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puckers in cap sleeve

slc1479 | Posted in General Sewing Info on

I have been attempting to sew a cap sleeve on a bodice, but the ease keeps leaving puckers each time. The fabric is gabardine. I have sewn it several times and ripped it out several times as well! I have tried pinning out the excess…dividing the excess as evenly as possible. The puckers fall in the front side of the bodice. The back side is pretty smooth.

Another problem with this same sleeve is it bells out more than I would like. I would prefer it to fit closer to my arm but I’m not sure how to alter the pattern. The pattern piece looks like a football.

I would appreciate any advice.



  1. PASDENOM | | #1

    For the one you're working on now try redistributing some of the fullness further back. Ignore where the sleeve's dot is that's supposed to match the shoulder seam. Also try pressing the cap on a ham or rolled up towel to shrink and shape the eased extra fabric.

    If you still think the sleeve is too full you can make a vertical fold in the center of the pattern piece. Start small and make successive samples until you're satisfied. Make sure you baste them to a bodice muslin to test fit.

  2. Palady | | #2

    A method of setting full cap sleeves I learned from Mom back in the fourties might help.  I suggest you cut out a practice sample to get the feel of the doing.

    This must be done in one session.  Once you've eased-the-cap, the sleeve HAS to be sewn into the scye.

    *Have your iron, the board, and your ham at the ready.

    *If you have yet to acquire a ham, you can work over the tip edge of your board with a caveat.    Try & keep the all from hanging down freely.  Use a TV table or some such to support the pieces.

    Look through your "tools/accessories" for something with a flat blade.  It could be one of your machine screwdrivers or one from a tool box that has a longer tip.

    Working within the seamline and the sleeve cut edge -  lower the machine needle at one of the notches.  Drop the presser foot.  (It works out you'll be using the front on one sleeve and the back on the other.)  You'll be sewing up to the other notch.

    As you start to slowly stitch, butt the tool end immediately to the back of the presser foot.  Keep the tool firmly in place BUT avoid it slipping under the foot.  Agreed this can be tricky because you're holding the tool and sewing at the same time.  But know it is manageable.

    What will happen is multiple gathers are going to be made in the cap.  This is the easing process.

    Working with the pieces in your lap or on a surface, take the eased sleeve & set it into the scye.   Pin at underarm, shoulder, front & back notches.  Place the pieces on the machine bed with the eased sleeve cap up.

    Start joining the pieces at the underarm.

    Being mindful of how the fabric moving, stitch along the seam line. 

    As you approach the ease, use your left finger tips to gently smooth out the sleeve as it moves under the presser foot.

    Continue to stitch until you return to the starting point.

    Go to your ironing board with the set-in sleeve.   Turn your iron on to low steam.   With the inside up, lay the eased cap up on your ham.   Place your steaming iron as close to the ease as you can without actually touching the fabric.

    Allow the pieces to cool before you move them.

    I've know some sewists who prefer to shrink the ease before setting it into the scye.  Personally, I've done this when the cap was especially full.  though most often, I just use the easing process.

    I'm going off line and will be away from my system until possibly after July 19th.  Wanted to mention this in case you needed clarification. 

    Perhaps other members set sleeves in a similar fashion and post their thoughts.








  3. starzoe | | #3

    Gabardine is likely to pucker on the gathers. Try this. After you have basted two lines on the seam allowance between notches, adjust the cap and insert it into the the armscye. When you begin sewing, use a flat tool (as suggested in one of the other postings), a large darning needle, even the point of a seam ripper just ahead of the stitching. Flatten the gathers as you come to them. If you work slowly you will get a smooth line into the seam, with no bunching.

    If that fails you may have to lower the sleeve cap a little. Don't cut it down, draw a new seamline and work it into the armscye. If it works, cut off the extra. I always leave "a way out" of a problem if I can!

    1. slc1479 | | #6

      Thank-you. After reading your post, I remember being taught that along time ago and had just forgotten. I have been raising three boys which left very little time for sewing. Now that I can finally catch my breath, I'm trying to sew again and the few sewing skills I had when younger have escaped me it seems. I will try your suggestion.

  4. soie | | #4

    The earlier answers should solve your tricky sleeve cap.  If it's poly gaberdine, there's less chance of being able to ease it in smoothly than with wool gab.

