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Altering clothes to make them fit: 20 typical clothing fitting problems

Tips to alter and achieve the perfect fit for your garments, from trousers that are loose to blouse necklines that gape
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You have your dream dress on – but something is not quite right. And that one thing is ruining it for you. Time for DIY Alterations.

Alterations sometimes become a necessity, like a scenario where your favorite dress is too tight that you absolutely cannot get into it, OR sometimes it is just for the aesthetics like the bootleg jeans which you want to transform into a tapering one.

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If you know just what to do and you have your seam ripper and sewing machine, and some time (and patience) there is nothing you cannot do to that dress to make it wearable and turn it, maybe, even gorgeous.

What do you need to do clothing alterations

For simple alterations, you can and sewing machine. Sometimes you may have to retake body measurements and need to stitch with a hand sewing needle and thread. Then replacements have to be bought – like new zipper, buttons etc.

Here is how to go about altering clothes properly – step by step

Step 1. Understand Fit

You should know how the garment should fit on your body, given the garment silhouette and your body shape. The shoulders should lie flat, the chest area should be comfortable, and pants should sit well at your waist without the need for a belt to hold them up. You should be able to move around, sit comfortably and maybe even dance around after you have done altering. And you also should not alter the

Step 2. Measure

I always take the measurement of the body and the garment to know it should properly fit my body. You’ll need to measure your body and your garments to determine how much to take in or let out. Chest, waist, hips, and inseam are the basics

Step 3. Gather the tools of the trade

You will need some essential tools for alterations,like sewing needles, threads of various colors, a sewing machine, pins, a tape measure, seam ripper, iron, and scissors.

Step 4. Inspect your fabric

Different types of fabrics behave differently when you sew them and this will affect how you alter the clothing. Stretchy fabrics, for instance, require different techniques compared to woven fabrics.

Step 5. Brush up your sewing skills

Basic sewing skills like how to thread a needle, sew by hand, and use a sewing machine for straight and zig-zag stitches are necessary for most alterations. Seams and Hems: Understand the types of seams and hems used in the construction of the garment, as these are often the first areas to be adjusted in an alteration. A lot of alterations are made by manipulating and adding darts around the bust, waist, and hips of the garment to take in or let out.

Sewing knowhow needed for alterations – knowing the , the best 5 with which you can sew seams and hems without a sewing machine, the and the basic knowledge of and , the and other methods for if there are tears – all come handy.

Clothing Alterations – and simple solutions

 1. The dress is too tight

This is a sad situation to be in. Either you have put on weight, which is sad or you bought a size smaller hoping you will lose weight, which is sadder. Or you may have shrunk the clothing in the wash

( Check out the tips in the post “” to prevent this from happening again)

You may have to let out seams or darts. Loosening the side seam and restitching is the most often solution – you will need extra seam allowance in this case.

Or You may have to add an extra fabric piece if there is no seam allowance to let out – for this you will need to find matching fabric to the fabric of the dress, with the same care instructions. This extra piece is to be inserted into the seam to add some more width. If it is near joints it is called a gusset – a rectangular piece is added to give ease.

You can add lace trims and use insertion stitches to stitch this piece – check out this post on for more details

You can find the best ways to deal with the situation in this post –

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2. Pant is too tight

Check out this post on the

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3. Dress/pant/skirt is too short

You will need to lengthen hemlines. You can do this in many ways like adding ruffles to the hems, or even making a slip extender to wear under the clothing, to give it length.  Check out this post on for more details on this.

4. Pant is too long

For this check out these posts – ; ; ;

5. The dress is too loose at the waist

This involves Tapering of Dresses & Shirts or skirts.  You will have to retake and add enough ease and then make a new stitching line to the inside. You can also take out excess fabric by adding a dart or two

If you got this dress which is much too big, you can add a waistband like the one in this post on to gather the fullness

Know more about

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6. The Bodice is loose

Here the problem is that the bodice of the  dress seems to be too long and bulges/folds

This is a similar problem as the above, but here the bodice alone is loose, not the skirt. It happens if the person stands straight while taking the body measurements but afterward return to her true posture of slumping.

See if the problem can be solved by a tuck straight across the chest area or in the area below the bust if it seems to bulge with extra length there.

