What To Do With a Dress That is Too Small: Easy Upcycle Idea

8 Materials
2 Hours

What do you do if a dress is too small? Well, you have several options, but in this tutorial I’m going to show you how to thrift flip a tight dress into a perfectly fitting top.

My dress has a button front that I want to keep in the new design, and the top and skirt were originally made in two pieces and joined together.

You can use this upcycling idea for almost any style of dress though.

Tools and materials:

  • Too-tight dress
  • Optional trim
  • Seam ripper
  • Measuring tape
  • Pins
  • Scissors
  • Pinking shears
  • Sewing machine
Deciding on the length

1. Decide on the length

I’m going to be using fabric from the skirt to increase the width of the dress at the sides.

If you have a one-piece dress, you can use a shirt that you like and take the length from there.

Don’t forget to add an inch or so (2 - 3 cm) allowance for the hem to the finished length.


My dress wasn’t only made in two pieces, the waist was also elasticated. I spent a couple of hours carefully separating them and removing the elastic.

I also removed the elastic from the cuffs.

Opening the side seams

2. Open the side seams

I turned the top section wrong side out and cut the side and sleeve seams off completely on both sides.

Creating the inserts

3. Create the inserts

I calculated the length of insert I would need by measuring along the open edge of the side and sleeve.

I then measured that length on the lower part of the dress that I’d cut off.

Amazingly, they were almost exactly the same length, about 27 inches (68 cm), so I didn’t need to join pieces together to make the inserts.

I knew that I needed the top to be 2 1/2 to 3 inches (6 to 8 cm) wider in total, so half that on each side.

That meant my strips needed to be 2 inches (5 cm) wide, to give me a small seam allowance on each side of the insert.

Creating the inserts

I cut through both layers of the skirt from top to bottom, 2 inches (5 cm) from one side seam.

I separated the strips by cutting out the side seam.

Creating the inserts

I also opened the hem on the skirt to give myself a little more fabric.

Attaching the inserts

4. Attach the inserts

I laid the opened out shirt on a flat surface with the right side uppermost.

Starting at one end, I pinned one side of the first insert to the opening with the right sides facing and the raw edges lined up.

Attaching the inserts

I sewed the raw edges together, taking a narrow seam allowance.

Attaching the inserts

I turned the top wrong side out and attached the second side of the insert to the other raw edge of the top in the same way.

I repeated the whole process on the other side of the shirt.

Increasing the length

5. Increase the length

I was really pleased with the way the inserts turned out but the top was barely waist length, which is too short for me.

I still had plenty of the skirt fabric left so I decided to add a peplum or ruffle to the bottom of the blouse.

I laid the skirt flat and folded it to double the depth of ruffle that I needed.

I cut off the folded section, then cut it again along the fold so I had two strips of fabric of the right depth and double the length of the bottom of the blouse.

Increasing the length

I joined the ends of the strips together to make a loop of fabric.

Attaching the ruffle

6. Attach the ruffle

My favorite way to do this is using simple pintucks to manually pleat the fabric to the correct width.

I lined up the side seams of the ruffle with the center of the blouse inserts to keep the pleats evenly distributed.

I pinned and sewed the ruffle to the blouse with the right sides facing. 

Attaching the ruffle

I trimmed the excess fabric from the seam with pinking shears to prevent the edges from fraying.

Adding a floral trim

7. Optional trim

Instead of adding ruffles to the sleeves, I found a floral trim in my stash that I used to decorate them.

Adding a floral trim

I had enough left to trim the top of the ruffle as well.

Floral earrings

I even made a pair of matching earrings by pushing a faux pearl stud through the top flower.

Upcycled top

What to do with a dress that is too small

Wow, this turned out so much better than I ever expected! The blouse fits perfectly and I think the trim that I found pulls the whole look together.

I hope you enjoy my upcycling ideas for clothes. I so enjoy refashioning thrifted finds into something special. 

Next, learn How to Upcycle Old Pants Into a Cute Spring Blouse.

Suggested materials:
  • Too-tight dress
  • Optional trim
  • Seam ripper
See all materials

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