Bodies can be fickle, and sometimes it’s necessary to alter a dress that used to fit perfectly. We’ve all been there! There’s no shame in it. Thankfully, altering a dress to compensate for a zipper that doesn’t quite reach the top is simple enough.
To alter a dress that won’t zip up, you’ll have to make sure that the dress has extra fabric at the seams. You must rip the seams out and re-stitch the dress closer to the edge of the fabric. This is the only way to let the dress out, or make it bigger, without adding additional fabric.
You can add additional fabric, but this is risky. Below, we’ll look at these two methods.
There are a few tools that you will need to let your dress out. Altering your dress in this way requires some skill at sewing. That’s the first and most important tool you need if you want to alter your dresses.
No matter what type of dress you are altering, you’ll need the following tools.
- Measuring tape.
- Chalk or a fabric marking pen.
- Seam ripper.
- Sewing machine.
- Thread to match the dress.
How to Let a Dress Out
Letting a dress out can be a great way to give yourself a little extra room. Most wedding and bridesmaid dresses are made with this eventuality in mind. They have the extra fabric folded at the seams that you can use to make your dress larger.
To determine if you can let the dress out like this, turn the dress inside out and look at the side seams. You can let the dress out if you find:
- Fabric folded along the seam. When you rip the seam out, the fabric will come loose and allow you to add a few inches to the sides. You will have to sew in a new seam when you’re finished adding the extra fabric.
- An enclosed seam. This type of seam has two rows of stitches. If you rip out the first seam, the second one remains intact. This gives you some extra fabric and requires no additional sewing.
Only one of these steps will be different if you have an enclosed seam rather than additional fabric.
Step One: Measurements
You’ll need to do some math at this point. Using the measuring tape, measure yourself at the hips, waist, and bust. Write these numbers down.
Next, you’ll need to measure the dress from seam to seam. To do this, turn your dress inside out and measure only one side. Multiply the number you get by 2.
To discover how much extra room you need, subtract YOUR measurements from the measurements of the dress. Divide by 2. The remaining number tells you how many inches you need.
Before you start ripping out seams, check to make sure that there is enough fabric at the seams. If there is enough fabric to get to the size you need, you can continue.
Step Two: Mark the Seams
It may seem a little crazy, but the best way to mark your seams accurately is to wear the dress inside-out. With the seams facing out, you’ll be able to mark the seams. Make a mark where the dress starts to get tight.
Then, make a second mark where the dress begins to fit better. The area between these two marks is where you’ll be letting the seams out.
Step Three: Rip Seams Out
Once you know what part of the seam you’ll be removing, you can reach for your seam ripper tool. Rip out the stitches between your marks to remove the seam. Be careful with this tool. The prongs are sharp, and you can easily rip the fabric if you aren’t paying attention.
If you are working with an enclosed seam, that’s it! Ripping out the first row of stitches will still leave one seam intact, and you don’t have to do any sewing. However, the next step for a dress with extra fabric is to resew the seams.
Step Four: Resew the Dress
Before you begin sewing the dress back together, make sure you mark the dress. Figure out where the seam needs to be to make the dress fit perfectly. Use your measurements if you can. Mark that spot so you know where to start sewing.
While some people prefer hand sewing, it is important to use a sewing machine here. You want straight seams and little to no hassle.
When you are finished resewing the seam, make sure to use an iron to press the seam so it lays flat. Depending on the fabric, you might have to forgo this step. Still, it’s a nice touch for your finished dress.
Adding Fabric to Make a Dress Bigger
Say that your dress doesn’t have additional fabric at the seams. Even if it does, there may not be enough fabric to resize the dress. In this event, you’ll need to have fabric on hand. You want this fabric to match the dress as closely as possible.
You can also go with an alternating color if you don’t mind the addition being obvious. However, most women agree that taking fabric from the bottom of the dress is best.
Of course, this means making a single, precise cut to get enough fabric. You must also be able to resew the bottom seam. Make sure you are careful, as you could ruin your dress if you take too much.
Step One: Measurements
If you’re going to add additional fabric to your dress, measurement is less difficult. Simply measure how far apart the zipper is in the places where it won’t zip. This is what you’ll have to add to the side seams of your dress.
Make sure to divide that number by 2. Say, for example, there are six inches in the gap where the zipper won’t close. In this case, you’ll need to add 3 inches of fabric to the side seams.
Step Two: Fabric Cuts
You’ll need to cut your fabric down to the size you need, and this can be tricky. If you need space down the sides of your dress, you should use a strip of fabric. This rectangle will widen the space all the way down.
However, if you only need room at the bust, you’ll be measuring out triangles. The widest section of those triangles will be at the top.
Use some paper to measure out the shapes you need. In the example above, you needed 3 inches of fabric. This means that your fabric must be this wide at its widest point. Make paper shapes for each side, as the shape may be different.
Then, lay the shapes against your extra fabric and cut them exactly to the shape of the paper.
Step Three: Rip Out the Seam
Now that you know what you’ll be adding and where, it’s time to grab the seam ripper tool. As before, make sure to be careful. It’s sharp, and it may rip the fabric if you aren’t careful. Rip the seam only in the area you’ll be adding the additional fabric.
Step Four: Sewing
Again, a sewing machine is the best tool for this step. It’s a good idea to only attach one side of your new fabric. Then try the dress on while the other side is pinned to the other seam. This is the key to making sure the new fabric is just what you need. You won’t have to redo any sewing with this step.
Once you’re sure that the dress fits exactly how you want it, you can finish sewing the dress up. When you’ve finished with the new seam, iron the seams so they lay flat.
If you can add fabric to the dress yourself, it’s best to do so. While it might not look professional, it can save you a lot of money. It’s costly to add additional fabric to a dress and may take a lot of work. Consider a dress that is lined or has additional fabric elements. Getting the extra fabric to work is going to be difficult.
Still, doing it yourself is much less expensive. Here are the steps to adding fabric to a dress to make it bigger.
In addition to these two methods, there are other ways to alter a dress. If you are handy with a sewing machine and have extra fabric lying around, you can also:
- Add a corset panel. Adding a corset panel means removing the zipper from your dress. Purchase a corset panel kit or add eyelets for ties to the back of the dress. With a little work, no one will be able to tell that there is a difference. This is especially helpful for gathered or fitted dresses.
- Create an open back. If there are only a couple of inches of the zipper that won’t close, consider creating an open back design. This only works if you aren’t busty because the back often helps support you. If you can, lower the back of the dress in a deep ‘v’ to avoid the zipper. This requires some tailoring skill, however.
Altering a dress that won’t zip up can be simple. If you have the skill and the tools, your dress will fit perfectly again with just a few steps.
My name is Keren Tayler. I am a work-at-home mama to three lovely girls, Sarah + Rachel + Hannah. I have been blogging for the last 5 years. I worked for other mom blogs, did hundreds of product reviews and buyers’ guides. Prior to that, I was a staff accountant at a big accounting firm. Needless to say researching and numbers are my passion. My goal is to be an informative source for any topic that relates to mom’s life and homemaking. The site contains baby product reviews, thoughts on family life, frugal ideas, vegan recipes, and ideas for how to create a natural, healthy home.