I sometimes get carried away with online shopping and don’t realize until an item arrives that it isn’t quite the right size for me. If I like a piece of clothing such as a too-big shirt, I try to alter it instead of returning it! To do this, I have learned how to make a shirt smaller and shorter in eleven easy ways.
The best ways to permanently alter a shirt are to sew new side seams or add darts, tucks, or gathering stitches. Shrinking in hot water or creating a decorative cut-off style will also permanently resize a shirt. Quick fixes for a temporary shirt refashion include tying a decorative knot and creating a safety-pin pleat.
In this article, you will learn eleven methods for resizing a too-long shirt. You will also get tips for dealing with oversized t-shirts. Finally, you will find out how to refashion a shirt without sewing!
Can You Make a Shirt Smaller and Shorter?
You can make a shirt smaller using several different techniques, such as sewing or using safety pins. Some methods work better on t-shirts, while others work best on button-down blouses.
Before you dive into the shirt, refashion ideas, take a minute to think about how much effort or money you want to put into this alteration process.
If you bought a five-dollar tee at Walmart, you might want to consider either returning it or using a really easy fix like turning it into a crop top. However, you don’t want to spend a whole lot of time working on such a cheap shirt that you could easily replace in the correct size!
On the other hand, if your work uniform button-down doesn’t hang right on you, you probably want to either carefully hem it or pay a tailor to do a professional job for you. This would not be the time to try out a quick fix like using safety pins!
About half of the shirt refashion methods described in this article will permanently alter your clothes.
Some of these techniques, such as sewing a rolled hem on a sewing machine, do require a certain level of skill and tools like a sewing machine, though you can follow the step-by-step instructions provided here even if you’re a beginner!
The other methods give you the option of applying a “quick fix” that will temporarily adjust the shape of your shirt.
These methods work great in a pinch, especially if you’re traveling and have to buy emergency clothing, company arrives unexpectedly while you’re wearing your at-home baggy t-shirt, or you have to borrow clothing and it doesn’t fit you quite right.
How to Make a Shirt Smaller and Shorter: 11 Methods
You can make a shirt both smaller and shorter using sewing techniques such as hemming, sewing new side seams, adding darts, inserting tucks, and using elastic.
You can also use special shirring stitches to alter your too-large shirt.
Of course, you can also re-size your shirt without sewing by using methods such as shrinking the garment in hot water, tying decorative knots, slicing and dicing with your scissors, or even just using safety pins!
You will find helpful notes for each method suggesting what type of shirt works best for each kind of alteration. For example, t-shirts look great in a cutoff design, but button-downs would usually look silly!
Finally, some of the methods require less skill and time than others. You will also see notes regarding what skills and materials you will need to try out each technique.
1. Side Seams
One of the best, most professional ways to resize a too-big shirt of any kind is to cut away the excess material at the side seams and re-sew the seams in a closer, more fitted shape.
This process does require a sewing machine, pins, matching thread, and a bit of sewing experience.
If you have a sleeveless shirt, you don’t even need to follow these steps. Simply pin the side seams together and sew a new seam inside the current seam, making the shirt smaller. Make sure the hem and the under-arm seam line up neatly, and you’re all set!
For a shirt with sleeves:
- Spread out the too-big shirt on a flat surface like a carpet or kitchen table.
- Center a shirt that fits correctly on top of the too-big shirt. You will use the fitted shirt as a pattern to help you resize the big one.
- Use chalk or a washable fabric marker to outline 1 inch away from the sides of the smaller shirt. The extra 1 inch will give you a nice seam allowance.
- For a large t-shirt, you can simply cut away the sleeves and hem. You will resew these elements later. If the neckline fits, leave it in place, so you don’t have to resew it!
- For a button-down, you can cut away the sides and sleeves but leave the collar in place.
- Cut on the lines you just drew.
- Use pins or sewing clips to hold the cut edges in place.
- Sew new seams up each side of the shirt, using a 5/8” seam allowance. Stop at the bottom of each armhole.
- Next, you will need to reattach the sleeves.
- For t-shirt sleeves, use the smaller shirt as a pattern again and cut the big sleeves down to the same size. If possible, leave the hem in place, so you don’t have to resew it later! Use a stretch stitch to sew the sleeve back to the armhole.
