Shortening a Skirt with a Big Hem
Updated: Mar 20
If you have a circle skirt, or other very full skirt, you probably, understandably, want to avoid hemming it. There is a lot of fabric there, and it will clearly take a long time to do. The sheer yardage of it will also provide plenty of opportunity to lose pins, or wibble and wooble and end up with an uneven hem. You might even have beading at the bottom, or some other beautiful trim, ruffle, or design that you don't want to interfere with.
trouble is, you also don't want to trip over your skirt, or wind up with a filthy hem after just a few performances. This tutorial will give you a way to take up the length on any skirt that gets worn under a belt or hip scarf, sortta a tummy tuck for skirts! This technique is also great for circle skirts that have warped over time, to take up places where the hem has stretched longer over time.
You'll need a dress form, or something to stretch the skirt to the same shape it is when you wear it, that you can adjust to your preferred hight. pins, a sewing machine, and good scissors.
Start by taping or drawing a line around your dress dummy that represents where you wear your skirt on your hips. Measure from there to the floor the length you need on yourself. That is, measure straight from your skirt band to the floor, wearing the shoes you like to dance in. I do this by putting the end of the tape measure just touching the ground and holding the end with the final measurement at my hip. adjust the dummy so the line you drew matches that measurement.
Next, you'll pin the skirt so that the hem hits at the proper spot,
hovering just barely above the floor, to the line where you'll wear it. If your current hem has warped to be longer in some places than others, you'll need to pull the skirt up in some places and down in others to level this out. Since the skirt is too long for you there will be excess above that, and dummy will be "wearing" the waistband higher than you would, up on its tummy.
As you can see in the photo, I have this bunched into segments to make it manageable.
Next, go ahead and cut the fabric between the existing waistband, and the line of pins. Make sure you are cutting above the line where you'll be wearing the skirt, that you have enough fabric for a seam allowance, and you keep track of how much seam allowance you are leaving on each side of your scissors. You'll want the new seam from re-attaching the skirt to the waistband to be as close to the existing band as possible, to make it easier to hide under your belt.
You could add fabric between these cuts, in the fashion of a yoke, to lengthen the skirt, if you had a long enough belt or other hip wrap to cover it.
You now have two pieces, or in the case of a circle skirt
with front and back panels 3 pieces: the waist band, and the skirt pieces.
You'll need to combine these into the new length skirt. If the skirt is a circle skirt or an A line the two pieces are not going to match up. To understand this, draw a triangle on a pice of paper, then fold the middle part under, and try to line up a lower tier of the triangle with the top tier. The way we're going to fix this is by pleating the fabric of the skirt into the waist band as follows:
Open the waist band by either seam ripping the elastic at it's original closure, or cutting it if the elastic is loose enough for you to overlap it again when it's time to re-close it and lot have it get too tight and give you a muffin top. Take out the elastic and set it aside.
Lay the waistband on a flat surface. If you had slits in the skirt you'll still be able to see where that was. line up the old slit on the skirt portion and the waistband portion with right sides together.
Next, find the center of the skirt portion and pin it to the center of that portion of the waistband.
Pin from the outside, near the slit, towards the center keeping it smooth. The elastic will cause the gathering effect once the skirt is finished. If your skirt is also sheer then you want the denser gathering of fabric to be over your crotch and the center of your tush, because the gathered fabric is more opaque.
When you get towards the center, you will create a gather by pinning in Fibonacci until the skirt is secure enough to fit under your presser foot.
by Fibonacci I mean pull the fabric between two pins up and find the middle, pin it to the half way point between the two pins on the waist band, and repeat this for the now half-sized spaces between the pin that was your outside pin and the one that became your midway pin.
Sew it, surge it, re-thread and close the elastic. Wa-La!