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Altering a Sleeve to 3/4 Length

Updated on July 8, 2016
The Finished Blouse, Cuffs Turned
The Finished Blouse, Cuffs Turned | Source

Defining the Project

Problem: Full-length sleeves feel uncomfortable in warm work conditions.

Solution: A decision is made to change the sleeves, similar to a favorite blouse with a cuffed, three-quarter sleeve length.

The two blouses, one with a full-length sleeve to be altered, and the model 3/4 sleeve.
The two blouses, one with a full-length sleeve to be altered, and the model 3/4 sleeve.
A close-up of a full-length sleeve and cuff to be altered.
A close-up of a full-length sleeve and cuff to be altered. | Source
A tape measure (left) and dressmaker's hemming tool (right).
A tape measure (left) and dressmaker's hemming tool (right). | Source

Two Measuring Tools


A tape measure and hemmer are useful in taking measurements.


Tip: If unavailable, string can be cut to length of whatever needs to be measured and then measured on a standard ruler.



Taking Measurements from 3/4-sleeved Blouse

Before just cutting away the sleeves, it is best to get a clear idea about how much material to remove. The top part of the sleeve, due to draping over the shoulder, is actually longer than the underside.

The measurements from each blouse from the neck to the shoulder seam are about the same, five inches (5"), so no special adjustment needs to be made in figuring the desired sleeve length. In this case, the top part of the sleeve from the model blouse is 14 3/4" (shoulder to cuff seam), but only 9 1/4" on the underside.

The cuff from the model blouse is about 2 1/2 inches.

Special Instructions: The following directions are based on these measurements, you will need to adjust the measurements for your particular blouse or shirt size, if different.

When attempting to measure the sleeve, flatten it with your hands or a warm iron so there are no wrinkles between the shoulder seam axis running down the length of the sleeve and the under seam. Doing this will make cutting easy and accurate.


Measuring the top part of the sleeve to be cut.
Measuring the top part of the sleeve to be cut.
A close-up of the straight pin at 15".
A close-up of the straight pin at 15". | Source

Measuring and Marking the Sleeve

Seam allowance must be added to the measured length before cutting the sleeve. A 1/4" is used because the fabric needed for the new cuff is set, and you'll want to get the most use of what's available from the existing cuff.

So, the length of where you'll cut the topside of the sleeve is 15" (14 3/4" + 1/4").

You may use a straight pin to mark the spot where the sleeve is to be cut.


Tip: You may also mark the fabric with the edge of a thin soap bar, a water -solvable ink pen, or simply snip the desired spot with scissors.

Do the same with the underside of the sleeve, only remember this mark or snip will be at 9 1/2" (9 1/4" + 1/4"), as shown in the photo below.

Measuring the underside of the sleeve to be cut.
Measuring the underside of the sleeve to be cut.

Using a rotary or other long ruler, connect the two points and draw a straight line with a water-soluble ink pen.


Tip: If you don't have a long enough ruler or yardstick, any straight edge will work, such as hard cardboard or the edge of a vinyl plastic sheet.

Making the cutting line with a water soluble pen.
Making the cutting line with a water soluble pen. | Source

Cutting the Sleeve

Tip: Measure twice and cut once!

Carefully cut the sleeve with sharp, fabric scissors. If you have a cutting mat and rotary cutter, all the better. Just be sure the fabric has no large wrinkles or folds when you cut.

A rotary cutter is an indispensable sewing tool. Cutting is easier, faster, and more accurate than with hand scissors. Use it with a rotary mat and ruler.

Cutting the sleeve along the marked line.
Cutting the sleeve along the marked line. | Source

Repeat the measuring and cutting steps for the second sleeve.

Tip: Instead of repeating the measuring steps above for the second sleeve, you may use the sleeve you have just finished cutting as a pattern for the second sleeve. Be sure to match up your seams and flatten your fabric.

Using the first sleeve as a pattern to cut the second. All fabric llayers need to be flattened.
Using the first sleeve as a pattern to cut the second. All fabric llayers need to be flattened. | Source

Detaching and Opening the Cuff

A must-have in every seamstress' tool organizer is a seam ripper. No matter how well you sew, this tool is indispensable when trying to remove one or more stitches.

