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How to Shorten a Kilt or Pleated Skirt

It’s the beginning of the first school term here in NZ and with that comes school uniforms. Many colleges (high schools) require girls to wear kilts and sometimes these need alteration.


Kilts come and go from fashion trends too, so of course this tutorial may be handy for refashionistas too.


Hello popular-UK-store-selling-skirts-similar-to-the uniform-I’m-altering! Awkward.

The large amount of pleating may seem initially daunting, but it’s just a matter of pressing those out before hemming and then pressing them back into place again when you’re done.

Here’s what you do:

How to shorten a kilt | Offsquare.comPlace a damp cloth or tea towel onto the lower edge of the kilt, opening out and flattening the pleats as you go.

Gently apply heat onto the damp cloth with an iron, pressing the fabric for a few seconds before lifting and moving onto another section. Try not to push the iron around on top of the fabric, just pressing it down is fine.

How to shorten a kilt |

Pin the hem to your desired length and sew.

Blind hem stitch |

I like to use a blind hem stitch for a professional finish and it’s really forgiving.

How to shorten a kilt |

Pin your pleats back into place, using the pleating further up the skirt as a guide. Using a damp cloth again, press the pleats back into place. Bearing in mind that the fabric on the underside is now being pressed in the opposite direction to what it was, you may need a little patience and extra attention to have it looking crisp again.

All done! The shortened kilt is ready to rock either at school or down High Street, depending on where you live 😉

Filed under: Tutorial

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Freelance writer, sewing enthusiast, and coffee appreciator living in NZ


    • Absolutely. Just take note of how they have finished the bottom corner where the frayed edge is and work to replicate that when you sew the hem in place. Happy sewing!

  1. Do you recommend cutting off the extra fabric, or can you just fold it up and re-hem? I wonder if it would be too bulky…

    • For the school uniform, I like to keep the hem in tact for future growth spurts. If it was just for an adult, I would cut away the excess. There is a bit of bulk there but steam it flat as best as you can. Thanks Judy!

  2. Dee

    Thank you so much for this! I was feeling quite daunted looking at my daughter’s new school kilts and thinking I would need to get them professionally hemmed, but now I have confidence to do it myself. Do you think a 12cm hem is too long? It will leave another 12cm from the stitchline to the start of the pleat. (I could do a double fold for a 6cm hem but think this looks too bulky.) I’m not much good with machine sewing so am reluctant to cut off half the excess and hem the remainder, in case I botch the whole thing! Also, where in regard to the pleats is the best place to make those little vertical folds needed in the hem to compensate for the flare of the skirt? There are only the 2 sideseams, but not sure if this is the best place to make the adjustments. Thanks in advance….!

    • Hi Dee. So pleased to be of help! 12cm is fine. I’m always loathe to cut fabric off the hem because kids/teens grow so much during school years. You may need to make adjustments again in a year anyway! Usually, I just leave the existing hem as is and fold the excess up to create a new hem. I wouldn’t double over the 12cm though, you’re right in that it would be too bulky and the skirt just wouldn’t sit right. Adjusting the angle by taking it in on the side seams is a good way to go. Again, don’t cut away the excess as you’ll probably need to readjust this when lengthening the skirt again later. I’d start from where the new hem will be stitched and just sew in a straight line down to the old hem. Fold the excess to the side and begin hemming. If you get stuck again, just let me know! And be patient with the pressing/ironing at the end. It takes a little time and perseverance to reset the pleats. Remember to use a damp tea towel between the iron and kilt 😉

  3. Lori

    I’m about to attempt to hem my daughter’s school skirt – I was thinking I should just pay someone to do it, but after reading this it looks much easier than I first thought. My question is: the skirt is brand new and already has a 3″ hem, but needs to be taken up another 3″ (so basically just an extra fold-over of the current hem); do you recommend that I undo the current hem and re-hem it by folding back 6″ of fabric in one layer, or just fold over the existing hem and sew this (and press, etc.)?

    • Hi Lori. It’s purely a matter of preference. The quick way is just to fold it up again but it does add more bulk and the hem won’t pleat as crisply as if you unpicked the hem first. Depends if speed or perfection is your priority 😉

  4. Olivia

    Hi I am thinking of shortening my school skirt. Do you thing the best way to do it is to fold over or like roll it up until I get the length I want or is there a better way?

    • Hi Olivia. Are you trying to work out how much to take off the length? I’d fold up the lower edge until you’re happy with the length and then pin it in place before sewing. Not sure if that answers your question properly?

  5. emily

    hi I am wondering if I could shorten my school skirt as its pretty long and I always have to shorten it by folding it at the top, but by the end of the day its very uncomfortable. Its straight and flat at the top but then it goes into like a pleated sorta thing, and it reaches just above my ankles. I’m hoping there’s some way I can shorten it to my knees but I feel like it I shortened it from the bottom it would look a bit odd because then most of the pleated part would be gone. So I was hoping maybe there’s a way to shorten it from the top instead. I hope it’s not a bother but I would really appreciate it if you could get back to me

    • Hi Emily. Sorry about the slow reply. Shortening it from the top is tricky, especially if you have a pocket to work around in the side seam. I recommend finding a seamstress who could tackle this for you. Sorry, I couldn’t be more help!


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