How To Shorten Shirt Sleeves From The Shoulder

So, you love that shirt you just tried on, but there is just one problem – the sleeves are too long. And you have come to the right place if you are looking for a solution.

Shirt sleeves might seem too long if it is a hand-me-down that’s one size too big or maybe a boyfriend shirt. Though being a bit wider at the bust can still be handled, extra-long sleeves are truly inconvenient. Now, if you are a decent hand at sewing, fixing those long sleeves would be easy for you.

Read on to know how to shorten shirt sleeves from the shoulder. Let’s get started!

How To Shorten Shirt Sleeves From The Shoulder?

Shortening shirt sleeves from the shoulder can either be done by pinning the top sleeves or the back sleeves. You will have to pin the sleeves to get the length right and Serge the edges after that.

However, in both cases, you should only attempt to shorten it if you are sure about your sewing skills. It helps to have a fair idea about the sleeve construction. Also, attempt to shorten from the shoulders only when you are sure that shortening at the sleeves is not a viable option.  

You need to fold the extra fabric right over the top of your sleeves. The plan is to raise it on the shoulder such that when it gets pinned, it remains at the edge of your shoulder. After the sleeve gets pinned in place, you have two ways to fix the sleeve’s new position.

Pinning The Top Sleeves

Slide the pins on the shoulder, and when the sleeves are folded up, put a pin right at the fold. It means that when the pins that hold the sleeve up and on the shoulder are taken out, two rows of pins will be present – one will be at the shoulder and the other row at the sleeve.

If the sleeve gets taken up too, slide one pin in the sleeve and take out the pin that is holding that sleeve to the jacket. In case the sleeve remains pinned at the actual stitch line to the shoulder, you will only have to pin in the shoulder beside that folded fabric.

Pinning The Back Sleeves

Make a line drawing of one armhole and note down the length that you want to take out from the shoulder. It is suitable for when only the shoulder gets taken up. 

At the time of cutting the extra drop of the shoulder, the aim is to not turn the armholes too wide. So, you will not be taking too much from the sides of the armholes. 

If some of the fabric is being taken from your sleeves too, you need to fold up and pin further down from the joining part at the armhole. Next, push the pins in the sleeve part. When the pins that hold the shoulder and the sleeve together are taken out, measure the length that is reduced from the sleeve cap. Apart from shirts, this technique will also work on casual loose jackets.

Then, take a piece of fabric and label it with the words ‘Right Sleeve,’ and pin that to the right sleeve. Now, repeat the same with the left sleeve. Finally, unpick your sleeves from the shoulder. 

If you consider yourself an experienced seamstress, you can cut right beside the pins to allow seam allowance at the shoulder. Also, if some fabric gets taken from the sleeves, it is okay to cut but keep the seam allowance on your sleeves in mind. Additionally, put a nick right at the center top.

For the ones who are extra cautious, it helps to put dots right where the pins get placed. Also, place one more dot below it on the shoulder for your seam allowance and another on the sleeve right above it for seam allowance.

In the next step, cut right at the top of the sleeve, while making sure that you keep the exact curve at the front and the back of the sleeve. Now, sew right around the sleeve cap, starting about five cm (two inches) from the underarm seam. You need to put a gathering stitch as you sew around that armhole. Then, stop at the same distance from the underarm seam. The new sleeve cap would need a slight bit of gathering. It does not need to contain any gathers at the time of sewing, but it will get the sleeves a decent fall when finished.

The penultimate stage is to pin the right sleeve to the shirt’s right armhole. For this, start by pinning from the shoulder seam around the front. Then, go up to the shoulder seam and right around the back. After this, ease your sleeve in but in case there is excess at the inside seam of the arm, you can either take in or put a dart at the front panel in the direction of the bust. Also, remember that easing needs to go at the side of the front and the back of an armhole.

Finally, pin and sew your left sleeve back on the armhole before overlocking or serging the edge. In case you don’t have a serger or an overlocker, try doing a French seam for attaching the sleeve.

Tips of Shortening Sleeves From The Shoulders

While shortening the sleeves from your shoulders, when a part of your sleeve cap gets reduced, the most important part is reshaping the sleeve caps. If you have some experience in making or altering clothes, along with some idea about sleeve construction, you will be just fine.  

It is also worth remembering that the sleeve cap on the shirt is not the same as the sleeve cap on the stretch top. As such, the shirt will be bigger, which means that they tend to be more forgiving in the shape of your sleeve cap.

Additionally, remember not to cut too far in both the back and front parts. So, the shoulder can remain hanging over the arm, even though the back and front section need less to be taken from it. When too much gets taken from the back and front, the armhole starts looking too big.

You need to be perfect with your pinning. So, the sleeve has to be pinned in the place when the person puts the shirt on at the fitting. Keep in mind that you should not take too much away from the back and front parts (if it is not too big), with a bit more from the bottom and top of the sleeve. However, take nothing from below the armhole on the garment’s body.

When To Shorten Shirt Sleeves At The Shoulder?

Shortening the sleeves at the shoulders is not that simple and needs a lot more skill than just hemming your sleeves from the bottom. In fact, it is also easier and more affordable to shorten shirt sleeves at the bottom. However, there are times when there is no workaround to shortening the sleeves at the shoulder.

In the following situations, you will have to start working around the shoulder seams.

  • The button holes present in the sleeve would make it difficult for you to hem it to perfection.
  • The decorative accents or zippers or a particular type of trim design at the wrist will be affected if the sleeves are shortened.
  • The shape of the shirt sleeves flares out right around the wrists and would lose the proportions if you shorten it there.
  • There are finished openings that will look like small stubs if shortened at the wrists.

If any of the above circumstances hold true for your shirt, you need to stop trying to shorten the shirt at the wrist because that will simply ruin it.

Issues To Remember When Shortening From The Shoulders

There are two main issues that you need to be particularly mindful about when shortening the sleeves from the shoulders.

First off, after you cut the extra sleeve head for shortening it, you might have a small arm opening for attaching to the shoulder opening. So, they will not fit together anymore. The body of your garment might need to get gathered up for fitting the sleeves back on. Now, it will change the look of not only the garment but the complete silhouette. It might not be a major issue if the hemming is only a little bit shorter.

You might alter the shape of that sleeve head by trying to shorten it. It is meant to fit the underarm and shoulder area to perfection. Thus, trimming it might have unwanted effects around your shoulder with respect to aesthetic, comfort, and movement.

Wrapping up

As you already know, shortening sleeves at the shoulder is doable, even though it is a bit complicated. The only word of caution is that try out the suggestions given above only if you are good at sewing.



I'm Jessica Flores, a professional fashion designer and an expert seamstress. Crafting has always been a deep-seated passion of mine, one that has flourished and evolved over the years. I've dedicated considerable time to both studying and practicing in the realm of fashion and sewing, amassing a wealth of experience and skills. It brings me great joy to share these insights and experiences with you all, hoping to inspire and foster a similar passion for the art of sewing.

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