Anyone else need to shorten sweatshirt sleeves? A life-hack tutorial

So I appreciate this is a massive step away from what I normally blog about, but anyway, this is what I did today that made me feel proud:


Seriously. What do mums do if sewing isn’t their thing? 4 year old Kiddo is starting school in 2 weeks; he’s a tall enough but a wiry little kid rather than a solid/ chunky wee man. Meanwhile his school sweatshirts come in size 3-4 and then 5-6. What the?! Isn’t there a whole age they missed out there? The 3-4 was too tight for him to get on and off himself, so I got the 5-6 and convinced myself he would grow. A lot. In 2 months.

He hasn’t.

He’s played, he’s eaten (well as much as he’s ever going to), he’s slept, he’s run, climbed, learned and laughed (a lot) – he’s done pretty much everything a kid should. Except grow those arms! The age 5-6 is comfily baggy but not outrageously big everywhere else – except for those neanderthal arms which are literally falling  way down below his hands all the time. Grrrr. I defy any child to learn to write or draw like that. And I defy any parent to teach a 4 year old boy to roll up their sleeves. Teaching them not to shout “poo-poo pants!” in an alarmingly mock-tourette way to break the tension of formal silence is enough achievement for mums of small boys to feel they deserve some kind of award.

So here goes if you have a similar problem, or maybe need to buy a bigger size for your child’s body but struggle with the long arms. Now, because although I’m not in ANY WAY a clothes maker/ alterer (a sewist but rarely of clothes) and I winged it, I’m calling it a life-hack. And because that sounds unashamedly cool. If you are comfortable sewing with a machine it’s pretty easy (I think). I was lucky to have a secondhand sweatshirt to practice on before cuttting up the new one, so you might want to do have a practice run too (though my prototype run turned out fine too).

DISCLAIMER: I’m just telling you what worked for me, and won’t be held responsible if it doesn’t work for you 😉

How to shorten a child’s sweatshirt sleeves

1. Right. Well this is what the original cuff of the school sweatshirt looked like. My cuff looks smaller afterwards, because I took a bigger seam allowance than I probably needed to, and I didn’t topstitch afterwards (because that was never going to look this neat).


2. Inside out it looks like this:


3. Arm yourself with a good sharp seam-ripper – and unpick all those stitches. You want to unpick all the stitches which attach the cuff to the sleeve. It takes a while. Have a cup of tea to hand, maybe some tunes and take your time. You especially don’t want to damage the cuff itself – the sleeve you’ll be cutting off anyway.

4. Done? Good. At this point you need your model. Bribe child with chocolate to get him to put on the sweatshirt and stay still for 30 seconds whilst you decide where you want your new sleeve to end.

Mine was about 3 and 3/4 inches from the end of the sleeve*. Next subtract about 3/4” from that to allow for your seam allowances when you sew your cuff back on. So I needed to cut off 3 inches. I left the sleeve just slightly long (maybe up to his first knuckles) to give some growing room but keep his fingers free.

(Note: I said subtract 3/4” because I was later going to sew my cuff back on with a 3/8” seam allowance, so the maths works for that allowance. If you don’t want to shorten your cuff as much as that, you could use a 1/4” seam allowance to sew the cuff back on; in this case you only need to subtract 1/2”  from your cutting measurement* here. Etc. It’s a small difference, not sure how much it matters, but thought I would be accurate!)

5. image

On the left is the sleeve still attached to the shirt. In the middle is the bit I cut off. I just got my ruler and cut parallel to the unpicked line where the cuff was. I didn’t worry about the fact the sleeve was sloping or whatever. it was parallel, so it would do. On the right is the cuff. See how small it is next to the sleeve? Obviously that’s because it’s a cuff and so is stretchy. Don’t worry about that, it all works out fine…

6. And this is the sleeve (on the left) that I am going to attach to the cuff (on the right):


Freakily different sizes huh? It didn’t matter too much for this sweatshirt as it wasn’t too much bigger than the original difference but see below if yours is a much bigger difference.

