DIY Alteration Tutorial: Sewing/Resizing a Long Sleeve Blouse

Per your requests, below are the steps I took to completely re-size a long-sleeve blouse. I’m sure it’s not the professional way to do it (readers – please share any tips or corrections), but I just followed logical guesses. The text in red indicates when to actually sew.
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1. Find a basic blouse that already fits you the way you want the new one to fit. This can be your “pattern.” Turn the too-big blouse inside-out, and lay the “pattern” blouse on top of it, aligning the shoulders.
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2. Using fabric chalk (you can buy these at sewing/craft stores or on eBay), mark how much to take in on each side of the torso. Start at the bottom of the armpit and go all the way down to the hem. Repeat on both sides and measure to make sure both sides are equal. Stitch along both sides of the torso, exactly where marked.
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At this point, turn the too-big blouse rightside-out and try it on (yes, the shoulders and sleeves will be awkward since only the torso has been taken in). Check if the torso width is per your liking and also check to make sure the armhole width isn’t too tight. Undo the stitches and re-sew, if adjustments are necessary.

3. Turn the blouse inside-out again. Use chalk and mark the new shoulder width on the too-big blouse. Trace the curve of the new armhole from the top (where the two black arrows are pointing) all the way down to the bottom of the new armhole, which is where we started marking the dotted line in step #2. Note: the armhole curvature on the front and back are not the same. Using chalk, try to mirror the curve on the “pattern” shirt to the best of your ability.
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4. Using tiny scissors, snip the original stitching that attached the sleeves to the torso. Immediately mark both sleeves with chalk (the shirt should still be inside-out) to make sure we re-attach the proper sleeve to the proper side. I use numbers to make it extra clear.

5. Next, trim the armholes down to the new curved holes that we drew in step # 3. When cutting off excess fabric, make sure to leave a 1 cm margin outside of the line you traced. In this step, also make sure to trim ONLY the torso piece.
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6. Now move onto trimming the sleeves. Compare the removed sleeve against the “pattern” blouse sleeve and mark the new length. Keeping the original curvature of the sleeve, trim the length down, making sure to leave a 1 cm margin again outside of the chalk line.

**If you have a blouse that fits perfectly in the shoulders/torso but the sleeves are too long, one option is to shorten the sleeves from the shoulders. I know some tailors do this for sleeves that have cuffs or other details at the hand opening that are hard to alter.**
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7. Re-position the trimmed sleeve against the trimmed armhole and tack in place using a pin at the top of the shoulder seam. Make sure that the numbers we noted in step #4 match up. At this point, the entire shirt should still be facing inside-out.
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8. From the armhole, reach your arm through the sleeve piece only, and turn it rightside-out, but while keeping it in place. This part is a little tricky to describe. So, if we are looking at both pieces on the floor in step 7, reach your right arm into the sleeve, grab the sleeve cuff, and pull it through back out towards the right. This entire time, the small pin at the top of the shoulder should still be in place.
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9. Place the sleeve (now rightside-up) into the armhole, making sure the edges of the armhole is aligned with the sleeve hole. The torso should now still be inside out. and the pin should still be in place.
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10. Holding the sleeve in place with the armhole, stitch along the edge of the armhole to attach both pieces. Per a tip from sewing expert Sew Petite Gal, start at the top of the shoulder (where our little pin is) and stitch down one side, and then go back up to the top of the shoulder and stitch down the other side. This way, if your sleeve piece is not a perfectly-cut fit for the armhole, then any mismatch will occur at the armpit and be more easily concealed.
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11. After the sleeve gets attached, turn the entire blouse to the right side and try it on, making sure that no stitching was accidentally done on the visible outside. All stitching should be done on the inside-facing side.

If the armhole is comfortable and the sleeve length fits right, turn the entire blouse inside out again to make final adjustments. If the sleeves are too wide, trace a new sleeve width using the “pattern.” Stitch along the new sleeve width, continuing your stitch to the armpit, and down the upper torso slightly just the clean up that junction. Fade your stitch line in with the original torso stitches we did in step #2.
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You’re done! Turn the entire blouse rightside-out again and try it on. If all is well, iron along all of the new stitches we made. If you have a serger machine, lock the edges of the raw seams to prevent fraying. If you don’t, I use the zig zag stitching on my basic stitch machine to do a cursory locking of the raw edges.

