It seems like every woman reaches a certain age when everything in the closet has shrunk–including the dress you need to wear to an upcoming special occasion! What do you do when you realize you don’t quite fit in a dress you used to love? The good news is that you can learn how to make a dress bigger using several simple methods that work on most dresses.
The best way to make a dress bigger is to let out the seams. Other methods include inserting a side zipper, side slit, or additional fabric panel. Making a dress bigger without sewing proves more challenging, but it is sometimes possible to remove darts or to stretch the fabric.
In this article, you will find out whether or not you can make your dress bigger. You will learn nine methods for making a dress bigger. Finally, you will discover what you need to know about taking your gown to a seamstress.
Can You Alter a Dress to Make it Bigger?
You can alter many styles of dresses to make them bigger, but not all. Many factors impact whether or not you can alter a dress, including whether or not there is extra fabric in the side seams and what kind of cloth the garment is made out of.
The fact of the matter is that it is unquestionably easier to make any garment smaller than it is to make it larger. It’s easier to take away material rather than to add it in!
That said, don’t give up on your too-small dress just yet! Instead, make a quick assessment of your gown.
The first big question you need to ask is, is the style formal or informal? Formal wear such as wedding dresses, prom gowns, and evening dresses often has extra fabric folded into the side seams. You can make use of that to give yourself a bit of wiggle room!
The downside is that informal dresses like sundresses, maxi dresses, and the like often do not have any extra material in the seams. Instead, they have overlocked seams made by a machine that cuts away any excess fabric beyond the stitching.
Next, check out the type of fabric. Is it a stretchy knit or a thick, heavy satin? While it’s harder to make sewn alterations on knit material, you may find it possible to stretch out this kind of material by a size or two. Other types of material will not stretch easily but might allow for a side seam zipper insertion or other sewn alteration.
You also need to get honest with yourself and decide whether or not you can resize the dress sufficiently. In general, professional seamstresses can expand a dress by one size or at the most two sizes. Can you fit the dress if you make it two sizes bigger?
Finally, consider how much effort you want to put into this alteration. In this article, you will find multiple methods you can choose from. Some take quite a lot of work but deliver better results, while others only require a few minutes.
How to Make a Dress Bigger: 9 Methods
Most dress alteration methods require a sewing machine and some basic sewing skills, though you will find two ways to make a dress bigger without sewing later in this article.
You will also want to consider the type and style of your dress before attempting any of these methods. For example, make sure you can easily sew on the fabric if you want to add a zipper! Some materials like knits or silk may require special needles or other sewing tools.
1. Letting Out Seams
If you take your dress to a seamstress, this is the method they will use! This is because it adds extra fabric while maintaining the original shape and style of the clothing.
You will find a few downsides to this professional method, though. First, it does not work on every dress–only on those that have an extra seam allowance in the side seams. Second, in some cases, the seam allowance fabric may no longer match the fabric of the dress, which could leave you with weirdly brighter stripes of fabric along the sides of the dress.
So, before you begin this method, perform two quick tests. Turn the dress inside out and measure the seam allowance (the material that extends beyond the stitching line in the seam). If it contains more than ¼” of fabric, you can safely try this method!
Second, look at that seam allowance material and match it to the outside fabric of the dress. Do they look the same, or is the seam allowance much brighter or darker?
Assuming your dress passed both tests, follow these steps to complete the alteration!
- Measure yourself around the waist and hips, and then divide each number by two.
- Then measure straight across the garment at the waist and the hips.
- Subtract the dress measurements from your measurements to find out how much of the seam allowance you need to add to the dress’s width. For example, if your waist measured 36 inches and you divided that by two to get a measurement of 18 inches, but the waist of the dress measured only 17.5 inches, you know you need to add half an inch more fabric from the extra material in the seams into the waist.
- Try on your dress inside out and use safety pins to mark the portions of the side seams that feel too tight.
- Next, use a seam ripper to take out the original stitching along the waist and hip sections of the side seams. A seam ripper looks like a small stick with a hooked blade on the end. You slide the sharp metal hook beneath a stitch and pull up to slice the stitch.
- Some dresses have fancy enclosed seams, and you can simply take out the inner stitching and be done. Normally you have to go on to a sewing step, though!
- You will need to re-sew the areas you ripped out, but you will sew farther out into the seam allowance to add that additional fabric into the garment. Draw a chalk line where you want to sew, following your earlier measurements to know how much fabric to add.
- Make sure the top and bottom of each new seam meet up with the old stitching, closing up the ripped-out section of the seam.
2. Adding Fabric
Adding fabric panels allows you to make a dress significantly larger, but it also presents several challenges.
First, you may find it difficult to find fabric that exactly matches your dress. Second, unless you know a whole lot about dressmaking, you may find it a little tricky to sew in an insert neatly!
However, this method can also produce professional-looking results. A seamstress might try this in a wedding gown emergency, for example.
- First, measure your bust, waist, and hips, then divide those numbers by two. Measure those areas on the dress and subtract the dress measurement from your measurement to find out how much material you need to add in.
