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Makeover Monday: Recapping a Top Story

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For this Makeover Monday*, I have a quick tutorial for you: changing long sleeves into cap sleeves! It may sound tres simple, and it is, but as with so many of my projects, it also brings up issues that I wouldn’t necessarily think about if I wasn’t going to write about it afterwards.

My top is made with an interesting textured nylon fabric, very stretchy and lightweight; it also has a shapely, close fit, plus a bit of support, thanks to the two-layer construction of the fabric that helps to create the puckered texture. My favorite feature, though, is the neckline, a modified square. (I happen to love square necklines, but they are amazingly rare in ready-to-wear.) Here’s my top, pre-makeover:

My long-sleeved top

My long-sleeved top, before its makeover.

I am still trying to get away from black in my wardrobe, but this top is quite practical, especially for dancing, since it’s stretchy, close-fitting, comfortable, and easily laundered. The only problem is the long sleeves. Not only do I get quite warm, I also think that all that black creates a dark blob effect; even with the open neckline, I still want a little more skin showing, to try and balance out all that black.

So I started thinking about shortening the sleeves (or even removing them altogether). Here’s how my immediate thought process went:

1. With the close fit of this top, short sleeves might look like I was trying to make a T-shirt out of something that wanted to be a fitted top; getting the proportion of sleeve length to silhouette would be tricky. I like things to be simple, not tricky.

2. And I just don’t like short sleeves.

3. What about cap sleeves?

4. Although I like cap sleeves, I can’t remember ever making them without a pattern; how do I figure out what’s the right length, and more importantly, the right angle to make it a cap and not a short sleeve?

This last question is the intriguing one; what exactly does separate a cap sleeve from a short one? When I took the time to think this over, I realized that it has everything to do with the angle at which the sleeve hemline is cut. (This may seem really obvious, but it’s another one of those things that isn’t obvious to me until I actually think consciously about it.) So is there a formula? Maybe a magic number of degrees of difference that turns a short sleeve into a cap?

Result of quick Dogpile fetch (under “creating a cap sleeve”): I found several tutorials, all of which are about making cap sleeves from scratch. (Here’s a link to one tutorial, if you’re interested in making or altering a sleeve pattern.) That’s fine if you’re adding cap sleeves to a sleeveless top, but what if you just want to change an existing garment, like mine?

I recently made a cap-sleeved top, using Vogue 8790, so I took a look at the shape of that sleeve pattern; it’s basically a half-circle, with the straight edge becoming the sleeve hemline. However, it only goes partially around the armhole, and so it really doesn’t help me with altering the long sleeves. Moving on from the use-an-existing-pattern idea, I thought I could at least start by determining how long I want the cap sleeves to be at the underarm point, shown here:

Determining start point

Determining start point for cutting new cap sleeve. 1″ should be enough to finish the cut edge and turn under the new hem, without running into the armhole seamline.

1 inch below the seamline (meaning into the sleeve side of the seamline) is all I think I’ll need; if it goes much further than that, it’ll be dangerously near short-sleeve territory. This should give me enough allowance to serge the edge and turn under a 1/4″ hem, without overlapping the existing seamline.

Now that I know where I’m going to start cutting, I just need to figure out the angle of the rest of the cut, that will shape the cap sleeve. I have to admit I’m only guessing here, eyeballing where I think it should go with the help of my trusty tape measure:

Possible cutting lines

Possible cutting lines for new sleeves. You could use the straight-up line for a tiny little cap, or more of an angled cut (my preference). Interestingly, the line for the short sleeve is exactly the same angle as the slight-angle line; it’s just longer. Hmm…

Tip: I suspect that the cutting line you ultimately choose will depend in part on the fit of the sleeve; for example, usually the fuller the sleeve, the longer you’ll want it to be, so that proportion is maintained. In this case, since the sleeve is so close-fitting, the small cap shape seems appropriate, but since my shoulders are on the narrow side, it would also look out of proportion to make the cap too short. So I’m going with the slight-angle cutting line.

Deep breath, and… cut!

After cutting cap sleeve

After cutting cap sleeve. Even without seeing the whole top, doesn’t it have a different feel already? (The cut edges look a little raggedy because the 2 layers of the fabric start to separate when you cut them.)

After cutting both sleeves, try on your top to make any necessary adjustments to the shape and/or length of your new sleeves. Then all you need to do is finish the cut edges and sew your hems!

Tip: For some fabrics, you may not need or want to finish the raw edges before hemming (lace, for example). In my case, I thought it was a good idea, mostly to rejoin the 2 layers of fabric, and partly just because I like the finished look of a serged edge, as shown here:

Finishing cut edge

Finishing cut edges. You can use a serger, as I did, zigzag stitch, turn under 1/8″, or just leave the edge raw with fabrics that don’t require finishing (like lace or non-woven fabrics). Most fabrics appreciate a clean finish.

Next, turn your finished edge under 1/4-1/2″ and press in place:

Fold finished edge under

Fold finished edge under to create the new hem. Your hem depth will depend on the thickness of your fabric; the textured fabric of my top is fairly thick, although it’s lightweight, so I turned my hem under almost 1/2″. (The texture is also what’s making my folded edge look like it’s not very straight.)

And now it’s time to stitch that new hem in place! Given the stretchy-knit fabric of my top, I decided to use a wide, shallow zigzag stitch; depending on the type of fabric you’re working with, you may decide to hand-stitch your hems. Here, you can see both the inside and outside of my stitched hem:

After stitching hem

After stitching the new hem. Between the black and the texture, I know it’s hard to see the zigzag stitching, but then, that’s the point of a good hem!

And the whole top, in all its newly-cap-sleeved glory:

New cap sleeves!

New cap sleeves! If you want all the sexy details, my finished cap sleeves measure 5″ from the seamline (at the shoulder) to the longest point, and 1/2″ at the underarm.

When I think about it now, it’s been quite a while since I’ve worn this top, but after I finished these new cap sleeves, I wore it to a dance the same night! And although it may not be the most profound of observations, this experience makes me realize, yet again, that sometimes even the simplest of changes in our clothes also changes the way we wear them.

*Join me every 2 weeks for Makeover Monday! Oh, and I welcome all your suggestions for makeover projects, and if you’ve done your own makeover using one of my tutorials, I’d love to post your photos here!

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Author: colormusing

I'm a writer, color palette creator, and designer of fashion, costumes, graphics, knitwear patterns, and yarn.

3 thoughts on “Makeover Monday: Recapping a Top Story

  1. Looks nice with cap sleeves – bravo!

  2. Pingback: Makeover Monday: Ballroom Dress to Tango Top! | Changing Your Clothes

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