12. Optional:< /i> The last thing I did was remove a frilly edge running along the front buttons. I thought the blouse would look less childish and more classic without this detail.
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For those who are interested in learning how to sew, I highly recommend taking a beginner’s course and starting with an affordable machine like this Brother Basic Stitch one. I took a class as a teen in China, where I learned the basics of stitching and using a sewing machine. If anyone has recommendations for classes in the U.S. or tips on how to begin, please share in the comments!

Leave a Comment

55 Comments

  1. Joanna wrote:

    Thanks so much for this tutorial! Just bought a polka dotted jcrew blouse online and I'm swimming in the sleeves (total bummer!) so this is just what I need. Wish me luck…I hope I don't butcher it bc I've been so excited about this blouse!
    Beloved Jar of Clay

    Posted 11.16.13 Reply
  2. Wow.. you alter all the clothes yourself?

    Posted 9.3.13 Reply
  3. Lu wrote:

    Cool!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Posted 8.19.13 Reply
  4. HI JEAN !! I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR POSTING YOUR WAY OF RESIZING TOPS. I'VE JUST PURCHASED A LOVELY RAYON TUNIC TOP AND NEED TO RESIZE THE ARMPITS AND SHOULDERS. I TRIED IT WITH AN OLDER BLOUSE, BUT I SEEM TO ALWAYS CUT IT TOO SMALL, AND AM LEFT WITH HANDING IT ON TO SOMEONE WHO CAN WEAR IT. NATURALLY, IT'S BEEN CUT DOWN AND THE FABRIC CAN'T BE REPLACED. I HAVE A FASHION SHOW TO ATTEND..THE SHOP WHERE I VOLUNTEER IS GOING TO HAVE IT IN SEPTEMBER, AND THIS TOP PERFECTLY COMPLIMENTS THE TAFFETA SKIRT I PLAN ON WEARING DURING THIS OCCASION. SURE DON'T WANT TO MESS THIS ONE UP…OR ANY MORE AFTER THIS !! SO…..MANY THANKS FOR YOUR HELP AND IF I GET SOME BEFORE AND AFTER PICS, MAYBE I CAN PUT THEM IN HERE TO SHARE !!

    LINDA

    Posted 8.17.13 Reply
  5. …it seems so easy, thanks much for the lessons

    Posted 6.18.13 Reply
  6. Amanda wrote:

    lovely project!

    To make the adjustments easier and more fluid (less hassling with trying on and repinning all the time), I would recommend completely taking apart the pattern shirt and creating pattern pieces out of paper. Then, take apart the thrifted shirt and use the pattern pieces to cut the armholes and bodice to the perfect measurements. As a bonus, you can then use those pattern pieces over and over again to recreate the perfect shirt with ease.

    Posted 12.29.12 Reply
  7. Jackie wrote:

    Hi Jean, your blog is sooo awesome! It was from reading your blog that I went out to purchase a sewing machine, but you make all this look so deceptively easy! Having no sewing experience, this is all a bit overwhelming for me, but I'm trying.

    If you read this, I'd love it if you could clarify a few things for me.

    In step 5, you mention cutting only the torso piece, this means cutting away the excess fabric that you marked off with white chalk, is that right?

    And as you take in the width of the sleeves, how do you actually do this by sewing? You say stitch along a line indicating your desired width but then how do you close up the the two sides after you've cut out the offending extra fabric?

    I'm not sure if the questions I'm asking have to do with the basics of sewing. Since I'm a complete newb to sewing, even something like this befuddles me…

    You make it look soooo easy!

    Posted 12.28.12 Reply
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    Posted 10.15.12 Reply
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    Posted 10.14.12 Reply
  10. This was really helpful! Thanks 🙂

    http://www.ragsandrichesblog.com

    Posted 10.9.12 Reply
  11. Grace Cho wrote:

    How did the J.Crew double cloth slim trench work out for you?? I'm 5'2 and the sleeves on the 0P were way too short for me 🙁 Tried on a 00R in stores, but then the sleeves ended up being too long, so now I'm waiting for a 2P to come in the mail.

