Altering the Dress Bodice: Lengthen or Shorten Here!

Yesterday I made the bodice muslin, today I’m going to correct the pattern! I’ll spare you photos of me wearing the skirtless-dress muslin, because I only need to make minor fitting changes that are easy to explain.

Here’s what I need to fix:

1. Add 1″ to the bodice length.

When I had on the muslin, it was hitting an inch above my natural waistline. I felt like a little girl who’d outgrown her dress and has to fight the urge to tug it down into place! This is starting to be a standard alteration for my body, as I’ve noticed several of my dresses are just slightly too short in the waist. (A good reason to make a muslin – I wouldn’t be able to fix the body length if I’d already cut my real fabric!)

2. Add 1/2″ to the bodice width all around.

The muslin was too tight all over! It would be fine, but slightly uncomfortable to wear all day, and I’d be putting strain on the zipper and risk bursting the seams. This is easily fixed by adding a slight amount of extra room at the sideseams.

Other than that, the bodice fits quite nicely! You can see I wrote the necessary changes right on to the muslin with pen. Why? Because it’s fun to write on fabric… but also so that I don’t forget the changes to make. It’s easier to visualize adding 1″ to the length if it’s written right on the bodice, for some reason!

To lengthen the bodice:

If the pattern piece is marked with ‘Lengthen or Shorten here’ – that’s the place to start! Luckily my pattern piece is marked, so I know exactly where to add the extra length.

If your pattern piece isn’t marked, make your alterations about 2″ above the waistline like the pattern piece above.

Or, think about where you need the extra length. Likely it will be just under the bust, but above the waist. This is the easiest place to alter since you’re not changing the waist measurement – so it will still connect to the skirt piece like it’s supposed to!

Next, cut your pattern piece along the lengthen-or-shorten line.

Grab a piece of paper large enough to fill the gap. I used regular white paper but you could also use tracing paper or whatever you had on hand.

Now tape one edge of your pattern piece to the paper extension, smoothing out with your hands to make sure there are no bumps. I made it extra-easy and lined up the straight edge of the paper with the centre back seam!

Measuring from the top cut edge, add the required amount of length, marking every couple of inches with a short pen mark.

Then, use a ruler to draw a straight line, connecting the short pen markings.

Now, grab the bottom half of your bodice piece. Line it up along the straight line you just drew as well as the centre back line, and tape the pattern piece in place.

You might notice that the side seam isn’t exactly lined up, now that we have added the extra length. To re-draw the sideseam line, I lined up the ruler from the top edge to the bottom corner and drew a straight line. This marks the new sideseam!

The final step is to re-draw the dart lines. It’s not necessary in my case, but it would be if your next steps included altering the darts. (And it looks nice!)

Trim off the extra paper along the sideseam and lower edge.

And voila! Our bodice has been successfully lengthened!

(Don’t forget to repeat the process for the bodice front piece as well.)

It’s such a small change, and could easily be ignored but I know the dress will be so much more comfortable now! Plus, if I belt it, the belt will sit naturally in the right place – my waistline and the dress’s waistline are in the same spot.

Next up: adding 1/4″ to the sideseams. This is much easier than lengthening the bodice! All I did was tape a piece of paper extension to the sideseam, measured 1/4″ from the edge, and drew a straight line. (Don’t forget to add any notches to the new seamline!)

Success! The bodice pattern is altered and ready to cut in the real fabric. (Blurry photo but does show the finished, altered pattern pieces all ready to go.)

Oh yes! One more reminder: if there are facing or lining pattern pieces, make sure to do the same alterations to their pattern pieces as well! In my case, I have facing pieces, so I just had to add the 1/4″ to each sideseam. Easy!

Want to have another look at the real fabric, as I’m getting ready to cut?

Pretty! It’s vintage rayon, likely over 50 years old, so it’s quite delicate. I’m going to underline it in muslin for extra strength and support… more on underlining to come in the next post!

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18 Responses to Altering the Dress Bodice: Lengthen or Shorten Here!

  1. auzzi October 12, 2010 at 6:50 am #

    Thank you v. much for this… a while ago I started a dress by making a muslin which was just awful fitting and gave up as a result. This just might motivate me to give it another chance! What about darts though? How do you add or modify darts so that they actually flatter you? Keep up the good work on your blog!

  2. Nancy October 12, 2010 at 7:30 am #

    Fabric cutting time! Good luck!

