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Can’t reach above head due to sleeves

Beanhi | Posted in Fitting on

I bought a fitted empire waist dress with 3/4 length sleeves (picture attached). I planning to wear it one day when I reached to put my coat on and discovered that I couldn’t reach above shoulder level. I can’t return it because I’ve altered it.

What can I do to fix this problem? My first thought is that the armhole on the bodice is too low.


  1. Ralphetta | | #1

    There is probably a better way to do this, but here's what i've done. I've had that problem when the shoulders were too broad and the seam fell slightly down on the shoulder, which prohibits raising the arm. Pin a pleat of fabric at the shoulder seam and see if it makes it easier to raise your arm. Hopefully, if you have very sloping shoulders you may be able to raise the shoulder/armpit by just inserting shoulder pads. My shoulders are very square and I can't use pads. I have to remove the sleeve and remove the excess fabric width at the shoulder. Doing that increases the size of the armseye so you need to take in a little at the top of the bodice underarm seam before you reinsert the sleeve. You can't do that if the garment doesn't have a little extra ease through the bust, so check that before you start ripping things apart.

    This takes some time to do, but I have to do it a lot because I don't look good in the extended shoulders that they seem to put in all RTW suits.

  2. BernaWeaves | | #2

    How are you putting your coat on?  Try sliding it up your arms, instead of having gravity lower it down your upraised arms.  Actually, the sliding it up your arms works best when someone else helps you on with your coat.

    I've learned from past embarassments to "test sit" all my clothing before I buy it.  I once bought a beautiful doublebreasted coatdress (back in the 1980's) that looked fabulous when I was standing up.  It closed with two buttons at the waist, and the rest of the buttons down the front were decorative.  The first time I wore it was to a buyers market and at the first booth I sat down and the dress opened up down to my waist and exposed my entire chest AND it opened up from the bottom up to my waist  and exposed my panties. I stood up quickly and did the rest of the market standing up.  I went home and sewed velcro all around the inside to keep the dress closed when sitting.  Now I "test sit" everything before I buy it.  You've added a new thing I have to do.  Now I have to "test raise my arms!"


    Thanks, Berna

    1. Beanhi | | #9

      Great story, probably funnier now than when it was happening. I'll have to add the "sit test" to my shopping routine. Reminds me of a I Love Lucy episode.

  3. GailAnn | | #3

    Please consider that we have been wearing knits for so long that we may have forgotten how restricted our movements are in woven fabrics.

    I still wear a lot of wovens because I like the very tailored and structured look, but I do consider the day's activities before I get dressed.

    This morning I needed to move some books, but this afternoon, I am going to volunteer in our Church office.  So when I got dressed I put on a knit top, but I'll change into a button down the front blouse before I leave the house this afternoon.

    How well I remember wearing a skirt and blouse, then doing some kind of activity.  Next thing I knew I was being scolded (by parent or teacher) because my shirt was untucked.

    Possibly that is why the custom of a gentleman holding a ladies' coat came into being. 


    1. Ralphetta | | #4

      I'm sorry, but I agree with the original writer. If she can't raise her arms, there's something wrong.

      1. BernaWeaves | | #5

        I agree that something is wrong, although it's hard to tell.  Was it wrong when she bought it, or did the alteration play a part? 



        1. Beanhi | | #7

          The alteration was adding another button because it was too low cut. Unbuttoning it doesn't seem to help with the situation.My guess was that the armhole is too low. What do I need to do to make the sleeve fit into the new armhole?

          1. fiberfan | | #11

            You may be able to use a gusset to raise the armhole.  Check out this blog entry for a gusset to try.


          2. User avater
            artfulenterprises | | #13

            That was a terrific website! Not having much time to plunk around the web, I still haven't managed to figure out the world of "Blogs". How did you go about researching for this type of web wonder??? Google certainly didn't pull this out of it's magic hat. The navigation was a bit different as well although I haven't yet had an opportunity to check out the various links. I think I must be lagging behind on my internet savvy! Is this being hosted by another site (like myspace, youtube, facebook, etc) or is this an independent website hosted by the author? I've trolled through myspace on several occasions but find nothing of this quality or depth.Thanks for the heads up....

          3. fiberfan | | #14

            I think I read about the blog on another message board last year.  I remembered enough to find the blog.  While most blogs are on blogging sites like blogger, some people have their blog on their web site. 

            Getting the right words for a search can be a challenge.   Sometimes I get the right ones quickly, sometimes I don't.


          4. Ocrafty1 | | #17

            What an awesome link!  I just spent 45 minutes clicking on the other links!  Thank you very much!


  4. User avater
    artfulenterprises | | #6

    Usually the reason you can't raise your arms is because the armhole is cut too low.  The higher the armhole, the more range of motion.  You might want to install a gusset in the underarm seam but you may need to shorten your sleeves in order to find some spare matching fabric! ( Unless your dress is quite long, in which case you could use part of the hem allowance,  or your previous alteration left you with a bit of fabric to spare.) Or, you could go wild and crazy and insert a matching print gusset!  Could be a real conversation starter!  : o )

    1. sewingkmulkey | | #8

      I agree with your assessment and solution.


  5. User avater
    artfulenterprises | | #10

    Here is a website that illustrates sleeve gussets. As the author suggests, I would recommend a triangular shape as opposed to a square. Makes a nicer fit...not so bulky.


    hope you can resolve your dilemma!

  6. Teaf5 | | #12

    I agree-the armhole is too low.  At this point, you probably have to use a gusset, perhaps getting the extra matching fabric from part of the lining or from shortening the skirt. 

    If there isn't enough to salvage the jacket, you could remove the sleeves, face the armholes, and wear it as a vest instead. 

    Experience tells me that if a garment is uncomfortable, I'll never wear it, and it'll waste space in my closet.  So I'll try my best to re-work the piece or save parts of it (in this case, the bodice and skirt) to use as separates.  When all else fails, I take it apart and use the fabric for something else or donate it and hope someone else can use it.

  7. gowngirl | | #15

    Your dilemma reminds me of a customer I had many many moons ago. She was a hairdresser and participated in contests on stage. She had me make matching suits for her and her assistant- the jacket was based on an antique from around the victorian era (she brought me the jacket to copy)- the sleeves were open- meaning the sleeve seam wasn't sewn to itself, but sewn to the jacket in a decorative way in the back. It looked to be a regular jacket sleeve from the front. I asked her if she might want something more cape-like. Nope, just copy the jacket. The first thing she said to me when she got it was "I can't raise my arms!" I guess it would be little hard to do hair with arms nailed to the side! Laura

  8. Memmy | | #16

    It may be that the arm hole is too low . Paradoxically alarge armhole actually restricts your ability to raise your arms. You could undo the under arm seam on both the sleeve and the side seam of you dress and add in a gusset which will be a triangle shape.

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