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Altering Sleeve Sewing Patterns with Claire-Louise Hardie

It’s good practise to always adjust the lengthwise adjustments before looking at anything else.

  • Measure your sleeve length from the shoulder to the wrist, bending your arm slightly. Then compare that measurement to the pattern

  • Work out how much to lengthen or shorten the sleeve by.

Lengthening A Sleeve

Cut between the 2 lengthen and shorten lines. Spread the pattern pieces apart by the amount that you need to lengthen by. Slide a piece of Tracing paper underneath to fill in the space. Make sure to line up all vertical lines like the grain-line. Stick the pattern to the tracing paper. Use a pencil and a ruler to true up the outside edges.


Fold the pattern along it’s lengthen and shorten line. Make a tuck in the pattern that’s half the amount you’d like to shorten eg if you want to shorten by 1 inch, you make a ½ inch tuck. Stick down the tuck to the paper pattern, either above or below the line. Use a ruler and pencil to match up and re-draw the outside lines.

Adjusting width at the top of sleeves

There’s nothing more uncomfortable than a sleeve without enough space around the top arms. Like the rest of the pattern, sleeves are cut to a standard size, and your arms may not be standard.

It’s deceptively easy to think all you need to do is add extra width under the armhole, but this won’t fix the problem. This technique, like an FBA( full bust adjustment), adds extra space right where you need it, by slashing and spreading the pattern. And like the FBA, you can do it in reverse if you need to adjust for slim arms.

Tip: To work out how much you’ll need, measure your biceps. The distance across the sleeve from the armhole to armhole should measure be your bicep measure plus 1.5 inches. The difference between the pattern and your measurement is how much extra to add or take away

Draw a straight vertical line from the middle point of the sleeve to the hem. Then draw a horizontal line joining the 2 underarm points.

Cut along both lines, making sure not to cut through the armhole edges or the hem. Leave a hinge to pivot with so you don’t change the length of either the seams or hem. Spread your sleeve in the middle area of the intersection between the 2 lines to the extra amount you need. The pattern pieces will need to overlap horizontally to allow this area to spread.

Anchor the pattern pieces together once you’ve spread the desired amount. Then fill in the space with tracing paper, and stick into place.

Using a curved ruler and a pencil, re-draw the curve around the top of the sleeve head, which may have become distorted.

I like to tissue fit my sleeves once I’ve done any pattern adjustments, just to make sure it a good shape before I commit to cutting in fabric.

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