How to fix a top with sleeves that are too tight

Before and after photos of a summer top with the sleeves removed to give more movement

I’ve got a really basic and simple fix today, for a top with sleeves that are just too tight.

This is embarrassingly simple really, you literally just take them off!

I’m pleased enough with the results on this top so I’m sharing them here. It might be just the fix you are looking for! I’ve also found a few other methods that might suit your “too tight” top better which you can find if you scroll down to the bottom.

Have you ever bought a lovely top in a charity shop, thrift store or op shop and thought “wow, that’s lovely, I wonder why that ended up here” only to get it home, try it on and realise pretty quickly what is wrong with it and why it ended up where it was?!

This top was just like that. I saw it, I loved it and when I got home I realised it had what my mum always called “sparrow arms”!

A slightly embarrassing feature of this post is the lack of photos. I honestly don’t know what happened. Did I take photos and delete them by mistake or get so carried away with my refashion that I forgot to take any? I just don’t know, I’m sorry. I’m going to have to use my words instead of my normal photo heavy tutorial.

This is the before, I don’t even have a photo of the whole top sadly.

tight sleeve 2.jpeg
A bright colourful top with sleeves that are too tight

What appear to be cute little puff sleeves are in fact a bit tight on my bulging biceps (!!!) and also it’s all way too tight up under my armpit and I really don’t like that feeling.

I couldn’t really lift my arms up much at all.

The easiest solution is just to take the sleeves off to make a sleeveless top.

This is where I am sorry that there are no photos!

  • Remove the sleeve altogether by unpicking the seam where it joins the body of the top.

  • Reshape the arm hole just a little if needed, although once the sleeve is off you may find this is not necessary. Try it on to check.

  • Use bias binding to neaten the raw edge. This is a lovely tutorial from The Seasoned Homemaker showing how to edge things with bias binding.

That’s it! Easy peasy! Problem solved - sparrow arms begone! I can now move my arms freely.

The whole thing took about 30 minutes and I’m really pleased with the results as I love this vibrant print.

I did the exact same fix on this dress last year but the photo situation on this is even worse; I took no “before” photos at all! I found a fuzzy picture on Pinterest of the same dress to give you an idea, I couldn’t lift my arms more than 30 degrees in it before. The armhole on this dress was actually fine so I didn’t need to lower it at all, just removing the sleeves gave me all the arm movement I need.

Before and after photos of a summer top with the sleeves removed to give more movement

I’m going to share this easy fix for tight sleeves and armholes now, as is, and I promise the next time I have a top with sleeves that need this same adjustment I will take loads of photos of every step and add them here.

Here are a few more solutions to the “too tight sleeves” issue I’ve found online which you might find work for you if you have a garment with sleeves that are uncomfortably tight.

The amazing Sheri from Confessions of a Refashionista gave her sleeves more room by inserting a panel of lace underneath. So pretty!

Crafterhours also added a side panel, this time in a contrast fabric, ideal if a top is a bit tight in the body too!

Sew North took the tight long sleeves right off this shirt and then used the fabric to cut new short sleeves to solve the “too tight” sleeve issue.

Gertie’s Blog for Better Sewing shows how to add a gusset in an underarm which will help if the armhole is too tight. The tutorial is to add the gusset as you are dressmaking but it should be easy enough to adapt for an existing garment.

Confessions of a Refashionista has another idea to add a bit of extra room to a shirt, adding both side panels and a sleeve insert.

I found dozens of tutorials online to help with adjusting sleeve width when you are making your own clothes, ways to change the pattern pieces before they are even cut out of fabric but it’s good to know that there is often a fix to be found for garments that already exist.

I’ve seen another idea online to undo the top shoulder seam and add a lace or fabric insert panel there which could work well to give a bit of extra room on a sleeve and armhole but since seeing it a while ago I now can’t find it anywhere to link to. I’ll update if I come across it again. It’s the kind of thing I normally use Pinterest to save but I can’t find it on any of my boards.

Anyway, that’s it. Not my most comprehensive tutorial ever but a simple idea to fix a top with uncomfortably tight sleeves that may come in handy one day and a few more ideas you might like to try instead.