- Cut out a panel in your matching material that stretches from your neck to the waist or to below the hips if you need extra room in that area as well. Make the width of the panel one inch wider than your final measurement from step one. You will need a half-inch on each side for a seam allowance.
- If your dress has a seam or zipper down the center back, rip out the seam or cut out the zipper.
- Use sewing pins to pin the right side of the panel to each side of this open seam.
- Use your sewing machine to sew down each side of the seam. When you get near the bottom of the panel, you will need to veer in a V shape to meet up with the old seam.
3. Inserting Side Zipper
Inserting a side zipper may seem daunting, but it isn’t that hard and may allow you to add in just a tiny bit more room in the waist area of your dress!
Please note that this only works if you need more room in the waist and not in other areas. Like the letting out method, this only works on a dress with some fabric in its side seams.
- First, try on the dress inside out and use safety pins or chalk to mark the top and bottom of the sideseam where you feel the dress tighten too much. You can only put the zipper in on one side, so just mark one side seam.
- Use a seam ripper to carefully remove the original stitching between your markings.
- Draw a chalk line in the seam allowance to illustrate how much farther out you want to move this seam. For instance, if you draw a half inch out from the previous stitching, you will add one inch back in the width of the dress.
- Set your sewing machine to a long basting stitch and sew along the chalk line. Then press this temporary seam open.
- Pin one side of the zipper face-down onto just the seam allowance of your temporary seam.
- Use a zipper foot and a regular stitch length to sew one side of the zipper to one side of the seam allowance. Sew comfortably close to the metal teeth, but not so close that your needle will land on metal.
- Now repeat this process on the other side of the zipper and the other side of the seam allowance.
- Gently remove the basting thread, opening up the sea to show the zipper.
- Hand-sew the zipper and seam allowance to the dress, using tiny stitches that do not show much on the outside of the material.
- Now you have an unobtrusive side zipper and a little extra fabric in your dress!
4. Using a Side Slit
If you don’t mind making a bold fashion statement, you can easily add more room in the hip and leg area by adding a side slit.
You can try this on pretty much any dress, as it does not require extra fabric in the side seams.
- If you have a friend at hand, try on the dress and have your friend measure from the bottom of the hem to where you want the slit to end. If you do not have a helper, spread the dress out smoothly on the floor and mark yourself.
- If you want the slit to go straight up the existing side seam, use a seam ripper to remove the seam till you reach your marking for the end of the slit.
- If you want the slit off-center, find the grain of the fabric and draw a line up to your marking. Then cut up the line to open up the slit.
- Next, fold over ¼ an inch of each opened edge. Use an iron to lightly press this fold.
- Pin the fold in place using sewing pins.
- Sew up each folded edge until you reach the top of the slit.
5. Altering Under Arms
If your dress feels too tight in the armhole and will not allow you to raise your arms, you can try adding something called a gusset.
You can do this in two different ways.
If you have a sleeveless dress, you can use a triangle-shaped gusset and insert it in the side seam beneath the arm, following the steps in the section above for adding a fabric panel. In this case, you will want the wider end of the triangle at the armhole and the narrow end to fade away into the under-arm side seam.
If you have a dress with sleeves, you will want to use an almond or diamond-shaped gusset and follow these steps.
- First, use a seam ripper to delicately remove the stitching at the bottom of the armhole.
- Please note that if the dress has a lining, you will need to remove the same areas of stitching from the lining as well.
- Next, cut out your gusset from matching material. There are no precise measurements to follow here because you need the length of the gusset to match the space of the underarm area in your dress. Measure this expanse and add ½ inch all the way around for a seam alliance.
- Then cut out two almond-shaped pieces of material using this measurement.
- Align your gusset with the dress side of the armhole so that the longer side of the oval sits in the curve of the ripped-out armhole. Pin right sides together and sew this side of the gusset in place.
- Now pin the ripped-out sleeve side of the armhole to the other side of the gusset, right sides together. Stitch this in place as well.
- When you turn your dress right side out, you should see a small, neat almond shape set right at the armpit, giving you more ease of movement!
6. Widening Waist
One of the most common problems you run into with a tight dress is a lack of room in the waist area.
Fortunately, you can solve this issue in several different ways.
- You can insert a zipper in the back or side of the dress. Simply open up the center back seam and sew in a zipper, following the zipper-setting instructions explained earlier in this article. This adds a tiny bit of extra room to the waist.
- If the dress has extra fabric in the side seams, you can let out the side seams following the instructions in the “letting out seams” section.
- If you need more breathing room, you can try inserting fabric panels along both side seams, tapering them down into the skirt to make them less obvious. Once again, you can follow the instructions from the “adding fabric” section to complete this method.
7. Expanding Hips
Expanding a dress just at the hip area gets quite complicated, but you can try a couple of techniques.
First, in all honesty, if you find your hips and seat area don’t match the shape of a dress, but your waist and bust do, you should probably buy a dress that fits in the hips but is too big in the waist. You can easily take in the waist and end up with a perfectly fitted, elegant dress!
