Altering the Shoulders on a Jacket

A customer brought me two jackets to take in at the shoulders.

Both of these jackets had shoulder pads, too, which she wanted removed.

You don’t see those much anymore!

She tried the jacket on and I put a pin marking the spot where she wanted the sleeve to be moved to.

See the white pin head about one inch in from the armscye (sleeve seam)?

This customer is a very classy lady and I know this jacket probably cost a pretty penny.

But, doesn’t it just scream “80’s” to you?!

Let’s get started.

The first thing you want to do is, turn the jacket sleeve inside out.

You are going to open up the sleeve seam of the lining only.

We do this to access the shoulder seam easily and when we close it up, it’s super easy and doesn’t show when you take your jacket off.


Open the seam up about 5 or 6 inches (I usually open it around the elbow area and up towards the shoulder) using your seam ripper.

Then, pull the shoulder area out so you can work on it.

Unsew the lining seam:

If you have sewn blouses or jackets with a pattern, you know that there are notches on the pattern of the sleeve.

Your jacket may not have notches in it, like the diagram below, but just open a large section of the seam.

This diagram shows how far you should take the seam out:

Next, take out the shoulder pads.

These particular ones were made of foam rubber!

That’s the first time I’ve seen foam rubber shoulder pads….ick!

They just disintegrated:

Shoulder pads are usually just attached with tacking threads.

Just clip those threads to free the pads.

In rare cases, however, you may have to open up the shoulder seam, take out the shoulder pads and restitch the seam together again before doing any alterations.

Once you take out the shoulder pad, you’ll notice that there are a few items you may not be familiar with.

One of them might be the white interfacing strip (or a strip of seam tape).

It is there for support

The second might be a  flannel-like sleeve cap (or one made of a similar material).

In this case, it is the lighter grey fabric strip:

This gives the sleeve stability and shape.

Take that off.

Before you take apart the shoulder seam, put in a tailor tack at the top of the sleeve.

Use a contrasting color of thread so you can see it against the jacket fabric.

You will put it in the seam allowance of the sleeve, where the shoulder seam meets the sleeve.

You need this tack in order to match up the sleeve after you make the alteration:

Next, match up the tailor tack mark to the new pin mark you made earlier on the shoulder of the jacket:

Be sure you are matching the seam allowance of the sleeve to the pin mark, not the cut edge of the fabric to the pin  mark.

Next, pin the sleeve all around the arm seam. Use the stitching line as your guide and make sure it looks nice and smooth and natural as you pin.

If it fits well, just stitch over the original seam line and you’re finished.

However, if you have more sleeve than armhole, you’ll need to make that sleeve circumference smaller.

That’s easy to do.

Let’s say it’s too big by 1/2″.

Take a pin and place it 1/2″ down from the seam allowance right under your tailor tack (which isn’t showing on this photo.)

Now, your new seam line will be similar to the original one, but it will look like this (where the dotted line is drawn). I don’t actually draw a line on the jacket, but you could, using a washable marker.


Then, stitch the new seam of the arm (from imagined notch to imagined notch) to close it up.

Once you’ve sewn that seam, check how the sleeve looks by turning the garment right side out again.

Make any adjustments, if necessary, and sew again.

Next, don’t forget to sew the grey matter back in there! Just use the same stitching line.

If it looks good, trim off the excess fabric:

If your jacket came with these “stays” (this one has blue stays), be sure and sew those back on. One end should be sewn to the jacket on the seam allowance and the other end gets sewn to the shoulder seam allowance.

These keep the jacket and lining from straying too far from each other.

They are not necessary if your jacket doesn’t have them.

Stitch the opening closed in the sleeve lining down by the elbow.

Make the same alterations to the remaining sleeve and the lining on the other shoulder of the jacket.

It is easier than it sounds and I hope it gives you incentive to give it a try!

Update: 2/28/12:

Below in the comment section, you’ll see a comment from a Linda M.

Here are the photos which go along with her comment.

She adds pleats in the seams to take in the extra fullness.

Its another option if your customer would like that look.

Since one of you posted a reply asking for photos, here they are:

You can see how they look in the photos above.

Thanks Linda, for sending those to me.