How to take in & make a Shirt or Dress Smaller : 6 Solutions

Taking in a shirt or dress and altering it to a smaller size is an exhilarating job in my opinion – that means you are smaller than you thought you were when you bought it. But that does not make it any less cumbersome. Here are some very common place solutions to a too big shirt or dress or any other garment.

6 ways to make clothes smaller

1 Cut and shape the extra width

This is the most obvious solution. Take an already fitting shirt or dress or measure your body and add enough ease to this measurement and the seam allowance; cut the extra out.

make shirt smaller

Sew the seam as it was done previously. Finish the edges. For seam stitching types ( 17 ways to sew the seam) refer the post here

2 Darts

Next most obvious solution is sewing darts. Infact I love this option better than the cut and resewing option, because darts give beautiful shape to your garments.

You can add one or more darts – darts are added symmetrically on both sides of the body. Darts can shape the garment to fit the body curves by controlling fullness or excess fabric. You can use darts for better fitting at the back or front waist, front underarm and under bust (starting from waistline). For skirts, front and back darts are used for a close fitting look.

How to add the dart to an extra wide garment

make shirt smaller

Try the garment on yourself or compare it with a fitting dress or shirt you already have. If you are trying the garment on your body ( or another if you are doing the alteration for someone else) put it on RIGHT SIDE OUT. This will make it easier for you to pin the darts to the size you want.

how to make a dress smaller and tighter

Mark symmetrical darts ( depth and length on both sides of the body should be the same) on either sides of the body.The dart size, length and shape willl be dependent on the  body shape and type of garment

Use safety pins to mark the correct dimension – the usual sewing pins will poke on the body.

For dresses with a separate gathered skirt you will have to make a half dart after have let out the stitches separating the skirt and the bodice.

The end point of the dart should point towards the fullest part of the body like the bust apex  or derriere or the shoulder. But make sure that it is not ending on the highest point of the fullest part ; it should end just short of this point.

For best fitting make two smaller darts than a bigger single one.

Darts for a shirt / single piece dresses

Shirts are usually shaped by adding a dart. Here a double waist dart that tapers to a point on both ends is used on either side of the body. This has a diamond shape with a wider central part and narrow tips on either side.


The widest part should come against your waist.

Pin in place.

If using another garment as a benchmark see how much extra width yours has and then calculate the depth and length of your dart. Pin the darts and then if possible wear and see.

Sew the darts following the rules for dart sewing mentioned here. Start sewing the dart from the middle where the dart is widest and when you taper towards the end do not ever back stitch. You can leave the thread tails and tie them together at the point to secure the dart stitches from unraveling.

One of the most important point in sewing dart is to press it correctly. When you press the dart properly it disappears into the fabric. Vertical darts are generally pressed towards the side seam and Horizontal darts are pressed down.

If you are sewing a heavy fabric, cut the dart open along the fold of darts to within one inch of the point and press the seam allowance open.

3 Tucks

Where as darts are tapering to a point at the ends, Tucks are vertically sewn making folds of the fabric. They serve the same way – containing the fullness of fabric . You can make Tucks all around the garment to reduce width and make it smaller.  Either make tucks to the outside or make it to the outside.

In the tucks facing inside the garment, the extra fabric is sewn like an inverted pleat- just the seams will be shown from the inside. 

You will need to secure the fold of the tucks at the hem with  hand sewing otherwise it will hang loose

You can make beautiful pintucks or other decorative tucks to make your work look beautiful. You can make these tucks quite easily with a double needle or with your pintuck foot . Check out the post on the different ways to make pintucks and other tucks here

4 Add elastic

If it is a dress, you can make it smaller by adding an elastic waistband – measure  your waist round on your dress waist on the inside. Minus 1 inch from this. ( or measure around your waist with the elastic snugly). Cut 1/4 inch wide elastic in this measure. 

summer dress pattern

Mark your waist on the dress accurately – for this measure from your neck to the narrowest portion of your torso. The elastic is o be sewn on this line across the dress

Stitch the elastic  in place – stretching the elastic as you go.This will gather the waistline of the dress as per your size and make it more fitting.

5 Use shirring stitches


Shirring involves making rows of gathering stitches on the fabric. Shirring stitches are made by using thin elastic thread on the bobbin of your sewing machine. Shirring stitches are very good in reducing the fullness of fabric .

It would look like the fabric  has reduced a great deal maybe more than you wanted  but  don’t worry. The elastic thread stretches as you wear it.

The attractive folds created with shirring stitches are very decorative as well. The shirring creates the look of a smocked garment – it  is more suitable for feminine garments

6 Shrink to fit

There are some fabric that will shrink after the first wash. If your oversize garment is made of this type of fabric you can try this simple solution and count your luck. The fabrics that will shrink prominently enough to make your garment smaller are cotton, linen, rayon, cashmere. Check out this post on How to shrink clothes for more details on this


When you get gifted clothes that are a size bigger more than once, you have a problem. Either your communication is poor or the gifter is sure and is accounting for a future weight gain. Maybe you need to take care of these aspects after you have made your dress smaller. I am talking to myself, of course.

Comments 2

  1. Thanks.I bought a very pretty summer dress that is stretchy.It hangs on me like a nighty and want it to be forming at the bust and upper rib cage area.Not sure where to put the darts and how many and how to pin it while I have it on.

    1. Post

      Hi Patti
      If it is very loose you may have to cut it shorter on the side seams, restitch the side seams and then further tighten and shape it with darts. Very loose clothes maynot be contained with darts alone

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