Give Your Favorite Button-Down A Sleeveless Makeover

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Whether you have a bumper crop of button-downs or you've found your favorite one, but it doesn't come in a sleeveless version: this DIY is calling your name. Consider it instant air-conditioning for a basic blouse.

Any button-front shirt will work for this project. 

Step 1: Remove the sleeves

There are two ways to do this. You can either:

  1. Use a seam ripper to undo the stitching where the sleeve is sewn to the garment. Many shirts are sewn with a flat fell seam, which means that the seam allowance is pressed toward the shirt side and stitched down. It's a bit more time consuming to carefully remove the seam, but it will keep more fabric on the shirt side, particularly at the underarm.
  2. Trim verrrry closely on the sleeve side of the seam. If the top or shirt is very loose fitting, then the underarm will be a bit low and not as attractive in a sleeveless version. Don't cut the sleeve yet, other than to remove where it is joined to the body of the garment. 

Don't trash that removed sleeve! You're going to re-purpose the fabric to finish the new sleeveless top.

Step 2: Press the sleeve flat

First, open up the sleeve (either by removing the seam or carefully cutting) and press it flat with a few passes of an iron. Remove the cuff from the sleeve — since you won't use this part so feel free to roughly cut it off.

At this point, you should have two large pieces of fabric to use for finishing the shirt.

I've marked the straight grain with the blue arrow above. On most shirt sleeves, the straight grain will go straight down, from the top U shape to the cuff. You need to have the straight grain of the fabric for the next step.

Step 3: Make bias tape

The next step makes your own bias tape, using the sleeve fabric (skip to the end of this lesson if you've never done it before or need a refresher). For this example, I cut bias pieces 1½" wide, which will be folded in half lengthwise and pressed. 

TIP: You can also use pre-made, store-bought bias tape instead! It comes in packages at the fabric store and is available in any color. Make sure to choose single-fold bias tape for this project.

Step 4: Reshape the armhole

Typically a shirt or top with sleeves extends further out on your shoulder than one that was originally created to be sleeveless does. You'll likely need to move the edge in, so it's easiest to reshape the armhole.

Use existing top to determine how wide the shoulder should be, and use that measurement to adjust the armholes.

Mark where you'll make your adjustment (I used basting stitches, but any method will work). Starting at the top, cut away the excess fabric, leaving about ¼" where the bias tape will be sewn. About two-thirds of the way down the underarm, begin tapering the cut — you don't want to remove anything near the bottom, which would make the armhole too low.

Step 5: Sew on the bias tape and trim

Pin the bias tape onto the shirt, with the edges aligned to the edge of the armhole and the fold away from the edge.

Stitch all the way around, ¼" away from the edge of the tape, overlapping where the bias tape ends meet.

After stitching trim away about ⅛ " (or half) of the seam allowance.

Step 6: Press bias tape away from garment

Once the bias tape is stitched all the way around, iron it away from the garment.

Sometimes it can be difficult to press things that are round. To make it easier, you can use a tailor's ham or improvise one by rolling up a thick towel and placing it in the armhole. This raises up the edge and makes it easier to use the iron. Press a small portion, rotate the garment and continue pressing all the way around.

Pressing the binding this way gives it a nice crisp edge, which makes the next step so much easier.

Step 7: Turn binding in and stitch

More ironing! Turn your garment inside out. Then press the binding to the inside of the garment.

Stitch it down along the binding fold edge. This creates a clean, smooth finish inside your new sleeveless top, with no raw edges. Add ice-tea or lemonade and enjoy a warm day!

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