Alteration tips and tricks

I do a lot of alterations in the Theatre. Unless a costume has been specifically made for that particular actor then most of my work involves getting an existing garment to fit correctly.

I will confess that some sewing jobs are a lot more tedious than others so why not use that dry-cleaner for the really boring stuff.

Here are a few of my tips for getting alterations done well

  • When thinking about altering clothes, remember the body has 2 planes- height and width. If altering the width of a garment you may not need to re-fit as this plane is easier to adjust. If you are altering the height of a garment, you will nearly always need to re-fit after the adjustments are made. For example taking up the shoulders will shorten the arm-hole which may then need to be adjusted. Shortening flared trousers for example means the flare is less at the hem, and they may not look as attractive.
  • Trying to make clothes smaller than about 2 sizes involves a lot of alteration time, which if you’re paying someone may not be worth it. If you find a vintage Chanel suit in a charity shop that’s 4 sizes too big, it may well be worth the additional expense. If it’s a Primark dress in the sale, then just leave it on the rail.
  • If something is more than one size too small, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to get it let out. Fashion garments rarely have less than 0.5 cm seam allowance, meaning that there is total of 1.5 cm available around the body to let out. Letting out satin or fine fabrics means you may be left with track-lines where the stitching was. Letting out darker fabrics means that you may end up revealing fabric that is a different colour from the faded outside.
  • If you let down a hem and get a strong line where the original hem was, think outside the box. Stitch some ribbon and make a feature of the ribbon whilst disguising the ugly line.
  • Some alterations or repairs are boring to do. Personally I would rather get the tedious jobs like replacing zips done at a dry cleaners. Replacing a zip is fiddly and time consuming and I would rather use the time to make something fun, It’s generally only about £10-£15 to get it done for you. Shortening hems however, is a relatively quick and easy thing to do yourself and not worth paying £10 for.
  • Big jobs that require a lot of space and equipment are often worth getting done by someone else. If you have to clear away your sewing space each time you sew, then the chances are that you’ll never finish that pair of curtains. If that’s the case you can concentrate maybe on the small hand sewing jobs that are achievable.
  • If you want to do a big sewing job but really don’t have the space or a sewing machine, then go to a sewing studio that offers the space by the hour/session. There are lots of sewing schools across the UK that offer space by the hour and it’s a great way to get sewing and not worry about clearing up!
  • Fabric is no longer cheap, and the cost of cotton and wool has just gone up, meaning both our clothes and fabric will soon get a lot more expensive. Think about cutting up existing old garments or curtains to use as fabric. Recently a student of mine used a sarong she bought on her honeymoon to make a yoga mat bag. Something that would have sat in her cupboard is a reminder of her honeymoon at every yoga class.
  • Before you take stuff to charity shops think about whether or not you could re-purpose the item. Taking the waist band off a pair of jeans and binding the edge for example makes them bigger. A pair of old worn out jeans can be opened up and made into a skirt using perhaps an old favourite worn out blouse as the insert.

1 Comment

  • (Dianemariecowell

    16.05.2016 at 11:49

    I have a dress that is just below the knee length, it has a internal slip -both dress and slip are cotton. I would like to lengthen with lace trim (2inches wide)
    Could you advise me if I attack lace to dress or under skirt.
    I can send photos if required.
    Any advice welcomed.
    Regards Diane.