The basic block sleeve experiment

3.2cm added to sleeve cap height
3.2cm added to sleeve cap height

My goal with this dress block is to draft a sleeve that can be used as my gold standard. Anita’s sleeve block had 3cm too much ease in the bicep. Trepidatious of reducing bicep drastically I reduced the bicep by only 2cm. Her measurement for a block sleeve is bicep + 5cm. That seems generous doesn’t it?

When I measured the total sleeve length it was short for me by 3.2cm. I dove in at the deep end and added it all to the sleeve cap. I slashed slightly lower down so that I could maintain or increase the width across the deltoid – am I boring you? I promise the next post will be fascinating!

My altered sleeve cap left me with around 8cm ease in the cap – way too much for an ungathered sleeve cap. But its fairly comfortable and I like the look – almost. A well eased sleeve cap to my eye looks quite ‘tailored’ I suppose. Here it is on me. I haven’t fixed all the other issues with my block at this stage.

IMG_2984Fearing the sleeve is just too full at the cap I reduced the cap height 1cm. This resulted in less ease and a much nicer fit. I think ease in this cap is about 3cm. I will self flagellate later for not having measured the ease!

reduced cap height 1cm.
reduced cap height 1cm.

And here it is in the flesh, err, calico.

R sleeve - reduced head
R sleeve – reduced head

Either sleeve looks right to me. The lowered head is definitely easier to sew. But from the back, both of them look tight across the bicep line. Why the heck is it called a bicep line when the line across the bottom of the sleeve cap is actually the base of the deltoid (the immunisation muscle!) and definitely not the bulkiest bicep measurement?


Looks to me like I have quite developed laterals on the right and both sleeves are tight, but they don’t feel tight and with 6cm ease, nor should they be. So then I let the sleeve seam out 1cm hoping for increased mobility and correspondingly let out the top of the block at the underarm, side seam 1cm. Bicep ease now 7cm.

+1cm bicep width and upper bodice side seam
+1cm bicep width and upper bodice side seam

This feels better but looks worse.


Should I maintain the bicep width as is and attempt to widen the sleeve cap? That will add more to the cap ease though.

Oh, give me a T shirt! Isn’t this why knitwear comprises 70% of the modern wardrobe? I am seriously losing any excitement I had conjured by this point. Time to move on I think.



Add yours →

  1. Top marks for doing this useful exercise.

    Surely ease should be directly proportional to the actual arm girth and should increase to perhaps 8cm if the arm is larger than average (which yours doesn’t appear to be). I have two sleeve blocks but I didn’t produce them by your scientific, trial and error method; rather I copied them from patterns that seems to flatter. For the sleeve block that I use for short-sleeved dresses, the ease is 6cm (my arm is 26cm) and produces a nice narrow looking sleeve that I find flattering. The coat sleeve block has 10cm ease. The cap is of course much easier to shrink and fit in a wool; not so attractive on a calico.

    • Yes, I agree Marianna. I think I’m getting restricted movement because I seem to need a high sleeve cap. There is oodles of ease in the bicep and I’m not sure I like the look of more anyway. It also causes some looseness at the underarm which for a block isn’t ideal since I’d normally add that as design dictates. I have wondered if a bit more ease in the centre front of the armscye would alleviate the movement issue, or is it just that I now prefer knits?!
      Thanks for taking the time to help me analyse!

  2. I love your dedication Lesley. I prefer the first one, which is not so comfortable. But it looks good to me.

    Personally I find trying to get an exact fit creates as many problems as it resolves. Sometimes better to stop when it is pretty good rather than perfect. Personally I would get the bodice as good as you can first before tackling the sleeve as the shoulder and upper chest has to be right. Also I agree with Marianna that you can always refer back to a commercial pattern that you like as a bench mark – sometimes it is easy to get everything “out of proportion” metaphorically as well as actually.

  3. Hey Lesley – I’m feeling your pain! Have you seen Rhonda Buss’s blog? She has a great feature on sleeves every other week or so – including one that looks very similar to the Carl Kapp you were admiring. I went back to a knit this weekend for a quick win. Fitting (or lack there of) was doing my head in!.

    • Yep, I’ve also cut into some knits this past week! Must be the antidote to calico! I do subscribe to Rhonda’s blog, but seem to have missed her sleeve thang – I will definitely have a look. Mantra – “it will be worth it in the end”!

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