Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Company

growth tucks

Tuck Into a New Year (Growth Tuck Tutorial!)

Growth tucks in children’s clothing are a great way to add versatility and foil the wee beasties who insist on growing nearly every single day, despite bread-and-water rations and heavy books on their heads.

And, if you’re inheriting hand-me-downs that are a bit long, a quick tuck will lift them without removing the length forever–letting out tucks is as simple as a few minute with fine scissors to get out the thread, and then a quick press.

You’ll find this tuck technique illustrated in the dolls, infants and girls patterns, as well as in The Dressmaker’s Guide, and if you’d like to learn in person, do register for any of our upcoming workshops!

Tucks for functional length control are put into a skirt after the side seams and hem are finished. Even if the skirt is already set, you can add tucks to shorten the length, though it will be a bit fiddly and you’ll need to do measuring and pressing in short sections to keep everything flat. Press everything well at each step.

To get started, determine how much length you need to take out, and give the skirt hem a good press.

Garment wrong-side-out, hem pressed

Decide On Your Tucks

Each tuck will take up twice its depth. So, if I want to remove 1.5″ from the length of a skirt, I need a tuck that is .75″ deep when finished.

The photos here use a .75″ tuck depth, and if I were to keep the tuck in the dress, it would be 1.5″ too short for my gangle-of-a-10yo when I was finished.

 Measure For the Tuck

Turn the garment wrong side out, and arrange the hem flat on the ironing board (you’ll be working around in sections.)

We’ll take our cue from original garments and the Original Cast: tucks look best if they are not jammed over the hemline or overlapping one another.


Many original garments have a tuck spacing equal to the tuck depth, meaning there’s a gap of plain fabric between the hem stitching line and the tuck edge, and between the tuck stitching line and the next tuck edge.

I like things very evenly spaced, so I’ll mark the tuck fold line 2.25″ from the hem stitching line.

This will give me .75″ gap, .75″ hidden by the tuck when finished, and .75″ for the backside of the tuck itself.

Turning the hem edge up toward the waist, I measure 2.25″ from the stitching line of the tuck to the fold I’m arranging.

Measure from hem stitching line to fold.

Press this fold neatly in sections all the way around the garment. This pressing is your key to success!

Stitch the Tuck

Measure from the pressed fold, one tuck depth. This will be the stitching line for the tuck.

Measure the tuck depth.

Don’t get too dainty with your tuck stitching.

As with a period hem, you want a single thread that will readily give way if the fabric is under too much strain. It’s far easier to tack up 6″ of tuck stitching or hem if the thread breaks, versus trying to mend a shredded fabric weave if the thread holds and the fabric doesn’t!

A simple running stitch is ideal.

I’ve used a single cotton thread in a fairly deep brown, so you can see the stitches more easily, and I’ve zoomed in a lot; the individual stitches are about 1/16″ each, just little nibbles out of the weave.

A Quick Running Stitch

At “wearing range”, these entirely disappear on the dress!

You could also sew by machine, using a plain straight stitch at about 2.5 stitch length.

These are designed to be removed at some point, so don’t make yourself crazy with super-tiny machine stitching!

I’m stitching .75″ from the fold.

Press And Done!

When you’ve gone all the way around the pressed edge, tie off and press the work flat, then turn the garment right sides out and press the tuck toward the hem edge. DONE!

Press tuck toward the hem. Repeat for more tucks!

Tips from the Original Cast

Taking note of common elements from original garments and original images of the era:

Tucks are usually decently large. The 1/32″ pin tuck era is still several decades in the future. 1/8″ in decorative tucked panels do happen, but 1/2″ to 1″ depths in functional growth tucks (and many decorative skirt elements!) are really common.

Tucks usually happen in odd numbers. If you need to lift out 6″, do it as three 1″ tucks. The human eyeball likes to find a mid-point.

You can also lift out fabric in one larger sewn fold (one 3″ tuck, for instance, will lift out 6″ of length), but you won’t have the gradual flexible extension of releasing one tuck.

Don’t worry overly much about fading lines or perma-creases along let-out tuck lines. Sure, they’re the bane of every littler sister everywhere, but the Original Cast didn’t seem to worry too much. Don’t fuss with adding trim to a utility cotton to hide a removed tuck. Just press it out as best you can, and use it as an example of the recycling/upcycling mindset so common in the 19th century. It’s not a flaw, it’s an Interpretive Feature.

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About The Sewing Academy
With a focus on the 1840-1865 era, The Sewing Academy is your home on the (internet) range for resources to help you meet your living history goals!

Elizabeth Stewart Clark has been absorbed by the mid-19th century for over 20 years. She makes her home in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, four children (from wee to not-so-wee), far too many musical instruments, and five amusing hens.

Email Elizabeth Or call 208-523-3673 (10am to 8pm Mountain time zone, Monday through Saturday)
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