How to Tuck a Dress

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Tailors and designers often use "tucks" when sewing, which act as a width or length adjuster -- or as a design feature. Tucks are stitched-down fabric folds, often in groups of three or more, that do not require cutting away of excess material. The fold varies in width, and can be vertically or horizontally placed, depending on your specific need and style. Since tucks vary in width, it's important to know terms such as "pin tucks" -- narrow folds -- as well as "notch tucks" or "wave tucks" -- folds with decorative placement. Here, we'll explain how to adjust the length of a dress, using horizontal tucks.

Creating Bodice Tucks

To shorten a dress with tucks in the bodice, first open the side seams of the dress carefully with a seam-ripper, from top to bottom. Spread the dress with the open side seams on your worktable.

Place a yardstick ruler horizontally on the front bodice of the dress from side seam to side seam. To start the tucks below the chest, place the ruler approximately 1 inch below the armhole. Mark the horizontal line lightly with tailor's chalk. This line is the stitch line.

Decide the width of the desired tuck, and use your yardstick to make a second guide line below the first. For example, to insert ½-inch tucks, measure ½ inch from the guide line, place the yardstick horizontally, and lightly mark the second horizontal line. If you are working with delicate fabric, use dressmaker's pins instead of chalk. Place the pins horizontally 1 to 3 inches apart. The second line is the fold line when the tuck is completed.

Repeat Step 3 and mark a third horizontal line, ½-inch apart from the fold line. This third line is the second stitch line, which creates the tuck. Again, if you are working with delicate fabric, do not mark the material and use dressmaker's pins.

Pinch the second stitch line under, aligning it with the original stitch line from Step 2. The fold line from Step 3 creates a flap-like fold. Carefully remove all dressmakers' pins.

Re-pin the tuck along the stitch line to secure it in place for stitching.

Repeat Steps 1 through 6 to create a series of folds. Use the flap-like fold as your guide point to measure the subsequent stitch and fold lines. If the dress only requires one tuck to shorten, skip this step.

Flip the dress and repeat Steps 1 through 7 on the back of the bodice. Align the stitch and fold lines along the side seam to ensure the front and back tucks match. This step ensures an even bottom hem.

Stitching Tucks

Fit the pin tucked dress on a dress form to check the desired length. If you do not have a dress form, carefully try on the dress. If you are not satisfied with the length, continue shortening the dress by adding more tucks, repeating Section 1.

Baste each stitch line with a hand-sewing needle and thread along the front and back bodice. Basting is a series of wide stitches created for temporary placement. Make sure the stitches are loose and wide apart to ensure the thread easily pulls out without snagging the dress fabric.

Stitch along the stitch lines with your sewing machine, carefully pulling the thread and removing the basting stitch. If you used pins to secure the tucks in place, stitch at a slow speed while removing each pin. This ensures that the tuck retains its intended width and remains straight across the front and back dress bodice.