How to Make a Waistband Smaller

Altering a waistband

When buying clothing second-hand, you don’t always get the best fit, especially if you can’t try the pants on first.  This applies to hand-me-downs as well .  Clothing can be almost but not quite the right size and you still want it to work.  Knowing how to do a few basic alterations is really helpful and especially how to make a waistband smaller on pants (or shorts) or altering clothing around the middle.  This is not hard but you’ll need a couple of supplies from your office supply drawer before getting started.  First, you’ll need to determine the all important question:  How much should you alter the waistband?

How to make a Waistband Smaller

How to make jeans smaller

How do you know how much should you alter the waistband? 

I’m glad you asked.  It’s a good question.  Ask yourself these questions to determine the right amount to alter your waistband.

  • Test how pants feel on your waist by sitting down.  Pants feel different when you’re sitting.  (This is actually a good way to see if any pair of pants fits well.  Sit down and try them out.)
  • How about after a meal?  Will the pants still feel comfortable then?
  • Will you wear a belt?  If so, you may not want additional seams and will want to consider another approach like adding elastic into the waist-band instead.

I always begin a waist altering project with these: clips.  See how they’re all different sizes?  You can test how the waist will feel on you while using these clips.

How to alter waistband

Taking in a waistband isn’t just for new to you pants.  What if you’ve been working out and you’ve lost weight around the middle?  (Good job – virtual high five coming your way!)

Tailoring clothing

It’s also a good technique to know for growing kids.  This especially true for my daughter – tall, thin, no hips, no longer in kid sizes, and not quite adult sizes.  I had my daughter test the pants with the clips and then I marked where to sew.

How to alter waistband (4)

Then I stitched a seam by setting my machine to the correct seam allowance based on the clip measurement.  See what I mean about so easy?

How to alter waistband

That cardboard piece is a trick of mine that I used when mending some pillowcases.

Tailor a waistband

There are other temporary tricks to use on a waist band.  Add a rubber band to the button and gain an inch or two around the waist.  This was my trick and very helpful for when I was pregnant and a mama-to-be.

This was another take-in the waist band I did on a pair of my shorts.  These fit well everywhere except sat too low on my hips.  (I’m waiting for the waistbands to go back up where they belong, around the middle of your waist, ones that you can wear a belt with.)

How to alter waistband

I just measured and pinned these pleats, and stitched.  I always wear a shirt to cover this little secret waist alteration.

Sometimes Many times I don’t get an alteration quite right and then I get out my seam ripper, take out the seam, and start again.  It happens to me all the time.

My motto is:  If I’m not rippin’ then I’m not sewin’!

And the little holes from all of my mistakes?  They disappear quickly when pressed with a hot iron.

 How do you alter a waistband? Any secret tricks to share?

Go Gingham related links:

How to turn jeans into capris – easier than you think!
How to make skinny jeans from wide leg jeans – make your own “jeggings”
How to mend pillow cases to improve your sleeping – hah!
Easy steps to remove pesky tags from clothing
Want to learn to sew?  Start here with easy cloth napkins
How to take apart a skirt – use your seam ripper on this project!
Mitered cloth napkins made from an old skirt
Sew your own homemade lunch sack
How to sew a Harry Potter cape complete with wand pocket

11 thoughts on “How to Make a Waistband Smaller

  1. I am so impressed that your kids are on board with your tricks! You are right, sometimes you just have to dive in and try something, knowing that you will do it over if it isn’t quite right. Otherwise, I get paralyzed with perfectionism!


    1. Oh, Annie, thank you. My daughter is motivated to try these things because it costs her less money than buying new jeans! She has been growing so quickly that items fit one week and not the next. Altering takes a little practice but knowing you can rip seams out and start over is reassuring. Don’t worry about perfection ~ remember plenty perfect? 😉


  2. That’s a great tip to use butterfly clips for measuring how much to take in! Sure beats being poked by pins, and it’s something I could do on myself (not easy to try and pin the back of your own pants).
    My daughters both have tiny waists. And one likes her jeans to be roomy in the hips, so finding a pair that fits is hard, even more so when shopping second hand. The last pair of jeans I just told her to find a pair she liked in the hips and seat, and I’d fix the waist. And that’s what we did, and she’s been very happy with them! On her pair, I put the seam on the inside, as I also had to do some sizeable darts to make them lie smooth.


    1. You sound like an alterations pro, Lili! I can do without pins near my skin. I like the alterations on the inside as well but can’t get it to work on jeans. Great job!!


      1. Taking jeans on inside the pants, probably wouldn’t work on heavy duty jeans, like Levi’s, at least not without a professional machine. Now that I think of it, the denim of my daughter’s jeans that I took in inside, were of a thinner variety denim, or else just much more worn.
        I especially like your tuck idea for clothing that will be passed from one child to the next. Two kids in the same family can have totally different body types. And with your method, you’re leaving the possibility open to let them back out again.


    1. Oh, Julie! You are cracking me up! I’m surprised you don’t sew because you are a frugalista just like me!! Thanks.


    1. Sheila, that is an excellent solution! You’re a dear and it’s been so fun getting to know you this past weekend.


  3. Just what I needed! I need to alter my son’s pants since I bought the wrong sizes and he needs them by tomorrow! Thanks for showing the images. I really need to see how it’s going to look like before altering my son’s pants. It’s going to be my first time doing this sort of things. hehe…


    1. Hi Sunny,
      I’m so glad! The nice thing is that when your son grows, you can let the seams out as needed. They’re adjustable with a seam ripper! 😉
      Thanks, Sunny, for stopping by and leaving a comment.


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