A friend asked me a few months ago how I choose the right length when shortening a full skirt. I wrote a bit about this in a post for Tall Tips Tuesday –Thrift Long and Alter 🖖🏼 – but I don’t think I went into enough detail, just some hand-waving math proof shenanigans #imamathmajor. Since this is one of the key moves in my repertoire, I thought it would be worth it to break it down.
curious sparkle dirt’s Keys to Altering Success
- When thrifting clothes with the intent to alter, choosing a garment with the right fabric is so important. It doesn’t matter how deft you are with a pair of scissors, if the fabric isn’t weighty enough, the best alter will fail. What does this mean? The next time you’re in your closet, grab onto some garments and feel the weight of the fabric. Is the fabric very light and airy? Or is the fabric heavier with a bit of weight to it? A long skirt or dress made of a lightweight fabric might only work because the length gives the dress the weight it needs to lay the way it does. This is especially true of pleated skirts/dresses and skirts/dresses made from the type of cotton used in button-down shirts. Shortening such a garment might result in looking like a cupcake. Which is fine, if that’s what you’re going for!
Real life: I learned Tip 1 when I ruined a thrifted, Pendleton lightweight, wool, pleated skirt a few years back. You might ruin a thing or two before you get the hang of it – that’s okay! Just start with thrifted garments.
- Now that you have a qualifying garment, you need something to copy for the length.
You can make a pattern yourself, but I vote for using your favorite skirt/dress that’s waiting eagerly in your closet to be of service. I have a dress from Old Navy Tall that fits PERFECTLY and that I use as my “measuring stick”.
3. How you approach this next step depends on your crafting style. We’re going to cut the garment. A rule of thumb that I use is that if the skirt has lots of gathers, I’m more perfectionist and I’ll get out the pins and my sewing guage. If the skirt can lay flat, I’ll wing it – but only because I’ve done this 1000 times now.
I cut this red dress without pinning, but then was an overachiever and pinned so that I could hop on my Singer Featherweight, Zeby, and sew up the raw edge. I also cut the sleeves on this dress, but did not sew them.
A Few Notes:
- Make sure you think about your body and how clothes lay on your booty. I cut and pinned the dress so that the back would be an inch longer than the front. I have a booty and if I cut the front and back to be the same length, the back will sit way shorter than the front.
- Good scissors are important. If you don’t have good scissors, don’t let this keep you from altering, but get a pair of nice scissors as soon as you can and reserve them only for fabric. I use these Fiskars scissors and they’re a lifesaver. My husband knows to never use them on anything but fabric because it will dull them, rendering them useless to me. Why are sharp scissors so important? Because if your scissors are dull then they will mangle your fabric, and you ultimately may have to cut off more than you wanted to, by the time you’re done correcting your mistakes.
- Do I hem or not? It depends on the fabric. Will it run like a sprinter? If not than the next question I ask is: what color thread is currently on my sewing machine? If it’s compatible, I’ll run a quick hem. If not, I’ll say eff it and call it good enough. A girl’s only got a finite number of spoons and had better spend them carefully. #spoonie!
A few of my favorite transformations!