Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Alterations - Hems and Cuffs

Today we're looking at another very common alteration - taking up/letting down hems.

Of all the known alterations, this is the one most likely to be successfully done at home. It is also the one that costs least when done by a professional tailor (within the usual "simple" limits, of course).  In other words, almost anyone should be able to do it. Happily, a too-low or too-high hem is also one of the most common complaints in store-bought garments. It's a perfect combination - if you buy a garment that isn't quite perfect, chances are that the hem is at fault AND you're probably able to change that quite easily.

The big question with hems, then, is how much to take up or let down? Is there a "correct" length for pants, or skirts, for instance? And what if you plan to wear different shoes -some with heels and some without-  with the same pair of jeans? There are a few rules of thumb for pants hems, among them: they should not touch the ground, they should cover the heel, the pants should break only once, etc. Don't just take my word for it, though - this is what other people are saying here, here and here.

I just want to say one more thing about taking up the hems of too-long pants: wash them first, especially with fabrics with stretch in them. I altered two pairs of fresh-from-the-store corduroy pants to the perfect length, then after the first wash they were an inch and a half too short. I wore them that way -horrors! - for more than a year, and then decided I was tired of people seeing my socks. I doctored them - and you shall see the result later in this post when we meet them again.

Now I want to pretend I'm the Agony Aunt of Alterations (and Alliteration!) and dig into my virtual mailbag so I can answer questions to myself. Hee! 

Dear AAA,

I have a pair of jeans that has a huge hole in the knees. I've tried patching the hole - but after the fourth time, there wasn't enough fabric hanging on the fibers to work. I've decided to cut them short - real short. I've seen those cute denim shorts with the turned-up cuffs and thought I'd like to do that. What do you think?


Dear Wind-Around-The-Knees,
First, let me congratulate you on still being able to wear your jeans! How wonderful that the fabric wore out before the pants themselves became obsolete as a result of too much nutella/too many children. Oh wait, that was me.

Next, let me say what I think about turning jeans into shorts with cuffs: No.

More specifically, jeans-into-shorts = yes.
Jeans-into-shorts-with-cuffs = no.

You're going to regret writing to me, because here comes a lecture on layout and hem allowances, but -hey- you asked.

Let's look at a typical pattern for pants:

Let's imagine that we are going to lay that pattern out on fabric. We fold the fabric up at the bottom for a cuff allowance and a teeny bit of hem allowance above that,

lay the pattern on the fabric and cut it out, with seam allowance all around.

Now let's take the pattern away and unfold the cuff:
That's a funny shape - it isn't tapered like the rest of the pants.

Now let's do the same thing for a pair of shorts:

Look at the shape of the cuff area, unfolded - it sort of flares out, doesn't it?

Now suppose you had a pair of pants that you wanted to cut short:

You gave some allowance for the cuff, and cut off the excess.

Then you folded up the cuff and - eek!

The cuff is the wrong shape! 

Here it is, compared with the green fabric shape of the left that it should be, for a cuff to work.

And here they are, superimposed, so you can continue to see how wrong the shape is. The green underneath is the correct shape of the cuff bit, and the purple, with the missing corner bits, is what your long pants were cut into.

What if the pants weren't tapered? Would shorts-with-cuffs work if they were cut from long flared pants? Sadly, no. The pants would be cut off in the thigh area, and even flared pants are still tapered down to the thigh, and only flare out below the knee.

Sorry, no go for cuffs.

Guess what? The same principle applies to sleeves!

Here's a sleeve pattern laid out on fabric, with the cuff allowance folded up:

Let's cut the sleeve out

and unfold the cuff part.

Do you see where we're going with this?

So here's a long sleeve that you want to cut short. You lay the short-sleeve pattern on it,

and cut it short.

And when you fold up the cuff allowance,

it doesn't work.

The moral of the story, therefore, is: only attempt cuffs if your original pants or sleeves are balloony through the thighs, so you have lots of extra side fabric to turn into the right-shape cuff allowance. Otherwise, best to stick to narrow hems, faced hems, rolled hems or frayed hems (I hear they're fashionable in denim shorts if you're still in high school, ahem).

