How To Shorten Shoulder Straps on Your Dress or Top

When your dress or top needs to be taken up at the shoulders, the process is not difficult.

Often, my customers will tell me to just stitch across the strap and cut off the excess.

Yes, you can do a version of that, but it leaves a very large lump that doesn’t always lay flat, is difficult to sew through and seldom looks professional.

In addition, often, that procedure won’t work because when you pin it up, the front strap is narrower than the back strap. (We’ll cover what to do about that problem near the end of this post.)

If you want to know how to shorten spaghetti straps, here’s a post on how to shorten spaghetti straps.

But, if you want to know how to shorten shoulder straps that are wider, stay right here because this is the place to be.

Here’s an example of a wedding dress that I got in this week where the straps are too long:

satin wedding dress with wide straps to shorten

The customer tried the dress on and I just pulled up the straps and pinned them where the customer wanted.

This made the dress fit 100 times better.

You can see the closeup of where I put the pin in on one shoulder:

close up of wide shoulder strap on how to take up straps, white brocade

If you turn the strap over, you’ll see that this dress has lining and under stitching:

lining side of the wide strap at shoulder, white brocade

You could take some of the understitching out now, or you can turn the strap inside out and remove the stitches that way.

It’s up to you.

I reached up into the dress between the dress fabric and the lining and pulled the strap inside out:

view of the wide strap turned inside out with frayed edges, white brocade

You can see the seam in the above photo.

You can also see that this brocade fabric frays easily.

You might want to stop the progression of that by using Fray Block on it.

Next, I flipped the strap over and you can see the lining seam:

photo of the lining on a wide shoulder strap

So, we have to take out a portion of the side seams here so that we can take up these two seams.

On the left strap, I needed to take up 1 1/4″.

So, I remove more stitches than I need because I want extra room to work.

I ripped out about 2 1/2″ of stitches on each side of the shoulder seam with my seam ripper:

ripping out stitches on a wide shoulder strap

Since I hadn’t removed the under stitching before, I will do it now.

You should see two rows of stitching (one is the seam and the other is the under stitching) and I am removing both of those rows with my seam ripper.

The under stitching is the stitching that is closest to the cut edge, so I take a little more of that out so that I don’t have puckers when I resew the seam later.

I remove the stitches on both sides of that strap.

Once that is finished, you can see inside where the rest of the strap is:

removed stitches on wide shoulder strap and looking inside the strap area

The only reason I am showing you this scene is that you won’t want to catch that inner strap when we go to sew it up later.

But right now, we are going to take up the 1 1/4″ at the shoulder seam.

To do that, get out your seam gauge if you have one.

Measure the amount you need from the shoulder seam down.

In my case, it’s the 1 1/4″:

measure the amount you need to take up on the wide shoulder strap

Stick a pin at that point.

Now, I want to match up the two layers. My goal here is to make sure the upper layer matches the lower layer.

On most fabrics this is easy because you can see the old pin holes:

match up the lower shoulder strap seam with the upper and pin.

Once that pin point is in the right place, I go ahead and finish pinning:

pin wide straps together to take up the shoulder seam

Do that process again on the other side of the strap.

In the photo above, do you see the spot where the pin first went into the fabric?

That is where I’ll begin my stitching. Actually, I begin on the edge of the fabric, but I sew right where the pin entered the fabric.

Some people would rather draw a line from one pin to the other. That works great too.

I have been doing this so long that I can just “eyeball” the seam I need to make:

stitching across wide shoulder strap to take it up

See how I am stitching from the entrance of the first pin to the entrance of the second?

Now this seam is parallel to the original seam:

a close up of the new seam on the wide strap taking up the shoulder seam

Sometimes that is not the case. It would not be the case if you needed to take up more fabric on the arm side of the strap in comparison to the neck side of the strap, since many people’s shoulders are not straight across. Many people have sloped shoulders.

Once your seam is stitched, trim off the excess.

Since my fabric unravels quickly, I didn’t trim as closely as the manufacturer did when they constructed the gown.

I trimmed the seam off at about 5/8″ and put Fray Block on the new cut edge.

trimming off the extra seam allowance on the wide strap as I took up the shoulder strap

You could zig zag the edge to keep it from raveling if you like, or use the Fray Block, but since it is a wedding gown, it will probably only be worn once. It’s your call.

Now, you’re going to repeat the process with the lining seam.

Again, take your seam gauge and measure 1 1/4″ down from the lining shoulder seam and stick a pin there:

measuring the amount to take up on the lining of the wide shoulder strap

Then, be sure to match both the upper layer and the lower layer at the side seams and pin the fabric accordingly, just like you did with the main fabric.

Next, stitch across the strap being careful not to catch unwanted fabric underneath:

stitching across wide shoulder strap to shorten it, 2 pins, sewing blog 885

Trim the seam:

looking at the seam of taking up the shoulder seam on a wide strap

Now, you are going to stitch up the side seams following the original seamline.

It may be easier to show you what I mean with this drawing:

drawing of the concept of taking up the shoulder seam on a wide strap

Make sure the shoulder seam is open flat.

Then, stitch your side seams like it is shown in red in the drawing above.

Here is what it actually looked like as I was sewing:

stitching up wide shoulder seam strap along the edges

(Note: I find that it’s almost impossible to understitch a strap that is narrow like this one is. And really, it’s not necessary. A good pressing of the strap usually makes the strap lay down well.)

Now, turn your strap right side out:

a close up of the wide strap when finished, taking up the shoulder straps

Here is what it looks when I flip it over and you see the lining:

close up of the lining side of the wide shoulder strap, taking up the shoulder strap

If the straps need pressing, do so from the wrong side, or else use a thin white cotton cloth and lay it over the right side of the strap. Make sure the strap doesn’t have any wrinkles in it and it sitting the way you like. Then press on top of the cloth. The reason for the cloth is so that the iron doesn’t cause a permanent “shine” on the fabric. It’s a sign of the fibers melting and it doesn’t look good when that happens.

Now, what if you pinned the strap and once you make the alteration, the front strap is narrower than the back strap as shown in the diagram below.

In that case, if the side seam edges do not line up, follow the instructions above until you get to the part where you sew up the side seams of the strap.

Your straps will probably look something like this:

diagram of what it would look like to sew up wide strap edges that don't meet, sewing blog 903

You’ll stitch your new side seam along the red lines like this:

diagram of new seam when you stitch seams that are not even from front to back

Make sure you have an adequate seam allowance. My diagram shows them a little skimpy, but you’ll need to have at least 1/4″ seam allowance on both side seams.

Once you sew the new seam, trim off any excess fabric and turn the straps right side out.

That should take care of the problem and make your straps look great!

If you’ve got very narrow straps to alter, here’s a post on how to shorten spaghetti straps.