    Oh and thanks for the tips on adding length to a pattern, I’m one of those shorties who is constantly taking up the length because everything is always too long.

  3. Marta October 12, 2010 at 7:52 am #

    I was wondering on the side seam could you just use a 3/8 in. seam instead of altering the pattern or will that mess up the arm hole. Just curious? Your explanations are very clear. Thanks!

  4. Samina October 12, 2010 at 8:47 am #

    I know I said thanks yesterday, but I’m really enjoying this walk-through of yours. It really helps to see step by step of process of translating the muslin changes to the pattern. I understand the concepts, but I think I made it a heck of a lot harder than it needs to be in reality.

  5. Emer October 12, 2010 at 9:08 am #

    Thanks for the great tutorial. I’ve been wanting to lengthen a bodice pattern myself, and didn’t know how to do it. Very clear instructions. I love the fabric also. It will look lovely made up i’m sure.

  6. Corinne October 12, 2010 at 9:14 am #

    thanks for the demonstration, I’m really looking forward to the underlining segment and Can’t wait to see the finished dress.!

  7. A Sewn Wardrobe October 12, 2010 at 9:24 am #

    Great step-by-step tutorial – thanks!

  8. S√∏lvi October 12, 2010 at 9:44 am #

    Wow! That is one thorough description. Great work!

  9. Alexandra Mason October 12, 2010 at 1:05 pm #

    Wonderful tutorial! x

  10. Irene October 12, 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    Your explanation and pictures make the whole process seem so easy and not so time-consuming – may-be you’ll convert a few people (like me?) to taking the time to make a muslin.

  11. Renay October 12, 2010 at 4:29 pm #

    These are such great tutorials, thanks for taking the time and having great photos to go along with too. Love the fabric!!!

  12. Faye Lewis October 12, 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    That is going to be gorgeous!

  13. Tasia October 12, 2010 at 8:09 pm #

    Thanks and I’m glad that so many of you are interested in the behind-the-scenes posts!

    @auzzi: Ok, darts are a lot harder to modify than just adding to the length or width like I did! It depends on what’s wrong with your current darts – too pointy? Too close to the bust point? Need to take more in through the darts? Maybe the darts would look better converted to gathers, pleats or tucks? There are tons of options and ways to work with darts to make them look better.

    @Marta: Hi Marta! If I just took smaller seam allowances, that would work basically the same as adding to the sideseams like I did. I didn’t want to count on my memory to remember that one seam was meant to be smaller! I have done that in the past, and it would be easy enough to remember for one project, but I’d like to make this dress more than once, and I wanted to make it easy for my future dresses, too!

    @Samina: So true – it’s so much clearer to see someone making the changes in real fabric or real muslin, rather than just reading about theoretical changes.

    @Irene: You know, I am one of the most impatient people I know! But I swear, taking the time to make a muslin is going to make sewing the real dress so much faster.. at least that’s what I’m hoping for!

  14. Caroline October 17, 2010 at 8:17 pm #

    I’m curious why you chose to add 1/4″ to side seams. Adding girth that way usually makes the sleeves fit funny, especially on a sleeveless dress. I learned to add fullness to the back by adding width in a gash from outer shoulder to the waistline outside of the darts. There are so many adjustments that can be made to the front of the bodice, but none I’ve seen involve adding to the side seams — they all involve gashes made inside the piece, with wedges added and removed.

    It would be awesome to see a pictorial of you fitting your personal bodice muslin “by the book.” Your pictures and writing are great.

  15. Tasia October 17, 2010 at 8:38 pm #

    @Caroline: Hi Caroline! I added to the side seams because the armholes were super tight on the muslin, so they could stand to have a slight amount of room added!

    You’re right, normally if you add to the width, adding to the front or slashing through the middle would be preferable – if the armhole fits perfectly as is. In this case, the armholes were tiny! And the amount I was adding was so small, I figured it wouldn’t distort the armholes too much.

    Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad people are interested in the fitting posts. I considered posting pictures of the actual muslin but I didn’t attach the skirt part AND the bodice was too short, so I wasn’t super comfortable putting up midriff-exposed photos up online. Definitely will post when I do a full dress muslin fitting and adjustments!

  16. Felecia January 26, 2015 at 1:18 pm #

    Is the process more or less the same for shortening the bodice? Novice sewer here and I’m very short-waisted.

    • Tasia January 27, 2015 at 8:21 am #

      It is! Lengthening and shortening are the same process, but in reverse.


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