How to Add Sleeves to a Strapless Dress

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Learn how to add sleeves to a strapless dress by sewing on thick straps and flutter sleeves. This is a quick alteration to make a dress more wearable!

Strapless and sleeveless dresses might be easy to find, but they are a little uncomfortable to wear if you are always worrying about them staying up. It’s often needed to add straps and sleeves to a strapless dress, and it’s an easy and simple refashion!

I have done this alteration too many times to count for teenagers so their dress would comply with a dress code. There’s a little bit of machine sewing, a little bit of hand sewing, and the hardest part is matching the fabric!

How to Add Sleeves to a Strapless Dress

When doing this alteration the most important part is to find matching or coordinating fabric. If you are hemming the dress you can use that for the sleeves.

If not you will need to take the dress to a fabric store to find the fabric that works best. It’s almost impossible to find matching fabric.

Do you love to sew, refashion, and alter? Try some of these sewing projects:

How to Add Sleeves to a Strapless Dress

How to Add Sleeves to a Strapless Dress


  • Strapless dress
  • Matching or coordinating fabric
    • When looking for fabric go for color matching first (look at it from different angles to see how it changes). Then look for fabric that drapes and behaves like the dress fabric. I found black fabric that was pretty close to the original and it behaved similarly.
  • Sewing tools
  • Sewing machine

This dress originally had straps, but if you want to add thicker straps and sleeves you’ll need to cut the straps off. They just get in the way. If the dress is strapless you can start that way.

strapless dress

Cut two rectangles that measures from the front top of the dress over the shoulder to the back top of the dress and add 1 inch. Cut the rectangles 4 inches wide.

Cut two “C” curved shapes that are 3.5 inches deep. Don’t worry if it’s too long since we’ll cut it the right length later.

cut out two rectangles and two ruffles

Sew a rolled hem on the outside edge of both curves. Press the hem flat.

hem the outer edges of the ruffle

Open the curve and match the inner edge with one long side of a rectangle. Pin it in place. Do the same to the other curve and rectangle.

pin the ruffle to the long side of a rectangle

Trim any of the curve off that extrends past the end of the rectangle. Do the same to the other strap.

trim any excess ruffle off

Take the unpinned long side and fold it over to match the other long side. Tuck the ruffle inside and pin the two long sides together with right sides together. Do the same to the other strap.

fold rectangle around the ruffle and pin long sides

Sew the long seam with a 3/8 inch seam allowance. Do the same to the other strap.

sew the seam

Turn the straps right side out. Press the straps flat.

turn right side out

Finish the short ends with a serger or a zigzag.

finish the short edges

Place the strap on the top of the dress with each side extending down passed the top of the dress 1/2 inch. Pin the strap and sleeve in place all along the top of the dress. Do the same to the other strap.

When you are pinning the strap to the back make sure you stay out of the way of the zipper.

pin strap and sleeve onto the top of the bodice

Hand sew the strap to the dress. I like to do stitches that are 1/4 inch wide and 1/4 inch apart and only catch the lining of the dress.

hand sew the strap and sleeve onto the top of the dress

Some dresses are built where if you stitch the strap to the top of the dress, the top will stay in place when the strap is pulled.

Some dresses are built where the top of the dress will get pulled down when the strap is pulled. If this happens you’ll need to add a ladder stitch to the top of the dress and the strap from the right side.

dress pulling away

Give the strap and sleeve a final press and you finished! The fabric is so close that you can only tell there’s a different in certain lighting.

How to Add Sleeves to a Strapless Dress

I stitched the straps to meet right above the zipper for a nice V-neck back.

How to Add Sleeves to a Strapless Dress
[mv_create key=”181″ type=”diy” title=”How to Add Sleeves to a Strapless Dress” thumbnail=””]

If you make something using this sewing project, I’d love to see! Please share it on social media with the hashtag #heatherhandmade and tag me!

How to Add Sleeves to a Strapless Dress
heather sewing

I believe small sewing moments can create great joy. Find your own “right” way to sew. -Heather

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what is the diameter of the circle you cut for the flounce? I am guessing this could affect the amount of fullness in the sleeve.

so helpful thanks! may i add a tip? in order to make a nice match you can use a different shine of a fabric, for example a silky one, same colour.

If you are buying it new, (if possible) you can also buy two of the items to match the fabric.

Great job Heather! I only own one strapless, wore it a few years ago for a coworker's wedding, and I hated that I had to adjust it all night long. It doesn't fit anymore, but when it does (when!) I am going to add straps….maybe halter?