November 01, 2007

A Problem With Cap Sleeves

Over the last couple of months I have struggled with drafting a toddler cap sleeve. For whatever reason, my infant cap sleeve came off without a hitch. I tried some quick and dirty pattern making by grading the infant sleeve up to 24M and using it as my toddler base. The shaping just didn't work and I had to actually draft a 3T sleeve. I used the opportunity to compare draft instruction between Aldrich and Armstrong and these are my results.

The actual draft instructions for either cap sleeve are fairly simple and easy to draft. Even so, I didn't like the shaping and resultant styles of either sleeve. I'll try to explain the differences of each. I had a stronger preference for the Armstrong version, but I still modified hers considerably.
The top sleeve is the Aldrich version, the bottom my modified Armstrong sleeve. The Aldrich sleeve is very straight - such a sleeve results in a large sleeve cuff opening. Her sleeve is not a fitted cap sleeve. The instructions were easy to follow, I just had a styling disagreement.

I much prefer a fitted cap sleeve. The basis of the sleeve draft must start with a regular sleeve block. Just draw in a style line similar to what you see in the photo for the shaping at the hem. There are some minor refinements detailed in the Armstrong book. The problem with the Armstrong draft is that the sleeve cap height was too high for a toddler. I decreased the cap height by about a good 1/2". Walk the sleeve cap along the armscye and adjust any length differences. Armstrong states there should be 1-1 1/2" of ease in the sleeve cap, which is simply too much. My sleeves have virtually no ease because I removed it. Sometimes the fabric calls for 1/4-1/2" of ease, but not anymore. A sewing operator will return a bundle with too much sleeve cap ease. It is just too difficult to sew in industrial sewing. And in IMO, it doesn't do anything for fit or wearing ease. Armstrong's draft instructions are easy to follow and you can make any adjustments you prefer after you have the shape you want.

If you look closely, you will notice that my sleeves are symmetrical. This is because my bodice armhole shapes are identical for the front and back. This is typical in the industry for infant and toddler styles. In older children, this is not true and Aldrich's basic sleeve drafts illustrate the differences very well. Kathleen Fasanella has blogged much on the proper shaping of sleeve caps.

Here is a sewn sample. On the right is the Aldrich cap sleeve and my modified Armstrong sleeve is on the left. Can you see the difference in the sleeve shaping and cuff openings? The sleeve on the right is good for t-shirts and casual styles. The sleeve on the left is better for more formal, fitted styles. I have a few minor refinements to make and at least one more sew test and I will have my toddler cap sleeve done! (I am debating on adding 1/4" back to the sleeve cap height, overall I like it).

Either book will get you a basic cap sleeve. My eyes prefer the fitted style. Any questions? Anyone need draft instructions?


  1. I agree...I much prefer your fitted sleeve in this case. Great job!

    With friendship,

  2. It's posts like these that make me want to give so much credit to all of you out there who can focus on details like this. It should also speak to the reason people like me NEED a professional pattern maker. It's enough for me to get all the details into a technical sketch.
    I truly admire your skills and how much you share!!!
    Amber Star

  3. Hi Esther,

    I love your blog--thank you for sharing so much information about the children's wear industry. I am also a designer--I have Kathleen's book and have recently started reading her blog and yours and others--they are all great!

    I am reworking some of my patterns and have both Aldrich's and Armstrong's books as well. As you mentioned, I have noticed that my own kids' clothes from various manufacturers are drafted "flat" as Aldrich describes it, with the front and back patterns basically identical except for the neckline, but was wondering if you could explain more why that is the standard. I have read the discussion of armhole and sleeve shaping from Kathleen's blog and book and was wondering if the standard in the children's wear industry is due to simplicity in drafting, etc (perhaps because there is more ease built into the design of the garment itself) or if there is a specific anatomical/physical reason that makes drafting the asymmetrical sleeve/armhole unnecessary in children's wear. I guess, in other words, is that only the standard in loose children's garments or would drafting a more fitted children's garment with the same symmetrical sleeve still be correct/standard? I'm having difficulty understanding from Aldrich's book what makes the "flat" block or "classic" block more appropriate for a particular style, so I wondered what was standard practice here in the industry. I hope this makes sense.


  4. Melissa1:55 PM

    I was really excited when I found your blog on the children's sleeve draft from Armstrong's book. I have been working on a project for weeks now and I'm having a lot of trouble with the sleeve. Starting with the Basic Sleeve Draft, I found there was too much ease and took 2cm off the bicep measurement when I read that you take the ease out. But my worry is the shaping of the sleeve cap, it just doesn't look right to me. Even before I took out the ease, it looked like the under arm shaping was really short. When I compare it to bought patterns and the pictures in the book, it just looks like the notches are really low, and there is a very small amount left to go under the arms. I have tried a zillion things and it's been driving me crazy and I hope you might be able to shed some light on my sleeve shaping problem. Thanks so much!
    (I am not experienced with blogging and I have some pictures of the shaping I want to include but can't is this possible?)

  5. Anonymous4:21 AM

    Hi, just found your blog. In your comparison on the sleeves, you mentioned that you modified the Armstrong sleeve. I am curious as to what modifications you made. Did I 'oversight' your explanation?
    I am just wizzing through your different topics so I might have.

  6. I lowered the sleeve cap height and removed nearly all the ease.

  7. If I find some time I will do a blog entry on how I remove sleep cap ease. I prefer the Armstrong shape over Aldrich but modify it. One thing that is probably causing you trouble is the placement of your notches. The notches should match up with the notches on your bodice. They don't necessarily imply that is where you should start easing. Home sewing patterns use those notches to indicate the start and end of easing and thus some of the confusion.

    And just as an aside, There is more than one way to remove ease. You can lower the sleeve cap, fold out extra (like a tuck), or shorten the bicep at the underarm seam. I'm sure I did some combination of the above. Again, I will have to find time to illustrate this.

  8. Tiki,

    Thanks for your comments. You pose some interesting questions and ones I have been struggling to answer myself. If you don't mind waiting a day or two, I will post a separate blog entry on the topic with my opinions.