The cuffs must be opened because they were designed to fit around the wrist, which has a smaller diameter than the arm where the 3/4-length sleeve will fall. This process will take some time, but remove any buttons, top stitching, and seam stitching because you are going to open the cuff and separate the pieces completely.

Tip: Carefully open 3-5 stitches, then pull the seam edges apart and rip the stitches from the inside of the seams, where the stitches are easier to see and catch As every two or three stitches are ripped, force the seams apart slightly farther. Continue until the entire seam is opened.

You are now going to remove al loose threads and press out the seam folds so the cuff pieces are flat.

Pressing out the cuff's seam folds.
Pressing out the cuff's seam folds. | Source

Also remove any interfacing because the cuff is being resized.

A Mini-lesson on Interfacing: All cuffs, collars, and lapels have interfacing to help them keep their shape. There are two major kinds of interfacing attachment: iron-on and non-stick. Non-stick needs to held in place by stitching or spray-on basting mist. Iron-on interfacing comes in a variety of thicknesses, from light weight to heavy weight. A basic cotton-polyester blouse will take a light to medium weight interfacing.




Interfacing gives body to collars,lapels, cuffs, and can even be used for waistbands. It's always good to have some interfacing on hand.







Making the New Cuff

Tip: You can tell which side of a fabric is the right side by looking at each side. The right side will appear clearer in color and definition of any print with a smoother weave appearance than the wrong, or inside, of the fabric.

Aligning the cuff pieces so you have the greatest length and right sides together, sew a 1/4" seam to join the pieces.

The cuff pieces, sewn together.
The cuff pieces, sewn together. | Source

You are also going to take the interfacing, trim it as needed, and attach it to the lower half of the two cuff pieces you have just sewn together.

In this particular case, the cuff was double folded, so there was an adequate amount of fabric with which to work. The following photos show the process used in adapting the cuff.

The original interfacing is being cut in half to achieve the greatest length so the cuff (top, partial view) will be covered along the bottom half.
The original interfacing is being cut in half to achieve the greatest length so the cuff (top, partial view) will be covered along the bottom half. | Source
The interfacing covering the bottom section of the cuff.
The interfacing covering the bottom section of the cuff. | Source

Next, measure the width of the sleeve where the cuff will be attached. You are going doube this and add an additional 1/2" because, in this method, the two sides of the cuff will be sewn together before you attach it to the sleeve. (Circumference of arm sleeve where to be sewn = 6" + 6" or 12"; an additional 1/2" to allow for the cuff's seams brings the necessary width to 13".)

Measure the width of the sleeve where the cuff will be attached.
Measure the width of the sleeve where the cuff will be attached. | Source

Tip: Although not shown, it is helpful to stay stitch 1/8" to 3/8" from the raw edge of the arm sleeve where the cuff will be attached. This will help stabilize the cross-grain of the fabric when sewing and keep the tendency for the fabric to stretch at a minimum.

Now you are going to measure off 13" on your partially prepared cuff. This is best done by measuring from the center seam, in this case 6 1/2" to the right and left of that center point. Fold the sleeve right on that seam, smooth the fabric flat, use one of the marking technique mentioned above, and carefully cut along your marked line. Again, if you have a rotary ruler, mat, and cutter, you may use these for this step.

Editorial note: When this picture was taken, I had only added 1/4" to the sleeve's width where the new cuff would be attached. So, be sure to allow your seam allowance for both sides of the cuff before cutting. Still measure from your center seam, though, and not from the raw edge of the center seam. (In the end, this small error did little harm because the cuff had an open slit when finished.)


Fold the cuff horizontally. Be sure your raw edges match. You may pin baste the two vertical raw edges you are about to sew with a 1/4" seam. Sew the seams. Turn right sides out. Push out the corners of the cuff with a chopstick or other blunt tool.

Beginning to cut the cuff at 6 1/2".
Beginning to cut the cuff at 6 1/2". | Source
A chop stick is useful for pushing out the corner tips.
A chop stick is useful for pushing out the corner tips. | Source

Tip: It is helpful to press the newly sewn cuff with a warm iron. The iron's thermal setting for cotton-polyester fabric is four (4). In fact, the iron is used when opening all freshly sewn seams. Doing so simply makes sewing easier and even makes your project look more professional.

