Defining the Project

Problem: Full-length sleeves feel uncomfortable in warm work conditions.

Solution: A decision is made to change the sleeves, similar to a favorite blouse with a cuffed, three-quarter sleeve length.

Two Measuring Tools

A tape measure and hemmer are useful in taking measurements.

Tip: If unavailable, string can be cut to length of whatever needs to be measured and then measured on a standard ruler.

Taking Measurements from 3/4-sleeved Blouse

Before just cutting away the sleeves, it is best to get a clear idea about how much material to remove. The top part of the sleeve, due to draping over the shoulder, is actually longer than the underside.

The measurements from each blouse from the neck to the shoulder seam are about the same, five inches (5″), so no special adjustment needs to be made in figuring the desired sleeve length. In this case, the top part of the sleeve from the model blouse is 14 3/4″ (shoulder to cuff seam), but only 9 1/4″ on the underside.

The cuff from the model blouse is about 2 1/2 inches.

Special Instructions: The following directions are based on these measurements, you will need to adjust the measurements for your particular blouse or shirt size, if different.

When attempting to measure the sleeve, flatten it with your hands or a warm iron so there are no wrinkles between the shoulder seam axis running down the length of the sleeve and the under seam. Doing this will make cutting easy and accurate.

Measuring and Marking the Sleeve

Seam allowance must be added to the measured length before cutting the sleeve. A 1/4″ is used because the fabric needed for the new cuff is set, and you’ll want to get the most use of what’s available from the existing cuff.

So, the length of where you’ll cut the topside of the sleeve is 15″ (14 3/4″ + 1/4″).

You may use a straight pin to mark the spot where the sleeve is to be cut.

Tip: You may also mark the fabric with the edge of a thin soap bar, a water -solvable ink pen, or simply snip the desired spot with scissors.

Do the same with the underside of the sleeve, only remember this mark or snip will be at 9 1/2″ (9 1/4″ + 1/4″), as shown in the photo below.

Using a rotary or other long ruler, connect the two points and draw a straight line with a water-soluble ink pen.

Tip: If you don’t have a long enough ruler or yardstick, any straight edge will work, such as hard cardboard or the edge of a vinyl plastic sheet.

Cutting the Sleeve

Tip: Measure twice and cut once!

Carefully cut the sleeve with sharp, fabric scissors. If you have a cutting mat and rotary cutter, all the better. Just be sure the fabric has no large wrinkles or folds when you cut.

A rotary cutter is an indispensable sewing tool. Cutting is easier, faster, and more accurate than with hand scissors. Use it with a rotary mat and ruler.

Repeat the measuring and cutting steps for the second sleeve.

Tip: Instead of repeating the measuring steps above for the second sleeve, you may use the sleeve you have just finished cutting as a pattern for the second sleeve. Be sure to match up your seams and flatten your fabric.

Detaching and Opening the Cuff

A must-have in every seamstress’ tool organizer is a seam ripper. No matter how well you sew, this tool is indispensable when trying to remove one or more stitches.

The cuffs must be opened because they were designed to fit around the wrist, which has a smaller diameter than the arm where the 3/4-length sleeve will fall. This process will take some time, but remove any buttons, top stitching, and seam stitching because you are going to open the cuff and separate the pieces completely.

Tip: Carefully open 3-5 stitches, then pull the seam edges apart and rip the stitches from the inside of the seams, where the stitches are easier to see and catch As every two or three stitches are ripped, force the seams apart slightly farther. Continue until the entire seam is opened.

You are now going to remove al loose threads and press out the seam folds so the cuff pieces are flat.

Also remove any interfacing because the cuff is being resized.

A Mini-lesson on Interfacing: All cuffs, collars, and lapels have interfacing to help them keep their shape. There are two major kinds of interfacing attachment: iron-on and non-stick. Non-stick needs to held in place by stitching or spray-on basting mist. Iron-on interfacing comes in a variety of thicknesses, from light weight to heavy weight. A basic cotton-polyester blouse will take a light to medium weight interfacing. Interfacing gives body to collars, lapels, cuffs, and can even be used for waistbands. It’s always good to have some interfacing on hand.

Making the New Cuff

Tip: You can tell which side of a fabric is the right side by looking at each side. The right side will appear clearer in color and definition of any print with a smoother weave appearance than the wrong, or inside, of the fabric.

