How To Fix Tight Armholes

Modifying the armhole of a dress is a simple task, and if the top of the armhole is too small or tight, you can adjust it without having to put the outfit aside. By using the correct technique, you can resolve tight armholes without having to refrain from wearing the garment.

It’s tricky to alter tight armholes; you must consider a proper margin and seal the hems. Fortunately, this problem is straightforward to fix since tight armholes can be stitched and made to fit perfectly.

Tight or small armholes can cause rashes and redness if they are even a little wearable. In both cases, armholes must be altered if they are not wearable. It is necessary to alter the dress or top to have small armholes to avoid looking bulky and untidy and give you a proper fit.

Keep reading our post. SewingWithEase makes sure you get all the information you need.

Key Takeaways

  • Fixing tight sleeves involves adding fabric:
    • Various methods are tailored to specific needs and sleeve types.
  • Five techniques to adjust sleeve fit:
    • Add a triangle gusset for tightness towards the hem.
    • Insert a diamond underarm gusset to relieve tight armscyes and improve movement.
    • Raise the armscye to prevent the shirt from lifting when arms are raised.
    • Sew panels down the side seam to enlarge both the sleeve and shirt.
    • Lower the armscye and enlarge the sleeve circumference for overall tight sleeves and armscyes.
  • The selection of the technique depends on the tightness location:
    • Whether it’s the armpit or bicep area or if the whole sleeve is too small.
  • Gussets and panels can be made from matching or contrasting fabrics:
    • This can add a style element to the garment while solving the fit issue.
  • Digital resources and tutorials are available for those needing further guidance:
    • This includes detailed guides for drafting sleeves and adding gussets.
  • Experience sharing:
    • The author has personally used these methods to adjust garments and encourages experimentation with techniques 2 and 5 as general fixes.

What are the reasons for tight armholes?

There are many reasons why armholes in dresses and tops can become tight. The first step in altering the same is to figure out what is causing the tightness around the armpits caused by the tight armholes. In the following sections, we discuss a few factors that can contribute to such an uncomfortable fit:

Irregular sleeve width

A very common problem is that clothes’ sleeves are often stitched at the wrong width. If the sleeves are too small, armholes will feel tight and uncomfortable. You can correct any such inconvenience with your armholes by adjusting the sleeve width, which will also widen the armholes.

A wrong shoulder slope

The lines that run from the armpits to the neckline might cause shoulder slopes to be stitched incorrectly. Stitching such designs can result in the shoulder drooping or being too tight if the shoulder slope is incorrect. As a result, you may feel uncomfortable wearing such a dress if the armholes are too tight.

Incorrect chest size

Dresses, tops, and shirts with a tight chest width also tend to have tight armholes. A garment’s chest width will also change the armholes, resulting in a comfortable fit. If the chest width is smaller than it needs to be, the armholes of the same garment may also be too narrow and uncomfortable to wear. It is possible to adjust the width so that it fits comfortably.

Here is a guide to adjusting and fixing tight armholes

The following is a detailed guide to fixing tight armholes and altering them to fit perfectly and look fabulous. Following these steps will help you make your favorite dress’s armholes well-fitted.

How To Fix Tight Armholes

Increasing the width of the sleeves

Expanding the sleeves can easily fix dresses and shirts with tight armholes. The armholes are tight because the sleeves are tight, and that’s why the sleeves are tight. The sleeves and armholes can be easily widened by removing the stitches and re-sewing the whole fabric with a margin along the entire area.

Increase the width of the chest

It is also possible to increase the chest width when necessary. If the armholes are tight, the chest width of the garment will likely be restricted. It would be best to increase the chest width to obtain loosely fitting armholes and the chest. You can also increase the chest size by altering the stitching and adding a margin of approximately two to three inches.

Make sure the armholes are re-stitched

If the first two methods do not work, re-stitching the armholes after removing the stitches will. Re-stitching tight armholes is not easy when removing all the previous stitches and measuring the needed margin. To fix the tight armholes, measure the required margin and then carefully remove all the stitches to prevent ruining the fabric. Afterward, measure the margins, mark them on the garment, and re-stitch all hems according to the given margins.

Taking measurements and re-stitching the entire garment

The best way to completely alter tight armholes is to restitch the dress with new measurements if none of the above tricks and techniques work. Having tight armholes is usually a sign of a bad fit, and simply loosening the armholes may not improve the fit of the entire dress. If there is a margin in size, you should take new measurements and increase the size from all sides if there is room for improvement.

