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Altering a Waist for a Smaller Fit

Updated on July 7, 2016
The medium woven denim shorts to be altered.
The medium woven denim shorts to be altered. | Source

Practical Applications

Although this alteration is performed on a pair of shorts, the same procedure can be used to reduce any basic garment that has an interfaced waistband. This includes simply constructed, plain-fabric clothing, including:

  • skirts
  • slacks
  • culottes

Understand that the waistband is the last piece that gets sewn onto a garment, and the ideal way to alter this would be to take the entire skirt or pair of slacks apart and recut all the pieces to maintain proportions. However, the ideal method is quite time consuming and the waistband is often covered by a top or a belt. So, two insignificant side seams on the waistband itself do not pose an issue. Where it may be necessary to alter the inner leg, this alteration method alone will not work..

Assessing the Garment



Problem: The dieter's favorite shorts that fit a few months ago now have an excess of three inches (3") at the waist.


Solution: A decision is made to take the side seams in three-fourths inches (3/4") for a better fit.



Seamstress' note: At first, a 3/4" intake may sound insufficient, but remember that the front and back on both sides entails four pieces. So, actually a three-fourths intake on each piece makes a three-inch total intake overall. (3/4" X 4 = 3")

The Basic Interfaced Waistband

The pattern illustration shows how the most basic interfaced waistband is partly constructed.
The pattern illustration shows how the most basic interfaced waistband is partly constructed. | Source

First Step

Using a good seam ripper, remove stitching at the base of the waistband only 2-3" on each side of the point where it joins the side seams. Do not take the entire waistband apart. If necessary, completely open the waistband in the targeted area at the top as well. (The most basic construction will not require any opening at the top.)



Seamstress' note: As it turns out, this particular waistband construction is more complicated, having additional border trim at the top and bottom.

The targeted section of the waistband is completely opened. The striped fabric to the far left is the facing.
The targeted section of the waistband is completely opened. The striped fabric to the far left is the facing.

Second Step

Be sure to remove all loose threads and raveled frays. Taking the time to do this will make reconstruction easier and the end result of sewing will be a more professional look.

Removing the loose threads and frays with small embroidery scissors.
Removing the loose threads and frays with small embroidery scissors.

Partly Opening the Hem

Remove the stitching 2-3 inches in the hem on either side of where the side seam meets it. You do NOT need to open the entire hem.

The hem is open 2-3" on each side of the side seam for a total 4-6" opening.
The hem is open 2-3" on each side of the side seam for a total 4-6" opening. | Source

The Side Seam

Now you are ready to completely open the side seam. Once you've done this, you will again remove any loose thread from the removed stitching, as well as fabric frays.

You may press out the old creases for easier handling.


Tip: If you have good, sharp fabric scissors like Fiskars and a steady hand, you may SKIP opening the side seam with a seam ripper and simply CUT OPEN the seam carefully on the innermost stitch line. Since you are taking the seam in anyway, you will not need this additional fabric and cutting the seam off to open it will save you some time. A rotary cutter will work also.

I like to use a spray bottle when pressing instead of putting water into the steam iron. My iron stays cleaner this way.
I like to use a spray bottle when pressing instead of putting water into the steam iron. My iron stays cleaner this way.
Pressing open the creasing of the old seam that has been opened with a seam ripper.
Pressing open the creasing of the old seam that has been opened with a seam ripper.

Pinning and Marking for the New Seam

With the right sides of the fabric together, realign the side seam edges. From the innermost stitching line (you'll be able to see where the old stitching was), measure to where your new seam will be--in this case it is 3/4".


Tip: If you've cut open the seam, you won't need to look for the old stitching at all--just measure your where your seam will be from the raw edge. Advanced: If you are adept at gaging seam allowances by eye and know the markings on the table of your sewing machine, you can skip measuring.

Here I've pinned the side seam and am marking the new seam line. The striped fabric is a pocket.
Here I've pinned the side seam and am marking the new seam line. The striped fabric is a pocket.

Choosing the Thread and Setting the Stitch Style

This green thread is compatible with the fabric color and will look good for top stitching.
This green thread is compatible with the fabric color and will look good for top stitching.
I set my machine for the overcast stitch, similar in appearance to the blanket stitch in hand sewing.
I set my machine for the overcast stitch, similar in appearance to the blanket stitch in hand sewing.