If you love your current dress, though, consider these potential solutions:
- Add a very long side or back slit to the skirt. This will give you more room for movement, though it does not add any fabric to the hip area of your dress.
- Alternatively, consider inserting a kick pleat at the center back of the hem, especially if it is a pencil dress. A kick pleat will help prevent the tight dress from riding up as you walk. This process does take some complicated sewing knowledge, so you could also ask a tailor to add the kick pleat, which a professional could do easily.
- Look at the tags inside your dress and note down the brand and style. Then go online and buy the dress again in a larger size. Ok, this is not an alteration method, but if you have grown into super curvy hips, this might be your best bet!
How Do You Make a Dress Bigger Without Sewing?
In some cases, you may find it possible to enlarge your dress without any sewing. These methods involve removing shaping elements like darts or simply stretching out the dress’s fabric to make it bigger.
Dresses made out of certain types of fabric may stretch out if you follow this method. This is one of the easiest methods to try, but it also comes with uncertain results. You may end up with a dress that hangs crookedly or that is stretched out of shape.
Also, some fabric will not stretch. Silk, organza, tightly woven linen, rayon, and organdy, among others. Popular types of fabric that probably will stretch include any type of knit material, cotton, stretch lace, stretch satin, velvet, and polyester.
You can try to stretch your dress in two simple ways.
The first is to fill up your washing machine for a cold soak and leave the dress in there overnight. Do not run the wash or spin cycle. Instead, hang the sopping-wet garment in your shower and allow it to drip dry. The water’s weight will stretch out the dress significantly.
The second method takes just a bit more work.
- Fill up a sink or basin with cold water.
- Measure in ¼ cup of gentle baby shampoo.
- Submerge your dress and let it soak for several hours.
- Drain the soapy water away and rinse your dress under running water, but do not wring it out.
- Gently press some of the express water away by pressing the dress between your flat hand.
- You can also roll the dress up inside a large, clean towel to remove more excess water.
- Now take hold of opposite sides of the area you want to have stretched out. For example, if you need the waist enlarged, hold onto both sides of the waist.
- Tug on these points while the dress remains damp.
- If you feel determined to fix your dress, as a final step, you can even try on the damp dress and let it mold to your shape as it dries!
- Otherwise, hang up the dress and allow it to air dry to set in its new shape.
You can find several other variations on this method, including using a hair conditioner or fabric softener in the cold water soak. The basic concept remains the same, though. You want to use a relaxing soak and then gently draw on the fabric with your hands to stretch out the dress.
9. Remove Darts
If your dress has shaping features like darts, you can try removing the stitching from these elements. This will open up the folded fabric and give you a little more room in the bust or waist area.
As a word of warning, though, removing these features will also change the shape and style of the dress. You could end up with a baggy-looking dress.
Darts look like tiny triangular folds stitched into the dress. They usually lie beneath the bust or stand up at the waist.
To take out a dart, you have to use your seam ripper to remove the straight line of stitching along the dart itself, as well as the side or waist seam that holds the bottom end of the triangle.
Then use your sewing machine to re-sew the waist or side seam without the dart. If you want this process sewing-free, you can use safety pins to close up that opening! Just make sure you use tiny pins and set them neatly to avoid any obvious bulges or gaps.
How to Make a Tight Dress Loose
The best way to make a tight dress a little looser is to try the stretching method described earlier in this article. This can expand the fibers in many types of fabric, giving you a bit of room to breathe inside your too-tight gown!
If you do not have time for the soaking and stretching technique, you can also try using a hand-held seamer to thoroughly dampen your dress. Then use your hands to stretch the material. When it cools slightly, try it on and see if the fabric will stretch to fit your body.
As a pro tip for zipping up a tight dress, try attaching a safety pin and a sturdy ribbon to the zipper’s pull. Zip as far as you can without using the ribbon. When it feels difficult, hold the end of the ribbon and use that to drag the zipper shut!
Can a Seamstress Make a Dress Bigger?
A professional seamstress or tailor can often enlarge a dress by one or even two sizes. However, this does depend on the type and style of the dress, even for a professional! You will have better luck with a formal gown that includes extra fabric in the seams.
If the tailor cannot let out the side seams, you can ask about adding a discrete fabric panel to the back of the dress. A seamstress may or may not attempt that method.
In general, a tailor or seamstress may charge as little as $20 to let out a basic lined dress. That said, wedding dress alterations can cost quite a lot more. If you have a super fancy or complex dress, you should expect to pay at least $150 and possibly a lot more.
While not every dress allows for easy alteration, you can make many dresses large by one or two sizes. You can make a dress bigger using several sewn alterations such as letting out seams or adding a fabric panel; you can also insert a side zipper or add a side slit to provide extra room in the dress. If you only want to enlarge a specific area of the dress, you can add more wiggle room beneath the arms, in the bust, or the waist area, as well.
To make a dress larger without sewing, you can stretch out the dress using a cold water soak. You can also try removing shaping features such as darts or pleats to open up more space in the bodice of the dress.
What kind of dress do you plan to alter? Which method do you think will work best? Leave a comment below to let us know!