Knowing More about Alterations

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Sewing machine

Knowing More about Alterations

I’m here to give you some of my insights about alterations. Granted I am not the professional. My mother gets that title. But with a little help from her, and my limited knowledge, I thought it’d be an interesting post.

Quote of the day: “One half of knowing what you want is knowing what you must give up before you get it.” Sidney Howard

This quote it perfect. Because we all want clothes that fit us well. We’ve all heard what fashion stylists say. That your clothes should skim your body. However, to get the perfect fit all of the time, we need to either spend some energy or money on alterations.

Yet, let’s talk logistics. How can we expect to buy something that is manufactured for certain measurements when EVERY person is so different? In all reality, some brands are pretty darn good in fitting us well.

But having the knowledge about which alterations can be done to make a clothing item fit better is key!! Even if you don’t want to do these fixes yourself, just to know that a tuck here or a tuck there will help profusely.

Alterations for shortening velvet pants
I shortened these burgundy velvet jeans

DIY Alterations

If you don’t even have a sewing machine, then I’m sure this option would feel overwhelming. Sure, I get it. But let me give my two cents. First, you can get a basic Singer sewing machine for under $100. OR, why don’t you ask around? I bet there is someone out there willing to get rid of theirs for maybe half of that. How do I know that? Because it just happened to me.

Once you have your sewing machine, then obviously you need a little direction. There are classes at most JoAnn Fabric stores for a mere $35. Or have you checked YouTube? I feel like that’s a university in itself, and all for free. In fact, I will link below to a couple of my favorite tutorials that I use all the time for certain alterations.

Now the important part….practice, practice, practice. And not on the wonderful, new clothing item you just purchased. Go to a thrift store and get something cheap. And then practice the alteration on it. Remember, the more you do something, the easier it gets.

I can’t tell you how freeing it is to know that I can accomplish some of the simple fixes to make a piece look and feel better on me. Granted there is some initial investment, and it’s not always frustration free…ha ha!

It’s also good to know what alterations you should attempt, and which are better left to the professionals. In fact, it’s also helpful to know that not everything can or should be altered.

Even Rob’s red jeans were shortened by me.

Is it Worth It?

I think most of us have learned the brands and stores that tend to fit our bodies pretty well without alterations. And that’s a good thing. But you know me, I hate to be limited. Besides the fact, I think we should challenge ourselves to try new styles and looks.

So when is it worth it to consider alterations instead of dismissing an item that doesn’t fit correctly?

My first answer to this is when you find a fabulous deal on something. As someone who appreciates sales and markdowns, it’s inevitable that they won’t have every size available for these deals.

Another time that the idea of alterations are good to have in your back pocket is with online shopping. Sure, I always recommend making sure you can return items easily before even ordering them. But sometimes it’s a close fit, and you really like it otherwise. This is especially true with online thrift shopping. Most online second hand stores don’t offer returns.

Most people think if they paid $5 for an item, then it’s not worth spending any money on alterations. But I think the opposite is true. Getting a fabulous deal on a clothing item is the best time to spend that extra money to make it fit better to your body. Then the cost of any alteration seems more reasonable. Or if you do it yourself, then that’s even better.

Easy Alterations

Let’s talk about the easy fixes you can do for most items. Shortening our dresses and skirts are usually pretty easy. I even have two examples of Charlotte with befores and afters.

The maxi dress above wasn’t super long especially with heels. But if you have ever worn a maxi, then you know it can be safer to have it a little shorter. So even though my mom only shortened it about 3 inches, it makes it easier to go up and down stairs.

The denim culottes below were also shortened a good 9 inches. This makes them great for both summer and winter. Now shortening jeans can be different. If you want them to look professional, then I LOVE the trick of using the same edge/hem.

What You Can Do

When I say easy, I really mean that these are fixes that can be done without a lot of hassle depending on the construction and material of the item.

  1. Taking in a waistband. Who hasn’t tried on a pair of jeans or pants, and there is extra material at the waist? My mom considers this an easy fix. Heck, even I’ve done it many times with this video to follow step by step. I like the flat felt method even though it’s a couple of more steps, but it looks more real to me.
  2. Shortening sleeves. The ease of this depends if there is a buttoned cuff on the sleeve. But I’ve used this wonderful video for jacket sleeves. He goes step by step to make it easy. As for the orange top of mine below, I shortened the sleeves so the ruffles wouldn’t get in the way as much. It makes it so much more practical. But there is an exception below to this being an easy alteration.
  3. Reduce width for top. Just like my mom took in the sides seams of her National top, you can make a boxy shirt more fitted. Just sew up the side seams more and cut out the extra material.
  4. Darts. Adding darts in a top is another way to make your boxy top more fitted.
  5. Taking up the Shoulders. This is easier on sleeveless tops or spaghetti straps and will also pull up the bottom of the sleeve so your bra doesn’t show. This is a good video that shows the method.
  6. Take out/Add Pockets. I think my mom is the only woman on this planet that doesn’t like pockets. She complains that they make her look more bulky. So taking them out is a piece of cake. But then you can certainly add some in too.
  7. Moving Belt Loops. I did this with Nancy’s denim dress. If your waist and the item’s waist don’t correspond, it’s easy to move the belt loops. Or take them off entirely.
Taking in seams of pants
These yellow capris were taken in throughout the leg so they tapered and weren’t so wide.

Alterations that Should be Left to a Professional

Of course there are some fixes that are just plain hard and could make you go crazy. And as you’ll read, sometimes it’s the material that makes it difficult as opposed to the actual alteration.

  1. Working with silk. Silk can be a challenging material. Especailly if you are trying to let something out. Once silk is sewn into, the hole remains. So you can make it shorter but it’s hard to make it longer and not see the damage. It can be done, but it takes some practice.
  2. The exception of shortening sleeves being easy is when you need to shorten them from the top or cap portion. When there are fancy cuffs or any detail that you don’t want to interrupt, then you can also shorten the sleeves by cutting off the part that attaches to the body of the item. As you can guess, this is almost like remaking the piece, so it’s more difficult.
  3. Suede. Suede is another material that is hard to work with because it’s so heavy. You need a special needle to sew on it along with the fact that you can’t use pins to hold it together.
  4. Narrowing the shoulders on blazers. This is another case that you are reconstructing the clothing item.
  5. Knits. Many knits are also harder to work with because they slip and slide.
  6. Shortening items with decoration. When your dress or skirt has a ruffle or decoration at the bottom hem, it’s harder to shorten. For example my white dress I wore recently, had a lace edging. So when my mother shortened it for me years ago, she had to remove the lace entirely, shorten the dress, and then reattach it.
  7. Too big. When I asked my mom how big can you size down, she said one size is about the maximum. Once you start trying to take a piece down two sizes, you are basically remaking it and it can look very different than the original.
Ruffle Sleeves
I shortened these sleeves about 5 inches

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