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Friday, March 18, 2016

How to "Take In" a Top or Dress

We've had several requests for a tutorial on how to "take in" an existing top or dress.  If you're not familiar with the phrase, "taking in" means to adjust the seams in such a way that the outfit will be more fitted in certain areas.  There are different techniques used for different styles of clothing, and hiring a professional tailor is a good option for the more tricky ones. But for most alterations we can use a very easy method right at home,  and that's what I'm going to teach you today!  I will show you on two very different styles of tops so you can get a really good understanding of how it's done.  

I learned how to do this technique a long time ago, because I need it often for my body type when buying clothes!  I have wide shoulders and a tall frame so I usually have to buy size large. But I also have a very small chest so I'm often drowning in tops/dresses that are big enough for my wide shoulders and long arms. Sooooo... I buy the large and "take in" as needed. Even though it makes me a really good guinea pig for this type of tutorial, please know that this technique can work for ALL kinds of body types! You can use it to bring in the waist or the chest or lift the shoulders or slim the pants or... you get the idea.  Let's get started! 

 Exhibit A.  I bought this top because it was so cute on the mannequin. Ha. But I never wear it. I don't think I've left the house in it once. I know the style is meant to be a little baggy through the midriff but it just made me feel BLAH since I'm already tall and wide. (Note: I am happy with MYSELF the way I am. I hope you are too. The goal here is to change our clothes to match OUR bodies, because they are exactly the way they should be. Yay for loving ourselves the way we are. Okay enough of that. Back to the tutorial.) 

My goal, then, was to "bring in" the center of the shirt so it was more curvy than frumpy and my chest wouldn't feel nonexistent.  Are you ready to learn how?!

First of all, take the shirt off.  Turn it wrong side out. Put it back on again.  Then grab the areas that you want to slim in, as shown above (the shirt is inside out now) and then use pins to hold those flaps out. If you look closely above, you can see there are white pins placed along the contour of my body. You don't want to pin them super tight, especially if it's a pull-on woven shirt like this one is.  Just take in enough to get a nice fit. 

Here's a closer shot of what it might look like.  Depending on your body type, you can either create a new straight line with the pins, or you can make it a more curved row of pins to match your body. That's the main reason for putting in on wrong side out!  The pins are marking where you will be creating a new seam in the next step. 

After you have the pins where you want them, carefully remove the shirt.  If you can't remove it because the pins are holding the shirt too tightly, go back and place them a bit farther out.  

After you have taken the shirt off, go to your sewing machine and sew a new side seam using a long basting stitch, following just outside the line of pins. Be careful to make sure both fabric layers are flat as you sew, so you don't create unwanted puckers. Also, you want to make sure that both sides of your shirt match each other. 

After sewing the seams (and removing the pins as you go), turn your shirt right side out again and try it on!  There's a good chance that you will now have a top that is perfectly fitted to the contour you want! 

If you are happy with the fit, go back and resew the lines using a regular stitch. Then you can trim and serge the excess fabric, or topstitch it toward the back of the shirt, or you can even just leave it as it is if you want! (I left it alone on this one because it's so lightweight. When the fabric is bulky, I usually trim and serge.) 

If you are NOT happy with the fit, go back and remove the basting stitches, and re-try with your pin placement and stitch line. Just keep trying until you're happy with it. 

Now let's move on to another style, and this one is a little more tricky even though it uses the same technique. 

Ah, the boxy button-up.  I actually LOVE this brand of top and it is very well constructed. But again because of my wide shoulders/ small chest, it gives me issues. When I sit down it kind of poofs up where my chest *should* be. Plus it feels boxy at my waist and not very feminine.  (I feel like I'm confessing my deepest secrets. Yes, I apparently have a tall-girl complex.) Anyway, I have been planning for ages to alter this top but I just keep wearing it as it is. Boo.  Time for a makeover. 

So I turned the shirt wrong side out and put it on with the seams on the outside. (You'd be surprised how funny it is to button a shirt while it's inside out!) 

  If you look at the seams on this shirt, we actually have TWO seams: one on the side, and one going up the bust.  You can see that I'm holding each with a different hand in the photo above. We can use the technique I showed earlier on either one of these seams, depending where we want to take it in at.  I actually decided to take it in on both!

Look at where my white pins are in the photo above. I took the bust in a bit at the top, with pins starting up at the sleeve seam and ending just below the bust. Then on the side seam, I took in a bit from the mid-waist, down toward my hips, just to make it a little less boxy there.  I didn't want the shirt to end up crazy tight; just slightly fitted.  You could do as much or little as you'd like! If you want to slim the sleeves too, you can pin right down that seam while you're at it. I left mine alone. 

Okay, time to take the shirt off and sew!  It's definitely easier to remove a pinned shirt that has buttons. 

Going to the sewing machine, I sewed just outside where the pins were, using a long basting stitch. If you look closely, you can see the white thread stitching line, both along the bust seam and along the side seam. Again you want to be careful to make sure both layers of your new seam are laying flat. On my bust line it created a slight ruching effect because I took it in so much, but I actually like that. (A professional tailor might have taken the shirt apart at the seams, trimmed the pieces to a new shape, and then re-sewn. I skipped that step because... I wanted to. No regrets.) 

Ta-da!  My previously "okay" shirt is now fabulous!  Or at least it feels that way. 

Remember that once you are happy with your new seams, you need to go back and use a regular stitch to secure them. 

So what do you think?  Are you ready to try out this technique? It can be used on any seam on a top, dress, or even bottoms!  Clothing is generally made to fit standard-sized people, but there's no reason why you can't make it exactly perfect for yourself!  I hope this tutorial comes in handy for you.

Let's Create! ~ Kristen  

ps- I want to add two things after posting. First of all, when my husband got home tonight and I was still wearing this shirt, he complimented me on it and asked me when I got it. "Um, dear, I wore it in our family photos two years ago."  LOL. But kudos to him for noticing! It's like magic! 

Second, you may find yourself wanting to take in a dress or top that is fully lined, in which case you wouldn't have exposed seams to work with.  The proper way to handle it is to take apart the layers so you can alter each individually. Then put it back together again. That's my official recommendation.  But if you're in a pinch you could also just treat both layers as one and create a new seam that encloses all at once. It's not the best option but I have done it successfully! Okay, you may go now...  


  1. awesome! I have to do this because of my curves too!

  2. I literally just put a shirt in the goodwill box for this problem. Can't wait to try this!

  3. I literally just put a shirt in the goodwill box for this problem. Can't wait to try this!