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TUTORIAL-- Smooth Sleeve Caps Every Time!

One of the goals of every Shirt-Maker is to achieve perfectly smooth sleeve caps. I am quite pleased with this one...the join between cap and shoulder is so smooth it is almost invisible despite being felled (of course the perfectly matching thread and fabric print helps...but even so :)  

When I draft my own patterns I draft the sleeve with minimal ease or no ease at all, depending on the style of the shirt. So on my custom drafts, I have little problem getting my caps nice and smooth.  However, the shirt above was made with a vintage vogue pattern...and the sleeve had considerable cap ease.  But regardless of the amount of ease I have to deal with, I always prepare the cap and its seam allowances in the following very simple way in order to make felling (or serging) the seam a happy experience!

Below is a photo of the sleeve (on top) just after it was set into the armscye--
You can easily see the wavy ease in the sleeve cap seam allowance.  
*In this and the photos that follow, the sleeve is always shown on top.*

Have you ever sewn a shirt sleeve, eased it perfectly, yet ended up with a slight  "bubble" or "dip" on the sleeve (just below the shoulder seam) of your finished shirt?  That is because the ease extends at least an inch into the sleeve itself, beyond just the allowances. 

Luckily, the fix is an easy one!
We just need to "steam shrink and flatten" the sleeve seam allowance and sleeve cap ease.  I do this by steam-pressing along the entire sewn sleeve seam allowance. The tip of my iron leads the way, but I let 1/2 the width of the iron's sole plate follow behind to finish the job as I go along. This both shrinks the ease and flattens the entire cap at the same time.  We would never do this when tailoring a jacket, but in my opinion it is essential when tailoring a shirt.

And below you see the nicely flattened seam allowances and nearby sleeve cap--
The fold you see is not excess ease, it is the fold that naturally forms on the wrong side of the shirt because a rounded (convex curve) sleeve cap has been sewn to a scooped (concave curve) armsyce.

So now the flat and even sleeve seam allowances are easily manageable and ready to be felled (as I do in my higher-priced casual shirts), or "Serged then Topstitched" (as I do in my lower-priced casual shirts).


What do you think? Please add a comment by clicking here-->


Blogger Nancy K said...

From what I can see this is a fairly flat sleeve cap. How do you handle a higher cap that is on a set in sleeve for a woman's blouse that is typical to Burda's patterns?

10:19 AM  
Blogger Pam~Off The Cuff ~ said...

Hi Nancy :)

On a blouse I would press the seam allowances only...since on women's garments I happen to like a higher rounded finished cap...it's so elegant. But when I make the muslin of a new blouse pattern and I think the high cap height/ease excessive, I lower the cap a little bit.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Lori said...

Thanks for another wonderful tutorial.

1:39 PM  
Anonymous Theresa in Tucson said...

Yes, very nice and thank you for the tutorial, Pam. I've not done the flat fell on the sleeve since I usually do the serge and topstitch but this does add one more layer of "finesse" to a good casual shirt.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

Great tutorial, will definitely try this one!

4:13 PM  
Blogger Nancy K said...

Thanks Pam.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Donna W said...

Thanks so much for this info. I do make some of my husbands shirts and this way of doing the sleeves is so helpful to me.

5:52 PM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

Hi Pam, I'm new to your site and really love it! When you are sewing a woman's blouse and it has a set-in seam (not a dropped shoulder) do you also fell that arm scye seam?( I did read above about removing excess ease.)

Thanks and I'm hooked! Cheryl E

6:50 PM  
Blogger Pam~Off The Cuff ~ said...

Hi Cheryl,

It depends ;) If the style of the blouse is "shirt-ish", and I am making it with cotton fabric, I may choose to fell the seam. As often as not, I just trim the allowances and overcast them by had. If I am feeling very ambitious, I carefully do a french seam...especially for fine fine and sheer silks and cotton voiles, etc.

And sometimes, if I am in a real hurry and sewing for myself or children, the seam allowances get serged...not my first choice, but often a valid one.

So glad you are enjoying my site :)

7:20 PM  
Blogger Sabine said...

Hi Pam,
thanks for another great tutorial!
That's a fantastic shirt - Roger is a lucky guy!

Trudy W.C.

8:56 PM  
Blogger jules said...

Sorry to be thick, but why would you never do this on a jacket sleeve cap - don't you also want a jacket sleeve cap to be smooth?


10:14 PM  
Blogger badmomgoodmom said...

Thanks for the tutorial. I have just finished sewing a linen campshirt and felled the sleeve cap and side seams.
I had steam pressed the initial seam before trimming and felling them.

I am not sure if I am felling the seams in the optimal way because the sleeve seam has a little bit of dimple to it. The initial seam did not. So I wonder if I messed up the flat-felling step.

Can you describe how you do it?

1:12 AM  
Blogger Pam~Off The Cuff ~ said...

Hi Jules,

A shirt sleeve cap is quite different than a Jacket sleeve cap. A shirt sleeve cap is rather flat, and a jacket sleeve cap is usually high and more rounded. Jacket's also have less of a shoulder slope than do shirts.

Additionally, Jackets are usually made from thicker fabrics...and the cap is supported from collapse by applying interfacing if not to the entire sleeve, than to approx the upper 1/4 of the sleeve.

When tailoring a jacket, I was trained during my Tailor's Apprenticeship not to press more than 1/2" "Past the stitching line" into the cap area. In part this is because additional ease is needed to accommodate the cap "easing strip" (if used), a sleeve head, and the shoulder pad.

I apologize for the brevity of my answer...but this is about all I can squeeze into the comment section :)

8:45 AM  
Blogger Pam~Off The Cuff ~ said...

Hi badmomgoodmom,

The dip could be just be from the weight of the felled seam.

Additionally, you may want to give my felling technique a try, you can find it here--

Sorry I could not be of more help.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Sheila said...

Great tutorial... Thanks.

1:47 PM  
Blogger badmomgoodmom said...

Thanks for the link to the flat-felled seam tutorial. It turned out that I had started with the pieces WStog, as you would do when stitching the first row for a French seam.

On the next shirt, I followed your tutorial and started with the pieces RStog, putting the flat fell on the inside. Much better! Thanks a bunch.

5:06 PM  

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