How to: Make a dress smaller

At last week’s Sit ‘n’ Sew, we were having a chat about how best to give a rather shapeless dress made out of a gorgeous polka dot fabric a new lease of life. We needed to make it smaller, to fit Nadia’s petite form, and ideally the baggy vintage design needed to be given more of a waist. I thought, after this conversation, that maybe we could all do with a bit of a tutorial on how to make a dress smaller, so I did a bit of Googling…

dress form

eHow, as always, was really useful. The most important steps they mentioned were:

  1. Measure around your waist and hips. Measure the front and back of the dress at the waist and hips. Subtract the difference of each measurement. This is approximately how much room you need to take in the waist and the hips, respectively
  2. You will be calculating a quarter of the amount you need to take in. For example, if you need to take two inches, then you would mark ½” from the stitching on each side. Using a small piece of chalk, measure in from the seam and mark where you will be sewing it.
  3. To take in the waist try taking in the side seams, tapering in at the waist and back out to the original seamline above and below.
  4. Alternatively, if you want to make long darts down the back of the dress, and you don’t have a seam at the waist, put the dress on INSIDE OUT and measure across the back from the spine to the side seam of the dress on each side. Make a chalk line at the middle of this distance to show where you want the darts to go. The line should extend from the parts of the dress that fit well at the top and bottom–approximately from the shoulder blade area to the upper buttock. Then, you will want to pinch in the middle part to see how deep the dart should be at the waist. Most likely you will not want to take in more than 1″ at each dart. Now, draw in the dart, keeping your original lines at the center, in an elongated diamond shape. This will provide you with a stitching line to follow.

Alternatively, it is always worth considering adding a large Obi-style belt to the dress, which ties around the back. At the very least this will add a bit more definition and tighten it in the waist.


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