Alteration: Sleeved to Sleeveless

A friend of mine asked if I could remove the sleeves from one of her mum’s favourite shirts- a sheer sorbet pink button-up. Her well-meaning dad ironed a hole right in the sleeve. Oops.

I do love being asked to help out on things like this. I think it’s a combination of people having confidence in my ability to do it properly and the feeling of being useful.

There are basically three things you’re trying to do when removing sleeves. The first is reduce the shoulder length as the shoulder on a sleeved shirt is longer than on a sleeveless shirt. The second is minimising any further fabric being taken out of the lower part of the armhole because sleeveless shirts generally have armholes that sit closer to the armpit compared to sleeved shirts. The third is reduce the ‘gape’ in the armhole created because sleeved armholes have more give in them to accommodate the pull of the sleeve in movement, which won’t be a factor when we remove the sleeves.

Step One: Gather your materials

  • Your shirt or dress
  • Seam ripper
  • Ruler
  • Marking tool (I like to use an air erasable pen, but chalk is good too)
  • Bias binding
  • Matching threads
  • French rule (optional)

Step Two: Remove the sleeves


Using a seam ripper, remove the lower half of each sleeve- from the armpit to halfway up on the front and halfway up on the back. I know, I know, unpicking seams is the worst.

Using scissors cut as close to the seams as you can to remove the rest of the sleeve.

If you have a yoked shirt, carefully unpick about two inches from the armhole on each side.

Step Three: Mark your new lines

Give the shirt a press.

Using a sleeveless shirt you own and like the fit of, or comparing to a sleeveless pattern, decide how much length needs to be taken off the shoulder. In this case, I took off 4 cm (1 9/16 inches). Mark that point on the shoulder seam.

Next, copy the armhole from a favoured shirt, pattern or using a French rule. You want to preserve as much of the lower part of the armhole as you can, while still creating a smooth curve.

If you have a yoked shirt, mark a new seam for the yoke where it meets the armhole. This helps reduce the gape in the armhole. I marked mine 5cm (2 inches) along the yoke line and 1cm (3/8 inch) down at the armhole.

Step Four: Yoke Seams

If you have a yoked shirt, sew up the new seams first.

Step Five: Binding the Armholes

On the home stretch!

I used bias binding to finish the armholes. I chose this because it means you can keep as much of the lower armhole fabric as possible and the binding will keep the loose weave of the shirt from warping too much.

I used a lilac store-bought bias binding but use homemade if that floats your boat.

Iron out one edge of your binding but don’t go overboard, you still want to be able to see the crease.


Pin the binding…

Now pin the binding to the shirt right sides together with the open edge crease of the binding matching the line you marked. Start and end at the side seams so that if the join is a bit messy no one will see.

Where the binding meets itself, sew it closed and press open.

Now, stitch the binding and armhole together, using the crease as your guide. Clip the seam allowance to meet the edge of the binding.


Sew in the crease and clip seam allowances

Press the binding and seam allowance away from the shirt and then press the binding and seam allowance to the wrong side of the shirt. You want to make sure your binding is completely on the wrong side of the shirt, without any visible from the right side.

Almost there! Sew from the right or wrong side making sure the stitching line is an even distance from the edge.


Final lap- stitch the binding closed

Step Six: Finishing touches

Snip away any stray threads and give the shirt a good press to smooth out any wobbly bits in the armholes.

Ta da! Done.



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