Check out the post on

7. Pant is too loose 

This can be read more in detail in this post – ;

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8. Dress is too long

This involves Shortening the length of dress, skirt, top, Pants or Jeans- cutting out the extra portion and sewing the hemline again.

A hem stitch should ideally be not seen on the outside – hand stitching is the best. Use  to sew the hem back. Make them small – 1/4 inches apart.

Check out the post on 20 ; you can also hand sew hems – Check out this post on the . If you are looking for invisibility in the hem, check out this

For jeans you can check out this post on – all of them work.

This post outlines the best way to

9. Straps are too long or short

Adjust the length of straps on shirts & dresses; You may have to remake the straps or add adjusting sliders.

Check out this post on that can be used for making these straps. 

10.  Add/replace lining in jackets and dresses

This is too much trouble if you ask me but sometimes it has to be done. Prewash the lining fabric. You will have to let out the seams and restitch or add it as an underlining and hand stitch it to the garment.

You can use to very unobstrusively sew a lining to your garment.

11. Altering a neckline that is too big

A neckline which is too wide will gape and expose too much of what you do not want to be shown. There are many solutions to this problem. Check out the post on for these.

12. Wrinkles at the back of the waist

There is extra ease at the  back between the base of the neck and waist. You can see this if the hip area is too tight.

You can try to shape this by taking in some ( 1 cm ) at the side seam or the center seam at the waistline and by loosening the seams at the hip. 

13. The collar needs replacement or repair

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If you cannot sew, or you do not have a lot of spare time for repair, this is unrepairable. Usually the fabric has frayed with wear. You can patch it or replace the collar. 

If the collar is looking odd, ask yourself – Did you cut the collar correctly. The outer piece should be cut lengthwise on the fabric and the inner collar piece should be cut crosswise for better stretch. Most of the time problem happens when the collar is too small

You will have to replace the whole collar. Check out this list of Here is a and

14.  Sleeves not fitting

Tightness in the sleeve

This is evident especially when you lift up the arm. 

You should always measure a long sleeve with the arm slightly bent.

One reason for this is because the crown height is lesser. You will have to mark the crown height a  little higher next time. If the dress has shoulder pads, you can take it off to increase the crown height a little bit.

Sometimes it becomes tight because you have developed more muscles in the forearm

Wrinkles in the crown of the sleeve

This is because crown height of the sleeve is more. Add a shoulder pad to immediately solve the problem. Otherwise, let out the seam , decrease the crown height and sew.

Wrinkles in the arm of a long sleeve

This may be because the sleeve is not fitting for the measurement of the arm of the person.

Cut out armscye slightly. Shapes of armscyes must vary with muscular development around armpits of individuals.

15. WordStr pockets and trims

Pockets can get worn or tear at the pressure points. If simple tear repair would not do it, you can replace the pocket. Check out the post on

Trims also may need replacement – learn how you can

16. Faulty fasteners

Zippers break, buttonholes get wider, buttons pop out, thread bars get threadbare, snaps come loose, velcro looses its grip and lacing eyelets pop out. A garment is virtually useless without its fastener. So you will need to repair these pronto.

Check out posts like ” ” for all your zipper problems; or for solutions to some of these problems. Other fastener solutions are there in these posts : ; ;

17. Pant side pockets get open without you doing anything

This is because the pants are not fitting around the hips – it is too tight for you. You will have to find a solution to this problem first. Check out this

18. Armscye Gapes

Droopiness in the armscye under the arm.

Make a dart in the back pattern. This may solve this problem 

If the armscye gapes near the bust you will have to make a diagonal dart to the point of the bust. Do not over pinch or it will be too tight.

First Let out the seam at the armscye. You may have to add a small diagonal dart from the armscye line near the bust to the bust point on the main bodice.

If the armscye gapes near the shoulder make a corrective dart at the shoulder. A basic shoulder dart will take out the too much ease.

19. Shoulder droops

If you like a slightly tailored look to the shoulder rather than a droopy look, a shoulder pad can be used. If only one shoulder droops, use on one side alone. 

