How to Shorten Sleeves the Easy Way

If your kids outgrow their clothes as quickly as mine, then learning how to shorten sleeves will help you stretch their wardrobe. It seems that every time I find cute clothes for my daughters, they only last a few months before they are too small or the season is over. Luckily, shortening sleeves has added new life to my daughter’s Winter dresses. Turning the sleeves from long to short allows winter dresses to last all summer — or at least until they get too short. It’s a toss-up which will happen first!

Easy Dress Refashion for Summer

RELATED: How to Add Length to a Dress, The Simple Seatbelt Hack that Saves Your Neck, Desk Chair Makeover

How to Shorten Sleeves the Easy Way {}

My grandparents lived through the Great Depression. Even when they were elderly, they still lived the unofficial slogan of that time period: “Eat it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” I am far from living that slogan, but I do try. I really hate to get rid of things that I know are still good. (Hence, my pack rat problem.)

This winter, I bought two of the cutest dresses for my daughter. Usually, this style of dress is shorter than we like, but since the dresses were from the teen section and my kiddo was between the kid and teen sizes, the dresses went to her knees. Now that it’s summer, it’s too hot for long-sleeved dresses, and they’ll be way too short by next winter.

I decided that shortening the sleeves would be the perfect solution. Enough small talk. Let me show you how to shorten sleeves the easy way.


Begin by deciding your new length.  Once you decide how long you want the shorter sleeves, add an extra inch to that length. (The sleeves always end up shorter than you think, and you will be using the extra length for the hem.) I cut my sleeves too short, so I didn’t have a full inch to use as the hem.

How to Shorten Sleeves the Easy Way - Hem and Pin {}

Cut off one sleeve.

How to Shorten Sleeves the Easy Way {}

Before you cut the other side, use the short sleeve as a pattern. If you just cut the other sleeve off by measuring the same length you did on the first sleeve, you may or may not end up with two sleeves of the same length. Measure the inside and outside length of the short sleeve you already cut, and transfer those measurements to the other side. Once you’re sure you have the length right, go ahead and cut the other sleeve. How to Shorten Sleeves the Easy Way - Measure once, cut twice {}

Turn the dress inside out, fold back about 1/2 inch of the sleeve edge, and pin it down.

How to Shorten Sleeves the Easy Way - Hem and Pin {}

Your sewing machine settings will depend on the type of fabric you are using. For a loosely knit fabric, set your machine like my settings below. (Use the overcasting stitch or the knit stitch. See this post to learn which is which.)

Summer Dress Refashion - Sewing Machine Settings {}

Most sewing machines have a snap-in storage compartment in front of the pressure foot. Remove it so that you can fit the sleeve over the arm of the machine.

Summer Dress Refashion Tutorial {}

Keep your stitch close to the cut edge of the fabric (not the folded edge). If your sleeve is narrower than the arm of the machine, then you are stretching the fabric around the arm. That means that the end of your sleeves will end up slightly wavy. That’s what happened to ours, and I think it adds a cute edge to the sleeves. If you’re with wider sleeves, your edge should end up smooth. If your sleeve is narrow, go slowly so that you can carefully move the sleeve around the machine arm as you sew.

How to Shorten Sleeves the Easy Way - after image{}

Remove the sleeve, trim the threads, and you’re done! Now you’ve got a fresh summer look, and you didn’t break the bank buying a new dress. You’re welcome!

I love this easy dress refashion for Summer! Learn how to shorten sleeves the easy way and stretch your clothing budget for Summer. {} #easysewing #dressrefashion #upcycle #frugal #tutorial

Products I Used

These links and the links in the materials section are affiliate links. I only link to products I think you’ll love!

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What’s your best trick to making clothes last longer? I’ve got a post coming about patching holes in jeans shorts. You know — the kind that the kids love that are already worn out and already have rips and holes? They never seem to last very long before the little holes become big holes! I’d love to hear your best hack in the comments.

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How to Add Length to a Dress or Skirt with Ribbon Tutorial {Full Instructions and Lots of Pictures} #sewinghack #frugal

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  1. Nice! It turned out awesome. I wish I could sew, but alas, I cannot. My mom can, so she’d probably help ;)

  2. That is clever to make a dress last for another season. That is a great way to save money.

  3. Cynthia Nicoletti says

    Such a great idea and looks pretty easy. I am not a sewer but I think I could do it !!

  4. Agnes Dela Cruz says

    I always believe that hand sewing is a talent, not all can sew a sleep of a loose button. I am good at this, I used to compete at school when I in grade school.

  5. This is a good idea! I think I will do this to the long sleeve dress that got burnt when I was ironing it. Nothing should go to waste!

  6. Thanks for the tip. I always want to know how to do this since I was little. I just need to borrow my granny’s machine, thanks so much!

  7. Alvern @ Success Unscrambled says

    I do enjoy making alterations to my clothes myself to get the perfect fit. As a teenager, I did not like seeing other girls in a similar outfit so I purchased material and made my own outfits and even got shoes covered to match. It was a lot of fun. Maybe I will start again once I can find awesome material at a great price.

    • That is so cool, Alvern! I remember taking sewing in school as a teenager. They don’t even offer the class at my kids’ school. I wish more kids learned to sew. That’s amazing that you made your own outfits.

  8. This is such a great idea, especially with clothes that have too tight sleeves. I wish I knew how to work with the sewing machine, I would modify so many of my clothes.

  9. Stephanie | Adventures in Aussieland says

    You did such a wonderful job shortening the sleeves on that dress! I am terrified I would stuff it up but I’ve always been super interested in sewing and fixing my own clothes.

    • Thanks, Stephanie. If you want to try it and are afraid you will mess it up, try cutting only an inch or two off the sleeve and practicing your sewing. Once you are sure you can do it, cut the sleeve to the actual length you would like.

  10. Thanks for sharing some amazing tips. And definitely this is going to help us a lot. I need to order sewing machine.

  11. Yes I love the refashion concept! Take a fall outfit and easily turn it into a summer one by cutting off sleves!

  12. I also hate getting rid of things are still good. Especially clothes. Unfortunately I don’t know how to sew but I do try to buy only what I need and make clothes last long.

    • Hi, HolyVeggies. I love that you only buy what you need. I think that’s a concept that is lost on a lot of people. It’s so tempting to buy every cute outfit you see.

  13. Enriqueta E Lemoine says

    OMG You’re so creative. I love the adding length with ribbon thing! That was so beautiful. Regarding the sleeves, you mastered the art. You did a great job and your girl is so beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you, Enriqueta. My daughter is beautiful inside and out. I added the ribbon to that dress years ago. I wish it still fit me. It’s sitting in my closet collecting dust.

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