- To make a dress shirt sleeve smaller, you will want to turn each sleeve inside out and sew a new under-arm seam before reattaching the sleeve to the armhole in the shirt. You will probably need to use a gathering stitch at the top of the sleeve to make it fit back into the armhole correctly.
- Finish the shirt by adding a new hem if you had to cut away the bottom of the shirt earlier!
- Finally, clip any loose threads and give the shirt a good pressing to make it look nice in its new shape!
As you can see, this process does require some skill and a bit of time.
Also, some dress shirts use a fancy kind of seam called a flat felled seam. If you want to match up your new seams with those fancier seams, you may want to watch a tutorial on creating felled seams. It requires a few more steps but looks nice in the end!
If your shirt is the right size but not quite the right shape, you can add shaping features like darts to help the garment fit your body more closely.
Typically, garments incorporate darts at the front or back of the waist, under the arms, or shape the bust area of a bodice.
A dart is a triangular fold sewn into the garment to turn a two-dimensional, flat surface into a three-dimensional, shaped surface in a garment.
To insert a dart:
- Wear the shirt inside out. Determine exactly where it gaps out from your body, such as at the waist or beneath the arms.
- Pinch in a fold of the loose fabric in these areas and use pins to hold it, then carefully take off the shirt without stabbing yourself!
- To make your triangle, smooth the folded edge you pinched together so that the fold lays to the right of the shirt. Mark an endpoint near the widest part of the curved area you’re shaping. You can use chalk or a pin to do this.
- Use the pins you used while wearing the shirt to determine how wide the base of the dart should be. For example, if you pinched in two inches, each side of your fold will be an inch deep.
- Now draw a line from that marking to your endpoint marking, creating a long, skinny triangle on the side of the fold.
- To sew the dart into place, simply stitch along the marked line from the wider end to the endpoint. Sew right off the edge of the fold at the endpoint, and then tie a knot in the loose threads.
- Finally, press the dart flat on the inside of the shirt.
This kind of sewing technique gets easy after a couple of attempts. You may want to watch a tutorial online to feel confident in the process, too.
A tuck also helps shape a shirt into a more fitted, three-dimensional style. Tucks provide another easy way to refashion a loose shirt.
Unlike darts, tucks don’t have tapered points. They pinch together a straight fold in the fabric, usually at the waist. For any sewing experts out there, they work a lot like pleats, except you sew them down differently!
To insert tucks in your shirt:
- Turn the shirt inside out and figure out where you want the loose fabric pulled in more tightly to give the garment a more fitted shape.
- Mark these points with sewing pins at the top and bottom of the area.
- Create folds in the loose fabric as if you were about to sew pleats. Pin into place.
- Now, simply sew along the folded edge to hold the tuck in place!
Typically, tucks enclose about one inch of material in their fold.
If you want to gather up more fabric, line up a row of tucks parallel to each other.
Once again, this process makes so much sense after you see it done correctly just one time! Try watching an online tutorial to get the hang of tucks.
Not every shirt style will look good with an elastic waist, but if you have a two-big shirt in a peplum style or a large t-shirt, you can try adding an elastic waist for an interesting restyle!
- Measure your waist, subtract an inch from that measurement, and cut a piece of 1/4” elastic in that length.
- Touch the short ends of the elastic together and zigzag stitch across them to create a closed circle.
- Mark four equal points around the circle of elastic and then four equal points around the waist of your shirt.
- Pin the elastic to the inside of the waist, matching the four marked points together.
- Use a zig-zag stitch to sew a circle around the top edge of the elastic, stitching it to the shirt.
- Repeat this process to zig-zag along the bottom edge of the elastic.
If you want to gather up a lot of loose material in your shirt, you can also use shirring stitches to shape the garment.
This technique ends up making a smocked style of shirt that probably works better on loose women’s blouses than on men’s shirts.
Shirring creates a gathering stitch using fine elastic thread. Some regular sewing machines can perform this function, but check your user’s manual before you begin!
To shirr fabric, you sew multiple parallel lines of gathering stitches using elastic thread. This makes a decorative, gathered ripple that takes in all the excess material!
If your shirt fits through your torso but hangs just a bit too long, you can easily alter it by sewing a new hem.
Using a sewing machine for hemming gives you the most permanent and professional-looking bottom hem for your tee or blouse. Most shirts, from button-down blouses to tees, use a basic double-fold or rolled hem.
You can easily slice off the too-long bottom length and then fold over the cut edge to create a new hem.
