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Beginner Help Shortening Flared Skirts Dresses

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angiej1972 | Posted in Teach Yourself To Sew on

I’m new to sewing. Brand New! I just bought my 1st sewing machine a vintage Kenmore in a cabinet. My projects mostly consist of reconstructing vintage clothing to sell online and I’m currently working on shortening vtg skirts & dresses to mini’s (very popular right now). I always have lots & lots of trouble shortening skirts or dresses with a flare to them ( i.e. a-line styles, styles with gathered waists, styles w/ pleats at the waist, empire waists etc). It takes me forever to get it pinned and ironed straight and even when I think I have it I’m usually a little off in some spots. I normally try the dress/skirt on to decide how short I want it then I’ve tried hanging them on my dress form to pin it straight but can’t get it right, I normally end up just laying them flat on my table and measuring, pinning, ironing which takes a lot of trial and error before I seem to get it right. It literally takes me try after try after try to get the hem straight whenever the dress has a flare. Is there a secret? Does anyone have any tips or tricks? Maybe if I I knew how to construct flared skirts & dresses I would understand how to shorten them better!   

Thank you!


  1. Ralphetta | | #1

    shortening flared skirts

    Most flared skirts are not cut on the straight of the grain.  A circular skirt, for example, might be perfect while laying flat on a table, but after hanging on a hanger over night it will probably  "grow" in length on 2 sides. 

  2. krichmond | | #2

    Hi Angie:

    Is the problem you're having  that there seems to be more fabric in the 'hem' part than the part it's being stitched to?  If you think about the shape of an A-line skirt,  if you measure the circumference at your desired length, then measure -say 1.5 inches lower - that circumference will be wider.  If the flare isn't too wide, you can sometimes ease in this difference with a serger that has differential feed (it will 'tighten' the bottom of the hem somewhat).  You can also take in the side seams right at the hem line to remove the extra flare.  You don't have to take in too much - especially if there are several gores(or panels)  to the skirt - but it's important to reduce all of them.   Hand sewing the hem may also help as it's easier to ease a softer fabric in small increments while hand-stitching.

    I used to work at a tailor shop and when shortening skirts, we worked under the assumption that the skirt hung straight on the client ) unless of course, the client identified a problem - such as a high hip or stretched-out side seams -- in which case we would pin-mark the garment while the client was wearing it).  Anyway, operating under that assumption, if a skirt was to be shortened, say 6 inches, we would measure and mark 6 inches up from the hem all the way around the skirt. (measuring about every 4 - 6 inches depending on the skirt width, fabric, etc. AND then joining these marks up to make a complete 'circle' around the garment.)   If any of the markings seemed 'off' (e.g. dipping below the other marks, say,  at a seamline), we would 'eyeball' the mark and the existing hem and figure out what the discrepancy was due to (e.g. change in grainline, stretching at side seams, etc.) . The new hem would be ideally as close as possible to replicating the orignal hem (in depth and method).   So from the 'circle' marking, we would measure and mark beneath it by the depth of the new hem.  If it was a foldover hem, we would mark again below the line for the depthof the foldover.  So we'd end up with a skirt with 2-3 lines drawn around it. 

    The lowest line was the cutting line; we never cut thru more than one layer of fabric at a time. The other line(s) was/were foldover lines.  This sounds like a lot of work, but one could get pretty fast at it.  Usually we'd serge the raw edge (if there was just one fold line) and then blindstitch (most contemporary suit skirts are hemmed this way originally).  I'm not sure what your choices/options are when working with vintage clothing as I'm not completely familiar with those techniques. 

    We used tailor's wax to mark (tested on the fabric first!) and tape measures (or rigid rulers )and mark the OUTSIDE of the garment.  We would rarely press a hem before stitching it. (this would depend on the width of the garment and fabric type, of course) ( Pressing can distort or stretch an unstitched hem).  We would use few pins, if any, to hold up the hem.  If we did, they were usually at the seams - kind of for a checkpoint while stitching. 

