Art and Needlework home

5/10/11: A New Way to Add Length to a Dress – Part 4


Now let’s wrap up my series of posts on how to add length to a skirt or dress. Previously, I talked about wanting to lengthen my June Wrap dress, how I made my underskirt pattern, and how it was sewn together. Now for this 4th and final post I will be sharing some tips and ideas on how to lengthen any skirt or dress, both with and without an underskirt.
The Garment in Question : So you have a ready-to-wear skirt or dress that just isn’t the right length for you and you want to add a couple inches. What should you do? First put it on and answer some of the following questions:
How many inches do you want to add? Is it a couple inches, like 2 or 3? Or is it like 8 inches?
Is the skirt/dress narrow or full?
If it is a skirt, where does the waistband fall? At your natural waistline or above or below?
What fabric is used for the skirt/dress? Is it an easy to sew cotton or is it something lightweight or slippery?
The Method of Choice : With your questionnaire filled out, you are now ready to decide which lengthening method to use. I thought of a few methods and I know for sure there are other ways to do this, so if anyone has an idea, please share it here in the comments or email me and I will add it to this post.
Narrowing Hem : If you wish to add maybe an 1″ or so to your length, take a look at the hem of the garment. If it is more than 1″ in width, you could rip the hem open and sew a narrower hem.

How to Do This:
Note: Let’s imagine the dress has a 2″ hem and you want to alter it to make it a 1″ hem. (Which will add 1″ to the final length of the dress.)

1. Take a seam ripper and remove the hemming stitches.
2. Iron out any wrinkles or fold lines.
3. Fold up the new hem. You can do this a number of ways, but I think the easiest technique is a narrow hem. Do this by turning under and pressing 1/2″. Do this one more time and stitch new hem in place. 

So you just added 1″ to the dress by making a narrower hem. Simple and quick to do.

Sewing a Border to Hem : You can be as simple or elaborate as you want if you choose to go this route! A border could be made using a coordinating or contrasting fabric, you could use lace or tulle, add a ruffle, or add shape to the bottom by creating a scalloped or asymmetrical edge. It really is up to you!

How to Do This:
Note: Let’s imagine a dress of yours has an A-line skirt and you want to add 4″ to the length. You will be using a blue cotton for the hem border.

1. Measure the hem width (the entire length of the bottom edge), of your dress. Write it down. Our imaginary dress has a hem width of 70″.
2. Because our dress has an A-line skirt, we need to mimic the shape. Lay out some large paper (such as newspaper, or my favorite: packing paper), on the floor or large table and place the dress, that has been folded in half lengthwise, on top of this. Trace along the dress’s hem edge and extend the side seam and center front to 4″. Connect side seam to center front by drawing a curved line that matches the curved hem of the dress. In the image below, the dotted line is the pattern you will draw:

3. You just drew a pattern for your border. Before cutting it out, add 5/8″ seam allowances to the upper edge and the side seam and write “FOLD” at center front. Add a 1″ hem allowance to bottom edge. Cut out.
4. Prepare your blue cotton for cutting. Fold it in half along the straight of grain and pin your border pattern to fabric so that CENTER FOLD is on the fold of the fabric. Cut out 2 of these.
5. Sew side seams of border together, using 5/8″ seam.
6. Sew border to bottom edge of dress. You can open the dress’s hem before you do this, but it isn’t absolutely necessary; it really depends upon your dress and your tastes.
7. Hem border piece using a 1/2″ narrow hem. If you want to use a different hem–like something wider–remember to adjust the hem allowance of your border before cutting out the pattern.

Note: If you were interested in lengthening a straight skirt–such as a pencil skirt–there is no need to make a shaped border. Just a simple rectangular shape would work, which might even mean you can cut out your border without the use of a paper pattern.

Making an Underskirt : This method takes a little extra time and work but if you are looking for a way to add length to a dress/skirt that will not look like you altered the garment, this might be the best choice. In a nutshell, this underskirt of mine is a half slip that has a coordinating or contrasting fabric border sewn to the bottom. You wear the underskirt under your dress/skirt and it will appear as if the border is one with the dress or like an extra layer.

As I have found, the underskirt also does unexpected things. If using a slippery lining fabric for the top portion of the underskirt, it will help eliminate staticky dresses and skirts from sticking to your legs. It also helps you avoid those “revealing” times when the breeze picks up the top layer of a wrap dress. Not a good thing to happen! 🙂 And let’s not forget that if you make a full underskirt with a stiff fabric–such as taffeta or tulle–the result will be that of a mock crinoline. Pretty neat, huh?

Learn how I made my underskirt by reading my previous two posts: making a pattern and sewing it.

It is not necessary to make a sewing pattern for an underskirt the way I did it, i.e. draft it from a basic Simplicity pattern. Instead, use your too short of skirt or dress as a basis. Fold it in half lengthwise, lay it on a large piece of paper, and trace around the edge of the skirt. Add your hem and seam allowances, the right amount of ease for an elastic waistband, and you’re all set.

Buying an Underskirt : Sewing up one yourself is a lot of fun but if you are pressed for time, try looking in your closet to see if you can wear a long, lightweight skirt under the skirt/dress in question. You will be surprised to find how many colors and prints that will work well with each other.

Nothing in your closet seems to be working? Then buy a special underskirt from VintageHem. They have an impressive array of lovely embellished slips–or underskirts–to choose from. It is from this site that I actually was inspired to make my own.

If you are in need of more ideas and step-by-step demonstrations on how to add length to a skirt/dress, try these four online sources:

Lil’ Bit & Nan’s Tutorial 
Mbellished’s Tutorial
Threads of Conversation’s Tutorial
Threads’ Tutorial

Jump to the other parts of this series:

Leave a Reply