Pattern Alterations: How to Fix Waist Length

This was one of the many fitting issues that came to light on the “Pattern Alterations: Let’s List and Vanquish Them” post.  Luckily, once you know a few key basics it’s simple to fix the pattern.  Remember that- pattern alteration is all about fixing the pattern so it is more like your body.

This is primarily a “Bone Structure” measurement.  Some “Weight/Muscle Distribution” issues come to play here, but we need to focus on one issue at a time.

The first step is to locate your waist.  It’s not always located at the navel, or where you’d wear your pants waistband.  From a pattern alteration perspective, it’s the narrowest or “mid”-point on the torso.

To find your waist, I suggest the elastic method.  Locate a piece of 1/4″ (6mm) elastic which is longer than your waist girth.  Braided elastic is fine, but try not to use a wide piece of waistband type elastic.

Tie it around your waist, make it snug but not tight.  I suggest wearing close fitting but unrestrictive clothing- I’m wearing an old knit top and leggings for this exercise. Move around a bit to allow the elastic to settle at your natural waist.  Stretch, twist, whatever.

Measure from the “notch” of your neck (the angle where your neck meets your shoulder), over the fullest part of the bust, down to the waist elastic.  Stand straight, I’m exaggerating in the photo.  If you can, have another person take this measurement while your hands are down by your sides.

The benefit of measuring from the “notch” to waist instead of the CF of the neck to waist is that the “notch” remains fairly constant on your body and the pattern, whereas the “front neck” can be difficult to locate accurately.

Make note of this measurement.  I suggest keeping a handy list of updated measurements.  My sewing goes more smoothly when I don’t have to fumble for measurements and suchlike.  I already have them written down in one place.

I like to draw lines across my patterns at bust, waist, and hip level to aid pattern alteration.  Measure from the “notch” of the neck on the pattern straight down to the waist.  Don’t forget to take off the shoulder seam allowance.

(Actual Front Waist Measurement - Pattern Front Waist Measurement = Amount to be Altered)  For example- My front waist is 17″.  If I measure the pattern and it shows itself to be 18″, then 17″ – 18″ = -1  A negative number means I need to “take off” that amount.  A positive number means I need to add that amount.

To shorten a waist, locate the pattern’s shorten/lengthen line.  If it doesn’t have one, you can use the line you drew at the waist.  Draw a line above the shorten/lengthen line using a ruler.  Make this line the same amount you found above- that is, I would draw a line 1″ from my shorten/lengthen line.

Then fold the pattern to bring those two lines together.  You can pin, tape or sew the tuck in place so it is permanent.

To lengthen, locate the pattern’s shorten/lengthen line.  If the pattern doesn’t have one, I suggest drawing one yourself a little bit above the actual waistline.  Using a ruler and a scrap piece of paper/patternmaking medium, draw a line.

Draw another line parallel to the first, the distance between the two lines should be the amount you need to lengthen.

Slice the pattern on the shorten/lengthen line.

Position the scrap piece underneath, making sure the pattern CF lines up.  Pin, tape, or sew the scrap in place.

Finally, “true” your pattern piece at the side seam, so you have a nice smooth line rather than a choppy one.

Make sure to alter the back in the same way and the same place you altered the front.

This skill applies to sleeves, skirt length when you have a shaped hem, pants, or wherever you need to lengthen or shorten a pattern to make it perfect.

Extra Credit: While wearing your waist elastic, see if you can persuade a helper to measure from the notch of your neck straight down to your waist elastic.  Is there a difference between the “front waist” and “back waist” length?  Yes?  How much?  If the back waist is significantly shorter,  you may want to read Sherry’s post on altering for back waist length (also sometimes called “swayback”)

Tell me- does this help?  Do you have any questions not covered here?  What alteration should I dive into next time in this series?

Additional perspectives:

Sew What- How to Petite a Burda Pattern

The Semptress- Waist, Front/Back Waist


20 comments

  1. Very nice! I’ll have to compare my front-waist and back-waist lengths—my back is very short (15″) for my height. I tend to do petite alterations (through the armscye) rather than shorten below the dart—this seems to work for me, although it raises the bust-point and armscye at the same time, which may not work for everyone.

  2. Thank you for this. I am quite short-waisted and your clear and careful instructions are most appreciated!

  3. Can you clarify whether this measurement (the front waist length) is a horizontal line? It seems as though you are starting at the neck and angling over to the fullest part of the bust and then going down horizontally to the waist. Am I right?