Attaching the Cuff to the Sleeve

Notice that when you wear a blouse, the cuff opens at the underside of your arm. To make sure this happens, you are going to determine the shoulder seam axis from where the front and back meet. You do this by simply placing the sleeve on a flat surface and pressing it flat, ether with your hands or a warm iron.

Notice where the crease or fold falls at the raw edge of the sleeve. You'll have one crease at the top (long side) of the sleeve, and another at the bottom (short side) of the sleeve.

Comparing the crease to the uncut model blouse, you will see that the point at which the cuff edge starts is about two inches from the axis fold on the back side of the sleeve. So, this is where you will begin to attach your cuff.

Pinning the cuff  1 7/8" below the shoulder seam axis. This view is the back side of the right arm.
Pinning the cuff 1 7/8" below the shoulder seam axis. This view is the back side of the right arm. | Source
A detailed view of where to begin to attach the cuff. The top edge of the hemmer is right at the top edge of the flattened sleeve.
A detailed view of where to begin to attach the cuff. The top edge of the hemmer is right at the top edge of the flattened sleeve. | Source

Sew the cuff on with a serger or similar edge-binding stitch. You use a 1/4" seam to do this.

Editorial note: I own a Necchi Royal Series, machine designed for home management classes in high school. It is a heavy-duty, non-computerized machine. For my serger-type stitching, I use a straight stitch and then go over the seam edges again with a zig-zag stitch. The effect is more satisfactory than the blanket, or binding, stitch that is found on the machine.


Sewing the cuff to the sleeve with a 1/4" inch seam.
Sewing the cuff to the sleeve with a 1/4" inch seam. | Source

Tip: Be sure to keep only one edge of the sleeve under the pressure foot at any given time. This is easy to do if you open the sleeve with the attached cuff under the pressure foot. As you sew, gently work the free part of the sleeve with your hands. This will keep the sleeve from getting bunched under the pressure foot and causing you to sew your sleeve shut.

For hand sewers: A back stitch works well to secure this type of seam, or at least a running stitch with a back stitch every three or four stiches. Raw edges can be gone over with a small cross stitch or an overcast stitch.

Here is the combination straight and zig-zag stitches to secure the cuff's raw edging.
Here is the combination straight and zig-zag stitches to secure the cuff's raw edging. | Source

Trim loose threads off the completed edge. Take care not to cut your stitching!

Finally, you are going to reinforce the cuff-sleeve seam with top stitching. You should use thread that matches your fabric. If you are working with a print, use one of the colors found in the fabric. The purpose of reinforcing the seam with top stitching is to prevent the seam from rolling toward the hand and becoming exposed to view. The stitching should be done on the arm's-side of the edge 1/16th to 1/8th inch from the seam.

Editorial note: At the time, the only matching thread I had was embroidery floss, so I did a running stitch by hand using a single embroidery strand. I placed my stitches about every 1/16th inch right near the seam's edge. Half-hitch knots were worked invisibly into the fabric.


The Finished Sleeve

The opening where the cuff's edges don't quite meet is secured with the same stitching as the rest of the cuff. The top stitching keeps the seam in place.
The opening where the cuff's edges don't quite meet is secured with the same stitching as the rest of the cuff. The top stitching keeps the seam in place. | Source

Repeat the steps as necessary to finish the other sleeve.

A full view of the finished blouse with cuffs open.
A full view of the finished blouse with cuffs open. | Source

© 2013 Marie Flint

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    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 3 years ago from TEXAS

      Excellent instructions, Marie! Of course, in a purely practical sense, 3/4 sleeves don't really need cuffs, though your instructions and illustrations show how attractive the cuff is, when transferred from the full-length sleeve position. If the cuff is omitted on the 3/4 version, most of the sleeve fabric above the cuff itself can be merely narrow-hemmed and then rolled up or else deeply hemmed and turned up once, with the inside of the hem then turned outside.

