7 Ways to Sew a Maxi Dress Shorter

Sewing a pink fabric with pins and scissors
Making a long dress short is possible if you know how to go about it. This guide gives you a step-by-step process on how to do it like a pro.

Casual maxi dresses are almost always my outfit of choice when I am not going to the office. But as a petite woman, finding a maxi that fits me perfectly hasn’t always been easy. More often than not I have to do some alterations to make the dress just a little shorter, so it doesn’t drag on the floor. Sometimes wearing a high heel shoe works, but other times I have to do something more drastic.

Thankfully, I have learned more than a few tricks to shorten a maxi dress-some permanent and some temporary. But before you can start cutting or shortening a dress, it’s important to know your ideal length, and this requires some measuring.

What Length Maxi Dress Do You Want?

The best way to know how long you want the dress to be is to wear it and stand up straight. I also recommend wearing the shoes you most likely match with that dress just to make sure you get the right length.

  • Get a friend to mark where you want the dress to stop. They can do this using chalk or a safety pin. Ensure this mark goes all around the dress. I like using this method because it takes into account that your hips and other parts are lifting the dress up as well.
  • Alternatively, measure your body length instead, from your natural waist to the top of your foot. Then, with this number, take the tape measure and put it on the dress skirt to mark that same length.

Don’t cut anything yet, though. Sometimes you only need to be a little creative instead of trying to be a seamstress.

How to Make a Maxi Dress Shorter Temporarily

1. Belt Up

The easiest and fastest way to shorten a dress is to use a belt. This is best if your dress is a little loose and flowy because it won’t look good on a tight-fitting dress.

Simply fasten the belt over the dress just a hair loose than usual, and then pull the dress above the belt. Do it gently and slowly ensuring you balance the movement all around your waist.

Repeat this until you get the desired length. Sometimes the material of the dress will hang over the belt and hide it, but that’s okay if everything is even.

2.  Tie a Knot

Speaking of loose dress fabrics, you can get the length you want simply by tying a knot on the hem. You will need a stretchy fabric or at least a dress that has enough flowy material to tie a knot. Besides shortening the dress, tying a knot on the hem or the waist is a styling technique that looks really cool.

Identify where you want to do the knot- the waist side or anywhere on the hem, preferably the side. Gather a tube-shaped handful of material and wrap the tube over and under to make a knot. Tug it a little to make the knot tighter.

3.  Use Safety Pins

Now if your dress is a bit tight and non-stretchy, your best bet is to use safety pins. It’s a quick temporary solution if you want to shorten only a few inches.

However, this method requires you to measure the length using the steps we discussed earlier. After that, fold up the extra length towards the inside of your dress and iron the folded edge to make it flat. Check the care label to ensure the fabric can handle ironing.

Next, go to the side seams inside the dress and pin the folded-over hem to the side seams.

Pin the front and back of the hem as well to make the folding even. If the dress’s fabric is heavy, you may need a few extra pins to keep it in place.

4.  Hem Tape

Most women have safety pins at home, which is why it’s the easiest method to shorten a tight straight dress. It’s also better if the dress material cannot be ironed.

Personally though, I prefer using hem tape instead because it’s lighter, and you can’t see any evidence of it, unlike pins.

Hem tape is a thin, double-sided, transparent tape that temporarily holds two sides of fabric together. Using the line you marked, fold the remaining fabric to the inside of the dress and iron it flat. Then, open the fold again and place the tape on that allowance on the right side of the dress.

Fold it back to lock the tape inside and run a hot iron through it to make the tape hold on securely. The new hem you make using hemming tape looks flawless, and you wouldn’t know it’s a temporary method.

How to Make a Dress Shorter Permanently

If the dress is too long, the best solution is to cut the excess fabric and make a new hem. Again, you can do this yourself or have a seamstress do it for you. To cut a dress short, measure two inches or 5 cm below your first mark and make another mark. You will put your scissors on that second mark and cut straight along that line without deviating.

With the new length clearly marked, you can now create a new permanent hem.

5.  Using Fabric Glue

I have trouble using a sewing machine, but my cutting skills from that Home Science class are still stellar. If you are like me, you can use fabric glue to make the new hem after cutting the excess fabric.

Fabric glue works exactly the same as hemming tape, except it’s a permanent solution. Simply apply the glue between the mark and the new cut and fold it onto the inner side of the dress. Smooth the new hem with a warm iron and allow the glue to set for a good 24 hours.

Unfortunately, fabric glue can sip into the fabric and become visible on the right side. Prevent this by using less glue or using it on dark, thick fabrics.

This is how to use it:

6. Hem by Hand

The best alternative for fabric glue is hemming by hand for those of us who don’t like sewing machines. Putting a hem by hand is truly the only way to create a neat hem on the inside of a dress so it’s completely invisible on the outside. In fact, it is the method fashion designers use.

  • From where you cut the dress, pull half an inch of fabric towards the inner side of the dress. You can iron it or use pins to hold the fabric together.
  • Measure one and a half inches up from the new fold and fold the fabric up again. You will now have two layers, with the one-and-a-half-inch fold on top.
  •  Iron the second fold, or use pins again.
  • Thread a needle using a thread that matches the dress’s color, and tie a knot at the end.
  • Use a slip stitch because it’s the easiest and looks neat. To make this stitch, side your needle on the inside of your fabric and pull it out on top of the folded hem, pulling the thread until the knot stops you.
  • Next, slightly push the tip of the needle through to the front of the fabric. Then, carefully edge the needle tip over a few threads in the fabric’s surface and push the needle tip back down. The tip will return to the inside of the skirt, leaving an almost invisible stitch on the outside of the fabric.
  • Make a short stitch along the top of the fold and repeat the slip stitch again until you cover the entire hemline.

7.  Hem by Sewing Machine

Finally, you can make a new hem using a sewing machine. There are many ways to make a hem, but the easiest is to create a double fold.

  • Sew a line of stitches around your dress one inch from the bottom edge.
  • Fold the edge of the fabric up on the inside so that it touches the line of stitches you just made. This is the first fold, so press it or pin it in place.
  • Turn a half an inch fold towards the inside of the dress again. Press or pin the double fold together.
  • Go back to the machine and sew along the hem on the outside of the dress. You should put a straight stitch a quarter inch from the folded bottom edge.
  •  If you had used some, remove the pins and press the hem flat.

As you can see, there are easy and somewhat complicated methods of making your beautiful maxi dress shorter. Choose any of them depending on how long or flowy the dress is and whether you want it short permanently or for a short while. But if cutting and creating new hems looks complicated to you, take the dress to a seamstress instead of ruining it.

How do you shorten a dress without sewing?

There are various ways to shorten a maxi dress without sewing or even cutting. Some temporary quick fixes include tying a knot on the hem, using a belt to lift some fabric around the waist, and using hemming tape to create a new temporary hem. However, you can also use fabric glue if you want a more permanent solution.

Can you shorten a dress without a sewing machine?

Yes, you can use your hands to create a new hem after cutting the fabric to your desired length. This method requires some knowledge of hand stitches, but it’s the neatest way to make a new hem. It’s also more suitable for fabrics that you can iron because you will need to flatten the stitch with a hot iron.

Lior Shapiro

I love clothes with pockets and dresses, and I think any woman can pull off a good maxi dress.
I believe women's clothes with pockets make the world a better place.