how do I shorten the sleeves of sweatshirts and other knit tops?
January 11, 2020 2:31 PM   Subscribe

For reasons that don't matter here, the sleeves of "long sleeve" tops are always a few inches uncomfortably too long for me. I always have to fold them up; and it looks and feels sloppy (even worse if they're "pushed up.") I'd really like to be able to shorten them by myself. (Plaintive details inside)

I can hand sew ok. I also have a sewing machine that I'm a little scared of, but have used before for simple things. It has a bunch of fancy programmed stitches.

We're talking about knits of various weights, ranging from t-shirt material to microfleece.

The videos I have looked up on youtube are all way beyond my skill level.

I wouldn't mind buying a simple appliance if it would be easy to operate. I've heard there are such things as hand held "sergers"? But they look really complicated.

Is there hope for me? (Don't say have someone else do the alteration. I know I can have someone else do the alteration. I'm trying to figure out if there's a path to me doing it by myself.)
posted by fingersandtoes to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Get yourself a twin needle! You don’t need a serger, just a twin needle and an extra thread holder to do this really professionally on a basic machine. This tutorial looks pretty good!
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 2:43 PM on January 11, 2020

^^ That's a great idea! ^^ Practice on some knit scraps (old t-shirts) to get the hang of it before you try it on one of your tops.
posted by XtineHutch at 2:59 PM on January 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

is that the only way? To be honest I have never changed the needle on the machine (or any machine) and would not know where to start.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:07 PM on January 11, 2020

I would say it’s the easiest/cheapest way. (Seriously, it should take you about 10 seconds to change the needle and probably five to tinker with your threading to get this right and then it’s exactly like sewing a straight line). The manual for your machine is probably online if you need help changing your needle. It’s a good skill to have anyhow, you should be changing your needle every couple of projects to avoid snagging and general annoyance anyhow. You could also do two narrow rows of zigzag stitching but it won’t look anywhere near as professional. At the (far) other end of the expense and learning curve would be getting a coverstitch machine. They are specifically designed for this but are $$$$$$
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 3:19 PM on January 11, 2020

If you can't find something in your skill level on, maybe you could go to a fabric shop like Jo Anns and see if someone working there would be willing to give you a private lesson. It would be more money up front but someone teaching you in person on your machine would be easiest in the long run. You could also try posting on for someone to teach you. Good luck. I'm also intimidated by sewing machines.
posted by stray thoughts at 3:46 PM on January 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

You can sew knit fabrics such as jersey knits by hand. There are tutorials on YouTube. Microfleece is so forgiving. If your stitches aren't perfect you probably won't be able to tell.

If your tops have a ribbed cuff: Unpick the cuff. Trim sleeve to desire length. Reattach cuff to sleeve right sides together using pins and matching seams. See this tutorial at the 4:33 mark on how to do this.
posted by loveandhappiness at 3:48 PM on January 11, 2020 [6 favorites]

The cool thing about knits is that they don't unravel. You can cut the sleeve about where you want it but leave an extra inch and it will do a cool roll thing-detail in that inch. Or you can cut the sleeve, leave a quarter inch or half inch, fold up and hand sew it down with a quick fell stitch. Or a criss cross stitch or blind hem. Just leave a tiny bit of looseness if the sleeve needs to stretch over the hand when you wear it. If you don't need stretchiness then just use a simple running stitch.
posted by tipsyBumblebee at 4:00 PM on January 11, 2020

I'm an advanced beginner sewist (have made quilts, basic small child clothing, easy blankets, etc.) and I'll admit that knits are now on my no-try list. I have worked with them a few times and found it so much harder than my "normal" sewing as to be totally not worth it for me. YMMV.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:42 PM on January 11, 2020

I think loveandhappiness has it - that is going to be your best bet. If you wanted to serge it on a serger (around US$ 250), that would be just short of ideal, but you can almost certainly do it on your regular machine satisfactorily.

It is going to be best if you use a jersey or ballpoint needle - probably a size 10 or 12 for t-shirt weight and lighter and a size 12-16 for stuff heavier than a t-shirt. Use a 14 or 16 for heavier french terry or sweatshirt fabric. See if your machine came with a walking foot. That isn't entirely necessary, but it is really helpful.

In the video they suggest doing a zigzag stitch, but a good number of machines come with a stitch that is a modified zigzag (sometimes they call it a "lighting stitch" but that may be specific to a brand) or a straight stretch stitch.

You can use that lightning stitch and then trim it, and then use one of the overcast stitches on the machine so that the seam doesn't look rough and shabby.

If you want me to walk you through it over Skype or something (for free), I'd be happy to do it. I teach in Chicago and am pretty much available throughout the week.
posted by Tchad at 5:24 PM on January 11, 2020 [4 favorites]

if I can manage to change the needle and do it with the machine... do I also have to find special (stretchy?) thread? Or does it use regular thread?
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:41 PM on January 11, 2020

Regular thread. If you try to use a stretch thread you will be very, very sad.
posted by Tchad at 5:55 PM on January 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

I wonder if a Euro hem would work to keep the original cuffs in place without having to remove and reattach them? The tutorial shows how to do it on jeans, but the principle should be the same on sleeves. (It looks more complicated than it is — I am extremely beginner-level with sewing, and even I can make this work. Basically, you are just pinching the excess length into a fold around the inside of the jeans leg/sleeve.)
posted by snowmentality at 6:16 PM on January 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

Changing the needle is a routine thing that you will be happy to have learned, and it is definitely something you can do. I pinkie-swear.
posted by theora55 at 8:07 AM on January 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

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