How to Lengthen and Shorten a Sewing Pattern

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At our last Sew & Chat, one subscriber suggested that we do a blog post on how to lengthen and shorten a sewing pattern. We thought it was a great idea since this is a fundamental fitting technique that every sewist should learn.

Knowing how to lengthen and shorten a pattern is particularly useful if you’re sewing a garment for someone who has body proportions a little outside the norm, such as a long torso or a very small waist with long legs.

Making pattern adjustments is not as difficult as you think… And, you can adjust practically any sewing pattern. Let us walk you through the process. You’re going to be amazed at how easy it is to get a better fit!

Where to Splice a Pattern Piece

The first thing you need to do is determine where to cut your pattern to lengthen or shorten it. Many sewing patterns have a line that indicates where you should do this. If your pattern does not have this line, it doesn’t mean you can’t make adjustments; it just means you’ll have to determine the best location on your own.

In general, the best spot to lengthen or shorten a shirt is halfway between the hem and the bottom of the armhole. For pants and skirts, the best spot is halfway between the hem and the crotch. On sleeves, the best spot is halfway between the shoulder and the hem.

Pants typically have two different lines for lengthening and shortening. The one at the top is so you can adjust the rise of the crotch and the one at the bottom is so you can adjust the length of the pants. If you’re adjusting the rise, make sure you also adjust the zip facing, if applicable.

You’ll have to use your best judgement because all patterns are a little different…

Once you know where you’re going to splice your pattern piece, draw a line to mark it. Make sure to do this on all corresponding pieces in the same spot. For example, both the front and back bodice pieces would need to be lengthened or shortened the same way.

When deciding where to lengthen or shorten a pattern, make sure no darts or major design elements are altered in the process. It’s also best to avoid lengthening or shortening your pattern at the bottom of the hem.

How to Lengthen a Pattern Piece

Here are the steps to follow to add length to your pattern:

  • Cut along your lengthen line to divide your pattern into two pieces.
  • Get a piece of paper that is a bit wider than your pattern and draw two parallel lines on it that are the distance apart that you want to lengthen your pattern. These will be your placement guide lines.
  • Place the piece of paper underneath your top pattern piece, lining up your top line with the cut edge of your top pattern piece. Tape it in place.
  • Do the same thing with your bottom pattern piece. Line up the cut edge of your pattern with the bottom line you’ve drawn on your paper and tape it in place.
  • Draw a new cut line along both side seams. Typically, this is something you can draw freehand. However, some people find that a dressmaking ruler is helpful, especially if you need to draw a new cut line that has a slight curve.

How to Shorten a Pattern Piece

Here are the steps to follow to shorten your pattern: 

  • Draw a parallel line underneath your shorten line that is the distance you want to shorten your pattern.
  • Cut or fold your pattern piece to align your shorten line with the line you’ve drawn underneath. Tape it in place. Make sure that you maintain the grainline as you shift your pattern pieces.
  • If necessary, get a small piece of paper and tape it underneath your pattern pieces at the side seams so you can redraw the new cut lines.

That’s it! Wasn’t that easy?

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