. Sorry you've had all this bother. Busybee

          16. lil1569 | | #27

            I could be wrong, but I believe it's Sandra Betzina who recommends taking a horizontal tuck in the sleeve head to remove extra fabric and then smooth out the cutting line.  I have done this and it works.  The other problem I have with sleeves is square shoulders and high, small bust.  I really have to fiddle with most patterns before they fit properly.  I generally add about 1/4 inch to the shoulder edge and then adjust the lower sleeve opening.  I also have to take a small horizontal tuck across the bodice if making an empire type blouse or dress.  Too bad we're not all made the way the pattern companies think we should be.  Happy sewing.

          17. Cathie | | #28

            This is a great topic. Having been the creator of too many "bad sleeves" I am eager to now have good ones, that fit. So I will try your great suggestions. I think also sometimes a method that is suggested for something else can help. I will add a quote from a 70's sewing ency., Creative Hands, on sewing vinyl. That means almost no ease. So we will not follow this exactly, but maybe a help here. "To reduce the ease in a sleeve cap, make a 3 to 4 inch slash at the shoulder marking and lap the edges  to make a small vertical dart. Clip into the pattern 1 1/2 inches at the ends of the eased area (lots of cat help with typing) and shorten the sleeve crown slightly by making a horizontal dart to each side..."

  4. jjgg | | #9

    From looking a the pattern on line, it looks like the sleeve should go in flat with no ease at all.Measure the arm hole opening (along the sewing line, not the cut edge of the fabric) and the measure the sleep cap on the sewing line. These aught to be the same lenght, or perhaps the sleeve cap may be a little longer, but I wouldn't want it to be more than 1/2 inch longer the the armhole.you will not really be able to ease in rain proof fabric, but that may to some extent depend on the fabric. You might be able to ease in a small amount of gortex but not something like sil-nylon.My suggestion is that if the sleeve cap is too long, you need to shorten it.

    1. NansiSews | | #10

      Maybe this is too simple (or not pattern-draft correct) but sometimes with these challenging fabrics that don't want to ease well (or at all in the case of the rainwear), I have found that trimming a little (1/8" to a scant 1/4") of the "hilltop" of the sleeve cap tapering to nothing by the time you reach the front and back notches does the trick quite nicely.  It's usually not enough to affect the fit across the upper arm in most cases or the length either.  This way you can work with the piece you've already cut.  You can go back and check or change the draft later.

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