How to Remove Gathers from a Sleeve Cap

A customer recently requested that I remove the gathers from the sleeve cap on a newly purchased dress.   I have tons of information on how to do this alteration on a paper pattern or when drafting a pattern, but nothing on how to do this on a ready-to-wear dress. Granted, the principle is the same, but the question is: “Can this particular alteration be done on ready-to-wear?” I searched the Internet for days trying to find some information on this alteration and came up with nothing!  I guess I really should have figured it out but, let’s just say it was one of those “brain cramp” moments.  I finally got up the nerve to ask Angela Wolf of Angela Wolf Designs if she could enlighten me. As always, Angela was ever so helpful. I followed her directions and could not be more pleased with how this alteration turned out, so I’d like to share.

Step 1. Make a note of your seam allowance and how the sleeve is stitched into the armscye (is it sewn with a straight stitch or serged.) and then remove the sleeves from the armscye and open out the sleeve seam so your sleeve lies flat. DO NOT remove the original gathers! I also opened the side seam of the dress a couple inches.

Step 2.  Lay the sleeve flat on a piece of paper and trace starting from the front of the sleeve approximately 4” below the underarm seam (the bicep) and follow the curve around the “original” sleeve cap (with the gathers) to 4” below the underseam at the back of the sleeve. Be sure to mark all the notches (shoulder point, and front and back notches) which will probably be tiny clips in the fabric so you can match it up again when you reset the sleeve.

You will have to fuss with the sleeve or use pattern weights when trying to trace it. Just be patient and try to be as accurate as you can.

Step 3.  Once you’re happy with your tracing, remove the original gathers from the sleeve and press to remove all the wrinkles.

Step 4.  Walk or measure the edge of the new traced sleeve along the armscye matching the notches to make sure everything is correct. You should have some extra when you finish walking the pattern. This is ease. I had an extra 1” of ease which was just about right.

Step 5.   Place the new traced sleeve pattern piece on top of the original sleeve fabric matching the underarm seams and trace the new shape onto the sleeve using chalk. The tricky part is to ensure you have enough fabric on the front and back curve (see red arrows in picture above – I really should have another picture here but I messed up and forgot to take one!). You will have to blend and true up this area. If you don’t have enough original fabric in this area, well……you simply won’t be able to do this alteration unless you plan to cut an entirely new sleeve and can find fabric to match. If all goes well, cut out your new sleeve and reset into the armscye.

Here’ the finished alteration:

I was really happy with how this turned out!