Jupe du Jour

Adding Sleeves to a Strapless Dress, Part 2

Sewing, ThriftingHaley SwanComment

Remember a few weeks ago when I posted a teaser about how to add sleeves to a strapless dress? Well, I'm finally back from the wedding that the dress was for and firing on all cylinders again, so (drum roll please) I give you the extended (although by no means comprehensive) look into how I added sleeves to this gorgeous strapless dress. As a disclaimer, I'm a make-things-up-as-I-go type of seamstress, so I'm definitely not claiming this is the "right" way to add sleeves, but it is what worked for me, and was actually pretty simple in the end!

Here's the dress in its original form, straight from the $3 sale at Goodwill SoCal (aka my fave time of the season). It was too pretty not to buy, but I knew it needed some work to get it ready for the wedding. For one thing, it was several inches too long and, for another, it needed sleeves. Lucky for me, those two problems have a way of canceling each other out!

The first step was to cut off the excess fabric from the bottom of the dress, preserving as much of it as possible in order to reuse it in the sleeves. I cut off a strip a little over 3" wide from the bottom of both the outer chiffon layer and the lining and was VERY lucky that it was just enough fabric to make my sleeves from. 

Because I needed all the fabric I could get, I couldn't have much of an allowance for the hem. What you see above is me using the Ban-Rol method to create a tiny hem without the regular hassle of ironing and pinning like crazy. I bought a few yards of Ban-Rol here and followed this tutorial, and it worked wonderfully!

Once both layers of the dress were hemmed, the next step was to create the wide shoulder strap part of the sleeves. I used the already-hemmed edges of the fabric (still hemmed from when I cut it off of the bottom of the dress) as the interior of the strap (side closest to my neck). I just lined up the hemmed edges of each layer (the chiffon and the lining) and stitched them together, staying a bit away form the original hemline to make it look like a double needle hem. And I'll tell you what I told everyone else when they complimented the finished product: Just don't look at the seams too closely ;)

In the photo below, the interior edges are sewn together, and I've just pinned the strap into the dress to try to figure out exactly where it will need to be sewn in. The outside edges can stay unfinished (though they should be evened up) because that's where you'll sew on the sleeve.

For the sleeve portion of the strap, I used what was left of the original cut of chiffon from the bottom of the dress. I measured everything beforehand and knew that there would be barely enough left to make a sort of flutter sleeve (this part was not lined). Again, I used the portion of the strip that was already hemmed as the "outside" of my sleeve to cut down on the amount of sewing. I lined up the unfinished edges of the strap and sleeve, right sides together, and sewed a quick seam (sorry for the poor picture quality--it was late at night, as always with these types of projects).

Here's what the sleeve looked like once sewn together--it's really just two strips of fabric! The wider portion is the strap and the thinner one is the sleeve. 

The next step is to attach the sleeve to the dress. Although the sleeve above is rectangular and could have circled around my whole arm, I wanted more of a cap or flutter sleeve so that I wouldn't overheat at the outdoor summer wedding. So, I needed the front part to taper inward toward the strap. I could have achieved that by cutting the front of the sleeve into the tapered shape and re-hemming before attaching, but instead I cut corners (I told you I was a make-it-up-as-I-go kinda gal) and just folded the excess fabric inward on itself (kind of tucking some of the excess sleeve fabric under the strap) and quickly stitched it in place. And, although I used that method mainly to save time, I actually also liked that it created a bit of a ruffle on the sleeve, since the bodice is so ruffled.

To attach the sleeves to the bodice itself, I just planned on having about 1.5" of sleeve/strap fabric overlapping downward into the dress on each side. I hand stitched the sleeves onto the lining of the bodice as close to the top as I could so that they would look like a more natural part of the dress. Here's what the final product looked like:

Not bad for $3 and a few hours' worth of work, right? I obviously got really lucky finding a dress that was long enough to allow me to cut a bunch of fabric off the bottom, but if you don't have the extra fabric sitting around you can try to find matching fabric at the store or pull a 180 and pick a fabric that contrasts but still coordinates. Like black lace sleeves on a white dress or a fun patterned sleeve against a solid dress. 

Have you ever tried adding sleeves to a dress or top? How did it go??