6 DIY Thrift Flip Hacks You Should Know: How to Alter Thrifted Clothes

Lydia Naomi
by Lydia Naomi
8 Materials
1 Hour

Sometimes you find something amazing at a thrift store, but it's too big or needs alterations. If you want to learn how to alter thrift store clothes or some DIY thrift and flip hacks, this is the tutorial for you!

Tools and materials:

  • Sewing machine
  • Serger or overlock machine
  • Scissors
  • Chalk or marking pen
  • Pins
  • Needle and thread
  • Shoe polish
  • Buffing brush
How to take in the waist of jeans

How to downsize jeans

1. Take in the waist

Pinch the waistband at the spot that fits best. Mark it.

Pinning jeans at the waistband

Remove the center back loop. Open up the center back seam about 4 inches. Move over the back seam and reduce it by 1½ inches. Pin it into place. 

2. Sew the jeans

Topstitch where the original stitches were, then resew the waistband to the pants, easing it in. You can watch my video How to Take in Jeans at the Waist to see how I do this in more detail.

Shortened jean legs with a Euro hem

3. Euro hem

Euro hem is where you hem your jeans so they look like they weren’t hemmed at all. Mark the new hemline on both legs. Pin the current hem along this line.

Use a zipper foot to sew as close to the hem as possible. Cut off the excess, leaving about ½ inch. Cut the inner seam closer - no more than ¼ inch to reduce the bulk at the hem. 

How to preserve the original hem on jeans

Use the seam ripper to open the original hem. Insert the raw edge of the seam allowance. Sew it up. This technique preserves the original hem instead of a double fold. 

Altering thrift store clothes

How to downsize a sweater

I want to reduce the overall length, sleeve length, and have cuffs that fit better on this oversized shirt. 

Shortening the sleeves

1. Shorten the sleeves

Mark the sleeve to the desired length. Seam rip the cuff. Cut the sleeves shorter.

Altering the cuff on the sweater

2. Revamp the cuff

Cut 1 inch off the cuff width. Serge the raw ends. Reapply and pin the cuff, right sides facing into the sleeve, and serge in place. If you don’t have a serger, zigzag stitch the ends and then zig-zag sew them in to allow flexibility. 

Shortening the top

3. Shorten the top

Cut 2 inches off the hem of the top, leaving a 1-inch seam allowance. Cover stitch to finish the ends.

Polishing boots to restore them

How to restore boots

All these leather boots need is some shine! Gently work the polish into the boot using rounded strokes. After applying the polish, use a soft-bristle brush to buff them and keep the leather supple.

Tip: If your shoe polish is cracked, heat it for a few seconds to soften.

Belting a jacket

How to adjust jacket buttons

You can always belt a big jacket, but if the buttons are in the wrong spot, here's how to move them. 

Certain fabrics will pull if there isn’t a button shank. Button shanks provide space between the button and the fabric. This allows whatever you’re wearing to drape nicely whenever the garment is buttoned up. 

Creating a button shank

1. Create a button shank

Place 2 thick pins crosswise where the button is supposed to go. 

DIY thrifting hacks

2. Sew the button

Sew the button on top of the 2 pins. Wrap the thread around the shank and tie it off. Remove the pins once the button is attached.

Altering clothes from thrift stores

The button is in the right spot!

Taking in pants

How to take in pants

These 100% fine wool pants were too big in the waist. 

Taking in the waist on pants

1. Take in the waist

Pinch the back of the waist to get the right fit. Pin in place. Mark where the pins are with chalk.

Opening the back seam

Open up the back seam about 6 inches. Remove the back belt loops. Open up the waistband. Mark the reduction in size on either side of the center seam. For me, that was 2½ inches so I reduced each side by 1¼ inches. 

Sewing a new waistband on the pants

2. Sew the new waistband

Sew the center seam starting at the top, working downward, gradually reducing to finish on the original center seam on a gradual smooth line. 

Easy thrifting hacks

Trim the excess. 

Thrift hacks you need to know

Sew the waistband together.

Altering pants to fit properly

Open the seam allowance and serge the ends. Sew the waistband down. Reattach the belt loops at the center. Make sure the back pockets aren’t too close when you take trousers in. You may need to reduce side seams as well.

How to downsize a shirt

How to downsize a shirt

This beautiful shirt was just too big! 

Shortening the shirt

1. Shorten the shirt

Mark off where to cut the excess with the chalk. I rounded the edges to make a curved bottom. 

Cutting off the excess fabric

Cut off the excess with a ½-inch seam allowance for hemming.

How to take in a shirt at the side seams

2. Narrow the width

Open the side seams. Reduce them by 2 inches with ½ inch seam allowance.

Shortening the sleeves of the shirt

3. Shorten the sleeves

Remove the sleeves at the shoulder opening. Use a seam ripper to open the armhole seam and measure how much to reduce the sleeve. Transfer that measurement to the sleeve cap.

I made a drop shoulder with a straight line rather than the curved line at the top of the sleeve. 

Serge all the raw edges.

Sewing the shirt

4. Sew the shirt

Sew the side seams. Insert the sleeves and sew them in. 

How to thrift and flip

Hem the shirt by double folding it by ¼ inch and then one more ¼ inch and sew down.

How to alter, thrift, and flip tutorial

Thanks so much for watching this tutorial! I love hearing from you so please leave comments on these thrifting hacks or if you want to see any additional tutorials on altering thrift store clothes! 

Suggested materials:
  • Sewing machine
  • Serger or overlock machine
  • Scissors
See all materials

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Join the conversation
2 of 8 comments
  • Sus10200913 Sus10200913 on Nov 04, 2021

    Excellent tutorial! I am the granddaughter of an Italian dress designer & you are exceptionally talented!

    Susan W.

  • Fabiana Fabiana on Nov 26, 2021

    how do you make a t shirt smaller?

    • Mark Mark on Jun 21, 2022

      Hot wash, even hotter dryer should do it. Maybe try hot wash first, then if it is still too big, hang dry then put it in for a dryer cycle.