If you don’t want to sew or feel like this task will take too much time, you can always consider taking your shirt to a tailor. Most tailors charge between $15-$25 to put in a simple hem.
If you have a sewing machine, though, learning to create a basic hem will save you a lot of money and frustration down the road, so you may want to give it a try!
- Try on the shirt and use chalk to mark where you would like the bottom edge to end up. For example, if the t-shirt currently hangs past your hips and you want it to end two inches below your waist, make a mark at that two-inch point on each side seam.
- Take off the shirt and lay it on a flat surface.
- Use chalk to mark a line across the front and back of the shirt. For t-shirts or medium-weight button-downs, measure one inch below the first marks you made. For sheer or very lightweight blouses, measure half an inch below the marks. This extra length gives you material to fold under for your new finished edge.
- Next, cut along your chalk line to remove excess material.
- Turn the shirt inside out and fold the cut-off edge of the shirt up either half an inch (for thicker fabrics) or a quarter-inch (for sheer fabrics).
- If your material can handle the heat, press the fold into place using an iron. Then use pins or sewing clips to hold it in place.
- Using a matching thread, sew around the fold to hold it permanently.
- Now, turn in the fold one more time. This time, you will have a finished edge at the top and bottom of the fold!
- Sew near the top edge of the fold all the way around once more. Neatly clip any loose threads when you finish.
You now have a re-hemmed shirt!
As you saw, very lightweight or sheer material works best with a narrow rolled hem. A thicker kind of cloth holds a nice, pressed line and works best in a double-fold hem.
If you found all that folding confusing, you may want to watch a YouTube tutorial to see the folding process in action. It’s quite simple once you get the hang of it, but sometimes it helps to see a step-by-step tutorial as you learn!
This method works on almost all shirt styles. The only exception is shirts with sharply curved hems. For example, if you have a button-down that curves in sharply at the side seams, putting in a folded or rolled hem will prove challenging.
7. Hem Tape
As an easy but slightly less permanent option to make a too-long shirt shorter, you can use adhesive fabric tape instead of sewing your hem.
You can find rolls of adhesive webbing for sewing at most craft stores quite cheaply. This innovative stuff features double-sided webbing with heat-activated adhesive.
- Cut a length of fusible hem tape that is about half an inch longer than the circumference of your hem.
- Begin by measuring your shirt, marking the correct length, cutting off the excess, and pressing a double fold at the raw edge of the material.
- This time you do not need to pin the fold in place. Instead, insert the hem tape between the fold and the wrong side of the shirt.
- Next, iron the folded edge from the right side, moving the iron slowly and smoothly along the bottom of the hem.
- Ideally, let your shirt rest for 24 hours to set.
Hem tape will hold pretty much any kind of cloth, but it may show through sheer or very delicate materials. It will stay in place through many launderings but may eventually get frazzled.
Also, you should test your iron on an inconspicuous corner of your shirt to make sure the heat does not damage it before trying this method.
8. Soak and Shrink
If you want to permanently re-size a shirt, try the hot water method.
As a note of interest, if you want to make a shirt smaller by washing it, you can just wash your clothes in hot water several times, and you will probably notice a slight difference in size! Not all types of cloth can safely handle hot water, though, so make sure you check the label inside your shirt before beginning.
- Find a pot big enough to hold several gallons of water and your shirt at the same time.
- Fill the pot two-thirds full with water and bring it to a boil.
- Add the shirt and let it soak for 30 minutes.
- Run the shirt through your washing machine on its hottest setting
- Finally, put the shirt in the dryer to allow it to sit in the hot air.
This heat will cause many types of fabric fibers to relax and shrink into their pre-manufactured size.
You can try this on any shirt made of a type of fabric that can safely handle hot water. Shirts with a large percentage of cotton in them will shrink the most dramatically.
In all honesty, this method presents the greatest risk. Typically, clothing shrinks more vertically than it does horizontally, but there’s no guarantee that your shirt will shrink to exactly the proportions you want.
That said, if your shirt is just a bit too big all over, this method might give you the solution you need!
If you need a more fitted shirt and you don’t want to sew it, or if you desperately need to make a baggy shirt look nice in a hurry, try the knot method! You can use this method in multiple different ways to make a shirt fit your body shape and to make it shorter:
- For a button-down shirt, unbutton the lowest two or three buttons, take the loose tails in hand and tie them into a knot at your waist.
