How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear

Shopping can be such a chore at times. As much as I like wearing nice clothes, sometimes it is just next to impossible to find what I need.  It is hard enough to find things in petite sizing to accommodate my short stature, much less something cute.  Recently I spent quite a bit of time at a number of stores, at big box, discount and boutiques, looking for a simple thing – a short sleeve woven top or two. I am at that certain point where I do not like my upper arms to be exposed, so a sleeveless isn’t an option. But I need something woven for the heat, knits like t-shirts seem to stick to me when it is really hot and woven fabrics keep me cooler. But sleeveless and knits are what I saw most at the stores! I could find long sleeves or sleeveless but nothing between. Luckily, I can sew, and when I finally remembered that, I found two long sleeve, woven fabric tops and took them home to alter.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

This is really not hard to do, just takes a bit of measuring to get it right. Begin by trying on the top, and measuring from the shoulder seam to the point where you want the sleeve to end.  Shoulder seams will sit differently on different tops, so you have to have that measurement correct by measuring with it on.  In my case, that was 9 inches finished length. I wanted a small cuff on this one, so I added five inches to that length. Be sure that you have enough width in the sleeve to do this (that it doesn’t taper smaller down the sleeve), otherwise just add a hem allowance. Then take the top off, and lay it on a cutting table, measuring from the shoulder seam down the top edge, in my case to 14 inches.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

That measurement was going to cut across this tab and button detail on the sleeve, so I got out my seam ripper and removed those elements.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

Now measure down the top edge to the 14 inches again, and lay a ruler at that point, but don’t cut yet.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

Now, measure from the bottom to the same point. In this case it was 9 inches to the bottom of the cuff. Now measure the same 9 inches on the bottom edge to find that point. Connect those two points on the top and bottom of the sleeve to ensure that the angle is correct. The angle of the cut should be the same as (parallel to) the lower edge of the sleeve.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

Now measure up from the bottom of the other sleeve by the same amount on the top and bottom, the same 9 inches. This ensures that the sleeves will be an equal length.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

I decided to finish off the edges with my serger. If you don’t have a serger, you can turn the edge under, or do a zigzag stitch to finish the edge.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

Measure up three inches to put in the hem.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

Stitch the hem. Removing the base on my sewing machine helps as it gives me a smaller base to slip the sleeve over.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

Press the hem.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

Fold up the hem 2 inches to the outside to create the cuff and press in place.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

I put in two tacks by hand to hold the cuff in place.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

And voila, now I have the short sleeve top I wanted.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

One other tip, those mother of pearl buttons would be impossible to replace if I lost one. So, I took the extras from the cuffs, and sewed them onto the seam allowance at the sides of the top. Now I have extras if I lose one, and I don’t have to go searching for it in a button box.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

For the white lace top, I followed the same procedure of measuring the length I wanted, measuring the sleeve from the bottom on both edges, and cutting the sleeve at the proper angle.  This time I made the sleeve 10 inches, to get the 9-inch finished length plus one inch for hem allowance.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

I wasn’t worried about the lace raveling, so I turned up the hem and zigzag stitched it.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

And the other top is done, took less than half an hour.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

For the bits you cut off, here’s an idea to use them. I did get a couple of new t-shirts while I was shopping, knowing I have bought this brand before so I knew the size to get. I didn’t try them on, and when I did put one on at home, the V-neck was cut to an obscene depth. I am just not comfortable with a neckline cut to my navel, not at this point in my life, LOL! So, I took some of the lace from the sleeve, and cut a triangle to sew into the t-shirt to raise the neckline.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

Ultimately, I decided to use a different scrap of lace, cut from a pillowcase that was torn. I cut a triangle larger than I needed for the opening, and pinned it into place. It was sewn into place by topstitching in the ditch of the neckline ribbing.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

Turning it inside out, the excess was trimmed away.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

Finished, and I am so much more comfortable with the added coverage.

How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear clothes at From My Carolina Home

So, there are a couple of ideas to help you make ready to wear more wearable.  Do you alter your clothes?