20. The skirt of a dress looks limp

If you want a puffy look to your clothing (party dresses, kids frocks, long skirts etc), you will have to add extra reinforcement. A simple solution to this problem is to wear a pouffy pettiskirt underneath. There are many ways to make this – check out this post for more info on .  You can use a horsehair braid at the hem for the hem to look stiff. 

Eliminate the need for alterations

Whether as an option or a necessity, alterations are something I do not enjoy as much as I have this pile of clothes ready for alterations at any point in my wardrobe – hems which have come loose, dresses which need a bit of seam stitching, hooks that have come loose etc – all of those clothes sitting it out in the wardrobe for months. In my opinion, it is always better to avoid alterations, but sometimes they are necessary for good fit.

When you buy clothes, buy ones that fit the largest part of your body (for eg. for pants if your hips are wide, do not just look at the measurement of the waist).

And always consider the possibility of the garment shrinking after the first wash, when you buy. This is only true for clothes made of natural materials like cotton, linen, rayon garments. Clothes made of synthetic materials do not shrink and those made of spandex will stretch to fit – no need of alterations, if you have carefully selected them in your fit.

Related post :  

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Author: Sarina Tariq
Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
15 thoughts on “Altering clothes to make them fit: 20 typical clothing fitting problems”
  1. Linda Corcoran

    I bought a dress , waist is fine but it’s too big across the hips and thighs. I have taken in the side seams equally on both sides of the dress but now it looks like the back of the dress is almost bigger than the front ! It’s hard to explain but when I try it on it looks like I should be taking more from the back ( at the side seam ) than the front ? It’s almost like the seam is working it’s way round to the front and the back is now further round ???
    Can you help please as I can’t take the dress in all the way up the side because it would then be too tight across my tummy and chest .

    • Sarina Tariq
      Cant you make darts in the back near the hips starting from the waist.
  2. Mary
    “1. The dress is too tight. This is a sad situation to be in. Either you have put on weight, which is sad or you bought a size smaller hoping you will lose weight, which is sadder.” This is a horrible way to begin this article. People are looking for help, not be shamed for putting on weight. Poorly written and ignorant. Reply
    • Sarina
      Sorry If it is offensive. It was just a way of starting an article – not meant to shame anyone. Everyone is beautiful in their own way, whatever their weight.
  3. Theresa Darnold
    I bought a ready made dress that has darts in the front. It is pointy at the apex. Does not look good to say the least. I took out one dart hoping I could just re-do the dart. After taking the dart out, I find whoever made it, cut a hole and then sewed the dart. How can I fix this?!! Reply
    • Sarina
      They must have first sewn the dart and then cut the dart seam allowance to open it out smoothly. I guess you will have to sew it back the same way or cut the bodice with a princess seam – but then it will tighten the bodice.
  4. Singh Smart Alteration

    Nice Blogs!
    Thanks for sharing this informative blog.
    Having a team of highly qualified, skilled, and professional alteration experts at each of our stores in Randwick, Northbridge, Narellan, and Nice Look Narellan, we can assure you that you will walk away with great pleasure. We know every client has different needs and requirements; hence, we customise our services according to the preferences of our customers. If you ever have a dress or a suit or any other clothes that do not fit you, come over to our shops in Narellan, Northbridge, and Randwick. We can also provide you with the same day service on your demand.

    Hi maam , can i ask who is the author and when it is published? Because i like your topic. Your response is much appreciated.Thank you Reply
  6. mary
    cant pull down top fast enoiugh to go to bathroom what can i do Reply
  7. Margorie Freese
    I have a prom dress that rides up from the waist to the bust when I walk. How do I fix that? Reply
    • Christina
      Look at adding a waist stay. Google that phrase, usually a simple grosgrain ribbon will do the trick
  8. Teresa
    I have a dressy rain coat that has elastic on the outside of the cuffs. It goes about halfway around the cuffs. One end is sewn into the sleeve (on the seam) and the other end is fastened with a button. These pieces of elastic are large and loose and they don’t like to stay in place. Also, they seem to serve no purpose, since they’re not adjustable at all. Is there an easy way for fix this for someone with novice sewing skills? Thank you. Reply
  9. Lisa
    sign me up Reply
  10. sally palmer
    my jumpsuit is to tight around the waist how can i fix it Reply
    • Sarina

      Hi Palmer
      Does it have extra seam allowance to let out?

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