- For a t-shirt, gather up two handfuls of the bottom of the tee in front of you. Tie them together into a knot at your waist.
- For another t-shirt style, gather all the loose material to one side, twist it into a spiral, and tie it into a knot at your hip.
- If you don’t like the knot on display, try this technique: gather up the extra fabric at the back of your shirt. Twist it into a spiral and tie it into a knot. Then fold under the whole bottom edge of the shirt, including the knot!
- Finally, you can use a quarter and a clear elastic hair tie to create a uniquely ruched knot in your shirt. Place the quarter just below your bust on the t-shirt, and reach inside your shirt to hold the coin in place. Then wrap the elastic around the quarter from inside the shirt. This smoothly bunches up several inches of material and creates a ruched gather on the outside of the shirt!
This method works best on a shirt that is too wide and too long, such as a baggy t-shirt.
If you don’t want to sew your shirt to resize it, you can use decorative cutting techniques as a fun shirt refashion instead!
Cutting away some of the cloth will permanently alter your shirt, so keep that in mind as you work. That said, this is a fun way to alter your shirt with no sewing or complicated techniques.
To make a shirt smaller by cutting it:
- For a crop top, simply measure the new bottom edge of the shirt, and slice away all the extra material! Most tees are made of cotton jersey knit, and knit fabrics will not fray. This means you can leave raw edges on a t-shirt instead of finishing them.
- For a fun fringe, slice vertically instead of horizontally. Start at the bottom and cut up in a straight line to the new bottom edge of your tee. Repeat this pattern at half-inch intervals until you have a ring of half-inch strands hanging down around the bottom of the shirt in a nice fringe!
- To make a big tee more fitted, start by laying a smaller tee that does fit you on top of the too-big shirt. Trace around the edges to give yourself a pattern, then slice away most of the extra fabric on both sides of the big shirt, leaving yourself one inch of extra material. Leave the sleeves alone, but cut half-inch strips up the sides seams, then knot them together to create a funky, more fitted t-shirt with knotted sides!
This method works best on tees or shirts made of knit fabric like loose tank tops. All you need to get started is a pair of sharp scissors, but you may want to test out the techniques on a thrift store shirt you don’t care about first for practice.
11. Safety Pins
Last but not least, the safety pin method gives you an excellent, easily reversible method for altering a shirt temporarily.
While you don’t necessarily want to pin up the hem of the shirt with safety pins (that would feel uncomfortable, and the pins might show on the outside!), you can use safety pins in two cool ways for a quick shirt refashion.
- For the first technique, turn the shirt inside out.
- Find the side seams along each side of the shirt.
- Fold over each side seam and use safety pins to hold the fold down the length of the seams.
- Turn the shirt right side out and try it on to see how it fits.
- Taking in the side seams even in this rough manner will give your shirt a more tapered fit!
You can also use safety pins to create a tuck or pleat at the back of your shirt. This mostly takes in width across your torso, giving you a more defined shape!
- Turn the shirt inside out.
- Pinch together the loose fabric at the middle of the back.
- Use two or three safety pins to hold this gathered or folded fabric together, but check to make sure each pin does not show on the outside of the shirt!
- This will create a temporary pleat or tuck! You might want to wear a blazer or cardigan, so the back of your shirt doesn’t show if you feel self-conscious about your quick fix.
You can use safety pins on pretty much any kind of shirt, but you will want to make sure the pins don’t show from the outside.
How to Make a Shirt Shorter Without Cutting
The easiest way to make a shirt shorter without cutting is to use one of the handy knot techniques described earlier.
You can also fold over the extra fabric and use heat-activated hem tape to keep the fold in place, though this tape will glue the fabric together and set it semi-permanently in your shirt.
For a cool non-permanent folding technique, try this method:
- Loosely fold under the back edge of the shirt.
- Smooth the fold along the front of the shirt, so it looks fairly flat.
- Gather up the loose bottom of the shirt at your side.
- Twist this material into a spiral.
- Instead of knotting this, simply tuck it into the wide of your waistband!
This creates a loose partially-tucked fold that makes your shirt look shorter.
You can make a decorative knot in any loose, baggy style of shirt, but this works especially well for big t-shirts. Plus, if you want to make an oversize t-shirt cute without cutting it up, this is the way to go!
