Find out what the new length needs to be by pinning the excess fabric around the elbow area. I do this because I want the cuff to rest in the right position on the wrist. Remember to always allow for flounce. That means when the person raises their arm the cuff does not ride up the wrist too much.
Starting around the elbow area, at the outside arm, take the fabric in your fingers and press it together so that you have the fabric doubled over. Check and see if the sleeve is raised enough at the wrist. When you are happy with the length, place a pin across the fold. Measure the amount from the pin to the fold. Move around 5cm (2 in) and fold the fabric up in the same way, measuring to make sure it is also the same amount as the first pin. Move around the sleeve and pin every 5cm (2in) the same amount. Remember to allow for flounce!
Write this amount down on a piece of paper that you pinned all the way around and double it.
The example I have used is 3.8 cm (1⅝ in) folded which is 7.6 cm (3 in).
Special Note – The amount raised at the sleeve cap will be determined by the width at the top of the sleeve. The sleeve tapers the further it goes down the arm. The more the sleeve cap is shortened the tighter the sleeve will become on the arm. This is why it is better to pin at the upper arm, because it will give an indication if it will become too tight. As a precaution measure the person’s upper arm and the sleeve. There should be at least 5cm (2 in) of give in the width.
For ladies shirts, I usually put a dart at the front section towards the bust. I would have pinned this in place at the fitting.
For men the new armhole size of the sleeve will be smaller than the armhole on the shirt, so you may have to take in the side seam on the body of the shirt. When I have a fitting for this type of alteration, I would consider pinning the inside arm seam to see if it does not become too tight over the chest area. Usually a shirt is loose fitting, so it should not be an issue. It would only be an issue if the shirt was tight fitting.
To eliminate putting the wrong sleeve back in to the wrong armhole, before separating the sleeves, cut a piece of white fabric or calico and using a permanent marker, write “right sleeve” or RS and “left sleeve” or LS on two squares and using a safety pin, pin the fabric to the appropriate sleeve. I usually pin at it onto the cuff.
There are two methods you can adopt when taking the sleeve out. The first is unpicking the sleeve from the armhole. The second is cutting the sleeve out of the armhole. If you opt for cutting the sleeve out, remember to deduct the amount from your shortening measurement. For example if you cut beside the seam allowance on either side it will reduce the measurement by around .8 cm (3/8 in).
Lay the sleeve on your work bench and draw your new sleeve cap lowering it the desired amount (keeping the curvature of the armhole). This means working out to the sides from the centre top of the sleeve keeping the curve, but still working out to the side. You can take a little of the side out, as the sleeve is usually quite big. Then do the same at the underarm, taking out the same amount as at the centre top, but working out to the side.
Only a small amount of fabric is taken from the two sides of the armhole on the sleeve. The reason for this is that if the WIDTH is reduced too much on the sleeve, it will not fit back into the armhole. The WIDTH of the sleeve should be maintained as much as possible. The excess is taken from the TOP and BOTTOM of the sleeve, but still reshaping the sleeve as if it were a normal sleeve in any garment. The back should be wider than the front, just like you see on a sleeve pattern.
To insert the sleeve, sew two rows of gathering around the top of the armhole beginning at one side and sewing around the top and down to the other side. Give it a slight gather, but without a full gather. This will help the sleeve sit nicely into the shoulder.
You do not have to do this step if the shirt is a casual shirt, and particularly if it is a men’s shirt.
Note – the sleeve may have been inserted before the side seams were joined, and if this is the case, you can repeat, or close the side seam and insert on the “round”.
Judith aka genie