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How to alter a dress bigger?


How to alter a dress bigger?

Julie Workman

Altering a dress in order to make it larger can be a bit more complicated than making a dress smaller. Also referred to as letting out, the possibility of making a dress bigger often depends upon the size of the seam allowances. Seam allowances are the amount of fabric left on the inside of the garment when the seam is finished. 

Many ready-to-wear dresses purchased off the rack have small seam allowances and therefore offer very little opportunity for altering them to a larger size. These dresses also may have distinct pressing marks when the seams are taken out, so careful consideration must be given to where the seams are and how obvious such marks might be. However, depending on the number of seams in the dress, an alteration can often provide an increase in size of at least ½” to1″. 

The best way to begin is to measure how much the dress needs to be let out to determine if altering to make it bigger is even possible. Measure the person, and measure the dress laid out flat, as closely as possible to the hips, waist, or bust, depending on where the dress is too small. If there’s access to an adjustable dress form, that’s an even better way to measure. The difference between the dress size and the person is the amount it needs to be altered. For instance, if the person’s waist measures 29″, but the dress only measures 28″ at the waist, then it needs to be altered by 1″.

Typically, when you alter a dress, it’s easier to sew the new seam before ripping out the old seam. This prevents slipping and will ensure that the seams line up just as they were before.

If the dress is simple with just two side seams, divide the amount the dress needs to be let out in half. For instance if it needs to be let out 1″, it will need to be let out by ½” on each side. This means that the new seam will be sewn only ¼” from the old seam, because both sides will gain that amount, adding up to ½”. If the dress is simply too small in its entirety, simply sew the seam ¼” out from top to bottom, carefully rip out the old seam, and press. Pay special attention to the hem or sleeves, as they may require adjustment also. 

 If the dress only needs to be let out in the waist, mark on the seam allowance (with a water soluble marker or with chalk) where the waistline falls on the person. Then measure above 2-3″ and below 2-3″, marking both of these spots. From the top marking, draw a line where the new seam should be, curving out gradually to the ¼” and then curving gradually back in to meet the bottom marking. When sewing on this line, be sure to reinforce the beginning and end of stitching so that the original stitching does not begin to tear. Then proceed with removing old stitches and pressing. Follow the same guidelines for hips or bust.

Designer dresses and bridal gowns are more apt to leave more of a generous seam allowance as there is more expectation that alterations might be made. In addition, formal dresses with beading can be made larger by adding fabric into the seam and then beading over the top to cover the new fabric. However, this is more likely to be done by a professional as the work in intricate, detailed, and usually done on very expensive gowns.   


You’ll need to add a fabric panel to the dress; find a spot near the bust where the seam is and add more fabric! If you want to do it at home, I’m assuming you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you have no idea what I mean or don’t have a pattern to help you understand, find a tailor, please! We don’t want to risk ruining your pretty dress. Good luck!

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