Do you adjust the sleeve length on a sewing pattern before you cut out a garment? It makes the sewing much simpler — no need to redo shirt cuffs or hems due to a length that’s not right.
Here, I’ll show you how to adjust the sleeves on most sewing patterns, making them shorter or longer to fit you better.
First things first: check the sleeve length
Before you go adjusting your pattern, it’s a good idea to make a muslin and see how the pattern fits you.
A long sleeve should start at the outer point of your shoulder bone and cover at least the bottom of your wrist bone. For a coat or jacket, it should be a bit longer — halfway between the point where the wrist meets the hand and the base of the thumb.
The finished length is your preference, of course, but you want to allow enough fabric for hemming the sleeve and landing somewhere in that area. You may have to add length to your pattern piece if there isn’t enough already or shorten if it will be much too long.
How to shorten and lengthen sleeves
How to shorten a sleeve using the shorten or lengthen line
The simplest way to shorten a sleeve is to fold out some length in the middle of the sleeve. Many patterns have a lengthen or shorten line marked on the pattern, making it a cinch.
To use this method, mark a line parallel to the lengthen and shorten line. Fold and crease the pattern along the lengthen and shorten line, then bring that crease up to the new line you marked. By doing this, you’re folding the excess length in the pattern piece.
How to lengthen a sleeve using the shorten or lengthen line
You can use the same shorten or lengthen line to lengthen the sleeve. This time, cut the pattern piece at the lengthen and shorten line. Cut a small piece of paper that’s as long as the amount of length you want to add to the sleeve. Tape the paper between the cut pattern pieces to create more length.This post details how to use the lengthen and shorten lines in more detail.
Adding length at the sleeve’s hem
Sometimes it’s easier to add length at the bottom of the sleeve. This method is just as simple!
Just like if you were adding length at the shorten or lengthen line, you’ll cut a small piece of paper that’s as long as the length you want to add and tape it to the pattern piece. Keep in mind that you might need to extend or transfer markings at the bottom of the pattern piece.
For example, the pattern above has pleats and a placket opening at the cuff. I needed to mark the pleats and adjust the placket on the additional paper. If I didn’t make these adjustments, the placket would be a too long and leave a slight gap at the bottom of your sleeve where it attached to the shirt cuff.
Shortening a sleeve at the cuff
If you need to shorten a long sleeve with a cuff, you can also take off length at the bottom. Just remember that you need to transfer and adjust any additional marktings. If the sleeve tapers slightly toward the bottom, you also need to narrow the sleeve so that it’ll fit with the cuff piece.
Lengthening a tapered sleeve
Most sleeves are tapered slightly, because your arm is larger at the top near the bicep but becomes narrower toward the elbow or wrist. So how can you adjust a sleeve without ruining the subtle taper?
You can see above that there’s a slight angle to the edges of this sleeve pattern piece. The section below the hemline angles in the opposite direction so that it matches up with the edges once folded up.
To retain that angled section, before you add length to the sleeve, first fold up the pattern at the original hemline. Then add pattern paper for your additional length plus the original hem allowance. In this case, I’ve added 2″ of additional length plus some extra paper below that to account for the hem allowance.
Next, fold up the extra paper at the new hemline. Trace or mark the side edges through all layers of paper. I find that a marking wheel works really well for this task. Then unfold the paper and go over those lines with pencil on the other side.
Finally, add the hem allowance at the bottom edge. When you turn up your hem, the hem allowance will fit smoothly.
This same process works for garment edges that flare out. For example, in an A-line skirt, the hem needs to have this reverse angle so that it turn up smoothly and matches the skirt edge.
Shortening a tapered sleeve
The method for shortening is very similar. Fold up the hem allowance, then remove length at the bottom edge of the sleeve. Of course, you’ll need to redo the hem allowance. You can use the same method as you would for lengthening to match the angle of the side seams.
Sew sleeves that look & feel fabulous
Learn designer techniques for setting in sleeves, incorporating ready-to-wear details, finishing and more from popular sewing teacher Sara Alm.