Clothing alterations – sleeves and collar

Do you have some clothes in your wardrobe that stay there for years? You just don’t wear them because of a little detail you don’t like or some fit issues. But the fabric is too pretty so you just can’t let it go. Why don’t you alter it to your taste?

Clothing alterations require some practice, but they are nothing to be afraid of. They are not as exciting as sewing a new piece of clothing, but definitely worth the effort at the end. Here is an online course that can help you get the basics: Tailoring Ready-to-Wear.

In this tutorial, I’m going to show you how I’ve altered the sleeves and the collar of this dress. The dress was a gift from a friend and we really liked the liveliness and print of the fabric, but it didn’t fit her body type and taste.

clothing alterations - sleeve and collar

You can use this tutorial to alter the size of sleeves and collar whatever the reason is. At the bottom of this page, you will find the video tutorial. If you prefer written instructions, here are the steps to follow:

Detach the details we are going to alter

What I need to do first is to remove the collar (picture 1) and the sleeves (picture 2) completely. I need to remove the cuffs and any remaining gathering, so I could work on the sleeves without anything standing in the way.

I was happy to see that they’ve been attached in a circle so I don’t have to break the side seam, just detach the sleeves.

Alter the sleeves

I’ve prepared the sleeve detail from another pattern that I have and I am going to use it to replicate the curve (picture 3).

diy sewing alterations

Usually, I would prefer a pattern for woven fabric if I work on wovens or a pattern for knitted fabric if I alter knits. In this case, there is no difference between front and back bodice, so I am using a pattern without a difference in front and back curve.

Also, I am using a pattern for a shorter sleeve, so I need to increase the length. To achieve this, I am going to draw a straight line down (picture 3). If you have a pattern with the right length around, by all means, use it to simplify the process.

I always like to measure before I cut, so I am using the cuff to see if there is any need to change the width (picture 4).

My sleeve turned out to be too wide at the hemline, so I am going to take it in. You have to be careful to leave some seam allowance. I might leave it a bit wider if I want to keep a bit of the gathering. We don’t want to restrict the movement of the arm too much.

We need to check if everything is correct before we cut. So, what I am going to do is measure if the length of the sleeve curve matches the length of the armhole curve.

how to tailor sleeves and collar

The sleeve measures 6 ½ inches (picture 5). The armhole curve turned out to be 7 ½ inches, which is a difference of an inch (picture 6). So I need to work on the sleeve a bit more.

What I am going to do is extend the length without changing the curve. I am going to redraw the whole curve a bit lower so that I have enough fabric for the new curve. I am adding that missing inch to the width of the sleeve (picture 7) and then connect the end of the curve with the end of the hem (picture 8).

My sleeve pattern is also a size smaller, so this is where the difference in width comes from. But it can happen even if the size matches. That’s why I thought it would be nice to demonstrate what to do in those cases.

What’s left for me to do here is cut out the new shape of the sleeve (picture 9).


how to tailor a dress

Once again, I am going to check if the new curve of the sleeve matches the armhole precisely. And it does, so I am using this new sleeve as a pattern for the second one (picture 10).

Alter the collar

When I removed the collar, my first intention was to remove it completely and then make the neckline a bit lower and topstitch. Then I realized that it actually matches nicely with the cuffs and belt, so I’ve decided to leave it, just make it a bit smaller.

To change the shape and size of the collar, I need to turn it inside out.

sewing alteration neckline


I am pinning both layers of the collar together so that everything stays in place (picture 12).

I am marking the new width of the collar at two inches (picture 13). Don’t forget to leave seam allowance in addition to the width you want. I am going to serge it, so my seam allowance is not big. You should know that collars are usually not sewn on the serger, but I am being lazy and doing the whole altering on one machine only.

Here are both details of the collar, closed at the bottom (picture 15). I also made the side seam of the sleeves and attached the cuffs (picture 16). The final step would be to assemble everything back in place.

how to make sewing alterations

But before I do that, I should go and iron all new seams so they look better.

Sew everything back in place

To attach the sleeves back in place, first I am going to mark the center of the sleeve. Then, I am going to pin the sleeve to the armhole, starting at the side seams. Next, I align the center of the sleeve to the shoulder seam. The rest of the sleeve I distribute to the armhole. Use as many pins as you need to secure everything in place.

The sleeve matched beautifully (picture 17), so I am going to the same with the other one. Once I am ready, I will sew the sleeves back in place.

diy tailoring

The last thing I need to do is put back the collar. I am going to pin it in place as I did with the sleeves. First, at the center back and then at the center front (picture 18). While I am pinning, I am careful to go through all 3 layers of fabric. If this is challenging, stitch both layers of the collar together first (with a straight stitch) and then pin them to the dress. I distribute the rest of the collar to the neckline (picture 18) and do that with both collar details (picture 19). Then, I make the seams.

I happen to like the altered dress much more. And I hope you found some inspiration in this tutorial to do clothing alterations according to your own style.

Here is the video tutorial on this sewing alterations:

Do you have any suggestions or questions you want to ask? Drop me a line below.

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