Sewing Alterations Pt.3 – Knits and Gathering

Hi guys, on today’s episode of “Random sewing alterations,” I will be working on two pieces of my little girl’s wardrobe. I will be dealing with knit fabrics and gathers, fixing two of her favorite dresses for this season. Many sewists are intimidated by knits, so this might be a good opportunity to show that they are not that scary.

To watch the video tutorial, scroll down to the bottom of this page.

Fixing a spot on a dress

This is a new dress that I destroyed in the washing machine (image 1). Thankfully the stains are only over the bottom part, and I plan to replace it.

I have two pieces of t-shirt fabric here that are similar to the original in composition and color (image 2). It’s hard to find an exact matching shade, but it doesn’t matter that much, as it would go under the butterfly mesh. This tones down the difference.

First, I need to detach the skirt from the top part. I unpick the waist seam all around until the skirt is off completely (image 3).

I will use the skirt piece as a pattern and cut out the new skirt. I am adding some seam and hem allowances as well. I’ve also decided to lengthen the underskirt a bit so that it matches the top piece (image 4).

To sew the dress back together, I start with the side seams (image 5). Then, I serge at the hemline to make it even and hem it (image 6). I ensure that my seam settings are ok to properly sew one layer of this stretchy knit without threads popping later.

The next step is to gather the skirt to match the top part. The two skirt pieces are different in width and therefore require a different amount of gathering. One possibility here is to gather each layer individually until it matches the top and then sew them together. I prefer to join the two skirt pieces first (image 7).

As the bottom layer is stretchy enough to match the top layer, I will sew it as I would sew a neckband: pin both skirt pieces together at the side seams, center front, and center back, and sew both layers together by pulling the shorter one just enough to match the longer one as I go (image 8). I go from pin to pin, ensuring that the fabric is distributed evenly and the gathering will be consistent around the waist circumference. I use a straight basting stitch and go all around without locking the seam and leaving the thread tails at the end. 

Next, I gather the skirt to match the top of the dress. I use the threads’ free end to push and pull while creating the gathering (image 9). I try to distribute the gathering evenly until the skirt matches the top.

Then I pin the top to the skirt at the center front, center back, and the side seams and face sides together (image 10).

To keep everything in place, you can put more pins if you prefer.

I sew the top and bottom together. And this is how the dress turned out.

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Shorten a dress into a top

The second dress is too short already (image 1). It also has a stain that wouldn’t come out on the front. I wouldn’t bother as she has many other summer dresses, but Elsa is on this one, so I don’t have much choice.

My idea is to shorten the dress so she can wear it as a top. To begin, I must detach all the gathered layers that start from the waist down.

In most cases, I would unpick the seams because I don’t want to shorten the garment too much. On this one, I skip the pleasure of unpicking serger threads and cut the seam out close to the seam (image 2). The serger seam is usually around 5 mm wide, so I will not lose much length by cutting it out. Sometimes this would work; sometimes, these 5 mm are too much, so I would rather unpick the seams. It depends on the project I am working on.

By the way, If you need to unpick serger seams, I have a video that might help. I carefully cut out the seam even as I go all around.

I need to give the top some finishing, but hemming is not an option because it’s already a tad short. I am thinking of reattaching the mesh layer to give it a cute finish and keep the length.

The piece that I am going to work with is at least twice as long as the top, so I need to gather it enough to match. I have two options: I can gather it using the serger, or I can use a straight stitch and gather it by hand (image 3).

Sergers usually have a gathering option in their settings. When you set it, the fabric gets gathered as you sew. I often use this option, but today, I will gather with a straight basting stitch. 

It’s because the serger won’t gather as much as I need, and I need a lot of gathering here. I also want to match the top piece as a circumference. I will have much more control over the gathering when I do it by hand.

I am setting the stitch length high so I can sew a basting stitch and sew close to the edge of the fabric, using the presser foot as a guide (image 3). I go all around the piece of fabric that I want to gather. I don’t lock the seam at the end. I need the threads to be free, so I can pull them to create the gathering.

I will use the free end of the threads to push and pull while creating the gathering. I try to distribute the gathering evenly, and I go until the ruffle matches the top’s size.

Then I pin the ruffle to the top face sides together and match at the side seams (image 5).

The last step here is to sew the top and the ruffle together. Here is how it came out (image 6).

Here is the full video tutorial.

More sewing tutorials:

  1. How to replace the zipper on a jacket
  2. Types of zippers – what you need to know
  3. Making Some Everyday Sewing Alterations
  4. How to sew an invisible zipper on a dress
  5. How to replace a zipper on jeans


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