 

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Creative Muster

28 thoughts on “How to Shorten Sleeves on Ready to Wear

  1. Linda Hodges

    I have put lace inserts into necklines before and have also used the preformed ones you can buy so you can change the colours if you like. But ….I haven’t thought about cutting down a long sleeve to make a short sleeve. I feel really dumb. This I will be doing in the future. I am of the same mind as you, don’t like to see my upper arms uncovered now at my age. Thanks for the blog and all your ideas.

  2. Rosemaryflower

    All the time.
    Buying shorts. They make them so low cut now, they fall off my butt. I have to take them in.
    I also have a few shirts or blouses that I love and have made a pattern from them to make a new blouse.
    My mom taught me alterations when I was a kid.
    Your tops turned out so much nicer.
    I also do not like low cut tops, and I make modifications on those
    Happy Monday Carole

  3. Phyllis Smith

    Good morning Carole,

    Thank you so much for showing those of us who do sew just how simple this can be done. I’m only 5 ft tall so my arms are short and I have to catch a tall person when I go to the grocery store to get things off the top shelf, usually they laugh and say sure and help me. If a woman is with her husband I ask her first if I might borrow her husbands long arm to reach something and they always say okay. LOL…

    Phyllis

  4. Cheryl Buchanan

    I am so happy someone else has to alter their clothing as well. I had a hard time finding lace wide enough to buy, but found some at fabric and foam. Thank you for the tutorial you are so kind to share. Hope you and your have a happy 4th of July!

  5. Gwynette in NW Arkansas

    Being 5 foot tall, I’ve been faced with the “sleeves too long” any time I look for long sleeved clothing. I read in a magazine several years back that ‘petite’ people are 5′ 4″ and under. What am I supposed to do with the extra 4 inches of sleeve and skirt hem. I rarely can find slacks that I can wear without altering. You really struck a nerve with ths post!!!……LOL!!!! Thankfully, I’ve been able to “fix” my clothing because my mother and grandmother made sure I could sew at an early age. I have two daughters. One quilts and the other doesn’t, but they both can replace buttons, turn up a hem and mend seams that come open. Happy Birthday to our country tomorrow!!!

  6. Sylvia

    Thanks Carole for the sewing lesson. What makes this so appropriate is, the fact that we both have the same problem and wear the same size (as shown on your t-shirt). After losing 5+ inches to various back problems, it has really become a chore to find tops that I can wear without having to take them apart. I have found that Macy’s online, has a huge selection of casual and dressy tops in the Petite category for the mature woman, and have ordered several of them this year. I love the black and white top you were working on, as well as the lace one, which is so popular this year.

  7. sharon schipper

    Yes! I do mostly myself, but wish I had a seamstress friend to help with the one problem I can’t solve without a body double! I’m pear shaped, so buying to fit my bust and shoulders means the hips don’t fit, and buying to fit the hips means the top is too big. Then I want to pull in shoulder width where it hits the sleeve. I wear camp shirts and tanks a lot, and have to shorten the tank straps so they don’t sag at the top. A bit maddening. And to find a shirt that one loves and the sleeves are too short, my preference being elbow length… oh well. Thanks for the discussion

  8. Linda B

    Great tutorial for us, thanks Carole! I don’t think I ever considered the angle of the original sleeve – to use that angle for cutting. Duh. I love taking my husband’s worn out flannel shirts and making short sleeve smocks for me..I will be more careful in measuring in the future! Yes, lots of things need altering. I am wondering how to re-elastic elastic in pants that I really love, are still in great c ondition, but the elastic is stretched. Any thoughts there? And wish there were a way to take knit sleeves..shorten them but somehow keep the ribbing. Have not been able to figure that out…I use large elastic bands on my arms to hike the too long sleeves us. They work pretty well, but…
    Happy 4th!

  9. Thanks for the lesson! As always nicely done. I have exactly the same issues and have some blouses to which I have done the same thing! I also do the lace or something insert,. I did that when I was in high school and my prom dress had a somewhat lower back than I though the nuns would approve (all prom gowns had to be tried on and reviewed! And, yes, that was more than 50 years ago!). I took some fabric I had cut off the bottom (I was 5’2″ but now am just a bit over 5′ so always hemming everything) and made a triangle piece I could snap into the back, It worked and looked like part of the original dress. A classmate had the same dress in.another color and was not allowed to wear hers,. She missed prom. I unsnapped the piece to go to a boyfriend’s prom,. And I loved that dress! And those v-neck t-shirts are a royal pain!!