    Wanted to comment on the 'easing' method, which is similar to one I've learned.  When beginning to sew the easing stitch on the sleeve cap SA using maybe a 3 stitch length, I press my right index finger to the sleeve fabric directly behind the presser foot, actually forcing the fabric to press up (bunch up) against the back of the presser foot as the machine is feeding the stitched fabric through. 

    This creates the same sort of even ease I believe was suggested by the use of the flat side of the screwdriver.  Maybe this is a riskier method, since your finger is so close to your stitching needle, but as I keep my one finger behind the presser foot and sew slowly, (sorry my italic won't switch back to normal), my fingers are not in the way of the needle. 

    Also, I sometimes use my discretion when positioning ease on a sleeve cap.  Even if a notch indicates it all must go to one side, it might be fine to adust it more evenly across the shoulder without compromising the drape of the sleeve.  Baste and see!


    1. slc1479 | | #7

      Thank-you....I will try your suggestion. It has been so nice receiving all the helpful advice so quickly.

  5. sewelegant | | #5

    Here is a file that I copied about fitting sleeves.  It may have some interesting information you can use.

    I was looking for a piece I had that seemed to address the exact issue you are having, but could not find it.  I remember it saying you would have to make the sleeve cap smaller because it would never ease in other wise, but I can't remember it exactly.

    1. slc1479 | | #8

      Thank-you. I copied the file for my records. It was very informative.

    2. jjgg | | #14

      I know this has nothing to do with the puckers in this lady's sleeve, but...I have seen this article by Peggy Sagers before. (I think I even may have left a comment on the Threads site where it is posted) and, so I have a major problem with some of what she says. >>>>"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." <<<<<A lower armhole will restrict movement. Also, RTW is made to fit the masses and as such they really don't' "fit" very well, yes, a lower armhole and wide sleeve will make it roomy but when you raise your arm the whole shirt is coming up with you.sleeve fit can be a really complex issue and there is no one answer fits all.

  6. sewslow67 | | #9

    Go to your back issues of Threads to issue #133.  It has a wonderful article in it titled: "How to Master Perfect Sleeve Heads".   She gives a number of techniques from which you can choose for your specific project/issue.   I suspect that this might be helpful to you; I hope so, anyway.  Good luck, and enjoy the process.

    1. slc1479 | | #10

      I just recently began my Thread's subscription....how far back is issue 133?

      1. sewslow67 | | #12

        It's the November 2007 issue.  If you don't have that one, you could try the library.  If they don't have it, send me a PM (Personal Message) and I'll see what I can do to help.  You can send a PM by clicking on my screen name above and it will bring up a window that gives you some options, one of them being to send an email to the person. 

        Also, if you call Threads office, they will sometimes copy a back issue article and send it to you.  I've done that, but not for a long time, so I don't know what their current policy is, but it would be worth a try too.  It's a very good article,  so if they won't do that, then please let me know so I can help by getting a copy to you, OK?

        Edited 6/27/2009 5:33 pm by sewslow67

        Edited 6/27/2009 5:36 pm by sewslow67

    2. slc1479 | | #11

      I just went to look at the numbers I have (which are only two magazines). One of which I bought about a year ago and it happens to be #132 (wouldn't you know it)and the other one is the most recent issue.

  7. jjgg | | #13

    here is another way to put in a sleeve - but as one person said, if it's a polyester fabric, you should probably re-cut the sleeve to remove the ease. If its wool, hand baste the sewing line on both the sleeve cap and the armhole (do each separately). Now, pin the sleeve into the armhole in 3 places,:
    put a pin through the sleeve at the shoulder dot directly ON the sewing line and into the armhole at the shoulder ON the sewing line. Repeat this at each notch, so you now have 3 pins ON the seam line not in the seam allowance. Now, go halfway between 2 pins on the sleeve, and into the halfway point on the armhole. Always put the pins into the sewing line and then up into the seam allowance (don't pin into the body of the garment). If after you place a pin, it doesn't seem to be centered - ie. the 'hump' on one side of a pin seems larger than the other, just move the pin a tiny bit. repeat this always halving the space and working from the sleeve. The sleeve will start to cup, and the seam allowance will become wavy (the edge is still much longer then the sewing line so it should be wavy). Continue this until you have a pin about every 1/8 inch (yup, you will put in gobs of pins.