    Then is the next step to measure that same length on the pattern and would it also angle over to the fullest part of the bust before hanging horizontally down to the waist? Correct me, please :-D

    All your experience with teaching and fitting people is a gold-mine.
    I am enjoying this series.
    Oh and I have you in my blogroll, but for some reason I am having trouble getting the most recent posts to show properly.
    I’ll figger it out!

    • No no, it’s a “straight down” measurement, it just looks angled because my boobs got in the way. :) It’s just straight down, vertical, over the fullest part of the bust. On the pattern, it’s still a “straight up and down” measurement, it’s just less confusing because the pattern is completely flat.

  4. I’m enjoying this series also. I want to add that I occasionally get a number of posts on the same day. They seem to be out of calendar order.

    • oh no! I thought I fixed that! I’m sorry, it happens when I update old links. Apologies, I won’t do it again since I don’t know how to make it not do that.

  5. I think I get it now. :) I also think this is why FBAs sometimes come out horribly for me – I need to shorten the whole thing, and then add back the length in the front with an FBA.

  6. I’m really enjoying this series. If you don’t mind, I have a question. I tend to use bought patterns by my high bust – 36 – while my chest measures 37ish. With modern commercial patterns, even though I go up thru the waist and then more thru the hip (Sewaholic’s measurements are great for me, wish her pattern line would expand!) I don’t adjust at all even for fitted bodice summer dresses with A or full skirts – just take gradually less seam allowance at the waist. (depending on the pattern ease, of course). And in most, the dart point at the bust is fine. I have one issue which crops up quite often, and I have no idea what to tackle to fix it. It’s a kind of bagginess around the shoulder blade area. I have at times done a lazy adjustment when I hadn’t put in the back zip yet by giving the zip a larger allowance and that seems to work…
    What do you think this could be? And how should I fix it?
    thanks so much!
    Francesca
    PS without ever checking, I think I’m a little short waisted – no wonder Burda patterns fit me so well!

    • Hey Francesca-

      I was doing my regular email tidy up and ran across this one. I even starred it so I’d reply and then it got lost in the avalanche. Apologies!

      Most people- I’m going to say about 90%- most people I’ve ever sewn with are the same. One size on top, a larger one through the middle and another on the bottom. That’s part of why I’m working on a new sizing system. The old one is consistently skewed and heaven only knows how many women are running around thinking they’re disproportionate when they’re fine. ;)

      If less seam allowance at the waist works for you- go for it!

      With the upper back issue, you could send a photo to The Consulting Dressmaker (me, Wednesday through Saturday and slightly more stylishly dressed) and she can have a look at it and make you a little drawing. The first consultation with The Consulting Dressmaker is free. http://3hourspast.com/2012/02/06/how-to-book-with-the-consulting-dressmaker/ Except you don’t have to book, just write. For some reason the Skype hasn’t quite caught on yet, most people seem to prefer email… ;)

      In regards to the pattern… I woke up in the middle of the night last night and suddenly had a thought about why I haven’t heard about the printing as an issue up to this point- printer settings. Can you look at the print settings and see if you can choose for it to “print to page” or “Scale to page” or something like that? It might help. I’m going to go ahead and pull that one, add the plus size and re-upload. But first I need to get the Sisters of Edwardia out. hehe.

      I *wish* I could get a design student to do this stuff for me. But labor is expensive here, there’s no financial crisis here. Really. It’s insane. Sometimes I hear people whining about it, but they obviously don’t watch the news or they’d understand that Queensland is in really good shape. Maybe if I went and hung around the fashion university I’d find a good student to help me but I doubt it. (Also, I hate to say it, but I am not terribly impressed with the work ethic I’ve observed in young Australians… Really. Not kidding. I never saw such lazy children with a sense of entitlement, and I spent my teenage years in Oil country…)

      Hope this helps! Otherwise, please accept my apologies and I’ll send you the new one when it comes out. I’m not going anywhere, and neither are the patterns. :) (though I do know what you mean about the “I HAVE TO JUMP ON THIS NOW mentality… :))

      Best StephC

    • Or- if you want, I don’t mind tracing a copy and dropping it in the post. It would take me like 10 minutes.

