Altering Your Clothes; Take in a Skirt at the Sides


Ever have a skirt (or dress) that’s just too big on the sides? The fabric sticks out in an odd bell like shape? Having no crotch seam to stop us we wear our skirts at different places on our torso out of comfort or habit than the designer intended. This is why you may find many of your ready to wear skirts (or new skirt patterns muslins) are just too big around the upper thighs.


  1. The body
  2. Where this example skirt was designed to sit; just below natural waist
  3. Where you like to wear your skirt, a few inches lower

Hips are usually the widest area of the lower body and skirts need to be widest at the hip line for sitting as well as fitting over your hips. If the hip line on a pencil, a-line, or straight skirt doesn’t line up with the widest area of your lower body then there will be extra fabric where the designer thought your hips would be. If the fabric is stiff this extra fabric on the sides is going to stick out on it’s own and make an odd shape. It’s an easy fix though so there’s no reason your skirts can’t look perfect on you.


  1. How your body is under the skirt
  2. Where to take the skirt in to tame the bell the shape

This alteration assumes the waist band, or the skirt at the waist if there is no band, fits you fine. This alteration will only remove excess fabric from your hip level down. We are not messing with the waist or side seam zippers. They will stay as is.

2016-09-bg-altering-skirt-25How to Tame the Bell:

Put the skirt on wrong side out. When the skirt is on your body wrong side out the left side of the skirt will be on your right side and vise versa but most of us have hips which are are fairly equal to each other in height and size so putting on the skirt wrong side out not only works but it will make the fitting/alteration go faster.

Stand in front of a mirror so as you pin you can check to see the new shape. Pinch and pin one side seam to gather the excess fabric on that side as much or as little as you need until you are satisfied with the shape you have pinned out. Try to keep the center front of the skirt on center front. You only need to pin out the excess fabric on one side of the skirt. If you have a side zipper pin the side the zipper is in starting under the zipper. Be careful not to pull the fabric too tight as you pin or you may pull the skirt off center. You don’t want to remove all the excess fabric from the skirt from just the left side.

Pinch out the same amount from both the front and back of the skirt at the side seam as well. If your side seam is really off; if it’s too far forward (your front needs more fabric) or too far back (your back needs more fabric) you can pinch out more from the front or back of the skirt which ever one you need. If your side seam is just a smudge off I wouldn’t bother with this level of fine tuning.

After pinning, with the skirt still on sit down and make sure you are comfortable and that you did not pinch out all of the wearing ease.

NOW is the time to decide if you want to shorten or lengthen  (if possible) the skirt. You will be taking out the hem at the sides for this alteration so while the hem is partial removed, do you want to change it? Look in the mirror and decide. If you want to shorten it pin the hem up too to see where you want it.


Take the skirt off and lay it on your work surface. (If you pinned the skirt when it was right side out you’ll need to turn the skirt wrong side out and transfer your pins to the inside of the skirt.)

Take the hem out at the side seams unless the side seam at the hem is unaffected by your alteration (like a skirt that flares out). Most alterations like this will take in fabric from the hip to the hem. Take out enough of the hem on both sides of the side seams to sew your new stitch line plus an inch to two inches on beyond the side seam on the front and the back. If you want to shorten the skirt take the entire hem out.

Mark where the pins are with a tailor’s chalk or a chalk based marker (Clover’s Chaco Marker is my favorite). I make a line where I feel the straight pin under the fabric but mark in a way to show you where the pins are (everyone has their own methods and tricks). The marks show you how much fabric to take away from the side seam. Take the pins out after marking.


Place  a curved form ruler or a hip curve on the original seam line a little above where you started to pinch in the fabric (this distance will vary) or just under the side zipper if you have one.


This illustration shows the side seam of the skirt in a horizontal position in blue. The green dashes represent the marks made to show where the pins were.


Place the curved ruler on the original seam at the start of your new line (arrow on the left) and on your marks you made to tell where the pins were (middle and right arrows). Line these up as best as you can with the curved ruler. You may not line the curved ruler up with every mark; that’s normal actually. Aim for a happy compromise and a gentle looking curve.


You will move the curved ruler up and down the marks, maybe even flip it around until you find the sweet spot, where the curved ruler and most of the marks line up and it’s a pleasing curve.


Sometimes it takes three different places on your curve form ruler or hip curve to get your new stitch line.


The start of your new line is just inside the seam allowance and flows smoothly into the original seam before going it’s own way. If your marked line is faint go back over it again using the same chalk based marking tool.


Fold the skirt in half vertically (along center front or center back). Line up edges at the waist and hem. With your hand, press the skirt along the outside edge where the line is (you don’t see the line right now). This pressing will transfer the chalk from the side you drew it on to to the side with no chalk. Keep the skirt sides in place when you press to transfer an accurate line.


Unfold the skirt. The chalk marking stayed where you drew it and transferred the line to the opposite side when the sides were pressed together. Yay – time saver!

Simply sew the front and the back of the skirt on your new side seam lines. Start sewing in the seam allowance, merge smoothly onto the original stitching and then, smoothly veer off onto your marked line finishing at the bottom of the skirt



2016-09-bg-altering-skirt-11Press the stitches from the hem to where you started to sew (the opposite directions from how you sewed it) with an iron. Cut off the excess seam allowance.

You may need to open up the original seam  and some overlocked seam allowance so you can press your new seam allowance open. With an iron press the seam allowance open. After pressing them open you can bring the seam allowances together to overlock them or apply a zig zag stitch to each raw edge.

Shortening the skirt is the next step if you need to do that. If you are done with alterations simply put the hem back in at the side seams, press it, and you really are done. Your skirt looks better on you and a good fit makes the difference if you’ll wear an item of clothing or not.

(A kind of embarrassing true story about my skirt: I packed this skirt for our two week long trip in Italy and I packed light so this skirt was worn a lot. It wasn’t until I started looking at the photos we were taking that I realized the skirt stuck out so much on the sides. I looked like a walking bell or someone with hips just above my knees. So chic. Oh well it’s fixed now, finally)








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