TUTORIAL-- Smooth Sleeve Caps Every Time!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

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).