Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How to resize a skirt waist

Something that's been on my sewing to-do list for a long time (for some reason I seem to have a requirement that something is on my to-sew list for at least a year before I actually sew it!) is adjusting the waist size on this adorable 1950s nylon petticoat with embroidered cherry trim. I couldn't resist buying it on ebay despite the fact that it's an impossibly tiny 24" waist and with the best will in the world, that's never going to be me. I wasn't particularly planning a whole post on it, but it occurred to me you might like to see how I went about it - the principles can be applied to resizing other skirts.

This petticoat is a simple half-circle shape with no tucks or gathers to let out, so the only way to make it bigger is cutting the waist lower. This of course means losing length, but conveniently enough it's longer than ideal to start with, so that works out just fine.

First, unpick the existing waistband and zip with a seam ripper.

Then measure out the new waistline (half the full waist measurement, as it's across only one side), giving it a curve to match the original, and mark with chalk. Pin along the line through both layers (front and back).

For the cutting line, add a seam allowance 1/2" above the waistline (this is important, otherwise the waist will end up too big!), then cut.

There are two ways to do the next bit - either you can attach the waistband first then set in the zip (this is how it was originally, with the zip running to the top of the waistband), but as that leaves the zipper tape ends exposed and looks a bit untidy, I opted to do it the other way round. Doing the waistband first means the tape ends can be neatly enclosed. I set the zip back into the side seam (there wasn't enough seam allowance for a lapped zipper, so I did it the regular way).

Now, obviously the original tiny waistband would be no use, and there was no way I was going to find matching fabric, but petersham ribbon (similar to grosgrain but slightly different) is a great material for the waistband.

Cut two lengths of the ribbon in the new waist measurement plus 2.5" (half an inch each end for the seam allowance, plus a 1.5" overlap). Stitch the two lengths together at the ends, turn the seam out and press.

Pin the outside of the waistband over the seam allowance (wrong side of waistband to right side of petticoat) and baste in place. Then, sandwiching the petticoat between the two layers, pin the inner waistband in place, lining up the top edge.

Finally, edgestitch all the way around the new waistband, and add a skirt hook and bar closure to finish.

And now I can finally wear my lovely petticoat without having to don a corset!

Adapting the technique to different types of skirt:

  • To resize a gathered skirt larger, unpick the waistband, adjust the gathers, then make a petersham ribbon waistband as above.
  • To resize a circular-cut skirt smaller, you can refashion the existing waistband smaller instead of having to use the petersham. Depending on the size difference, you'll have to ease or gather the skirt a little to fit the waistband. If you don't want gathers, you might be able to get away with taking a little off the side seams (not ideal, but for a small size difference this shouldn't be noticeable once it's hanging), or alternatively make little pintuck pleats either side of the centre.
  • Likewise, if you want to shorten a circular skirt but don't want to make the waist bigger or lose any hemline detailing or trim, you can do the same: Unpick the waistband, trim length from the top, then re-attach the original waistband, gathering/easing/pleating the fabric to fit as above.
  • If you want to resize a circle skirt larger without losing length... well basically you can't. But you can add length back in by sewing a band of contrasting fabric or co-ordinating trim at the hem.


  1. Great tutorial, and gorgeous skirt! One question .... do you need to interface the ribbon for the waistband, or is it strong enough without not to crumple?

    1. I didn't - the vertical ribs of petersham make it pretty sturdy. It would be easy to add an iron-on interfacing to the inside waistband though if you wanted.

      xx Charlotte

    2. I was wondering the same. I don't really like interfacing. Using petersham ribbon as waistband is such a great idea!

  2. What a pretty skirt, it would have fitted me ten years ago....sigh! It's a useful skill to have, even though I'm bigger than I used to be I always have to take in the waists on skirts, it's a damn nuisance but if I go a size smaller they don't fit in the hips/bum area. I've just resigned myself to having to do it with them all.

  3. I don't think I've ever seen that particular ribbon waistband, how lovely! I'm going to file this one away. :)

  4. I agree with angie.a, your ribbon waistband method is just beautiful and I'm going to give it a try! Resizing a skirt waist is such an easy and useful alteration, since many vintage skirts were both designed to be worn higher up on the natural waist and also were worn with girdles.

  5. This is brilliant, thank you very much for sharing. That pettiskirt is utterly awesome! No joke, I think I gasped when I saw the cherry trim. I'm so happy you were able to adjust the size and hope it gives you many years of stylish fun to come now.

    ♥ Jessica

  6. Oh this is dangerous. Now I might have to go back and buy all those skirts I passed up because they were too small.

  7. Thank you for this. I bought a great circle skirt for a steal.I need to shorten and make the waist bigger. This should help.

  8. My god, your clever! I wish I could do these things.

  9. This is really clever, thank you for sharing this - I have actually sold a few skirts that were too small because I couldn't figure out how to resize them, I am a bit sorry I let them go now!

    Porcelina xx



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