T-shirt sleeve/shoulder seam alteration

I just had what I consider a success with a simple(ish) alteration on a t-shirt, and although I didn’t take a “before” photo and my nightime self-portrait attempts for the “after” shots didn’t turn out well, I still had to share.

A very common fitting problem for me with purchased tops is that if they fit in the torso, they are too large in the shoulders, which can make them look boxy and dowdy.  This t-shirt had that problem, so I tried something I remembered seeing once in a sewing book: I used tailor’s chalk to draw a line about 1.5″ in towards my neck from where the top of the sleeve joined the shoulder of the shirt, tapering back to the seamline about 3/4 of the way toward the bottom of the armhole.  Then I cut along the line, removed the extra fabric (using a seam ripper to undo the original seam) and sewed the new seam.  I forgot to leave myself a seam allowance, but since my seam was just a 1/4″ overlocked seam, it still worked.  The shirt will still never be a perfectly-fitting shirt, but it’s better than it was, and it’s comfy enough that it was worth it to me to alter it.  I don’t think this alteration would work with woven fabric, though, because the sleeve had to be stretched some to fit back onto the now-larger armhole.  The alteration could also make the sleeves too short or make them hang wrong (but I wear these pushed up, anyway).

Removed pieces

By the way, for ripping serged seams, or for any seams, really, I find this tool to be far preferable to a traditional seam ripper:

You can find this for a few dollars at fabric stores, or I believe you can find sturdier models (which are actually repurposed surgical tools) at online notions sites such as Clotilde or Nancy’s Notions.  I buy the cheap ones and they tend to break where the metal part attaches to the plastic, so I have to replace them pretty often.

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12 Responses to T-shirt sleeve/shoulder seam alteration

  1. Kristina P. says:

    Do you want to be my personal tailor? I have a wool coat I need pockets added to.

  2. Jen says:

    Hey, I was wondering if you have ever done a tutorial or found a good one on darning?

    • zstitches says:

      What kind of darning? I do tons of machine darning (I just did some last night) and I can tell you right here and now how to do it. It is the same as free-motion quilting, so you need a darning foot for your machine and you need to lower the feed dogs. I usually reinforce the hole with some matching fabric behind it; often I will use Steam-a-Seam or some other fusible to adhere the fabric on the back. Then I just free-motion stitch over the hole until I’m satisfied. If you want to be elegant about it you can use fine-weight cotton sewing thread for your darning, but I use what I have on hand, which is usually Gutermann polyester thread. (I have wondered before whether I’m the only modern woman who mourns the days when they made thread specifically for darning.) A machine-darned hole is a relatively ugly repair but it is sturdy–in fact, the repair will almost certainly outlast the rest of the article of clothing.

      • zstitches says:

        I forgot to say that when I stitch over the hole I try to do it in a nice even back-and-forth so that it blends in with the weave of the fabric. But this is definitely still not an invisible mend, but sometimes I just don’t care and just want the clothing to last longer even if it’s scarred.

        • Jen says:

          Thank you! I sort of suspected that such was the case, because they call the free motion foot a “darning foot” as if that were more important than quilting (nonsense). Alex is always wearing a hole in the heel of the white socks he wears every day, and the socks are in excellent condition otherwise. I think that I will cut up one sock and use it for the reinforcement piece. It makes a big difference for me to go from suspicion to Zina explained confidence. Many thanks!

          • zstitches says:

            I do throw holey socks away, but I also only buy the very cheap ones.

            I recently heard that D.I. no longer keeps holey clothes to sell in bulk for rags, but just throws them away, and I’m still grieving about it. I hate putting something in a landfill that could be recycled.

          • zstitches says:

            Oh, and you’ll want to use a ball-point needle for darning knits or you will be making new holes.

  3. Megan says:

    The shirt looks great!

    • the MomB says:

      It does look great! And I’ve found a way that usually works for making the armhole smaller on woven (or knit) fabrics.

  4. grandma weight says:

    Nice job! I have to alter all the shirts I buy, too. Liked your ideas and that seam ripper tool! I’ll have to look for one! It’s fun to see the photos of your darling kids!

  5. Loved your idea. I just finished altering a woven top and it looks 100% better. I did it by hand too rather than taking out the sewing machine. Thanks

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