(NOTE: If you were really cutting a lot off the sleeve so the sleeve was really wide and the difference between sleeve and cuff was much bigger than the original, then you will need to take in the sleeve a bit, otherwise you’ll get a bunched-up “puffy” look round the cuff. Especially for an adult shirt. Turn the sleeve inside out and kind of draw a gentle line from about the elbow to the cut end of the sleeve, aiming to make the cut end of the sleeve about as big as it was before you cut a big chunk of sleeve off. You might want to do it on top and bottom of the sleeve which shouldn’t be too obvious. Sew along your drawn lines. Make sure you do exactly the same on the other sleeve. I wasn’t too concerned about it as it’s for a 4 year old boy who really couldn’t care less – and it all worked out fine, but you should bear it in mind if you think it’s going to look too bunched up)

7.  Turn your sweatshirt inside out. Put the cuff into the cut end of the sleeve, raw edges matching at the top – and the seam line matching. There should be no “right” or “wrong” side of the cuff as they seem to be double sided and folded over, but if there was, you would put right-sides together.image

8. Match up the seam lines on one side and pin:



9. Now put your fingers inside and stretch the cuff so that it lies flat against the inside of the sleeve:


10. …and pin the opposite side, then pin all the way round. Pin like crazy baby! The more the better.


11. And when you let go, the cuff will spring back giving a puckered look. This is completely fine..



12. Take to your trusty sewing machine. At this point I  wished the sleeve went round my machine, but the sleeve diameter was too tiny. Still I was just a bit careful and it was very straightforward. I sewed on the inside of the sleeve/cuff as Ifelt I could see better what I was doing that way and ensure I wasn’t sewing through the other side. Taking a 3/8” seam allowance (you could make this smaller if you like), carefully sew the raw edges of cuff and sleeve together. Make sure you stretch out the cuff to ensure the sleeve is nice and flat as you sew. The cuff will spring back just fine.



Sorry, these are not natural sewing pictures – I was using my right hand to take a picture and clearly not actually sewing. You can see the sleeve fabric is not bunched up and the cuff fabric is stretched to lie against it nicely. sew all the way round.

13. Backstitch to finish and take it off the machine to admire, and check the right side looks good. By the way, I used a universal needle, polyester thread and a straight stich with normal tension and pressor foot and it was all OK, but you could test it all on the scrap you cut off the sleeve if you like.



14. That is still the reverse by the way. Pretty! Not. Never mind, put it back on the machine and zigzag round to finish the seams. I warn you, on my practice sweatshirt I first did a fancy tight overlock-type stitch, and it made it very stiff and possibly annoying to wear I’m guessing, so on the others I just did a gentle, fairly loose zigzag. To be honest the raw edges felt nice and soft and I almost left it like that for comfort, but I wasn’t sure how long it would take before they unravelled, so chose to zigzag the edges.


15. Turn inside out – and beam. Try it on your wee man who will say “Oh! It’s good!” quickly followed by “I want to take it off” before running away to play some more.


16. Hear M-People’s song warbling round in your head “What have you done today to make you feel proud?” – and think “This.” 🙂

Back to prettiness next time folks. Meanwhile enjoy the summer and whatever it is that makes you feel proud.

Till the next time, Poppy xx

7 thoughts on “Anyone else need to shorten sweatshirt sleeves? A life-hack tutorial

  1. I’ve noticed really that a lot of sweaters I buy in store seem to fit my chest perfectly but go ridiculously long at the arms. I’m not a kid but this tutorial should still help! Going try it soon. Thanks so much.


    1. Considering that this post gets a ton of hits every day (by far my most popular post) I’d say you are not alone! I hope it works for you. Thank you for the comment, you made my day! 🙂


  2. Thank you so much for the easy lesson here! i followed your instructions and it only took me 30 minutes to do what looked like a pro did it!


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