Shorten RTW Jacket Sleeves Without Removing Them

RTW Jackets

RTW Jackets

Dance costume season has begun and I’ve been tapped again to do costumes/props for two solos, a duo and the big production routine that has all 56 kids dancing in it. Unlike last year I don’t need to custom make each costume. This year Rennie chose gold polyester gabardine jackets and every dancer, both boys and girls, are all wearing this identical jacket. In large production numbers the size range of the dancers is really broad, there are kids who are only 9 years old and 17-18 year old teenagers already at their adult size. 14 jackets for the Level 2 kids need the sleeves shortened. Removing the sleeves on each jacket was not an option because it would be far too time consuming. So I came up with this method to shorten a sleeve that does not require removing the sleeve from the jacket. It works best for a plain, straight jacket sleeve with no vent.

Step 1: Determine The New Finished Sleeve Length

Have the wearer put on the jacket, button it and stand with their arms straight down in a natural stance. Roll the sleeve to the desired length, turning it under gives a more accurate take on the right length than rolling it up will provide. Align the seam lines and pin the sleeve in place. Do the same thing to the other sleeve as most people have one arm longer than the other.

Step 2: Mark the New Finished Sleeve Length

Leave the pinned sleeves in place. Remove the jacket and measure the length of the underarm seam from the bottom of the armhole to the rolled edge. If the jacket has a two or three piece sleeve measure the seam closest to the bottom of the armhole. Take out the pin and mark this length. The mark at the roll line is now the new finished sleeve edge. From the first mark add another mark 1 ½ inches down towards the open end. The 2nd mark (which is closer to the original finished sleeve) is the new cutting line. At this stage also remove any buttons or decorative trim that might be on the sleeves.

Step 3: Open Up The Sleeve

Turn the jacket inside out and inspect the sleeve linings. You will probably see on one or both sleeve linings a butted together seam such as the one shown above. RTW jacket linings are inserted with the bag method and this seam is generally the last seam sewn in the factory. Starting about 2 inches below the armhole rip open this seam all the way to the cuff. You may encounter some interior stitches (often in a contrast color usually at the elbow) hidden inside the seam allowances that hold the lining seam allowance to the sleeve seam allowance. Remove these interior stitches as well. Then rip out the stitches attaching the sleeve lining to the sleeve cuff. Pull down the turned up cuff. The whole thing should look as shown below. If you don’t see a butted together lining seam just rip open the seam at the lowest part of the armhole.

Turn the jacket right side out and pull the lining through the armhole, into the jacket body and out of the way. Measure the distance from the lower mark to the cut edge and carry this mark all the way around the sleeve. Cut off the excess fabric. Pull the lining back down into sleeve and smooth it out to fill the sleeve and cut the excess lining even with the new cut edge of the fashion fabric. Tip: RTW jackets generally have a piece of fusible interfacing at the cuff for a crisp finish and if this was removed when cutting add a new piece to each sleeve.

Step 5: Baste and Re-Sew The Lining To The Sleeve

At this stage the right sides of the sleeve and right side of the lining need to meet and be sewn back together again. The lining seam had to be opened up so that there is enough room to maneuver the fabric. Essentially this stage is sewing a flat piece (the lining) to a tube (the sleeve.)

Turn the jacket inside out, place it on a dress form or hanger and mark where the RS ripped seam matches its corresponding RS sleeve seam. Chalk, a sticker or tape is good, anything will work that clearly indicates the right side from the wrong side. Do the same thing with the other sleeve. This is an important step because the RS lining and RS sleeve must be matched up properly for sewing.

Leave the jacket on the dress form/hanger. Run your arm through the inside-out sleeve to make sure everything is hanging smoothly nothing is twisted (very important!) Turn back the sleeve into a cuff 4-6 inches deep. The right side of the fashion fabric will be facing up on the turn back. For the photos the jacket was placed on a flat surface to better illustrate this step,however, it really is best to work vertically because it helps to prevent twisting.

Find the lining seam edge that corresponds to the underarm seam on the jacket. Fold the lining back to reveal the right side, turn up the sleeve seam allowance and pin it to the right side of the sleeve exactly along its corresponding seam. Slowly work your way around the sleeve, pinning the edges, until you come back to the first pin. Gently pull the sleeve fabric out of the lining a bit more if you need more room to maneuver the edges for pinning (this is why the virtually entire lining seam needs to be ripped open.) Don’t worry about how it looks because as long as the seams were aligned correctly during pinning it will come out right in the end. When you come back to the first pin overlap it with the turned up lining. Thread baste by hand over the pins then remove them. YES you must hand baste! After basting gently turn the sleeve out and put the sleeve on your arm; if you can’t put your arm through the sleeve the lining is twisted. If that happens just remove the thread basting, re-pin and re-baste. Pin basting is possible but if the lining is not aligned correctly with the sleeve and it gets twisted that means you’ll be ripping stitches after sewing. Better to baste, test first and then sew.

Sew the lining to the sleeve with a 1/2 inch seam. Move slowly around the sleeve and rearrange the whole jacket as needed. The hand basting also makes it much easier to maneuver the fabric under the presser foot.

When it’s done push the sleeve out through the lining back to its normal position, butt the sleeve lining edges back together and re-sew the lining seam. If the sleeve does not have a butted lining seam just re-sew it butted together.

Press your new shortened sleeve edge. Re-attach buttons and trim.

A few things to note:

This method work best on a straight sleeve. If the sleeve is very tapered there may not be enough fabric to turn up the new sleeve. This sleeve alteration will also work for a two- or three-piece sleeve however if the sleeve is shortened more than an inch it may affect the drape because the sleeve edge has moved closer to the curve at the elbow. On the jackets that I just altered I’ve had to remove as much as two inches of length for the younger kids because these are adult size jackets, but hey these are dance costumes.

This method doesn’t really work for a vented sleeve because there will not be enough fabric to make a new vent, although I suppose a new faced vent could be added by cutting off the vent piece and moving it up the sleeve. A few jackets had sleeve vents and I just converted them to regular sleeve; again this is a dance costume so they really all need to be the same anyway.