Aligning the cuff pieces so you have the greatest length and right sides together, sew a 1/4″ seam to join the pieces.

You are also going to take the interfacing, trim it as needed, and attach it to the lower half of the two cuff pieces you have just sewn together.

In this particular case, the cuff was double folded, so there was an adequate amount of fabric with which to work. The following photos show the process used in adapting the cuff.

Next, measure the width of the sleeve where the cuff will be attached. You are going doube this and add an additional 1/2″ because, in this method, the two sides of the cuff will be sewn together before you attach it to the sleeve. (Circumference of arm sleeve where to be sewn = 6″ + 6″ or 12″; an additional 1/2″ to allow for the cuff’s seams brings the necessary width to 13″.)

Tip: Although not shown, it is helpful to stay stitch 1/8″ to 3/8″ from the raw edge of the arm sleeve where the cuff will be attached. This will help stabilize the cross-grain of the fabric when sewing and keep the tendency for the fabric to stretch at a minimum.

Now you are going to measure off 13″ on your partially prepared cuff. This is best done by measuring from the center seam, in this case 6 1/2″ to the right and left of that center point. Fold the sleeve right on that seam, smooth the fabric flat, use one of the marking technique mentioned above, and carefully cut along your marked line. Again, if you have a rotary ruler, mat, and cutter, you may use these for this step.

Editorial note: When this picture was taken, I had only added 1/4″ to the sleeve’s width where the new cuff would be attached. So, be sure to allow your seam allowance for both sides of the cuff before cutting. Still measure from your center seam, though, and not from the raw edge of the center seam. (In the end, this small error did little harm because the cuff had an open slit when finished.)

Fold the cuff horizontally. Be sure your raw edges match. You may pin baste the two vertical raw edges you are about to sew with a 1/4″ seam. Sew the seams. Turn right sides out. Push out the corners of the cuff with a chopstick or other blunt tool.

Tip: It is helpful to press the newly sewn cuff with a warm iron. The iron’s thermal setting for cotton-polyester fabric is four (4). In fact, the iron is used when opening all freshly sewn seams. Doing so simply makes sewing easier and even makes your project look more professional.

Attaching the Cuff to the Sleeve

Notice that when you wear a blouse, the cuff opens at the underside of your arm. To make sure this happens, you are going to determine the shoulder seam axis from where the front and back meet. You do this by simply placing the sleeve on a flat surface and pressing it flat, ether with your hands or a warm iron.

Notice where the crease or fold falls at the raw edge of the sleeve. You’ll have one crease at the top (long side) of the sleeve, and another at the bottom (short side) of the sleeve.

Comparing the crease to the uncut model blouse, you will see that the point at which the cuff edge starts is about two inches from the axis fold on the back side of the sleeve. So, this is where you will begin to attach your cuff.

Sew the cuff on with a serger or similar edge-binding stitch. You use a 1/4″ seam to do this.

Editorial note: I own a Necchi Royal Series, machine designed for home management classes in high school. It is a heavy-duty, non-computerized machine. For my serger-type stitching, I use a straight stitch and then go over the seam edges again with a zig-zag stitch. The effect is more satisfactory than the blanket, or binding, stitch that is found on the machine.

Tip: Be sure to keep only one edge of the sleeve under the pressure foot at any given time. This is easy to do if you open the sleeve with the attached cuff under the pressure foot. As you sew, gently work the free part of the sleeve with your hands. This will keep the sleeve from getting bunched under the pressure foot and causing you to sew your sleeve shut.

For hand sewers: A back stitch works well to secure this type of seam, or at least a running stitch with a back stitch every three or four stitches. Raw edges can be gone over with a small cross stitch or an overcast stitch.

Trim loose threads off the completed edge. Take care not to cut your stitching!

Finally, you are going to reinforce the cuff-sleeve seam with top stitching. You should use thread that matches your fabric. If you are working with a print, use one of the colors found in the fabric. The purpose of reinforcing the seam with top stitching is to prevent the seam from rolling toward the hand and becoming exposed to view. The stitching should be done on the arm’s-side of the edge 1/16th to 1/8th inch from the seam.

Editorial note: At the time, the only matching thread I had was embroidery floss, so I did a running stitch by hand using a single embroidery strand. I placed my stitches about every 1/16th inch right near the seam’s edge. Half-hitch knots were worked invisibly into the fabric.

Repeat the steps as necessary to finish the other sleeve.

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