A simple waistband alteration on paper

The other day, when I blogged about my 90-minute skirt, I mentioned that I removed four inches from the waist in the pattern. This alteration was made before I cut the fabric, an adjustment to the pattern itself. I find paper alterations to be easy and effective. They don’t take a lot of time and they make the final fitting easier. Here’s how I did this particular adjustment.

All you need are a tape measure, paper, a drafting ruler, and a dose of self-awareness. I have several different kinds of paper I keep on hand.


On the left is a bolt of Pellon (a brand of non-woven interfacing), available at any sewing store for around $3 a yard. I use my 40% JoAnn coupons on this stuff, buying the biggest bolt I can find so that I always have plenty. The pre-printed blue grid lines are one inch square, and that fact makes this stuff a worthy investment. It’s sheer enough to lay over the pattern tissue and trace, and if you know you’re moving thus-and-so line an inch, that inch is already marked on the Pellon. (Online sources: Amazon, fabric.com, ShopPellon.com) You can also sew this stuff, so it can double as a muslin for tricky to fit items like boned corsets. You can write on it with a Sharpie or other marking tool, but it is slightly prone to bleed-through, so mind what you have under it.

In the middle is a roll of plain paper. It’s slightly sheer, resists bleeding, and is about 18″ wide — I look for rolls in the 18-24″ width range, which seem to work best. This particular roll is from Staples, but this sort of paper is available at any office supply store. Look in the art paper area for banner rolls, but avoid Kraft paper, which is opaque. Something slightly sheer works better. I lay this paper right over the pattern tissue and trace the size I want, and then alter on paper from there.

On the right is an end roll of newspaper. A friend’s husband works in periodical publishing and he provided this, but you can often get these just by stopping into the local news office and asking. They ordinarily give away the end rolls if they have any handy. I know area school teachers who use this stuff for all sorts of classroom decorations, are projects, disposable table covers, and so on. It’s opaque, so I tend to use it to make copies of existing pattern piece — something I’ve done pretty regularly as I’ve lost weight and needed to adjust my slopers. I also use this when I decide I would like to take an existing t-shirt pattern and make it into a tunic or dress, for example — bigger alterations to existing patterns where I want to preserve the original pattern.

So, first I measure the pattern tissue at certain key points — in this case, the waistline, but I also measured hips. On most commercial patterns, the hip line will be 9″ below the waist line, so even if it is not marked, you can still estimate where the hip will be. (In my case, I measure the hip around 7-8″ below the waist because I am petite.) In this case, the hip was a good measurement for my body, but the waist was pretty big.


The smallest waist measurement for this particular skirt back piece was 9.5″. This piece is cut on the fold, as is the front piece. So, we subtract the 5/8″ at the seam allowance from the 9.5″ (9.5 – 0.625 = 8.875) and then double the answer because this piece is cut on the fold (8.875 x 2 = 17.75). The finished back piece will thus measure 17.75″ across the waist. The front piece was identical, meaning the finished waist would have measure 35.5″ wide.


This is where a bit of self-awareness comes in, but first we have to talk about ease. “Ease” is the word we use to describe the difference between body measurements and garment measurements. Positive ease means that the garment is larger than the body. Negative ease means that the garment is smaller than the body (often found in knitted garments). Wearing ease is the standard amount of positive ease that will make a garment fit comfortably at key measurement points, such as waist and bust — the measurements printed on the pattern envelope are places where ease is measured routinely. Then there is design ease, which is what the designer adds or subtracts to make the garment look a certain way. Cigarette pants have minimal design ease through the legs, and palazzo pants have a ton of design ease in the same place, which is why the two kinds of pants look so different. Also, woven fabrics will need more ease than knitted garments because knitted garments will stretch and move with the body in ways that woven fabrics will not.