By adding a fabric wedge

You can also add a fabric wedge to a dress with armholes that are too tight to increase size. Doing so gives your arms more room, and the garment will not feel tight when you wear it. Adding a fabric wedge carefully is essential to avoid making the dress look untidy and ugly. Ensure that the wedge added around the armhole area of the altered garment is stitched neatly if you want a good finish.

What needs to be considered when fixing tight armholes

It would be best to keep a few things in mind when trying to resolve the problem of tight armholes in a garment. Here are some of them:

  • Measure correctly – Taking the right measurements for alterations is the first step to altering a garment with tight armholes. A wrong measurement can ruin a garment again, as it will result in an ill-fitting garment that looks awful. For maximum accuracy, you should take at least one measurement thrice while taking measurements.
  • Determine the problem – Identifying the cause before cutting the fabrics here and there to alter the garment is crucial. Tight chest widths, tight sleeves, and other issues can result in a tight armhole. To alter the fabric from where it is needed, you must first identify the root cause.
  • Don’t rush – Many things must be considered when working with fabric. Working without concentration and hurrying will result in you cutting off some extra fabric from anywhere and ruining the entire garment. Therefore, it is recommended to keep a low pace and concentrate well.
  • Finish the hems by stitching them – Some threads remain after altering a garment and look extremely shabby if they are not treated properly. It would be best if you neatly hemmed all fabric corners to ensure that your garment is not untidy or flimsy. To achieve a crisp and naturally fitted look, it is extremely important to hem the corners to avoid thread fallout.

How tight should an armhole be?

An armhole that is too tight can restrict movement and be uncomfortable, while an armhole that is too loose can make the garment feel bulky and unflattering. The best armhole fit is snug but not binding and allows a full range of motion.

How do you widen arm hole patterns?

To widen an armhole pattern, you’ll need to start by cutting the original armhole pattern piece along the seam allowance line. Then, use a set of cutting shears to enlarge the armhole slightly. Once you’ve done that, you can trace the new armhole pattern onto some tracing paper and use it to cut out a new armhole piece.

How To Fix Tight Armholes FAQs

What causes sleeves to feel too tight, and how can I determine where they are tightest?

Tight sleeves can result from a mismatch between the garment’s size and the wearer’s arm size, particularly in the bicep area or the armscye (armpit hole). To identify where the sleeve is tightest, wear the garment and observe if the tightness is around the bicep, near the armpit, or if the sleeve restricts movement. Each scenario suggests a different adjustment technique.

Can I fix tight sleeves without professional tailoring experience?

Yes, several methods to adjust tight sleeves don’t require professional tailoring experience. Techniques such as adding a triangle gusset to the sleeve, inserting a diamond underarm gusset, raising or lowering the armscye, sewing panels down the side seam, or enlarging the sleeve circumference can be done at home with some basic sewing skills.

What is a triangle gusset, and how does it help with tight sleeves?

A triangle gusset is a piece of fabric added to the sleeve to increase its width, which is especially beneficial if the sleeve is tight at the hem but fits well at the armpit. By cutting a slit from the sleeve’s hem up to where it meets the armscye and inserting a triangular fabric piece, you can add width to the sleeve without altering the fit around the armpit.

How does adding a diamond underarm gusset improve sleeve fit?

A diamond underarm gusset addresses tightness around the armscye, allowing for more arm movement and slightly increasing the garment’s shoulder and bust area without altering the sleeve’s hem. This method involves cutting a slit at the side seam and inserting a diamond-shaped piece of fabric, which remains hidden under the armpit.

What should I do if the sleeve and the shirt are too small?

If both the sleeve and the shirt are too small, you can open the shirt’s side seam and insert a fabric panel extending from the sleeve’s end to the bottom. This not only enlarges the sleeve but also widens the entire garment, providing a more comfortable fit overall.

Are any resources available for those struggling with sleeve adjustments?

Yes, numerous resources are available for individuals looking to adjust their sleeves. Detailed guides, tutorials, and even digital resources can provide step-by-step instructions on creating a perfectly fitting sleeve. These resources are invaluable for beginners and experienced sewers facing challenges with sleeve adjustments.


If your favorite dress has become extremely tight at the armholes and is causing you pain and discomfort, don’t worry! If you alter the dress well and wear it without hassle, you won’t have to throw it away. We have discussed a few ways to alter and fix tight armholes to help you through the whole process and try it out for yourself. Fixing tight armholes isn’t a hassle if you follow the instructions correctly. If you follow the right method, you can also fix the problem of tight armholes.

Check our sewing glossary guide if you are a newbie in sewing.

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