Yours nipped-in-the-bud-ly,

Dear AAA,

So I hate everyone who complains that their pants are too long. I am, like 8 feet tall, and I can never find pants that are long enough to even count as deliberately fashionable the way, say, Michael Jackson's were fashionable. You can't let down a hem if there isn't any fabric to do it! You're supposed to be an expert - help!

Like, 8 feet tall.

Dear Like, 8 feet tall,
My commiserations. I know people who are so short that, after taking up their hems, they have enough leftover fabric to sew a small, matching coin purse. The world is just not a fair place, is it? You're absolutely right, though - you can't let out something that ain't there. You could add some fancy fabric to make a contrast hem band, if that's your cup of tea. Just remember to make it really contrasting, so people can tell it was not an accident. Now, if you own a serger, you might also be able to scrounge up (or down) an inch or two of extra length from the original fabric. I am probably breaking 1001 rules-of-therapy by sneaking in some self-disclosure, but nothing like laughing at learning from the experts, eh? Let me share some photos:

My corduroy pants - behold: the fold lines from the old hem are violently obvious, but that's because they went in and out of the wash for more than a year before I buckled down and let them out. There is no folded hem now - it's just a rolled-hem edge. It bought me about 1.25" extra inches. If you do this while your pants are brand new i.e. BEFORE washing them one million times, they can look quite good. See next photo.

This is the hem of a skirt that was meant to be gathered and puffy. It was, in keeping with its design, also too short. I removed the gathers and turned it into a clean A-line skirt (long story, not relevant to this post), but here's the hem- unfolded, let down completely, and its edge rolled-hemmed.

Here's the skirt in full view - you can't see the old fold lines of the hem because (ooh, look who learned from her mistakes!) I did the hem when it was still brand new.

Yours sympathetically,

Dear AAA,

My husband has a polo shirt that is too long. I figured I could just take up the hem by a couple of inches, but there is a problem: the back hem is lower than the front, and there are side slits. With the higher hemline, they'll all but disappear. Is it worth the trouble to make new slits?

Sews For The Family

Dear SFTF,

One question: do you love your husband? Really? How much?
OK, that's technically three questions, but listen up, because this will test the strength of your marriage.

Sometimes garments have, as part of the design, slits. These could be side slits or back slits or front slits. To take up or let down their hems, you will need to take those slits into consideration, especially if the alteration changes the length of the slit(s) so much that they look daft or disappear altogether. So you have a polo shirt that's, say, 3" too long. On the surface, it's a simple hem job - raise everything by 3" and Bob's your uncle.

But how long are those side slits? 3"? Almost, darn it. If we took the hem up high enough to obliterate the slits, the shirt would be too short. The solution - get ready for a can of worms - is to unpick the hem, unpick the slits, unpick the side seams and take in the side seams to create a wider side seam allowance to recreate brand new slits. It's like plastic surgery on clothes. The actual raising of the hemline, which is your presenting problem, will be a mere afterthought in the wake of all that.

More self-disclosure - my husband had a polo shirt that needed exactly that kind of surgery. I did it, and purely for the love of the man. So back to my question: how much do you love your husband?

Yours one-up-manship-ly,

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Alterations - Combinations

Sometimes a single technique is insufficient to change the fit in a particular area of a garment. In such cases, a combination of techniques may be used. The alteration of a much-too-loose skirt by sewing in the side seams and adding darts that we discussed in the previous post is an example. Today we'll look at a horrible armsyce-sleeve fit and what we had to do to improve it.

Here is a long-sleeved T shirt I bought some years back. Right in the fitting room, I knew the armscye/sleeve cap was hideous, but the chest fit- sorta. Because I had a small, nursing infant in my life (read: I didn't leave the house much), I had low standards when it came to shopping - if a garment fit somewhere (anywhere!) about my person and wasn't expensive, I'd buy it and wear sweaters over it. Even worse than that reasoning was my convincing myself to buy three of those same unfitting garments, in different colors. 