    You will be surprised at how much ease you can really get into an area. OK, so you have all these millions of pins, now you have to hand baste this seam, again, right on the sewing line. Up and over each and every pin, so tiny stitches. take out the pins, check it from the right side, machine stitch with the SLEEVE down, the feed dogs will help with some ease here too.

    1. sewslow67 | | #15

      I agree with jjgg, and one that I have also used successfully.  The only thing I would add is that I use only silk thread when basting, as it removes so much more easily, and doesn't make any marks in the fashion fabric ...just in case ...a stitch or two isn't exactly straight and goes into the body of the garment.

      1. jjgg | | #21

        I prefer using the Metler fine machine embroidery thread for basting. It's a very lightweight cotton, comes in millions (well not really millions) of colors, and is so easy to pull out, if you machine sew over it, and you tug on the basting thread, since it's so light weight, it will pull apart and not disturb the machine stitching. Also, its not as slippery, so I find it easier to use than silk. Silk is also harder to find and much more expensive.

        1. slc1479 | | #22

          Thank-you for your suggestion. It has been wonderful receiving so many helpful suggestions. I was really at a frustrating point after sewing and ripping many times. I feel confident now that I will be able to work this out. Next biggy will be the zipper...ugh!! I did read in Threads (or somewhere) that using 1/4 inch quilters tape down both sides of the zipper seam helps to guide straight stitching. I bought some anyway, so I'll be testing it out.

          I was telling my sister in an e-mail yesterday that I've never taken this long to make anything (outside of curtains), but I was determined to get this right and be excited to wear this dress.

          1. jjgg | | #23

            What kind of zipper are you putting in? Invisible or regular?

          2. slc1479 | | #25

            The zipper is invisible.

          3. jjgg | | #29

            With sleeves, there is one thing to remember, the big 4 commercial patterns put way too much ease in the sleeve cap. It may well be (another) poorly drafted pattern you are dealing with. Have you looked at pattern review.com to see if anyone there commented about it?So what trouble are you expecting to have with the zipper? does it have to cross a seam? Do you want it to sew in perfect the first time? if so hand baste it in place. There is just no other way to deal with the fabrics easing in on you when it is sewn without basting it first. If you have to cross a seam (such as at the waist) there is no other way to make sure it is perfect (though I'm sure there are many here that might disagree with me on this).There will be no reason to use the 1/4 inch quilters tape with an invisible zipper. I suppose you could use basting tape to hold it in place, but hand basting really can be very quick and most efficient.

            Edited 6/30/2009 9:56 pm ET by jjgg

          4. slc1479 | | #31

            I didn't know about patternreview.com, but I will look for my pattern. I went a different route this time with my pattern....I tried "New Look" which I think is part of Simplicity. They use alot of princess seams, which I like for fitting.

            Zippers have always been daunting to me....back when I was younger and learning to sew, I used to pick patterns out with no zipper!! When I think about it, I'm not sure if I've ever put a zipper in....outside of a skirt, which isn't a real big deal. I'm sure a dress is no different, but it just seems problematic because of the length. But. as you say, basting takes care of that. Yes, I do have a waist on the dress.

          5. jjgg | | #33

            Since the zipper has to cross a waistline seam, put one side of the zipper in (basted) then close the zipper and with some kind of marking pen (chalk, pencil, pin, basting thread etc) mark the zipper tape where it crosses the seam.(on the side not sewn in yet) Also, mark exactly where the top (neck edge) hits the zipper. Then, when you go to baste the second side of the zipper tape, make sure these marks match up exactly at the waist and neck edge. Your zipper will look very good.One thing about invisible zips and crossing seams (waistline) they don't like it too much. So, when you get near the waist line don't sew as close to the zipper teeth. It may not be as 'invisible' as the rest of it, but it will close and not break.

          6. slc1479 | | #34

            Thank-you. I am planning to sew today (if all goes well with everybody else in the household). I will be trying all your suggestions.....I will let you know how it goes.

