Taking In The Bust

This dress came from a mother of a groom and it needed to be taken in in the bust area, so I’d like to show you how to do that.

You can use this technique on strapless dresses as well.

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Do you see the pins in the side seam? There are pins on the other side as well.

I generally like to take a dress in at the side seams. If you take an equal amount in on both sides, the dress will hang correctly. 

Very rarely do I have to move the back zipper. I will if I have to, but it really doesn’t happen that often.

Just be sure that if you take in the back zipper, it doesn’t pull the side seams toward the back of the dress causing it to hang improperly.

Can you see how we are going to take out more fabric at the top of the side seam than we are at the bottom of the bust area? First of all, that’s what it needed, but secondly, you need to pin less and less as you go because you want your seam to taper back to the original seam gradually. 

Here is the dress laying down on the table. I run a measuring tape down the side seam from the top. On a sheet of paper, I mark down “L” for the left side of the dress and “R” for the right side.


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This happens to be the left side of the dress, so we’ll do those measurements first.

Do you see how I have pins at the 1″, 4″, 6″ marks, etc? There’s no science to this, it’s just where I happened to stick the pins when my customer had the dress on.

Once I have the measurements from along the tape measure written down, I use the seam gauge to tell me how far from the side edge of the fabric the new seam should go and write that measurement down.

In the photo above, do you see how I am going to take in 1/2″ at the one inch mark? At the 4″ mark, I’ll take in 1/4″.

Once you have these measurements written down, take all the pins out. Eventually, we will be working on the inside of the garment.


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The photo above represents the interior of the dress right at the side seams. I need to use a seam ripper to gently cut the stay stitching threads (be careful not to cut the fabric!) at the top of the side seams where the outer fabric meets the lining. If you are going to take in an inch of the dress, be sure to rip out about 2 inches of stay stitching so you’ll be able to work inside the dress.

See the ribbon? Those are the ribbons the manufacturer attaches to the dress so that you can hang the dress from these ribbons instead of the straps. (In this case, you could hang the dress from the straps since they are so wide.) If you have spaghetti straps, be careful. They can stretch out if you hang the garment by the spaghetti straps.

This ribbon is sewn into the dress at the top of the seam. Sometimes, you’ll find these ribbons sewn into the side seam an inch or so down from the top of the side seams.

So, in this case, gently take them out with a seam ripper.


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In the photo above, do you see that the two rows of stay stitching have been removed?

Now, it’s time to take apart the seam that holds the lining and the outer fabric together.

In the photo below, do you see that I have taken out the ribbon and the seam above that has been taken apart?


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Now, turn the garment right side out.

Sometimes, there are a few stitches holding the front fabric to the lining fabric. Just cut those threads being careful not to damage either the front of the dress or the lining.

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Usually, there is not this white interfacing fabric, but in this case there is. It is there to add stability to the area. I just cut across it as shown. We’ll lap the ends over each other later.

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I have a little extra step I need to do.

If you look at the very first photo above, you’ll see that I pinned the dress from the patterned bust area down into the solid colored blue fabric. This means that some of the alteraion is occuring below that horozontal seam and we need to open up that seam to make the alteration. If we didn’t do that, it wouldn’t lay flat in that seam area when we were finished. 

To do this, slide your seam ripper or small pointed scissors under the serged stitches to the right and left of the seam as shown and rip them out.  

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Take out the stitches on the seamline

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This will give you a hole like this:

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We’re going to alter the seam I have in my left hand (the skirt part) and the one to the right of my hand (the bodice section). Now, work with one of those side seams at a time. We’ll start with the bodice section (the printed fabric).

Refer to the paper where you wrote all the measurements you transferred earlier.

Pin according to those measurements. If you are working on the left side, follow the left side measurements.

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Where I put the pin into the fabric is my new guide for sewing the new seam. You may want to draw a line down the side if that helps you. Be sure and use a washable or soluble marker made just for fabrics. There are other options which we’ll go into at a later date.

Now, sew, using the pin’s entrance into the fabric as your guide to sewing the new seam. Don’t run over the pin, though. Take it out just before it gets to the presser foot.

Remember to wear eye protection. I just had a needle explode on me the other day and I was so glad I had some glasses on! 

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Do you see how the two new seamlines will match up when we sew them together in the next step?

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Take out the original seamline with a seam ripper and press the seam open. If there is too much material, you can trim it. If you trim it, you might want to finish the new cut edge with a zig zag stitch or a serged edge.

Now, take that same intersection and put the new stitched seam lines right sides together facing each other like this:

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Stitch them together using the original seamline as your guide. Finish the edge if you like.

