How to Alter a Shirt

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For some, the decision whether or not to purchase a piece of clothing may be based on price rather than whether or not the item actually fits. If you ever face this decision, try to purchase clothes that are a bit too big rather than a bit too small. It's much easier to alter something, like a shirt, by removing some fabric than it is to add matching fabric to make the shirt bigger.

Things You'll Need

  • Shirt
  • Pins
  • Sewing Machine
  • Measuring Tape
  • Machine-Washable Pencil or Other Fabric Marker
  • Seam Ripper
  • Iron


  1. Try the shirt on--wrong side out. Look in the mirror and determine what exactly needs to be altered. Are the sleeves too long? Is the body too big? Is the shirt just too long? All of these problems can be fixed.
    Also, wash and dry the shirt before you make any alterations, just in case it shrinks to the proper size in the wash.

  2. Shorten the sleeves. Determine just how long "too long" is. If your sleeve does not have any cuff, just a seam, you can simply measure and trim off the fabric you don't want (leaving enough for your seam allowance), fold over the new sleeve end twice pressing with an iron both times, and stitch.
    If your sleeve has a cuff that doesn't button, carefully pick out the seams that attach the cuff to the bottom of the sleeve, cut off the fabric you don't want, and reattach the cuff in the reverse seam order from when you removed it.
    If your sleeve has a cuff that does button and you can't or won't settle for simply rolling the sleeve up every time you wear it, shortening the sleeve gets complicated. You will need to pick the seams that attach the cuff to the sleeve as well as the placket that covers the open slit in the sleeve. Set the cuff and the placket aside. Carefully measure the length of the slit--you will need to re-create it soon.
    As above, cut off enough fabric to make the sleeve the desired length, taking into consideration cuff width in your overall final measurements. Since you've just likely cut off most of the slit, carefully expand the slit to the length it was before, and re-attach the placket and the cuff in reverse order of removal.
    However you shorten the sleeve, press with an iron when finished.

  3. Reduce the body width. You may need to get a friend to help you with these measurements. Put the shirt back on wrong side out, and button any buttons. Determine just how much needs to be removed from the sides of the shirt to get the fit you want by having your friend pin the body fabric in parallel to the side seams. Tweak pin location as needed. Leave the pins in or mark with easily removable fabric marker and remove the pins.
    Carefully cut away the fabric you don't want, leaving enough for your new seam allowance, and stitch. Iron the seams open.

  4. Change the hem. If this is not a shirt that can be tucked into a skirt or pair of pants, determine how short you want your shirt to be, cut away the fabric you don't want (leaving enough for your new hem), fold over twice, about half an inch each, and press with the iron. Stitch, and press again.


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