There are a lot of great vintage finds out there, but sadly to say, a lot of them have pretty unfortunate sleeve situations. Removing sleeves is probably the trick I use most often when updating, repairing, and refitting secondhand clothing. Dresses that fit perfectly well everywhere else, but dig into your pits or restrict your arms to a 30 degree range of motion are common enough to make me wonder about the evolution of arm-to-body proportions. Not to mention the multitudinous variations of big, puffy sleeves that didn't seem quite so bad on the hanger, but are just flat out embarrassing when you put them on. A true tragedy.
My fix? Go sleeveless. You don't need those things. Sleeveless dresses are more versatile, anyway. On its own? Summer dress. Throw on a sweater, and now it's a winter dress. Voilà.
What You'll Need
(purchase or make your own out of your discarded sleeves or matching fabric)
First, find the seam where the sleeves are sewn to the body of the garment. Using your seam ripper, tear out the thread that is holding together that seam, being careful not to damage the fabric. The easiest way to do this is to start on the inside of the garment, where you can see the stitches better. Tear out a few stitches, then pull the seam apart where you've made a hole and continue from the outside of the garment, alternating between ripping out stitches and pulling the seam apart further.
Remove both sleeves and you'll have something like this:
You'll have to cut off that ratty seam allowance, and depending on your garment and your style you may or may not want to cut off more. If your sleeves were too tight or restrictive in any way, you'll definitely want to trim some fabric from the underarm and the front of your sleeve setting. Just be careful not to cut too much. You can try it on before proceeding to make sure it's the cut you want. It should look something like this:
Now you just have to finish off that raw edge. There are a number of different ways to do this:
Facing: This is the most involved and invisible method. It requires making a pattern piece, leaving a seam allowance, and hand sewing. You may want to use this method for a more formal dress.
V-Fold Binding: This method may or may not be invisible, depending on whether you hand- or machine-sew it, but the binding will end up fully on the inside on the garment. It requires leaving a seam allowance.
C-Fold Binding: This is the method I'm showing you. It is quick and easy and requires no seam allowance. The binding will be visible, so it has a sportier look than the other methods, and using binding that matches is important.
Both C- and V- fold binding can be purchased in the notion section of any fabric store, pre-made in a variety of widths and colors. But they are also easy to make out of any fabric you have lying around.
Binding must be cut on the bias. This is really important! The bias of a fabric runs diagonally across the weave of the fabric. The bias is the only direction in which a non-stretch fabric has stretch. This stretch makes it possible for the binding to fit smoothly around a curve without buckling or bunching or rolling. If you look closely at any woven fabric you should be able to see the perpendicular lines of the threads.
It's ideal to cut on the true bias, however if you're trying to squeeze binding out of a small piece of fabric, you can fudge it a little.
Using a ruler and tailor's chalk, draw strips along the bias of your fabric. The finished width of your binding will be 1/4 of the original width. I made mine 2" wide, so my finished binding looks to be 1/2" wide.
Cut up your bias strips.
Square the ends.
If your strips aren't long enough to make it around your armhole, sew a couple strips together and press the seam open. Treat it as one long strip.
Fold your strips in half lengthwise and press.
(Press: Iron slowly, using the weight of your body to press the iron into the fabric.)
Open up your binding and using your center crease as a guideline, fold half of the width of your bias strip in half and press.
Repeat on the other side.
Fold again on your center crease and press, allowing one side to be a smidge wider than the other.
(The purpose of leaving one side wider is to make it easier to catch the hidden underside of the binding when you sew.)
I like to swirl my finished binding to encourage a smooth curve. You can do this by ironing your binding, and as you iron, curve the binding so that you iron it into a curve that mimics the curve you'll be sewing it to. In this case, you should swirl with the center fold on the inside.
Now we pin. Starting in underarm (the least visible area), sandwich the fabric of the garment in the opening of your binding. If your binding were a hot dog bun, your fabric would be the hot dog. Put your pins in perpendicular to the binding with the heads hanging off the edge for easy removal, on the outside of the garment, so you can see what it will look like on the outside as you sew. The wider side of the binding should be on the inside, the side that you can't see when you sew.
Pin all the way around, cut the binding, leaving about a 1/2" of overlap. Turn 1/4" of that raw edge to the inside of the binding and pin it down. You shouldn't have any raw edges showing.
Turn the garment inside-out so that when you sew on the face of the garment, your presser foot is like a hamster running in the wheel of your armhole.
Sew at about 1/8" from the open edge of the binding, as neatly and evenly as possible, removing your pins as you go.
And you've got a super-fashionable vintage getup!