      On Sat, Apr 14, 2012 at 8:31 AM, Stephanie Cousins wrote:

      > Hey Francesca- > > I was doing my regular email tidy up and ran across this one. I even > starred it so I’d reply and then it got lost in the avalanche. Apologies! > > Most people- I’m going to say about 90%- most people I’ve ever sewn with > are the same. One size on top, a larger one through the middle and another > on the bottom. That’s part of why I’m working on a new sizing system. The > old one is consistently skewed and heaven only knows how many women are > running around thinking they’re disproportionate when they’re fine. ;) > > If less seam allowance at the waist works for you- go for it! > > With the upper back issue, you could send a photo to The Consulting > Dressmaker (me, Wednesday through Saturday and slightly more stylishly > dressed) and she can have a look at it and make you a little drawing. The > first consultation with The Consulting Dressmaker is free. > http://3hourspast.com/2012/02/06/how-to-book-with-the-consulting-dressmaker/ > Except you don’t have to book, just write. For some reason the Skype > hasn’t quite caught on yet, most people seem to prefer email… ;) > > In regards to the pattern… I woke up in the middle of the night last > night and suddenly had a thought about why I haven’t heard about the > printing as an issue up to this point- printer settings. Can you look at > the print settings and see if you can choose for it to “print to page” or > “Scale to page” or something like that? It might help. I’m going to go > ahead and pull that one, add the plus size and re-upload. But first I need > to get the Sisters of Edwardia out. hehe. > > I *wish* I could get a design student to do this stuff for me. But labor > is expensive here, there’s no financial crisis here. Really. It’s > insane. Sometimes I hear people whining about it, but they obviously don’t > watch the news or they’d understand that Queensland is in really good > shape. Maybe if I went and hung around the fashion university I’d find a > good student to help me but I doubt it. (Also, I hate to say it, but I am > not terribly impressed with the work ethic I’ve observed in young > Australians… Really. Not kidding. I never saw such lazy children with a > sense of entitlement, and I spent my teenage years in Oil country…) > > Hope this helps! Otherwise, please accept my apologies and I’ll send you > the new one when it comes out. I’m not going anywhere, and neither are the > patterns. :) (though I do know what you mean about the “I HAVE TO JUMP ON > THIS NOW mentality… :)) > > Best > StephC > >

  7. It’s interesting you use the FRONT waist length measurement instead of the Back waist length to adjust for length. Is there a reason?

    • Haha, probably because I have ridiculously oversized breasts and for me, the front waist measurement is more important than the front? ;) Hadn’t thought about it, but that must have something to do with it. That and it’s next to impossible to measure back waist length yourself, but front is do-able. :)

  8. Help, help!!!!!! Every time I sew my darts I have a bubble of fabric above my darts, I am large busted and I don’t believe it is due to incorrect form, I always do a fba I am not sure if I make the pattern too big, if my darts are too high, or too big???? You are the first site I have seen to go in depth with large bust issues. Can you help? Alicia from SewInDubai@wordpress.com

  9. Great work! That is the kind of information that are supposed to be shared across the net.
    Shame on the search engines for now not positioning this publish higher!
    Come on over and talk over with my website . Thank you =)

  10. Hi, Surely the straight vertical line from shoulder to front waist should go over the bust apex, the fullest part of the bust?

  11. Hi Steph! I’ve got a question about darts in shortening the waist length. I’ve got a pattern that has a waist dart instead of a bust dart, and the “shorten/lengthen pattern here”-line goes right through the dart. Now, I’m trying to shorten the bodice by about 5-6 cm, and I’m not quite sure how that alters the dart. Do I just draw new lines between the apex of the dart and the two points where it meets the seam? I guess I should use the seam line and not the edge of the pattern, since the altered angle of the dart legs will change the length otherwise? As the dart, after alteration, would be almost as wide as it is long, do you think it might be better to pivot it into a bust dart, or split it into a bust dart and a waist dart?
    BTW, thanks for sharing your wisdom. :)

    • Hey-

      Your instincts are correct, I’d connect the dart apex with the dart opening at the seamline. Just make sure the dart is pointing to the bust apex (if it’s not, then draw a new dart apex dot that does) and is 1.5″-2″ at least from the bust apex itself. So the dart should point *to* the bust, but not be right on it. :)

      If it seems too fat for a dart, you can definitely split it into two smaller darts, either parallel to each other or as a waist/bust pairing. Is this a vintage pattern? Those kinds of darts were common on 60′s dresses, and I’m rather fond of them because they give me that “mod” look even though I’m not built like twiggy… :)

      Hope that helps!


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