sdsa: adjusting for length

Today I’d like to go over how to easily adjust the length of the bodice or sleeve pieces if needed. This is a quick and easy fix and all you’ll need to get started is your pattern, the usual pattern-tracing tools (pencil, scissors, tape, ruler, etc.), paper and your measurements. (I also have pictures of my Swing Dress fabric–scroll to the end for that!)

I’m only showing the front bodice piece, but the same applies for the back as well. Remember: what you add to the front, you’ll want to adjust for in the back as well so that the side seam lengths are the same! Now this piece is a bit tricky to measure for length, because of the way the neckline and waist are (yet another good reason to make a muslin so you can double check things!). But to get the neck-to-waist measure, use a ruler or tape measure to measure as in the photo below on both the bodice front and midriff pieces (note that the midriff piece is measured from the top edge to approximately the center where the side seam dips in for the waist):

Add the two measurements together and subtract 1 1/2″ (for seam allowances). Compare the length measurement to your own neck-to-waist measure and find the difference. Whether you are lengthening or shortening the piece, the next step is to cut the pattern along the “lengthen/shorten” line.

To shorten the piece: on the bottom half of the bodice piece measure down the amount you need to reduce the length by. Draw a line this width across the piece.

Overlap the top half of the bottom, lining it up with the line you just ruled across the piece, and tape in place, lining up the front edges.

Along the side seam, use your ruler to smooth the seam line and reconnect the underarm and waist edges (this is called “truing” in pattern drafting–Jacki posted a good explanation recently).

To lengthen the pattern piece: Tape the bottom half of the pattern on a piece of paper. Measure up from the cut edge the amount you need to lengthen the piece. Draw a line across your paper at this width. Line up the top piece’s cut edge with this line and tape in place. Along the side seam even-out the line from the underarm to waist.

To lengthen the back piece, you will want to follow the same procedure, but instead measuring the length of the pattern as shown below (just remember to subtract 1″ for seam allowances):

As for the bodice, lengthening the sleeves are just a matter of measuring and comparing (your overall arm measurement, shoulder/elbow or elbow/cuff length), cutting the pattern apart and either overlapping or spreading it the desired amount. Just be sure to blend the seam edges with each other so to create a smooth and even line as shown above for the bodice. For long sleeves, you can cut the pattern apart at one of two places: the “lengthen/shorten” line indicated on the pattern (black line) to decrease/increase the shoulder to elbow measure or below the elbow darts to shorten/lengthen the forearm length (red line below the elbow darts) if needed. Or you can use a combination of those two points as required as well, especially if you have to adjust the length drastically. To mark the bottom cutting line, measure down from the pattern-marked “length/shorten” line past the elbow darts and mark a line across at this point. Cut and spread/overlap as required. Just remember if you are using more than one adjustment line to divide the amount you need to adjust by two!/p>

Note I’ve included the shorten line at the top for the short sleeve version in this image. Ignore if you’re adjusting the 3/4 length sleeve!

For the short sleeve view, if you want to adjust the length you can do one of two things: Shorten the sleeve at the hem edge or create a horizontal line to lengthen/shorten as for the long sleeve view. I tend to do the latter since I like to keep the original hem circumference (which is narrower, as the sleeve seams curve inward slightly). You will want to create this line by measuring up from the pattern’s original “shorten/lengthen” line about halfway up the short sleeve length (not taking into account the cap height). Mark this line across and continue as before to reach the desired length.

Does all this make sense? In some ways I really struggled to explain all this in a way that wasn’t too confusing. So please feel free to ask questions if you’ve got one. Honestly, I think it’s a lot easier once you begin to make these adjustments–the only possibly tricky part is marking the lines and making sure you measured right. Otherwise piece of cake!

I’m hoping to get the small bust adjustment tutorial up on Thursday at some point. After that, I dare say we’ll be ready to cut out the muslin versions and get to work on that! (But I have a few things to say about that, so sit tight for now!) Judging by my schedule right now I’m giving us 1 1/2 weeks to do this before we finalize our muslins, transfer the corrections to the pattern and cut out the fashion fabric (exciting!). Be sure to join the Flickr group if you haven’t already–I think that will come in handy as we each start to fit and critique our muslins!

