How to shorten a sleeve pattern

I bet you thought you could just whack the excess length off the bottom edge of your sleeve pattern, am I right? Bad idea, unless of course you like a really loose fit on your wrist. ūüôā Instead, I’ll show you how easy peasy it is to shorten a sleeve pattern.

Here is what you need to get started:

  1. a “too long” sleeve pattern
  2. an 18 inch ruler
  3. a pencil
  4. some kind of tape – either blue painters tape (easily removable) or transparent tape (permanent)
  5. extra tissue paper
  6. paper scissors

 Everything needed

One thing you really need to keep in mind is when doing any pattern adjusting is the grainline. You either need to maintain the existing grainline, or redraw it so it is accurate. For this adjustment it is easy to maintain the existing grainline.

Step #1. Fold¬†the pattern piece perpendicular to the grainline mark on the pattern piece. There may or may not be a “lengthen/shorten” line drawn on the pattern, but you can always draw your own.¬†There is already a lengthen/shorten line on my sleeve pattern, so all I did was fold “horizontally” ¬†on one of the 2 lines across the entire pattern piece. Notice that the vertical grainline marks are directly on top of each other. This means grainline goodness, peeps.

First Fold

Step #2. Fold the pattern piece again half of the total amount you want to shorten the sleeve. I am shortening the sleeve 2 inches total, so my second fold is 1 inch from the first fold.

Second Fold Measure 1

To make sure the grainline is maintained, this second fold must measure exactly one inch across the entire pattern piece, and the vertical grainline must stay parallel. I like lining my pattern pieces up on a grided mat so it is easy to see/correct the grainline.

Second Fold Measure 2 

Step #3. Draw the hemline (shown in blue on the left side) across the pattern piece. My pattern piece specified a 1 1/4 inch hem, so I drew a blue line 1 1/4 inches from the bottom edge of the pattern. This is¬†all in preparation for blending the little “jog” on the sleeve seam that was created by folding the pattern. You can see the little jog about in the middle of the picture below.

Side Seam Before Blending

Now why, you ask, do I need to draw the hemline? Because¬†you are blending the line between the hem edge and the top of the sleeve seam – not between the bottom of the pattern piece and the top of the sleeve seam. If you blended all the way to the bottom of the pattern piece you would remove the shaping needed for turning up the hem allowance inside the finished sleeve. Just trust me on this one. ūüėČ

Step #4. Place the ruler between the “blue hem edge” and the top of the sleeve seam, as shown below, and draw a new line.

 Blending Ruler Position

Your new sleeve seam line should look like this:

Blended Side Seam

Easy peasy, right? Tape down the new tissue underneath the original pattern,¬†cut the new sleeve seam on the blended line, repeat drawing, cutting and taping the other side of the sleeve pattern, and then party with your “just right” sleeve.

Happy sewing!!

Maris Olsen

5 Responses to How to shorten a sleeve pattern

  1. Wow Thank you so much. I am in the middle of making a top to wear to the Jubilee garden party at the British High Commission. I have some beautiful material which I bought in India a few years ago which is ideal for Vogue 8821. started cutting out only to find that I am about 2″ short of material for the sleeves. I could make the sleeveless version but unfortunately my arms are not quite what they used to be to give me the confidence to go sleeveless!!

    Your timely blog has saved the day.


      • Once again thank you so much. The top worked out really well – praises ALL round – the alteration on the sleeve was excellent. On completion it looked as though the sleeve was meant to be that short!

        Absolutely great party. The PIMMS went down a treat!!!


        • Awesome – so glad to help out – and happy you enjoyed the party as well. Always ups the enjoyment factor to look and feel great in your clothes. Thanks for sharing!

Leave a reply