How to add sleeves to a wedding dress

Updated July 20, 2017

Many modern wedding fashions trend toward sleeveless or spaghetti-strapped dresses. Brides who prefer the more traditional and modest look of sleeves may opt to alter an heirloom or already purchased dress. There are many sleeve styles to choose from that can be attached with a little sewing savvy.

Choose the type of sleeves that compliment your wedding dress and personal taste. Shorter, simple styles include rounded cap sleeves and T-shirt sleeves that partially cover the biceps. Elegant, off-the-shoulder sleeves reveal the entire collarbone and shoulders, while more traditional three-quarter or full-length sleeves extend past the elbow to the wrist or beyond. For a dramatic, Renaissance look, consider longer bell sleeves that flare with extra fabric towards the wrists.

Find and buy a pattern that features the type and length of sleeves that you want to add to your wedding dress. The pattern can be for a wedding dress, or any other type of formal gown. Choose a pattern that has a similar bodice to your gown for easier sleeve attachment. If you are altering a strapless dress, off-the-shoulder sleeves are the best option.

Purchase sleeve material from a speciality fabric or craft store, according to the pattern specifications. Consider lace or other sheer fabric for T-shirt, three-quarter, and full-length sleeves. Silk and satin are fine choices for cap and off-the-shoulder sleeves. Select a material that compliments the shade and texture of your wedding dress, rather than trying to match exactly.

Cut out only the sleeve pieces from the pattern. Pin to your fabric and cut out each sleeve piece.

Sew together the sleeve pieces with a sewing machine according to pattern instructions and attach to your wedding dress. Make adjustments as necessary for differences in your bodice.


Off-the-shoulder sleeves are the easiest style to attach to an existing gown, as shoulder measurements need not be exact. Stretch lace and other flexible fabrics allow for easier movement and greater comfort with longer sleeves.

Things You'll Need

  • Fabric
  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • Matching thread
  • Sewing machine
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About the Author

Madigan Talmage-Bowers has been writing articles and creative nonfiction since 2005. Her work has been featured in "Frenzy," "Walkabout," and "SHOT!" magazines, "The Colorado Daily," as well as numerous fine art, cultural and lifestyle blogs. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Colorado at Boulder and studied media and communication theory at New York's New School University.