  10. Back when I started wearing scrubs they didn’t make petite lenghts so I always had to hem the pants. I used the excess fabric in the triangle of the scrub top, just like you did, to make a comfortable depth. I also put darts in my jean waistbands. I don’t have a flat bottom and the waistbands always gap. I hate that.

  11. Melanie

    I do not alter much but appreciate your techniques and suggestions, such good ideas. The sleeve measuring from the bottom is NEW to me and I will remember this handy tip. Thanks for the great tutorials.

  12. catsandroses

    What a wonderful post; love both of those shirts — especially the lace one, so easy to dress it up or wear more casually! I always thought I was hard to fit, clothes-wise. At 6′ tall and (until recently!) on the very skinny side, pants were ALWAYS too short OR too big around the waist. If I found the right length, the waist would be way too big and if they fit in the waist, were way too short. Only in the last decade it seems they’ve added length to smaller waist jeans & pants.

    But, I never realized how difficult finding petite sized clothing can be until shopping for my 5′ or so mom-in-law! She always admires my flannel shirts (about live in them fall through winter) so she asked for one in Petite Large for Christmas. I tried Sears, Penney’s, Macy’s, Pendleton, and many other stores and simply could not find a single one!! Plenty of flannels in ‘regular’ sizes, which would be way too long in the sleeves, etc. FINALLY found one from Woolrich, which she loved; but, sure showed me the difficulties of finding what should be a simple item in Petite sizes! I’ll share this post with her — she’s handy with a sewing machine, so could be quite helpful!

  13. lois92346

    Great post, Carole! I never thought of sewing the extra (hard to match) buttons that come with some blouses into the seam allowances. I have the opposite problem many of the other ladies mentioned. Being 5’8″ I have long arms. Thanks to you, I won’t be passing on tops I really like…I’ll just shorten them further.

  14. I do the same thing for shorts. I like them just above the knee, not that easy to find, and I am petite through my waist length although my legs aren’t too short, so I often find capris or trousers which fit and chop off the legs.

  15. I used to sew almost everything I wore, including panties and nightgowns. No more! Things I buy have to fit, or I won’t take them home. I loved your idea of sewing extra buttons inside the garment so they would never get lost.

  16. Linda Wagner

    Thank you so much for this alteration…I have the same problem with not wanting to show my upper arm that keeps waving after I’m done. Linda in Colorado

  17. What a great idea! I do have to hem my pants, and do often put inserts in my shirts t provide more coverage. I hadn’t thought to buy long sleeves with the intention of making them short sleeves, but I will from now on. I hate those things they call short sleeves but are really little caps to cover the shoulders. It bothers me that clothing designers haven’t figured out that people want actual sleeves.

  18. Great to see your steps for modifying the tops – thanks for sharing. I just got a dress – mail order from China no less – and the sleeves are a tad too tight. So I was thinking about adding a triangle of fabric to the underneath part of the sleeve to open it up. I don’t think I’ve ever modified a piece of clothing before….

  19. Olivia Cooke

    Great to know others have the same problems. I am pear shaped and petite. Pants to fit my legs are always to big and tops to fit my bust are too long and wide at the waist. Don’t want to show my arms either. Great tips and especially with the t-shirt , hope to use these ideas to expand my wardrobe.

  20. dezertsuz

    Great, easy to follow tutorial. I’m SO glad I’m not the only one sewing lace (or wearing something underneath) on t-shirts! I was thinking I must be shopping wrong, but it looks like I’m not the only one who doesn’t like that plunge!

  21. I have sewn since grade school and I used to hate alterations until recently. Now it seems I can never find what I like in my size but can in much larger sizes. So I cut them down to fit. Work but worth the effort to me. 🙂 Sorry I haven’t been around much this summer . Just busy enjoying life. ♥

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