Adding Sleeves to a Dress

We’ve all found that dress that’s just a dream; the color, the fit, the style, but bummer–it’s topless or sleeveless. This problem is as old as the hills, and I’ve seen a boatload of creative solutions for it. Here’s a pretty simple and straightforward one. Renee (the beautiful bridesmaid) came to me wanting  a top/sleeve addition that was both delicate and subtle.  When adding anything to a garment you have to decide whether you want to go the route of matching the color or tone (easiest when it’s either black or white), or do something that’s contrasting and complimentary. I happen to have this soft lace on hand (as seen here) and we both thought it would be a nice fit to the flowy and textural dress. Because she wanted it to be pretty subtle, I lined it with a nude knit underneath.

I then drafted a super basic cap sleeve top based on where she wanted the neck, back, and sleeves to hit, and hand-sewed it in between the dress and lining.  For easy entering and exiting, I added snap buttons on the right underarm to extend the side zipper. Simple and beautiful! And isn’t she gorgeous?? Seriously, when I design my clothing line, I know who I’m calling.

mad mim alterations_adding sleeves_1

mad mim alterations_adding sleeves

mad mim alterations_adding sleeves

mad mim alterations_adding sleeves

(And Happy Pioneer Day to all you fellow Utahns!)



  1. Kez
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    OK, so I haven’t really commented before, but…when you design your own clothing line, I know who will be dropping waa-aay too much money! Special request: can you give us a heads up when it’s coming close so that I know to start saving my pennies?

  2. Posted July 25, 2012 at 3:25 am | Permalink

    I love your addition! Simply beautiful! (And yes, she is gorgeous!) I had a terrible time fitting a strapless dress for my daughter one year and finally had to add straps. My other daughter bought a strapless, we modified the fit, but she still did not enjoy dancing in it. My biggest pet peeve with strapless dresses, although they look gorgeous, is seeing women pulling them up. I

    • Posted July 25, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      Strapless! That is the word! is is gonna sound funny, but I could NOT remember that name! I kept on thinking it was called topless, but that didn’t sound right. Funny how that happens…
      I’ve just added straps before too, and I think the main problem was that they kept on falling off. I guess if you keep trying different things you can come up with a winner!

      • Posted July 25, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

        Kez, that comment made my whole day! The fact that you’re willing to spend you imaginary future money on my fantasy clothing line really means a lot!;) Sadly as of right now, a clothing line is really nothing more than a fantasy, but someday! And yes, I’ll give you heads up! And I’ll totally hook you up with a deal too!! Thanks for coming out of blogging anonymity to make that sweet comment, it means so much!!

        • Kez
          Posted July 25, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

          EEEEEeeeeeEEEEEeeee a deal? Really?! I may have just squeed out loud! I shall patiently await “someday”!

  3. Posted July 25, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    That is a great idea! I think the lace top like that adds a lot of interest to the dress too. =)

  4. Kathleen
    Posted January 12, 2013 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Orrrrrrrrr – you could just wear a t-shirt under the dress …

    • Posted January 13, 2013 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      Sure, you totally could. If you found a pretty shirt you liked, why not. Sewing it just avoids bunching, falling, readjusting etc.

  5. Katelyn
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Where did she get the original dress? It is so beautiful with the lace. :)

  6. Allie H.
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Okay, this is an awesome idea. I’m totallywith you-I love all the prints and styles of dresses that are coming out these days but I just can’t bring myself to wear strapless without thinking it’s going to fall down! I’d been searching for the perfect tutorial on how to add the most basics straps but this is such a cute option, too. Thanks for posting!

    • Posted March 22, 2013 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

      You’re so welcome, glad to be of inspiration!

  7. Posted June 22, 2013 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Thank you! I really love this idea. It is so hard nowadays to be modest. The stores in California rarely sell anything with sleeves. Thanks again! Trying to be modest in California. Mother of 5 girls.

  8. Annisa
    Posted July 20, 2013 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    I think you mean strapless not topless 😉 Topless would be a skirt because there would be no top. A dress is either strapless or sleeveless.

    • Posted July 20, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      Yep, someone else corrected me as well! Lol, I knew it wasn’t right, but it’s all I could think of late at night;) I should probably go back and edit that!

  9. Posted September 29, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I like the changes making the dress modest, but by adding more fabric that matches both the top and the dress tying them together would unite the look.

    • Posted September 29, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      I agree, but because the dress was RTW, we couldn’t find an exact match and thought the Complimentary look worked best.

  10. Posted January 29, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I came across your great idea and design on Pinterest. I am having fun doing refashions, being inspired by so many talented people’s blogs. I was thinking that this idea could be used to replace sleeves you don’t like on a shirt or dress as well. (I’m not a seamstress-just stumbling around-but seems like it would work) You are inspiring me!

  11. chrissy
    Posted March 3, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    This is a great idea!!!!! I’ve recently bounced back from my second little one who was breast fed. He loves pulling down my shirt so cute tops have been a no go and strapless was a suicide wish from modesty. This made my day bc now I can alter quite easily and keep my cute sundresses!!!!!!

    • Posted March 6, 2014 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      Yay for saving the cute sundresses!! So glad you like this idea!

  12. Esther
    Posted March 11, 2015 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Such a nice idea!!
    I have the same dress and also want to add some lace. I’ve found a oranje lace t-shirt, but I’m not sure how to sew it. My biggest question is: how this you sew it near the zipper?
    because the zipper has to work if you want to put the dress on..

    I like to hear from you! :)


  13. Ruth
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    Do you have a pattern so that I can do this on the strapless dress I just bought for prom? I’d rather have sleeves then a shrug. I have matching fabric and everything, I just don’t know what sort of shape to make it. Even a general pattern would help me out a lot.

    • Posted April 2, 2015 at 6:41 am | Permalink

      I don’t have a pattern but just use a snug fitting shirt you have that you like the shape of as a guide!

  14. Debbie
    Posted May 6, 2015 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    This is such a great idea. You do wonderful work. I may try to “draft” a top that fits just right, but it still would not look this nice. However, I could perhaps purchase a top to use.

  15. Posted June 9, 2015 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    This is precisely what I have been searching for to add a top to a strapless dress in a polka dot pattern I love! But I’m a super beginner in the ways of sewing and was hoping this would be a more detailed tutorial to show me how to do it. You think you could create a how-to guide? Love it!

    • Posted June 10, 2015 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      I’m so glad you like this, I wish I had time to do a more detailed tutorial! I hope you can figure it out, best of luck!

  16. Posted September 20, 2015 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Just found this post (and your blog)–behold the joys of Pinterest. I LOVE how this dress turned out!

  17. Posted June 5, 2013 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    Hi…Just passing by and thought I might be able to help. One idea could be wearing a “half shirt” under the sleeveless dress. Lots of places sell them online (one is Hope that helps! :)

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