Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Jazzed up T-shirt: sleeve alteration tutorial

Remember on my 12 in 2012 list, I wanted to learn sleeve design and alteration techniques? Well here is a very easy, beginner level, tutorial on adding a bit of jazz to those boring t-shirts.

The sleeve style for this tutorial is one of my favourite ones- rushed up around the sleeve cap.
It is perfect for a pear shaped girl like me to balance the curvy bottoms. they look so flattering and fun. I loved them on this dress in last October's Patrones:
Patrones 308, dress 8

The body-hugging style of the dress wouldn't be my first choice, so I  wanted to get myself a few tops with similar sleeves. And during a weekly shopping section I looked around the clothing department in Dunnes and noticed the multitude of cheap colourful tops they sell. The original styles are quite boring, but for the price it is easy to jazz them up a bit! So I got two!

You will need:  

  • 2  same kind t-shirts or tops- one in your size, one in the largest available- you will use it to cut your new sleeves
  • matching threads
  • seam ripper or scissors
  • sewing machine and/or overlock
  • tailor's chalk

Step 1 — Old Sleeves Off

Using small scissors or a seam ripper, carefully break the armhole seam threads and remove the old sleeve

Step 2 — Design New Sleeves

Now we will design a new sleeve. I used a sleeve pattern from my last project, but really any pattern of a basic simple one-piece sleeve will do. (Mine has the allowances already added, check with the pattern company if you need to add allowance to it yourself.)

Take the second top you got and place the sleeve pattern on it, so that the bottom finished hem of the top becomes the hem of your sleeves ( you can cut your top along side seams and trace each sleeve individually, but I just aligned the bottom hem of my top and traced on a double fabric, so both of my sleeves are identical when cut.

Now we need to add the height to the sleeve cap in order to use that excess fabric to form rushes later. I added 15cm, but it is entirely up to you. Trace the sleeve along the pattern on the side seams and on the start of the sleeve caps up about 2-3 inches , then draw a new cap as high as you with- the higher the cap- the more frequent or deeper folds can be formed later on. Mark the very centre top of the sleeve and mark the point where your drawing leaves the pattern line.

Step 3 — Fold away

This is a step where you can go wild if you wish, you can do whatever you want here. The basic version: on the cap sleeve form equal size folds symmetrically staring from the top mark to the point where you started drawing the extended cap. Make sure the cap matches the pattern piece -it should fit into the armhole at the end.

Step 4 — Secure The Folds

Using the longest straight stitch on your sewing machine staystitch the folds, stitching slowly over the pins. The pins much be placed strictly across your stitch line so they do not break the machine needle

Step 5 — Attach the Sleeve to the Armhole

Sew the side seam of the sleeve. (If you are not comfortable sewing the sleeve into a hole, you can undo your top's side seams a little and sew in your sleeve flat. Later you can fold the sleeve right side in and sew the sleeve's and top's side seam at the same time.) 

Pin the sleeve to the armhole aligning the top centre mark to the top's shoulder seam, make sure the sleeve cap fits easily into the armhole and there is no excess fabric that will get caught up and pluck in your armhole seam. Pin frequently and check that everything fits together before stitching. 

Beware: Basting is very important in these last two steps, always baste everything first before stitching- it can save you hours of painful seam ripping! When working with jersey on your sewing machine you should use a narrow zigzag seam. Look for a kind of crooked zig-zag seam if you have one on your machine- it works better than a normal zigzag and very flexible to work with knits. Always experiment on some fabric scraps with a new stitch to get the best width/length that will work best on that fabric.

Step 6 — Finishing Touches

Check the right side of the top- you should have an evenly rushed sleeved and no plucking on either side of the armhole seam. Cut your seam allowance to 1cm. Using your overlock or a zig-zag stitch on the sewing machine finish the raw edges on the armhole and sleeve side seam.

Download a full tutorial on pdf ( burdastyle.com)


  1. Great, thanks for sharing! I love this style of sleeves, I have very narrow shoulders so I can use some more volume there!

  2. You are welcome. This is a very easy beginner level project, but it does need a lot of precision and patience with those folds ))))

  3. Great tutorial with some good tips too- looks very good.

  4. This is a great tutorial! As soon as I tackle my fear of knits, generally, I'm going to have to try it! You stopped by my blog earlier and commented about  Vogue 1220 and starting a pattern swap. And, well, I just wanted to throw this out there: I am going to be in Dublin in May. I'm hoping to have this pattern sewn before I go. I'd love for you to have the pattern and would gladly drop it in the mail to you while I'm over there.  Let me know. :-D 

  5. It looks beautiful! thank you so much :)

  6. omg michelle- I missed this comment ! How did this happen!!!!!!!!! Devastating!!!!!

  7. thank you!!!!!

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