01.25.11 | swing dress fabric

Now for what I’m really excited to show you: my fabric! I ordered this beautiful silk last week for my dress and it arrived Friday, much to my delight. I fell in love with the soft pastel turquoise blue and the wispy flowers that reminds me of the 40s prints I covet so! I will be underlining this, however, since it’s a bit sheer at this point. So for those of you who have inquired about underlining, I will be covering this! The little buttons are vintage rhinestones that I’m thinking of using for the brooch/button on the bodice, but haven’t decided. I need to go through my brooch collection and see if I have anything suitable…

January 25, 2011 · 30 lovely thoughts
posted in sewing,tutorials · tags: ,

Tisha January 25, 2011 at 16:53

Casey, I really like your fabric choice, and I am also surprised I am the first to post! (Perhaps you just clicked the “publish” button.) lol — I can’t wait to see everyone’s fabric choices as well. I finally whittled my fabric down to a nice deep blue poplin and am going to use two large buttons for the points in the square neckline (I am using a different pattern for this sew-along – a 1949 dress pattern>) Any rate, have fun!!

mia January 25, 2011 at 17:01

Beautiful fabric Casey!!!!
Do you think I can make this dress sleeveless? The pattern doesn’t mention it as a possible variation so I’m just not sure.

Casey January 25, 2011 at 18:01

You could certainly make the dress sleeveless if you so desire! I’d recommend making a facing piece or binding the armhole edges for this sort of variation.

♥ Casey

Clare January 25, 2011 at 17:05

I have a question about the sleeve length; where exactly should the sleeve hit on the elbow? Should the elbow be above or below the darts? In between? It’s not obvious from the pattern piece,as far as I can tell.
Do you have any recommendations for a full bust tutorial for this pattern? I suppose it would be the same as the reverse of the SBA tutorial you’re planning but if you or your readers have any suggestions for links that’d be really helpful. I have found that shortening both the front and back bodices gives a great fit in back, but I need to add in a little more length in front for my bust.

Casey January 25, 2011 at 18:04

I always have had the darts situated so they sit on either side of the elbow joint. The whole idea is that they give a little extra room around that area for bending the arm, while also providing a close fit.

For the FBA adjustements, I posted a link to a great round-up of bust alteration tutorials on Gertie’s blog here. Hope that helps!

♥ Casey

Clare January 26, 2011 at 02:29

Thanks Casey! I’m so excited about this dress :)

Jillbert January 25, 2011 at 22:08

The pattern instructions suggest for DD and above to just add length to both the front & back bodice pieces. I made a muslin of the bodice (no lengthening) and it’s too short for my DDs. Today, I redrafted and lengthened it 2.5″. I hope that does the trick since a FBA like the tutorials seems scary to me. :)

jadestar January 25, 2011 at 17:27

Cute buttons, and lovely fabric. Think I need to shorten my bodice pieces before making my muslin. Seems straight forward though, so thank you!

Elizabeth VP January 25, 2011 at 20:30

Is it okay that I shortened the armholes a bit? I had to take so much length out of the bodice that the armholes became freakishly long. My adjustment seemed to work when I pinned my tracing to my dress form, but I guess I won’t know until I make it up in muslin later this week.
Your fabric looks gorgeous!

Casey January 26, 2011 at 08:38

According to what I’m seeing in “Fit for Real People” you can adjust the length of the armholes a bit (this is an especially nessecary adjustment if you’re petite); just remember to shorten the sleeve cap accordingly! :)

♥ Casey

Corinne January 25, 2011 at 21:18

Love your fabric, it will be beautiful!

chie January 25, 2011 at 21:44

i love the fabric you chose! its beautiful. i think silk will drape really nicely for this dress pattern – can’t wait to see your completed project!

Tasia January 25, 2011 at 22:38

Great tutorial! I love your fabric choice too! :)

Isis January 26, 2011 at 03:54

Oh what a lovely fabric!

Maggie January 26, 2011 at 04:23

Thanks for the tutorial (and the many to come), Casey! And your fabric is absolutely lovely. I am a little behind, taping the pattern and adjusting today, but I am getting very excited.

Marmielu January 26, 2011 at 07:30

I LOVE that fabric!!

Gina January 26, 2011 at 07:38

I haven’t cut anything yet, just working with the paper right now, I am a newbie to sew a longs, were we already suppose to have the muslin cut and fitted by Fridayish? I guess I was waiting for postings and then work on the dress. Will posts include pictures that show you step by step sewing of the seams? just wondering. I measured my neck to waist, it’s 16 inches, the pattern says for 17 to 18 inches, Should I take in the one inch? Sorry, pretty new to making these kind of adjustments. Also, I did make the sleeve ease adjustment but found the arm bicep a little tight, I was thinking of starting at 5/8 seam under the arm and then tapering the seam down to give me more room or if you have any other suggests that would be great.

