Tips on Clothing Alterations

Kate Miller-Wilson
altering wedding dress

If you're handy with a sewing machine, altering your own clothing can save you a lot of money. However, it can be tricky. Keep the following tips in mind to help make the process easier.

Get the Tools of the Trade

Before you start making alterations to your clothing, make sure you have the appropriate tools. The following items are essential for seamstresses doing clothing alterations:

  • Flexible measuring tape
  • Hem gauge or hem marker
  • Pins
  • Seam ripper
  • Tailor's chalk or fabric pencil
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Sewing machine

Learn How to Read Clothing

Although you can run into a variety of issues when dealing with fit problems, there are certain indications that are easy to distinguish if you know what you're looking for. Keep these clothing alteration tips in mind:

  • Puckering along the seams means that a piece is too tight.
  • A skirt hem that is higher in front means that the waistband may be too snug.
  • Excess fabric on the front of pants means that the pants are too big.
  • Shoulder seams that hit at the upper arm indicate a top that is too large.
  • Gapping buttons usually mean the item is too small. However, the buttons may also be spaced too far apart.

Understand Your Fabric

If you've sewn with a variety of fabrics, you know how each type of material has its own personality. Thick and heavy fabrics may not drape the way you have in mind, and silky or stretch fabrics may show every flaw. Additionally, certain fabrics may be prone to wrinkles or fraying, and it's important to understand this before you get started. If you have a scrap piece of fabric, experiment with it to find out how to work with it best.

Use Your Camera

Your camera is a tool you'll find useful, particularly if you'll be making alterations on your own clothes. Use the camera to get several photos of the person wearing the ill-fitting garment. Print the pictures up, and lay them out in front of you. You'll see the problem areas and will be able to address them more easily.

Consider Investing in a Dress Form

As you work, you'll need to see how the piece is changing. For occasional alterations, you can have the person try on and take off the garment at intervals. However, if you do a lot of alterations work, especially on your own clothing, a dress form can be an indispensible tool. At around $150, they are fairly affordable as well. If you'll be doing alterations work for several people, look for a dress form that offers lots of different size settings.

Don't Forget the Shoes

When it comes to making alterations, hemming is one of the easiest tasks you'll encounter. You can adjust the length of jeans, pants, or skirts with a few simples stitches. But before you get out your needle and thread, double-check the shoes. Shoe heel height can vary dramatically, and this has a major effect on the appropriate length for a hem. Make sure the person is wearing the right shoes when they try on the garment.

Know Your Limitations

No matter how excellent your sewing skills, you may encounter clothing that you can't alter. Know your own skill limitations, as well as the material limitations of the piece. There may not be enough seam allowance to let you take out the side seams on a dress. The fabric may be extremely delicate and unable to withstand a seam ripper and sewing machine. Most of the time, you'll be able to do something to fix a garment, but it's good to know when to stop.

Practice Makes Perfect

Perhaps the most important tip on clothing alterations is to practice on old pieces. If you have a free afternoon and want to learn how to adjust the back seam on a pair of pants, use a pair from a thrift store or your own donation pile. The more you practice, the more confident you'll feel about your clothing alteration skills.

Tips on Clothing Alterations