How To Lengthen Sleeves

How to lengthen sleeves involves a little sewing talent and a whole lot of innovation, especially if the shirt is new. Shirt sleeves may fit fabulously until the shirt is laundered and suddenly your arms appear to have grown. Why waste a perfectly good shirt when it might be saved with a few alterations?

How to lengthen sleeves requires a few pieces of basic equipment, including;

  • steam iron
  • thread and needle
  • tailor's straight pins
  • sewing machine (not absolutely necessary, but the job will go much faster if you have one)
  • tape measure
  • mirror
  • seam ripper
  • tailor's chalk or blue thread
  1. Try on the shirt. Use the mirror to look at the shirt sleeves. Make sure that the sleeves are the problem. It may be that the entire shirt took a hit from the hot water or the dryer. Try holding both arms together directly in front of your body. If the shirt feels tight around the back, forget the sleeves, it's time to get a new shirt. Donate the small one to charity. If the back is fine, take the tape measure to figure out where on the back of your hand you want the shirt to fall. Do the same for each sleeve. Your arms are not the same length.
  2. Develop your strategy. This is the hardest part of how to lengthen sleeves. Take off the shirt and figure out where the extra fabric is going to come from. If it's an expensive shirt, this will be easier. If it's a cheap shirt, you may be out of luck. Companies save money by cutting down on the amount of fabric used in the seams. One shirt is not a great savings, but when you multiply a small savings times thousands, it adds up. Turn the shirt inside out and look at the seam at the top of the sleeve caps. If there's enough there to make up the extra measurement on your hand, you're in luck. If not, you're in for the more difficult cuff process. Feel inside the cuff to determine just where the seam ends. Is there enough fabric there to meet your extra fabric requirement? 
  3. Carefully remove the caps or cuffs. This is the tough part of how to lengthen sleeves. It's not called a seam "ripper" for nothing. Be careful with that puppy or you'll end up with tears or holes in the fabric. 
  4. Use the measurements. Use the tailor's chalk or blue thread to put down a line where the new seams will go.
  5. Pin the sleeves. Use the line and pin the sleeves using the straight pins.
  6. Press the sleeves. Pressing is critical to how to lengthen sleeves, unless you really like the puffy look around all the new stitching.
  7. Try on the shirt. You won't want to do this after the time it took to remove the sleeves without tearing anything, but this is an important part of how to lengthen sleeves. Watch the pins.
  8. Sew the sleeves. Carefully work the machine or the thread to sew over the tailor's marks.
  9. Press again. Yes, press the sleeves again. Puffy seams make it look like you figured out how to lengthen sleeves at home. Smooth seams are professional looking.
  10. Wash carefully. You certainly don't want to do the process again. Washing shirts in hot water makes the fabric weave contract. Same with a hot dryer. Wash clothes in lukewarm water and hang to dry for the least chance of sleeve shrinkage. 


If you're a glutton for punishment, it is possible to take some extra fabric off both the cap and cuff seams for each sleeve. If you do this, you must ask yourself, "Just how much do I want this shirt?"


If the shirt doesn't have enough seam allowance in the cuff to lengthen the sleeves, some people suggest adding fabric to the bottom of the sleeve to make up the difference. This is a fine idea only for the smallest adjustments. The new fabric actually ends up becoming the seam and the new stitching runs right on the new fabric. 



"Simplicity's Simply the Best Sewing Book," Anne Marie Soto, 2001.

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