Casey January 26, 2011 at 08:53

I won’t be doing a step-by-step how to sew this dress; I’ll just be covering some of the more tricky aspects (like the shoulder yoke area, which is a little fiddly) and any variations. (The schedule has a bit of what I’ll be covering going forward.) Jennie has a good online tutorial to sew the dress, which is helpful as well (and I will be including a link to once we get to that point! :) .

I would say to shorten your bodice by 1″ for now. If, after making the muslin, you find you need to shorten it further, those adjustments can be made then. :)

If you need to, you can add some width to the bicep area if need be. Here are some tutorials I found that are helpful
Diary of a Sewing Fanatic
NMSU Pattern Alteration (scroll down to “large upper arm”)
The Pattern Companion

Hope that helps! :) Just remember that this pattern uses 1/2″ seams, rather than 5/8″; but I’ll be going over that in my muslin post as well.

♥ Casey

Gina January 26, 2011 at 07:57

Sorry missed the part about not cutting muslin yet. Understood! I do have questions but I am thinking of waiting to see what the posts look like. Thanks Casey for everything.

Gina January 26, 2011 at 09:35

Got it, thanks. I was mostly concerned about the shoulder seam/yoke, so that works. I would like to know about when you are sergering your pieces. I never know when to serge, sometimes I do it too early sometimes too late, would like to make it pretty on the inside! Those were my biggest questions, I am sure we will cross that bridge when we come to it. Thanks Casey for the links,

Paunnet January 26, 2011 at 10:37

Your fabric is beautiful!
I decided to join the sewalong today and I’m really excited! :)

Victoria / Justice Pirate January 26, 2011 at 10:41

My head is spinning. this is why I guess I don’t sew more than once a year or so. Numbers and measurements make me dizzy.

seeks corey January 27, 2011 at 21:42

I am *so* right there with you! I’ve never custom fit a pattern before, so my head is slowly turning to mud as I go through this part. I never knew being petite could be such a hassle!

Maggie January 26, 2011 at 15:45

Here is a question, although it may be a stupid one. I assume that if I shorten the front bodice by one inch, that it is the same exact alteration that I take with the back bodice: shorten by one inch. Correct? Or when we measure the back bodice piece, do we make that the same final measurement we want our front bodice to be? So if I need it 19 inches in front, but the back is only 18′, I add an inch? Again, I assume the former is correct, but some confirmation would help. I have now confused myself :)


Casey January 27, 2011 at 16:54

You always want the pieces to match along the side seams. So if you take 1″ off the front, you will need to adjust the back accordingly so that the side seams are the same length. If you find you have a longer center back measurement, however (I do), and taking 1″ across the back will make it too short, you can always take off less at the center back edge and 1″ at the side seam. The resulting bottom edge will be sloped slightly, however.

Hope that answers your question! :)

♥ Casey

Maggie January 28, 2011 at 04:20

Great! That definitely answers my question :) Thanks so much!!

Tasha January 27, 2011 at 13:14

Hi Casey, I’ve run into an issue with adjusting the bodice length. I’m (apparently!) very short-waisted so I need to chop off a good 2.5″ from my pattern. I just folded my tracing into place to see how everything would line up before cutting, and it’s not the armhole side that’s the issue for me but the center. I couldn’t come up with a better way to describe so I uploaded a pic:

I’m concerned how this will affect the line marked ‘facing fold line’. You can see in my pic how they no longer line up. I could re-align it but then the facing won’t be quite the same width the whole way down (not sure if that’s an issue), and I’d need to re-align the ‘front overlap line’. I tried to show in pink and blue arrows what I suspect I should be doing, with the orange arrows as being what I need to trim off the piece. Am I on the right track at all?

I worry that I’m far too short of waist to easily tweak this pattern… lol

Casey January 27, 2011 at 16:59

I think you are right on track with your adjustments, Tasha! My only concern is that redrawing the line a little towards the side seam will reduce the overall width of the front bodice. You can remedy this by instead of chopping the entirety of the front edge-excess off, adding a piece of paper underneath, taking off about 1/2 of that bottom excess and then blending it back into the original (upper) neckline. That way the reduction isn’t too great.

If I were you, I’d probably try out your method for correction first and make a muslin. If extra width is needed in the bodice, then you can add that going forward. :)

♥ Casey

Bry January 27, 2011 at 16:34

I just got this pattern for my birthday! Perfect timing. I can’t wait to make it! I love the fabric btw.

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