Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tutorial: How to Add Sleeves to a Strapless Dress

I realize I just did a tutorial on adding sleeves to something, but this one was already on my other blog, so I thought it'd be easy enough to paste it over here. I did this project a while ago and didn't take near enough pictures for a proper tutorial, but it's a very simple project, so hopefully this will be enough.

Normally I like to wait to show the final product in a big reveal at the end, but I think the instructions will be a lot more clear if I show you what we're making first. We did a cap sleeve that was ruched where the sleeves met the dress.
We started with a strapless sequined gown that two layers, a lining layer and a layer of sequined fabric. the dress had a sweetheart neckline that didn't go very low on the body. First we picked out some silk and tulle to go with the dress. We didn't end up trying to match the fabrics exactly. We just went into the store and tried out a few different layered color options and picked one that coordinated nicely, rather than matching imperfectly. We only needed about a third yard of each fabric (Our dress was a size 4, you may need a little extra fabric for a larger dress, but I don't think you'd need more than half a yard).

I had my model put her dress on and then we made a rough pattern with some spare fabric. We then cut rectangles the size we needed (thanks to the ruching, you're just cutting a big rectangle, easy, huh?). I believe we wanted our final sleeves to be 6 inches wide, so I cut our fabric 6 1/2 inches for seam allowances.*Since our tulle was sheer, I didn't like the idea of sewing the fabric together with right sides together and basically making a tube. It looked bulky. It looked better to just do a tiny seam, sewing very close to the edges. Serge or zig zag your edges then turn them under 1/4" and stitch as close to the edge as you can. Barely noticeable, see:
Next, I ruched the ends by running a basting stitch along the edges, gathering them and pinned them to the dress. Check the fit before you sew the sleeves down to make sure the sleeves aren't too loose and that the gathering is the same on both sides. I ended up slanting them slightly so they fit over the shoulder, rather than straight over like a tank top. I hand sewed the sleeves to the dress so I didn't have to go through the sequined tulle layer.

You could be done here, but since our dress was sequined and it came with a little baggy of extra sequins, I decided to cover the seam with them and sprinkle them on the sleeve. It made a huuuuuge difference! The pictures don't do it justice. The dress actually looks better with sleeves and I think it looks like the dress was meant to have those sleeves.
Doesn't Sara look AMAZING? So glamorous! That's her standing with her proud parents. My camera died before I could take a picture of her with her date, but he was so dashing in his tux and hand tied bow tie. They looked so old Hollywood. So glad I could help her look amazing and "classy modest", as we put it. :)Our dress had very minimal sleeves in the back, if you wanted more coverage, I would suggest measuring your dress across the back and instead of ruching the back, I would make your straps wider at the back than the front and just sew them straight across the back, while still gathering the front. I don't think it would look as nice, but if would give you more coverage.


  1. Thanks for this BLOG - I used it to do some alterations on my daughters clothes.


  2. Where are you located? If you are close to me, I need this exact thing done to a dress for my daughter. I am in Central Utah. cvhacking@yahoo.com

  3. Thanks so much! Im a seamstress who needed this tutorial!

  4. Thank you! I just got finished "modifying" the preference dress for my son's girlfriend. She loves it! She looks beautiful in it AND she feels more comfortable in it! ~Candace

  5. This tutorial is a life saver! Although I am a little nervous about trying it on my prom dress this year; where are you located? I am in the Park City, Utah area. johnsonlindseyp@gmail.com

  6. This dress is gorgeous. Reminds me of The Little Mermaid when Ariel is finally a human and comes out of the water in that shimmering dress. Seriously, this is the prettiest dress I have ever seen.

    Thank you for the tutorial on the capped sleeve - I am making a dress for my little girl today and wanted an easy tutorial on a capped sleeve. This is pinned :)


  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I used a narrow hem on my serger for the seams on chiffon and your idea worked out perfectly for putting cap sleeves on a strapless prom dress. Thanks again.

  8. This is such an awesome tutorial! I added sleeves to my prom dress and it turned out great :) If you want to see how my dress turned out you can check out my blog! simplybree1.blogspot.com

    Again, super awesome tutorial, and she looks amazing :)

  9. This is beautiful and just what I need! Thank you. How did you attach the sequins?

    1. Thanks, glad it's helpful! I hand sewed them to the sleeves, eyeballing the placement until it looked right.

  10. Kaela Wheeler! I just found this randomly because my visiting teacher asked me to put sleeves on her daughters' homecoming dresses. Perfect! That dress is WAY prettier with the sleeves. You did a great job! I didn't know you had this blog. Very cool. Thanks for the info, I'll definitely be using it this week! -Chelsea Wells Cooper :)

  11. Have you ever added a full neckline and long sleeves to a strapless bridal dress. My friend wants a sweetheart neckline with pearl buttons up the back and long sleeves. Any suggestion comments opinions directions are greatly appreciated.
    Thank you

  12. I just have to thank you for this tutorial! The dress you modified is beautiful, and your instructions helped me with exactly what I needed for my daughter's dress. I've blogged about it here: http://madeintheshelter.blogspot.com/2015/01/remade-in-shelter.html Thank you again!!!!