Sew the Side Seam

Sewing the new seam. I'm using a  #14 needle for this medium denim. The engraved bars to the right of the needle serve as guides.
Sewing the new seam. I'm using a #14 needle for this medium denim. The engraved bars to the right of the needle serve as guides.

Trim the excess fabric from the seam but do NOT cut any of the stitching.

Here's my trimmed seam showing the overcast machine stitching at the pocket area.
Here's my trimmed seam showing the overcast machine stitching at the pocket area.

Taking in the Waistband, Trim, and Facing

Now the waistband and accompanying parts need to be reduced as well. Fold the waistband inward so its right sides will be together. If you do this in alignment with the side seam, it will look like part of the seam. To keep seams from getting too bulky, the decorative trims and facing can be sewn in a manner such that the seams of these do not meet. The facing remains inside the waistband and is not seen, so it doesn't matter where the new facing seam falls.

Sewing the new seam on the facing. A straight stitch is used.
Sewing the new seam on the facing. A straight stitch is used.
Sewing the trim. A straight stitch works well. Double the stitching by sewing in reverse too. If your waistband does not have trim, you can skip this step.
Sewing the trim. A straight stitch works well. Double the stitching by sewing in reverse too. If your waistband does not have trim, you can skip this step.

Finish the waistband.

Top view of the three layers forming the waistband--trim, facing, and the outer waistband itself. If your waistband has simpler construction, you may skip this step and just reattach the altered waistband to the garment.
Top view of the three layers forming the waistband--trim, facing, and the outer waistband itself. If your waistband has simpler construction, you may skip this step and just reattach the altered waistband to the garment.
The simplest waistband construction, using iron-on interfacing is simply folded over to finish it. There is no separate facing. I include the image here for comparison.
The simplest waistband construction, using iron-on interfacing is simply folded over to finish it. There is no separate facing. I include the image here for comparison. | Source

Finishing the Project

With the layers all I aligned, I sewed the top section of the waistband first, followed by the bottom seam of the waistband. With this styled construction, the order of the sewing could be done either way. Keeping in the style of the garment's original stitching, I used a straight stitch to attach the waistband to the body of the shorts.

In simpler construction designs, often a small whip stitch or blind hem stitch is done on the inside of the waistband to keep it in place.

The finished side seam and waistband. You will notice a small seam now on the waistband. Both side seams are this way.
The finished side seam and waistband. You will notice a small seam now on the waistband. Both side seams are this way.
The finished shorts. The model is very pleased with the result.
The finished shorts. The model is very pleased with the result.

Let Me Know

This was a rather complicated alteration, but did you find this hub useful?

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From my experience, Gutermann is the best thread on the market.

© 2013 Marie Flint

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    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 15 months ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Since originally creating this article, I haven't had the opportunity to take in any more waistbands. I did, however, enlarge two business slack waistbands for my son-in-law. Since he only needed a couple of inches and the tailored seam allowance was large enough, I only had to go to open the back waistband and seam (about two inches on each side of the center seam and down from the bottom waistband seam), re-sew the back pants seam as much as the fabric would allow, and close the waistband.

      By the way, my daughter no longer works out at Planet Fitness, nor does she run with the dogs, as they are all gone now. If I have to make any adjustments to waistbands for her, it will most likely be to expand a waistband, as she is expecting her second child in February 2017.

      Blessings!

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Mail me a pair of shorts for alteration? Be sure to include return postage!

      It's funny what one is willing to go through for one's own offspring--I'm thinking no one in their right mind would want to alter such a complicated waistband, but I did. I have another pair that I botched and will have to fix by adding some additional fabric into the crotch area. (Designer shorts can really be a challenge.)

    • The Stages Of ME profile image

      The Stages Of ME 3 years ago

      Wow inspiring yes but I believe I would say can I mail them to you. Not my gifted area but impressed with your skill :)

      Blessing to you

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Never give up, OC! I think the secret to a smaller waistline is to really enjoy life, especially with physical activity. My daughter achieved her goal by focusing on a high protein diet. She keeps her carbohydrate ratio lower or within a close range of the protein gram count, then she allows herself a "cheat" day one day a week wherein she eats carbohydrates to her heart's content. She also works out at Planet Fitness and walk-runs with the dog at least three days a week. Blessings!

    • ocfireflies profile image

      ocfireflies 3 years ago from North Carolina

      This seems to me to fit the criteria for HOTD! So informational and well-done, but I have to say kind of sad. It's been a long time since I have had the need to alter for a smaller waist. : (

      V++/Share

      Kim