Whether you’re shopping your own closet or thrifting for a find, some simple refashioning skills can make a too-large or too-small dress suddenly fit, allowing you to expand your wardrobe without shrinking your wallet. You don’t need to be a skilled seamstress, but you will need a bit of creativity and patience. Pull out your pins and scissors to create new garments that fit and flatter.

Things You'll Need

Refashioning the Too-Big Dress

Try your dress on right-side-out and assess the fit. Decide whether you need to lift the shoulders, take in the bust and waist or even remove and narrow the sleeves and shoulders.

Put the dress on wrong-side-out and start pinning. Work from top to bottom, starting with the shoulders and from side to side to match your alterations. Allow adequate ease to put your dress on and take it off, particularly if it doesn’t have a zipper. Sit, stand and bend to make certain the alterations will accommodate movement.

Set the sewing machine to the longest stitch length according to the directions in your sewing machine manual. Open seams or remove sleeves as needed to allow your changes. Baste (sew long, removable stitches) the alterations into place, removing the pins as you sew. Try on the dress, right-side-out, without trimming away excess fabric.

Try on your dress one more time. Return to the sewing machine once you’re happy with the alterations. Adjust your sewing machine to a standard stitch length and sew the alterations into place with a permanent stitch. Use pinking shears to trim away excess fabric once you’re pleased with your alterations.

Refashioning a Too-Small Dress

Try on the dress to assess the fit. Look at the problem areas in your dress and consider where and how much fabric you will need to take the dress from too-small to just right.

Look at the seam allowances on the dress. Depending upon the manufacturer, you may be able to increase the dress by as much as 2 inches around the waist, bust or hips. If the seam allowance is quite small, the dress cannot be easily enlarged.

Open up the side seams using a seam ripper, working slowly and carefully to avoid tearing the fabric. Dresses with additional seams can also be opened and resewn along princess or other seam lines to allow a more generous fit.

Put the dress on inside-out and mark the new seams, allowing at least a 1/4-inch seam allowance. Stitch with a normal stitch length on your sewing machine. Press well to reduce the appearance of the old seams on the dress.


  • Choose dresses with simple shapes for the most successful refashioning. Boning or extensive detailing will make for a more challenging refashion.

  • Matte-finish fabrics and prints will hide sewing errors and help a novice succeed.