    2. slc1479 | | #16


      Using a million pins is how I was doing it to begin with, although I did not baste over my pins and pull my them out. I "carefully" stitched through all those pins.....but I was left with puckers on the front side mostly. Several people have suggested evenly distributing the ease from notch to notch, which I think is a good idea. My front side had more ease than the back side. I haven't tried anything yet, being the week-end, my time is not my own. This week I will be ripping out the sleeve I have in and starting over with the recommended tips.

      I love the idea of the silk thread.

      By the way, I think it's a polyester gabardine.....don't ask how I ended up with such a problematic fabric.....my only excuse would be the colors were just gorgeous!! I have never used it before....I was trying to use a fabric that wasn't clingy and I read that gabardine was good for that problem.

      1. MaryinColorado | | #24

        Did you follow the cutting diagram on the pattern?  I wonder if the fabric is off grain or something?  Do you have this problem with both sleeves or just one?  Mary

        1. slc1479 | | #26

          Yes, I followed the cutting diagram on the pattern. I was having the problem with both sleeves. There was more ease in the front side of the sleeve, than the backside, which created more ripples after it was sewn. I've been told to divide the ease evenly from notch to notch which I think will help. Also to use two basting lines to pull up the ease, then a flat tipped instrument like a seam ripper or something like that to press the puckers flat as I slowly sew. Also, a product called "Seams Great" was suggested which I thought sounded promising. These suggestions are my next plan of action, when I can get the time. I've got kid's home from college and so forth....never a minute to myself!

          1. MaryinColorado | | #27

            Hope it works out for you.  It's all great advice!  I love this forum!  The reason I thought of the cutting thing is because it's one of the things that caused a problem for me.  I don't call them "mistakes" I call them creative opportunities. 

          2. slc1479 | | #28

            Would you explain your problem with cutting so I can make sure I understood what you were asking me? I have a fair amount of sewing experience, but there's still alot I need to learn, especially sewing clothing.

            I love this forum too!!! Nothing like instant help when you're ready to tear your hair out!! And such great help too!

    3. slc1479 | | #17

      One more thing....what did you mean about recuting the sleeve and removing the ease?

      1. jjgg | | #20

        I think someone else also suggested this. (recutting the sleeve) you mentioned it eas a cap sleeve, I would really need to see the pattern, but I think you said it was a football shape. First thing is to measure the sewing line and see how much ease is in the sleeve. Then you have to look at the picture, see how gathered (or not) the sleeve is supposed to be (or decide how much you want the sleeve to gather or not). Then you have to take into consideration the fabric you are using and how it behaves. Now determine how much ease you want. Let's say your pattern had 2 inches of ease and you couldn't get it in. So you want to remove 1 inch of ease. For this type of pattern, I would fold out the inch at the shoulder ( 1/2 inch off each side) and taper it to nothing at the bottom edge of the sleeve. ( you would essentially be making a dart like fold but since you are doing this all the way to the other side. The piece will still be flat. The shape of the sleeve will be a little different. But if you need the across the arm length I wouldn't take any off the bottom edge unless the sleeve was too wide. ( I hope I'm making sense here). If you found the sleeve was too loose at it's hem edge, then you could just fold out a vertical pleat all the way down. This won't change the shape of the sleeve, just make it a little 'squater' The numbers I've brown out here are just examples and have nothing to do with reality.

        Edited 6/29/2009 6:47 pm ET by jjgg

  8. sewelegant | | #18

    This is the tip I was thinking of but couldn't find earlier... I did not record where it came from but it sounded like a good idea.

    Easing In A Sleeve Cap

    "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."




    1. slc1479 | | #19

      Thank-you....I will get some and try it.

      1. cafms | | #30

        If it would be helpful to see some of the things that have been suggested take a look at this from Sew Stylish.  This is part two of making a jacket but the first and third parts are also available.  http://www.craftstylish.com/item/1540/making-a-jacket-part-ii   You might also want to walk the seamlines of the armhole with the seamlines of the sleeve on the pattern and see how much fabric there is to ease in.  Maybe there is more than is needed.  Threads sometimes has back issues you can purchase to get the issue that was mentioned. 


        1. slc1479 | | #32

          Thank-you. The article was helpful. I don't think my fabric will shrink like the wool did....I wish it would. I did try steaming it, but it was after I had already sewn it and it didn't help. I am using gabardine and I think it is a polyester gabardine. (unfortunately) I love the color though.

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