Home > Alterations > The Best Way to Alter a Dress or Top so it Fits

The Best Way to Alter a Dress or Top so it Fits

By: Angela Armes - Updated: 11 Jul 2015 | comments*Discuss
Start Sewing Startsewing

There are times when we buy items of clothes that are a little too large or a little too long and as such we need to make slight alterations to them in order for them to fit or look just right. Unfortunately it is not always the case that the item we want is in exactly the size or shape we want so it is necessary to make these alterations in advance of a special event.

What You Need to Alter a Dress or a Top?

As a DIY enthusiast will have a tool kit containing hammer, nails, screwdriver and drill etc so too an individual embarking on the alteration of some clothes requires the relevant tools to be at hand. If you are intending to make alterations to a garment you will ideally have to hand the following :

  • Fabric Pen
  • Scissors
  • Needle and Thread
  • Sewing Machine (although not always necessary)
  • Iron
  • Pins
  • Seam Ripper
  • Measuring Tape

These are the standard items you will need but as we have already mentioned it may not be necessary to have a sewing machine and indeed not everyone is in possession of such equipment so the customary needle and thread may have to suffice. It is also a good idea to have a friend handy if you are altering a dress so that he or she may mark out the areas to be altered whilst you are wearing the dress - this allows for a more accurate measurement and also reduces the risk of marking out wrongly if the dress is lying flat on a table for instance.

Removing Seams

You should remove the old seams with a seam ripper in order to make your new seams which may make the dress shorter; seam rippers allow for the pulling out of seams without damaging the material but it is important when you are carrying out this task to only remove the seams that are necessary to the alteration.

Making New Seams

Your new seams will be where the dress or garment has been marked out. Take in any extra fabric that is not necessary to the seam, sew your new seam and then trim excess fabric on either side of the seam. Once you have done this it is best to iron the seam flat.

Altering the Length of the Garment

To alter the length of a dress for example, remove the old hem and then iron out the crease where the hem used to be. Then using your markings pin the ends of the dress up and under until you reach the desired length of the dress. This is where your measuring tape comes in and you should use this to ensure that the dress' new length is the same all the way around. Once you are happy the new hem is right sew it into place and then remove any pins and excess material and iron to remove the crease.


After you have done this you can finish - this means that sew around the hem again to insure it does not unravel. Do this using a zig zag pattern (this is where a sewing machine does come in handy) about an inch from the hem itself. Trimming the edges with scissors or pinking shears also reduces the risk of fraying.

Of course there are many garment alteration shops up and down the country that can do this for you but it is much more satisfying if you can do it yourself and also - it must be said - more cost effective. One of the main reasons many people alter their own clothes is the money saved on having to buy either a new garment or having to pay someone else to alter it for you.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
How to shorten a dress with a train
fish - 11-Jul-15 @ 6:38 PM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • StartSewing
    Re: How to Make a Boned Bodice
    Chazzy - Your Question:I am making my daughter's wedding dress. She is a lovely slim shape with small breasts but I am finding that…
    29 June 2017
  • Chazzy
    Re: How to Make a Boned Bodice
    I am making my daughter's wedding dress. She is a lovely slim shape with small breasts but I am finding that quite a problem in…
    28 June 2017
  • StartSewing
    Re: Embroidery
    Kirstylou - Your Question:HiI'm really looking to start up a little hobby personalising items of clothing with initials :)I am completely new to sewing
    27 June 2017
  • Kirstylou
    Re: Embroidery
    Hi I'm really looking to start up a little hobby personalising items of clothing with initials :) I am completely new to sewing and I've seen online…
    24 June 2017
  • Red
    Re: What Does With or Without Nap Means?
    I haven't sewed from a pattern since school so I'm trying something simple. A simple dress by McCalls. At first I…
    21 April 2017
  • Terri
    Re: Fabric and Pattern Preparation
    I have a hard time understanding a Pattern. I want to make a tote bag. Any suggestions on following a pattern? Thank you
    16 February 2017
  • Marge
    Re: How to Make Swags and Jabots
    I need picture illustrations.
    19 April 2016
  • hayleyjean
    Re: Fashion Fundamentals
    Hi, I want to start sewing and would like to start off with lingerie. How do I go about doing a course for that. Are there any night courses…
    25 November 2015
  • Sue
    Re: Stitch Types
    My machine is not stitching properly - on the back of the fabric the stitch can easily be pulled out - do you know what the problem is.
    18 November 2015
  • StartSewing
    Re: How to Make a Tablecloth
    msgarlic - Your Question:MOST IMPORTANTLY and before you do anything else.WASH THE FABRIC FIRST!As with anything you make and will wash…
    11 September 2015
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the StartSewing website. Please read our Disclaimer.