Fitting part 6: length adjustments below the waist

This post follows on from part 5: length adjustments above the waist. A bit the same, a bit different.

How do you know if you need to alter the length below the waist?

I don’t think you need to make a toile to work out whether you need a length alteration. You just need to know your own measurements.

Start by measuring your waist to hip distance – you’ll need a tape measure, some wool or string and someone to help you.

1. Strip down to your undergarments, or a slim-fit pair of trousers like leggings, and tie a piece of wool or string around your waist. (If you’re not sure exactly where your waist is, try bending to the side – like in the ‘I’m a little teapot song’! Your waist is the hinge where you bend.)

2. Use the tape measure to find the point on your hips with the largest circumference. This might be close to your hipbones, or below the fullest part of your bottom if you have proportionally large thighs. Everyone’s different. If you like, mark the spot with some tailor’s chalk to make things easier.

3. Ask your helper to measure down your side, from your waistline to the spot you found in (2). Keep the tape measure in contact with your body rather than pulling it taut. This is your waist to hip distance.

Measuring the distance from waist to hip
Try to measure along the side seam if you can – or close to it. (Much easier if you have a friend to help you!)

Womenswear patterns, except petites, usually use a standard waist to hip distance of 8″ in all sizes. You won’t usually find this measurement printed on the pattern envelope, but you might find it written on the pattern pieces. If your measurement is 7″ or under you’ll need to shorten patterns, and if you’re 9″ or over you’ll want to lengthen them. Mine’s a whopping 10″ – which explains why I have trouble finding RTW trousers – so I always lengthen almost all patterns at this point.

Does it matter if I don’t make this alteration?

If you’re sewing a flared skirt, you’ll get away with it (although if yours is longer than average and you want to get the garment on and off over your bottom, you’ll probably still need to lengthen the zip). I made the Colette Moneta recently and didn’t bother to lengthen the skirt at this point – I just added loads to the hem instead, and that worked fine. For fitted skirts and trousers it’s definitely worth making this alteration.

How to add or subtract length

Most patterns include markings (and even instructions, sometimes) on the pattern pieces to show you where to adjust the length. If yours doesn’t, then you’re looking for a spot between the hipline and the natural waistline. If you make the alteration at a suitable notch, it’ll make matching the pieces easier later on.

Once you’ve got your waist and hipline in the right spots then you can move downwards and adjust the length above and below the knee too in the same way.

Knock-on effects of a length alteration below the waist

You’ll need to alter any adjoining pattern pieces like a fly front, or slant pockets.

If you’re making trousers with back pockets, you might want to shift them up or down a little so they sit in just the right place.

If you’ve shortened your pattern you might get away with less fabric but if you’ve lengthened it you could well need more (including any lining and interfacing).

And you might now need a longer or shorter zip, more bias binding or to move the buttons on a shirtdress.

Ta-da! No more Simon Cowell trousers or builders’ bums.


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