How to Thrift Flip Clothing: Add Upcycled Sleeves to a T-Shirt

5 Materials
90 Minutes

I love to thrift flip clothing and recently I upcycled a beautiful vintage dress with long sleeves, but I didn't use the sleeves.

Today, I had the idea to add the sleeves to a very plain and boring short-sleeved bodysuit that I was getting tired of.

The beauty of this method is that you can add fresh sleeves to any item of clothing, without needing to draft a pattern or take lots of measurements.

I'm also going to show you two styles of sleeve that you can choose from.

Tools and materials:

  • Plain t-shirt or bodysuit
  • Sleeves
  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • Sewing machine
Removing the sleeves

1. Remove the sleeves

I had already done this in an earlier thrift flip so my sleeves were ready to use.

Unpick them carefully from the original garment, aiming to keep the edge of the sleeve intact.

Removing the sleeves

You'll also need to remove any existing sleeves from the top you're upcycling. 

I wanted this to be a really quick, fun project so I simply cut the sleeves away from the armhole, right next to the seam.

You could also seam rip them off.

Choosing sleeve style

2. Choose the sleeve style

It's very unlikely that your sleeves will fit the existing armhole without some adjustment.

I'm going to show you two different methods of fitting them.

Choosing sleeve style

The first is the way I'll be doing it, which is to gather the sleeve head to make a puffed sleeve. I'll be showing you how to do this in detail.

Choosing sleeve style

If you don't like that style, you'll need to reduce the size of the sleeve head by tapering it into the sleeve seam.

Take in the sleeve seam at the armhole edge, leaving the sleeve head very slightly bigger than the armhole it's going to fit into.

Taper the new seam gradually so it blends into the existing seam line and insert the sleeve as I show you in step 4.

Gathering sleeve head

3. Gather the sleeve head

For the puff sleeve, run two lines of basting stitches around the top curve of the sleeve, close to the edge.

Use a straight stitch with a long stitch length and don't secure the ends.

Inserting the new sleeve

4. Insert the new sleeve

Turn your t-shirt or bodysuit wrong side out and turn the sleeve right side out.

Push the sleeve cuff first into the armhole, so the right side of the sleeve is touching the right side of the t-shirt.

Inserting the new sleeve

Match the sleeve seam with the side seam of the t-shirt and pin it in place.

Pin the center top of the sleeve head to the shoulder seam of the shirt.

Starting from the underarm and working towards the shoulder seam, pin the top of the sleeve to the edge of the armhole. 

If you're making the puff sleeve style, use the long ends of the basting rows to carefully gather the sleeve to fit the armhole.

For the fitted sleeve, you'll be able to ease the sleeve into the armhole without pleating or gathering it.

Inserting the new sleeve

Using a regular straight stitch, sew the sleeve into the armhole. Start at the underarm and take a 5/8 of an inch (1.5 cm) seam allowance.

Thrift flip: T-shirt upcycle

Thrift flip: T-shirt upcycle

Well, this definitely gave my old, plain bodysuit an upgrade! It looks like a completely different item of clothing now.

Next time you go thrifting, don't just look for an entire garment that you might wear. Look for some beautiful sleeves, because you can repurpose only those to give something a fresh, new look.

I'd love to know what you thought about this thrift flip in the comments below.

Next up, check out my post on How to Sew a Ruffle Sweater Dress.

Suggested materials:
  • Plain t-shirt or bodysuit
  • Sleeves
  • Scissors
See all materials

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