      Some cuffs on long sleeves are intended to fit rather snugly around the wrist, whereas raised to mid-arm, the dimensions are larger, so, of course, the same cuff size would need to be left open and turned up, as you've shown. Very practical adjustment!

      I confess that my first thought when I saw your hub title was that, for me with these short arms, even shirts intended to be 3/4 length-sleeved, are full-length! I'm so used to either altering or turning up sleeves, cuff and all, just to keep them from reaching below my fingertips! Only if I get a petite size, do arm and leg lengths ever fit me!

      Your article has caught me in a 'sewing mood', by the way. It's been a passion of mine all my life, but has been neglected in favor of website designing and writing for several years. What shocked me when I opened my Pfaff Creative 1371 was finding that the hand wheel is locked into position and refuses to engage, though I follow the instructions in my manual. I went online looking for help and found that this machine I bought new in the 1980s is now classified as vintage and is being brought out again as a 'limited edition'! That, in itself, made my day. But meantime, to accomplish the sewing project I set out to do yesterday morning, I'm doing it by hand.

      Thank you for writing such wonderfully detailed instructions here. It could be included in a sewing textbook! I hope more people will become interested in sewing and altering their things to suit themselves better! Too many tasks of everyday living are being commercially usurped owadays. I actually saw loaves of "toasted" bread on the store shelf! Imagine. One would need to heat it anyway to achieve one of the main qualities of good hot toast that melts the butter! haha!

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Nellieanna, it's always so wonderful to hear from you--your comments are always sharing and straight from the heart.

      Of course, one can cut a sleeve and just edge finish it, but my daughter, for whom this blouse was altered, is particular about how she looks at work. She actually had me do two blouses, the second one was olive green. (I happened to have a matching color in my embroidery stash for that one, too!)

      Now she wants me to take in some darts on a couple of blouses. Maybe I'll do a hub on that. So far, though, she's been too busy or tired to put the blouses on for me to mark them. Eventually, we'll get around to it.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 3 years ago from TEXAS

      Certainly the cuff on the redone sleeve is so much more attractive than just a hemmed sleeve. I do notice that the blue one is fitted with darts. It's been a long time since I've seen a blouse with darts. But there's much to be said for them. Yes, you could make a hub out of the alteration of the darts. There are people who wouldn't have the slightest idea how to go about it.

      Having the right thread in your stash for the olive green blouse's sleeve alterations has reminded me of something I'd totally forgotten: my mother's thread tangle. I have no idea how it started or got the way it was. It was a huge tangle of every color of thread that was ever made, in varying lengths. But if one had a hand sewing job to do & needed thread in a hurry, a long enough length of the right color could always be extracted from that tangle. It was kept in its own drawer in the sewing room. At times, when I was little, I also used it for a multi-color freak wig! There were so many fun things for a kid to play with in our house! Who needed Nintendo and Xbox? Much has been lost, I think.

      I finished my little sewing project. I got really excited when I realized I could get out my old Singer Featherlight Portable which my parents gave me when I graduated High School in 1948 for it. But when I looked into the closet where it's buried under bolts of cloth and stuff, I decided it was easier to do my sewing project by hand after all. Whew. It's all done. Of course, the main tool for good sewing is an iron and ironing board. I did manage to dig them out of the closet!

      I keep wondering if other 81-year-olds are like this!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I love the look and feel of 3/4 sleeves an when they are cuffed, they look very professional. thanks for such a detailed and thorough explanation of how to go from long sleeve to 3/4. Sharing.

    • Theater girl profile image

      Jennifer 3 years ago from New Jersey

      Great pictures and ideas! Made me want to break out my machine! Thanks for sharing this!

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Dear PH and Theater, thank you so much for visiting and commenting. Your interest means a lot to me. Special thanks to PH for sharing Best wishes!

    • moronkee profile image

      Moronke Odugbesan 3 years ago

      Brilliant lesson. I'm planning to get a sewing machine. I'm tired of paying my tailors more than the cost of the material.

      Thanks

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      I enjoy making my own clothes, too, Moronkee, and there are so many neat fabrics today. I find the hobby relaxing and very rewarding. Good luck to you in your new hobby! There's a lot of helpful information on the internet.

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