    The garment  would be stitched right side out (i.e. working 'inside' the circle) as we usually used industrial machines and they have flatbeds rather than freearms.  The blindstitch machine would require that the garment be turned inside out for hemming.  After the hem was complete, THEN we would press - with lots of steam, very little (if any) pressure from the iron, and a heavy hardwood clapper to hold in the heat.  A lot of fabrics will actually 'ease' themselves in with the right application of steam,  BUT always test the fabric's heat-bearing tolerance first!!   If you're hemming anyway, there's bits cut off that you can test with.   Most hems look best if you don't press the entire hem depth, just the fold.  That way, you don't leave the impression of the hem depth all the way around the garment.

    If the garment was lined, we wouldn't have touched the lining until this point.  We'd lay the garment down and mark the lining at the point where it  showed at the garment's hem - all the way around.  This was the cutting line for the lining.  We didn't usually mark it anymore as most linings are just folded over twice and stitched (lining hem facing garment hem), but you could mark up one inch from cutting line if you wished (before cutting) and that would be your  hem depth (don't mark the first fold line for a lining - ever-  too time consuming and unnecessary).  The lining would end up 1 inch shorter that the garment hem.

    Anyway, I'm not sure if this helps at all.  A lot of how you approach the hem depends on the garment cut, the fabric and your equipment options.  I had access to professional, industrial equipment and tried-and-true techniques that were supposed to keep our work both fast and accurate.  And I worked with people who had decades of experience in both custom and industrial garment construction.   I do recommend trying (depending on the fabric type and garment cut, of course) to hem without pressing the hem first as this can inadvertently cause more problems than it solves.  If you have any more questions, please contact me.


    1. sewluving | | #3


      That is a wonderful answer.  I'm just a home-sewer but I have hemmed many many things in my lifetime.  You have given a complete way to do it all. 

      I learned one valuable lesson from you though.  Not to press the hem until it is done.  I have always pressed before hemming so now will try your method.

      Thanks for the great advice.

      Heather in Calgary

  3. stillsuesew | | #4

    You have been given good information.  It works best if you use a very narrow hem.  If I was doing this I would go for a half inch hem, serge the edge and turn it under STITCHING WITH THE RIGHT SIDE ON TOP. The feed dogs will help to feed the little excess and make it lay flat.  This can also be done with a rolled hem foot which you should be able to get for your machine.  They come in different sizes.  Take a look at other hems in ready to wear for some ideas.  And keep sewing!

  4. User avater
    Maripat | | #5

    Angie, I would do a narrow


    I would do a narrow rolled hem on a circular type skirt. There is just too much bulk to fold up like a regular hem.

    Here is a link to my picture tutorial on how to do this. Hope it helps. It's easy and very quick to do.

    PS The link was acting funny, so if it doesn't work click the one below and go to May 26th

    1. User avater
      angiej1972 | | #6

      Thank You Everyone!!!

      Hello everyone! I can't believe it's taken me this long to get back to this forum but the last few months have been crazy busy and frankly I visited so many different sewing sites I couldn't for the life of me remember which sit I'd even posted my question on, that is until by today when by chance I was searching google for help on another issue I'm having (this time it's shortening a long, pleated skirt) and I happen to click on my own posting! Anyway I just wanted to thank all of you for taking the time to answer my question so thoroughly. I have never posted anything to a forum before and never in a million years did I expect so many wonderful people to take the time to answer my silly, little question. Kay, you really went above & beyond with your wonderful, detailed answer and Maripat what a wonderful blog - full of so much great info. I am just so excited! . I will be printing out all of your answers today and posting them on my bulletin board for easy reference and believe me will be refering to them often! You all have no idea not only how helpful you've been but how much easier you've just made my life!

      Kay, I'm going to the fabric store to get some supplies so I can try your method. No matter how many times I try the 'pinning & ironing' method it just doesn't work for me and I end up so frustrated not to mention wasting so much time. I honestly think a big part of the problem has to do with how much I'm shortening each item (sometimes 10 inches or more) but your method sounds llike something I can wrap my brain around and I'm excited to try it out.

      Thank you again to everyone! I have saved the 'Threads' site in my favorites and will be visiting often!

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