Two Small Alterations that make a Big Difference

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J.Crew chambray shirt xxs petite (older version), Pinkydot maternity dress S (color name “artistic flower”), altered, Ann Taylor sandals 5.5, Gucci soho bag

When it comes to fixing an ill-fitting garment, there’s a few small but effective alterations that I rely on time after time! Being familiar with alteration types can also really expand your options while shopping, especially if you’re petite but don’t want to be limited to the petites department. I wanted to illustrate two of my go-to alteration types today – these two are unrelated, but this dress served as a good example for both!

dress DIY alterations tutorial for petite women

Wearing BP bow mule flats (runs a little wide) sz 5.5

Although I loved the print on this dress, it was best suited for someone taller because the armholes and neckline were a bit gaping and low on me. The straighter-cut bottom also felt a little shapeless on me. Thankfully since it’s simply made and unlined, it took only me about 15 minutes to alter!

Alteration type 1

Shortening the shoulder straps on a dress or top.

Why I love this:
Aside from the obvious of making shoulder straps shorter, this is one of my favorite alterations since it can fix a number of issues in one fell swoop! I use it often to make regular-sized pieces more flattering on a petite frame. For example, take a dress where the A) neckline is too low cut, B) armholes are too big and low (thus revealing your bra), C) waistline sits too low, and D) length is too long overall. By simply shortening the shoulder straps, everything gets shifted upwards and each of these problems gets addressed.

Alteration type 2

Tapering in the bottom hem on a dress or skirt.

Why I love this:
 This is personal preference, but dresses and skirts that are straight-cut on the bottom just don’t do anything for my already straight-cut body type. For this reason, I either go for fitted pencil or flared A-line bottoms for a more defined silhouette. I would not recommend dramatically changing the shape of a garment (ie. don’t buy a flared skirt hoping to alter it into a pencil), but I often taper in my straighter skirts just an inch or two to create a more shapely silhouette.

maternity dress alterations tutorial


If the garment in question is lined, structured, or on the pricier side, I’ll have my tailor do the alterations professionally. But if it’s a basic unlined item like this dress, I’ll just do it myself (this is a good entry-level sewing machine, if you’re looking for one). As I always disclaim, my DIY alteration posts are not the most proper methods, but they’re quick and they work for me!

1) Wash and dry the garment before altering, in case it shrinks.
2) Turn the garment inside-out and try it on.
3) Use fabric chalk to mark how much you want to take in. For alteration type #1 (raising the shoulder straps), I usually use a binder clip to test out different strap lengths on me before marking it. For alteration type #2 (tapering in the hem), I do the same, making sure to leave enough wiggle room to walk in a comfy stride and go up the stairs!
4) Take the garment off and lay it flat, still inside-out. Pin along your markings, then sew in a straight stitch (I sewed along the dotted blue lines shown above). Turn it rightside-out and try it on for fit.

And that’s it!

5) Optional: If the excess fabric feels bulky, trim it off about 1 cm beyond your alteration stitches. If you don’t have a serger for raw edges, you can use the zig zag stitch on your sewing machine to help seal off the cut edges and minimize fraying.

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diy dress alterations tutorial for petite women

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