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How to lengthen or shorten a dress or top pattern.

It’s easy to think if you want to add length to a dress or top that you can just add a few centimetres down from the hem, in some cases this does work. However if you have a shaped hem or have a hem facing, adding length to the bottom edge of your garment may be more tricky and might mean you need to adjust the facing to.

I have written this tutorial using my first dressmaking pattern the Rosie dress for little girls, this is a good case for adjusting the pattern properly as the hem edge is faced.

The first thing to do is decide how much you want to add. For children’s clothing you might have a dress or top that is a good length and you think would be appropriate for the style you are making. In this case you can take the measurement and adjust accordingly. I usually measure a length from the side neck point directly down to the hem in a straight line. Be aware that which ever point you measure from on the ready made dress will only be accurate if the pattern you are making falls from the same point on the body. For example measuring from the centre front down might give a completely different overall length if one style has a high crew neck and the other a scoop neck. This principal will also work for adults clothing, though you are more likely to make a toile for an adults garment, where you can make further adjustments and final decisions.

  1. Draw a horizontal line across the front of your pattern piece. This line needs to be at right angles from the grainline, in this case I used the centre front as it is placed on the fold and therefore on the grainline. The line doesn’t have to be drawn in a particular place. You just need to ensure it is below the waist line and not affecting any other style lines for example pocket placements. You can use any set square or ruler with a right angle marked on it, but I highly recommend a pattern master this is an invaluable tool for pattern drafting, you won’t regret buying one.
  2. Cut along this line and place a piece of paper behind the pattern. Draw a vertical line on the paper to match the pattern pieces to. Tape the lower section of your pattern to the paper behind.
  3. Measure from this secured piece of paper the amount you would like to lengthen the pattern by. In this case I added 4cm. Make a mark at either side of the pattern 4cm up or if using a pattern master you can add up to 6cm with the increments marked on the ruler by placing the desired measure line on your drawn line. 
  4. If the centre front edge is shaped in anyway draw two short lines at right angles from the first line you drew and use these to match the sections back together by placing your ruler across the gap and checking the lines are in a perfectly straight line.4. Tape the upper section to the paper, matching vertical lines. Draw a line along the side seam, place the ruler on the pattern so that your pencil touches the existing line at the upper part of the pattern and at the lower part. You will notice here that creating this line has shaved a few millimetres off the upper section and added a few at the lower to create a straight line. This will vary depending on how much or how little you add to the length and the shape of your pattern piece. If you have a shaped centre front edge you will need to redraw the centre front line to. Repeat the same process at the same point with your back panel piece and any side or additional adjoining panels.
  5. To reduce the length of the pattern mark a right angle the same way as in step one, rather than placing paper behind mark the required reduction on to the the pattern by drawing another right angle from the grain line.
  6. Bring the cut line to meet this line. Tape the two pieces together ensuring the grain line is still straight.
  7. Re draw the side seam, in this case I needed to add a piece of paper to fill the small gap that was created by reducing the length this much. The key is to keep the hem width and underarm width the same as the original therefore not affecting the overall size or facings.

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Julia Claridge

I was about 6 or 7 years old when I had my first go on a sewing machine, it was an old hand crank machine that my mum used with her patients, she was an occupational therapist. I still vividly remember watching with amazement as the tiny perfectly formed stitches were created as I turned the handle. I Grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when buying clothes was less affordable and dressmaking was an answer to updating your wardrobe more regularly. My own mother was a talented dressmaker who made most of my clothes and my sisters clothes as well as a many for herself. I soon got involved with making my clothes, I loved the whole experience of picking out fabrics, trims and a pattern to create a new outfit, then going home to make a new garment or outfit. When it came to leaving school I visited a careers advisor who asked what I wanted to do next. My answer was ..Sew! Read more...

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