Sewing Survival Skillz: How to Take in a Skirt

In Curve-Friendly Boutiquing, I explained how useful it is to buy vintage clothing in slightly larger sizes than you normally would when you’re dealing with higher-end brands, to accommodate your curves. When this mostly works, but you have a couple inches of wiggle room that make the outfit look kinda frumpy… yes, there is something you can do to fix it.

And, I firmly believe that, for men and women of color who have curves, knowing how to sew is an essential survival skill. You’ll save money, and you’ll experience what’s it’s like to not have to compromise on what you want to wear. It’s empowering. It’s also a super tiny alternation, taking in a waistband.

Since I can only tell you what I know, here’s how to take in a skirt. It should work for taking in a couple inches off of pants waistbands too.

Here’s how to ‘take in a skirt’

  1. The quick and dirty way to do this is to put on a skirt that a little loose in the waist and then stand in the mirror. Pinch the sides with your fingers until it fits better, and then look to see about how much fabric you’ve pinched up with your fingers. For me, from the point of my finger to the first dark joint is about an inch. And even if it isn’t exactly an inch, you know that you’ve pinched one or two finger joints of fabric. Make a mental note of that.
  2. Grab some safety pins, have a seat and lay the skirt across your lap. Turn it inside out and zip it up closed. Find the seams at the sides and then pinch the waistband of the skirt again, like you did in the mirror. Pinch up the same amount as before. Push a safety pin into the fabric, as straight as you can, to mark off where your finger ends. Place more safety pins on the diagonal, making a long triangle down the hip (about the length of your index finger from tip to knuckle). Repeat on the other side, marking both hips.
  3. Do you know how to sew? I’ll teach you. You can get a sewing needle and thread from Bed, Bath and Beyond, Target, and perhaps CVS or Walgreens. From the spool of thread, pull out a long, long thread, several inches, and then cut it. Take your needle and put the thread through the eyehole at the top of the needle. You can lick the end a little to get the thread to stay still and point through easily. Pull the thread through, about halfway down the length you cut, then fold it over, pinch the ends together and use both hands to fold a double loop of thread over one finger and tie a knot that way. Now you’re ready to start.
  4. To actually start sewing, simply push the needle and thread through the bottom of the cloth, then pull it gently until the tiny knot snags. Stop, then push the needle and thread through a small pinch of cloth above the first stitch a few times so that you’ve made several tight, secure stitches.
  5. Now, use the diagonal line of safety pins as your guide. Sew as straight a line as you can alongside the row of safety pins. I’ve found that the best way to do this without getting too technical, is to pinch the cloth and push the needle through several ‘ripples’ of cloth before pulling the thread through behind it. You’ll end up with a line of stitches as straight as your needle. Repeat until you get to the long point of your triangle. Make a few more stitches, one ontop of the other. Then, before pulling tight the last stitch, put the needle through the loop of thread and pull tight. Do this once more, then cut the thread. Turn the skirt inside out and try it on. You’ll be surprised… without using measuring tape, a machine, or a dry cleaner’s you’ve taken in your own skirt. And since you were in charge the whole way through, it should fit perfectly. Don’t worry about ruining a skirt using this method. Stitches are easy to cut at the ends and pull right back out. And the tiny holes left over are hard to see. Repeat the same on the other side so that both hips have been taken in.

I’m skilled enough now that I will target a larger size in any store, knowing that it will fit my hips but not my bust and then take a few minutes when I get home and take it in. And I will buy pants that are too long when I am a short lady, but that fit great in the hips, and simply fold up the ends and run a needle through them while my favorite TV show is on. This is easy to imagine enjoying if you are crafty. But I can guarantee you, the satisfaction you feel after mending something to fit you exactly the way that you want, especially if it’s after you took a chance on something in the store that you knew ‘was not made for Black people’ is truly empowering. I kind of feel like I’m ‘fighting the power’ and ‘beating the system’ every, single, wonderful, time.

For more detail about altering clothing from women of color, check out these sewing videos:




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