    Posted 10.6.12 Reply
  12. Anonymous wrote:

    Really enjoyed this post Jean, thanks for the clear and informative tutorial! Makes me want to learn to sew! : )

    Posted 10.3.12 Reply
  13. Archana wrote:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    Posted 10.3.12 Reply
  14. Stephanie wrote:

    You speak of tiny scissors when taking out old stitching, I'd like to recommend a seam ripper. It will be the best dollar (or two) you'll ever spend. Try it.

    And thank you for the tutorial!

    Posted 10.2.12 Reply
  15. Bromeliad wrote:

    Just picked up a snakeskin blouse size 10 (I feel like I'm molting while wearing it) and I'm looking forward to sizing it down. Thanks for the tips.

    Posted 10.2.12 Reply
  16. Thank you very much for posting this! it will really help me, since you show here some aspects I never even considered neccessary, but now I see they really are! please do post more alterations for vintage clothing! they are very helpful!
    http://www.anasblogana.blogspot.ro

    Posted 10.2.12 Reply
  17. Theresa wrote:

    Thanks for the great tutorial! Also, I like your shopping posts, but I actually love these DIY posts much more. Other fashion bloggers out there who do this kind of thing don't tend to get the classy, expensive-looking results you do, so I love coming to your blog and finding a valuable post on upcycling clothes in a classy way. Please keep it up! 🙂

    Posted 9.28.12 Reply
  18. Lisa wrote:

    Thanks for your reply. Can't wait to see your review of them!

    Posted 9.28.12 Reply
  19. Midori wrote:

    i love your alterations posts!

    Posted 9.28.12 Reply
  20. Bonnie wrote:

    hi jean! what sewing machine do you use?

    Posted 9.28.12 Reply
  21. Jean, although I don't post often, I'm a long time reader and had to pipe in and say thank you for this tutorial! I'm petite as well and need alterations all the time – I recently bought a sewing machine and am teaching myself in the hopes of doing my own alterations, DIY, and maybe even eventually sewing from scratch! Keep these coming and have a great weekend!

    Posted 9.28.12 Reply
  22. Marmander wrote:

    Thanks Jean for such a great post. I'm inspired to start altering my clothes too. And your posts are so informative. I had a question regarding your Brother sewing machine. Would it be good for hemming denim?

    Posted 9.28.12 Reply
  23. le th wrote:

    Dear Jean, I need a bag to go to work. And I have to choose between edie and longchamp planètes tote, so could you give me some advices? I'm so confuse. Thank you!!!

    Posted 9.28.12 Reply
  24. Hi Lisa! I'm a 5 too and usually a 3.5 kids. Got a 4 to try in the boots.

    Posted 9.28.12 Reply
  25. s wrote:

    love the dots! xO!
    http://www.thehautecookie.com

    Posted 9.27.12 Reply
  26. lin wrote:

    thanks for sharing how you slimmed the shirt. it turned out great. i'm planning on purchasing a sewing machine so i can do some of my own alterations too. you've inspired me with all these DIY tutorials. 😉

    Posted 9.27.12 Reply
  27. Jane wrote:

    I've been a sewer for years. One tip: IRON the seams as you're sewing. The crisp look of an ironed seam makes things look much more professional and clean.

    Posted 9.27.12 Reply
  28. Incredible! That's exactly what I want to do with clothes in the future. I'm going to start sewing lessons on Saturday. Maybe that'll help me understand what you actually did! I'm going to a small studio in Brooklyn and also to The Sewing Studio in midtown Manhattan.

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  29. You did such a wonderful job here! I've never done a complete blouse overhaul like this before so I definitely learned something here. I stand by my opinion that sewing from scratch is easier. I have a great deal of admiration for your skills here so I had to laugh when you referred to me as an "expert". 😀

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  30. Sandra wrote:

    Ordered these boots myself this morning after reading your post! Your blog is a great resource, not just for petites, thanks you!

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  31. Unknown wrote:

    Wow! that is a lot work almost like making a new blouse on its own! Amazing job!