How to Alter a T-Shirt That’s Too Big
The good news is that you can easily resize a t-shirt that is too big in multiple ways. If you don’t need to look too formal, a quick side knot might work best of all!
Check out this handy reference of ways to resize a t-shirt:
- You can cut away the extra material and sew new side seams to make an elegant, more tapered fit.
- You can employ one of the fun decorative cutting methods described earlier. These work best on knit fabric. You can go for a crop top, create a radical fringe, or just slice off the hem at your preferred length.
- You can twist up a decorative knot, or you can fold and tuck for a classy look when paired with jeans or shorts.
- Of course, if you’re feeling classy, you can also sew fancy tucks or shirring to gather in the baggy tee!
How to Make a Shirt Tighter For Guys
The best ways to make a big shirt fit better for guys are to try the shrinking method, taper the side seams, or pay a tailor for professional alterations.
You can find step-by-step instructions for the shrinking and side seam techniques in the methods described earlier in this article.
Keep in mind that you can’t expose every shirt to boiling water. Check the manufacturer’s label inside the garment to find out if you can attempt the shrinking technique.
These tips will help you find your way around shirt alterations:
- As a pro tip, it’s always a good idea to sew your alteration using an extra-long basting stitch first. Then try on your clothes, see what worked, and easily remove the stitching if you don’t like it!
- If you’re working with a sleeveless shirt, you can easily turn it inside out, find the side seams, and sew a new seam just a bit inside the current line of stitching. This will make any sleeveless shirt a bit more fitted quickly and easily.
- If the shirt has sleeves, you will need to remove each sleeve to alter the side seams. You can use a seam ripper to carefully remove the stitching from the sleeve or cut away the excess as described in the methods section. In all honesty, once you get to the point of taking out and then replacing a sleeve in a garment, you will find yourself facing some challenging sewing.
- Tailors can easily resize too-large clothes, so paying for an alteration won’t cost too much if you decide to forego the fancy stitching yourself!
How to Sew a Shirt Smaller By Hand
If you don’t have a sewing machine, you can apply a few simple hand-sewing techniques for a creative shirt refashion that requires nothing but a needle and thread.
- You can hand sew most of the techniques described earlier if you have enough patience!
- You can sew tucks into place by hand using embroidery floss for a decorative touch.
- You can follow the steps for the side seam method, but use a needle and thread to hand-stitch the new seams. It will take a little while, but in the end, you’ll have new seams!
- You can hand sew a hem using a simple slip stitch. This works best on cloth that can press into a sharp crease.
Really, the sky’s the limit once you have a needle and thread!
How to Make a Shirt Smaller Without Sewing
To make a shirt smaller without sewing, you can either shrink the whole garment using hot water or use cut-outs and knots to reshape the garment.
For a fitted or button-down shirt, you may want to try the soak-and-shrink method described earlier. Typically this shrinks the garment a little more vertically than it does horizontally, but it will generally shrink the shirt by at least one size all over.
For less formal clothes like t-shirts and tank tops, you may want to try one of the decorative cutting methods described earlier, or try this racerback style!
To make an impromptu racerback tank:
- Use sharp scissors to cut off the collar and sleeves from your tee.
- Gather up the back of the shirt between the two armholes.
- Use the piece of fabric you cut off the collar to tie the gathered back together.
- You have a new tank top!
How to Make a Button-up Shirt Smaller Without Sewing
The easiest way to make a button-up shirt smaller without sewing is to try the shrinking method.
Hot water and heat will cause many fabric fibers to lose the tightly-stretched tension instilled in them during manufacturing, allowing them to shrink back into their normal state. This makes your clothes get smaller!
For women’s shirts, you can also just belt them in! Try wearing a belt and easing a bit of the loose shirt up over the top of the belt to create a classy, fitted-waist style.
You can make your shirt smaller and shorter by using sewing techniques like adding new side seams, inserting darts, tucks, elastic, shirring stitches, and sewing a new hem. You can also create a temporary solution for your too-big shirt by tying a knot in the extra fabric of your shirt or using safety pins to hold up some of the extra material.
The quickest and easiest way to resize your shirt is to use a decorative knot technique, which you can quickly implement on the fly in an emergency situation! The most professional and permanent method is to sew new side seams or darts using a sewing machine.
Have you ever fixed an annoyingly large shirt? How did it turn out? Leave a comment below to let us know!