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Now do the exact same thing to the lining by putting pins at the correct spots and stitching a new seamline. Take out the old stitches and press the seam open.

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Up at the top where the two seams will meet, you will fold the ribbon in half and stuff it into the hole like this:

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Lay that intersection flat and pin it if necessary to keep it from slipping.

Stitch across the intersection like this:

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Usually, if you have the white interfacing involved. you would stitch it into the seam, but in this case, I found that the interfacing was just above the seamline, so I pushed it out of the way while I stitched. This closes up the seam. If you turn the garment right side out, you’ll see how the ribbon is in the correct place:

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We are now going to stay stitch the edge. This will keep the layers from popping up under the arm pit area. To stay stitch. slide the garment onto the sewing machine with the dress fabric to one side and all the rest to the other side (this includes the lining and inside seam allowances). Just push them all to the lining side of the dress. Be careful not to get unwanted fabric caught up under the presser foot as you sew:

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I don’t usually see a double row of stitching in a garment like this one has. You don’t need to do two rows. One will suffice.

But, since this is for a customer and the original stitching holes will show if I don’t stitch two rows, I am going to stitch two rows!

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I could have sewn over the ribbon on both rows, but that was not how it was done originally and, again, I want it to look like it did when she brought it in.


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I just reattached a few beads that were loose with some matching thread.

You can tack the lining to the bodice fabric underneath if you want to keep it from shifting while you wear it.

Here’s how the finished product looks.

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Now, doesn’t that look beautiful?


12 Responses

  1. […] Pin how much you need to take in and record the amounts along the waist and the center back seam as I did in the second photo of this post. […]

  2. When taking in a side seam more than an inch, you run into the problem of uneven seams at the intersection between the lining and the fashion fabric. Does one create a new seam line when sewing or closing everything back together?

  3. Yes, you need to create a new seamline most of the time, I just eyeball it. It usually means that you have to take out a few more understitching stitches on either side of the opening so that the new seamline flows well. Does that make sense? Let me know if it doesn’t.


  4. I am so very happy to have found your website. I have sewn many a pillow, curtain panel and quilt and have just begun to sew garments for myself. I so enjoy sewing, but consider sewing and altering garments far beyond my meager skills.

    My 40th birthday is coming up week after next and my dear husband has planned an incredible getaway for us. Alas, as with every woman, I have nothing to wear!

    I found a sassy little leopard print cocktail dress in my closet that is just a tad too big. Living in a rural area, it’s just not feasible that I can take the time to go to an alterations professional, so I was thinking I would do it myself.

    I had planned on putting darts in the dress to take it up. Yes, darts. Needless to say, I think your gracious blog has just saved me from sassy dress ruination! I’m going to tackle it tonight. Wish me the best!

    Thanks again,

  5. Thank you for this wonderfully easy explainantion of how to do this. Many times in the past I lazily just took up both lining and fabric leaving it untidy and bulky. This was much easier than I expected and it looks nice. Thank you again! Stephanie

  6. After reading your blog I built up the courage and advertised a little bit. I am now getting very nice alteration work from a local bridal boutique. I know more or less what to charge per hour but am not sure approx how long it would take to make the “mother of the groom” dress with a lining smaller as well as the time to take for a jacket as per your alteration for narrower shoulders. If you could give me an idea how long you take then i can have an idea as the boutique would like a plus minus quote so that they can quote the customer.
    ps thank you again for this very helpful blog. Kirsten

    • I don’t make (construct) garments for others, and it all depends on all the details involved. I’m sorry, but I don’t like to estimate because of the detail factor. I would look at the pattern and estimate how much time it takes you to do each step. Hope that helps!

      • thank you so much for the reply, I meant I am altering a mother of the bride dress, sorry for not being specific and i realize asking such a question would be unfair as one never knows what goes into the alteration, I will quote them per hour, as am going to see them tomorrow.

      • That sounds like a good plan!

  7. I am currently altering a formal for a friend…long story but now my church seems to think that I am some incredible seamstress because of a minor previous (brilliant, if I do say so myself) alteration…but just for 2 items…ugh. Now I am faced with taking a size 20 dress into a size 14 or 16. How do you deal with taking in so much when the front of the dress goes up and the back of the dress goes down? I hate lined items!

  8. I have been sewing a long time and typically do not like to do alterations. I decided I would like to try the alterations for my wedding dress with the help of sewy buddies. Not too crazy as the length is great,bodice back is lace up and it is sleeveless. This article is actually more than my dress although there is boning in the side to deal with after taking in the bust.

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