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  32. Abby wrote:

    I have been dying to try this myself for years, but I haven't had the courage. I've got the pics now, step by step…I have no excuse to not do it!

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  33. wow such a good idea! and ive always wondered how to alter a shirt. your shirt looks great now, including that skirt!

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  34. Anonymous wrote:

    So glad to hear you are still blogging.

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  35. Lisa wrote:

    Stuart Weitzman kids boots… that is SUCH a great idea! 🙂 Thank you!! May I ask what size you purchased? I think we have similar sized feet (I am usually a size 5 at Aldo).

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  36. Dzung wrote:

    i'm so inspired!! you are so brave to do this to your clothes! i would butcher it. completely. but maybe i should buy a few just pieces to practice. This is brilliant!! love your blog too! 🙂

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  37. Another great tutorial. I can do this!!

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  38. Grace wrote:

    That is a lot of work Jean, my hat off to you. I have started sewing lessons through a website – and this is for readers who might like an affordable online sewing class. I take it from Craftsy.com and started with the Couture class because I already know how to sew. The lessons are about 45mins to an hour long and if you sign up, they will alert you when classes are at $19.99, which is what I paid for most of my other classes. You get to review your lessons again and again and they have patterns for download so you can follow the class.

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  39. Sheila wrote:

    Amazing job!!!!! I wish I can be talented and know how to sew like you! I can save myself a ton of money! -_- Love the after outfit alot! That wool skirt def looks better as a shorter mini. 🙂

    xo – Sheila

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  40. WOW. I'm completely amazed. I really want to learn how to sew and be able to do some DIYs like this! Thanks for the tutorial and would really love to hear of any ideas on those beginner's courses! 🙂

    xo, Yi-chia

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  41. Anonymous wrote:

    Hi Jean, amazing work! I see you fold the raw edges in, instead of hemming them. Does that make the seams thicker/stiffer than otherwise?

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  42. Olivia wrote:

    Thanks Jean!!

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  43. I love it when you do this DIY Tutorial posting. It’s inspiring me to do the same thing, not that I know how, but it’s very motivating. Thank you. I can't wait until I have a sewing machine.

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  44. The main reason why I start reading your blog (and love it!) is that you're doing with all these clothes, converting them to masterpieces.

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  45. Thanks for sharing this info! 🙂

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  46. Awesome tutorial! I am inspired by your transformation. I am interested in trying this with my J Crew silk blouses. Any experience/suggestions with sewing silk?

    😀
    http://preponderance-of-fashion.blogspot.com/

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  47. mingming wrote:

    Great tutorial Jean! Some good places to learn sewing:

    Locally:
    -Check your local community college or county adult/community education courses for sewing class listings
    -Some Joann fabrics offer basic sewing classes as well
    -If you have a local fabric store it can sometimes offer classes
    -Vendors for sewing machines will often have courses on using the machines

    Online:
    -Craftsy is a place that offers online sewing classes with videos and you can ask instructors questions; most of their teachers are fairly well-known in the sewing world

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  48. You are multi talented, Jean!
    Can you still speak Chinese? Cantonese or Mandarin?

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  49. Elizabeth wrote:

    Does any one know of any online lessons on basic sewing?

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  50. Megan wrote:

    Thanks so much for the tutorial, Jean! I have a silk Ann Taylor blouse from the thrift store that I want to slim down. I'm not an expert at sewing (at all), but I'm going to give this a try!

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  51. Tegan wrote:

    So helpful!! Thanks for posting this. I'm tired of belting my too-big blouses!

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  52. i love how you manage to alter these things to fit. i'm from Singapore and you might want to check out G2000 or the many online blogshops we have here, petite is the norm, you might enjoy being able to fit into a regular S here.

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  53. Caroline wrote:

    Thanks for the tutorial! FYI, places like Joann's Fabrics offer sewing classes often, as do independent fabric stores and sewing machine shops. I would start there, and most Indy places also offer private lessons as well.

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  54. Denysia Yu wrote:

    This shirt looks super cute with the added ruffles! 🙂

    Posted 9.26.12 Reply
  55. Ahhh, so great!! <3 Love the ruffles, hihi!

    ♥♥♥

    Posted 9.25.12 Reply

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