So. I know that for me, my waist measurement is just a notch over 29″ right now. And I know that with an elastic waistband, I measure the elastic piece to have an inch of negative ease, so about 28″ once it is lapped and sewn. This is the self-awareness part — I know that anything bigger than that, in an elastic waistband, will feel droopy to me and I’ll spend the day tugging on my waistband. The waist on that pattern measures to 35.5″, and I would want to use elastic to draw in 7.5″ of that, which seemed like a lot to me. I don’t like the way a very gathered waist looks on my body — dirndls are just godawful hideous on me these days. So I knew I wanted to remove some of that excess, and I started by marking a point 1″ in on the side seams at the waist on the pattern piece. Then I used my drafting ruler to draw a new curve from that point to the hip.


I also marked the alteration on the pattern piece, only because I know from experience that I can never remember what I did.


And that’s it. That 1″ adjustment on the front and back pieces removed 4″ from the waist, reducing it from 35.5″ finished to 31.5″ finished measure. I still used the 28″ waistband elastic finished measurement, so that meant the waistband was gathered slightly but not much. I also trimmed a bit off the waistband pattern piece, which was a plain rectangle with no waist shaping, so this meant simply hacking off four inches there, too, without worrying about waistband shaping.

This particular alteration is among the easiest to make, and I make it as a matter of routine on my skirt and pant waistbands.



McCall’s 6697 Shortening the pattern

mccalls6697backWhen I first saw McCall’s 6697, I knew I had to make it in black and white. It’s a striking design and would be perfect as a summer maxi for both my climate and my lifestyle. I love the way the stripes swirl around the body, and the fit — moderately close above the waist, full and fluid below the waist — would be cool and comfy. I picked up some white and black jersey with a bit of lycra, and as it prewashed, I studied the pattern to try to figure out how to shorten this thing.

I’m only 5’3″, and I have to shorten all my patterns. It’s second nature by now. But this pattern stumped me just a little. The pieces are cut in such a way that it was difficult for me to visualize the placement of the waistline, for example. This is not the pattern’s fault, but mine. I just couldn’t see how the pieces would lay on the body sufficiently well.

So I made a paper copy of all pattern pieces on sturdy tracing paper and pinned the pieces together along the seam lines. I like doing paper fittings like this from time to time because it’s a quick and dirty way to check fit before cutting the fabric. It’s not perfect and I don’t recommend it for close-fitting garments or things that require precise fitting, but it works well enough for general fitting checks.  In this case, I discovered right away that I would need to lose about 5 inches of length below the waist. Above the waist seemed more or less okay.

If you look at the pattern photo above, you’ll see that below the knee on the right, there is an inset gore. There are actually two of these gores, one on either side. These are the pieces that provide the flare and fluidity in the skirt, and I didn’t want to lose any of that motion and fullness. So I knew I didn’t want to lose much length at the hem, if I could avoid it. I decided to do the shortening right above the inset gore pieces. That gore piece measure 23″ from raw hem edge to tip. So, for all the full-length pattern pieces — that is, the ones that extended from bodice to hem — I measured 23″ from the hem along both seam edges and took the 5″ out from that point. (If you’re making this pattern, piece ten was the exception to the 23″ measure. If you look at piece 10, you’ll see why right away — its shape doesn’t follow the same general principle as the rest of the long pieces. For that one, I took five inches out from the spot where it would disrupt the seams the least.)

002Here’s what the pattern looks like when laid on the black jersey. The triangular piece is the gore, and I laid it beside one of the pattern pieces just for a visual reference. You can clearly see the blue grainline marking on that piece and see that it’s not laid on the grain! But it is laid next to the pattern piece where it would be seamed, something I did to check that I wasn’t approaching this incorrectly. On the long pattern piece, that bright white stripe to the right is the place where I overlaid the cut halves of the shortened pattern pieces to tape them back together. You can see that the white patch is above the point where the gore seam will end, which was my goal. I wanted to take the length out just above the gores. After I cut apart a pattern piece to shorten it, I used the grainline markings to keep everything straight while retaping. Then I regraded the side seams, which didn’t require much work because most of them only needed minor adjustments of around an eighth of an inch.

This turned out to be a pretty handy way to shorten a real puzzle of a pattern — I mean puzzle in the sense that the pieces all have to fit together just so, not puzzle in the sense that it’s confusing. If any of you were thinking about making this one but were unsure how to go about shortening it, maybe this will help you.