Over the following months, though, I flinched every time I saw, in the mirror, me wearing those shirts. This year I decided that I'd finally had enough - those sleeves had to change.

This is picture of the armscye/sleeve cap, with fabric marker slashes all around it. They weren't necessarily accurate repositioning lines - more like frustration-venting fabric graffiti. 

"Doesn't look that bad, wot." I hear you thinking. Yes, but when I raise my arm a little higher:
All wrong. How I hate thee! Shall we count the ways?
  • The shoulder point is too far out (i.e. the shoulders were cut too wide, or my shoulders were too narrow), 
  • the entire shoulder was too square (not slopey enough), 
  • the armscye was too shallow but large because 
  • the chest was too loose, 
  • the sleeve cap is too high but narrow etc.

Without thinking it through, one might consider just sewing in the armscye, thus simultaneously taking in ease all around the armscye and sleeve cap. Fast, but not the best way. For one, the armscye would become even larger, and the sleeve cap would get even narrower. A better way would be to realign the armscye seam completely.

So here's what I did:

First, I unpicked the sleeve completely.

Then I created a deeper shoulder slope (the black stitching is for visibility):

Then I sewed in the side seam (and shaped the waist a bit).     

The last thing I did was to shape the front armscye (that's what the blue marker lines are). This re-enlarged the armscye, but just a little. Believe it or not, the front armscye was almost identical to the back when I took the sleeve off. What a violation of basic garment rules. 

The combined effect of these three alterations is an overall smaller armscye. Hurrah.

Next we needed to correspondingly reduce the size of the sleeve cap so that it would fit the newly-shrunken armscye.

For visual effect, I lay the old sleeve against half of my sleeve sloper (which is what a good sleeve cap for me should look like). If we aligned the top of the sleeve caps, the old sleeve looks skinnier/smaller than my sloper.

This is misleading! But let me stop playing the fool already, and do it properly so you get what I mean. The right way is to line up the bottom of the sleeve cap instead (where the sleeve joins the side seam of the garment). Behold - the sleeve cap itself is about the right width except that the top is too high/pointy.

Remember what this too-high sleeve cap looked like as a sleeve?

Hands up, those who know why, if you have a garment you like that has shoulder pads, you cannot just remove the shoulder pads and wear the garment?
Answer: The sleeve and shoulder slope are always cut differently for the inclusion of shoulder pads. It is almost as if they are cut to fit a person with squarer (i.e. less slopey) shoulders. If you remove the shoulder pads, the sleeve will look a bit like the picture above. Now you know why tailors will roll their eyes if you bring in an old jacket and ask them to "just unpick out the shoulder pads".

So back to our alteration. Let's trim off the sticky-out top bit of sleeve cap so that it now matches the curve of the sloper pattern. The whole sleeve cap, in addition to being of a better shape, is also reduced in size, so that it now fits the smaller armscye.

When we reattach the new sleeve to the new armscye, the shoulder fits better,

as compared to the other sleeve, which hadn't been altered yet.

Here are the two sleeves juxtaposed on the same garment, for your analytical pleasure. The one on the left (my right sleeve) is the old sleeve; the one on the right (my left) is the altered sleeve. 

Here is the final garment, with its shoulders re-sloped and both sleeves redone.

I know, I know. You can't believe I wore that shirt (and its two sisters) for more than a year. Me, too. The shame.

Note that, sometimes, The Hideous Armscye comes with Bad Bust Darts, some manifestations of which include
  • No bust darts when the garment actually badly needs them
  • Bust darts wrongly positioned
  • Bust darts which are the wrong size i.e. too long/short and/or too deep/shallow.

These are not difficult to change. You unpick the darts, try on the garment and pinch the fabric where the new darts should be. If you already have your personal sloper/basic block, you can just use its dart positions as the new ones. If you google it, you can probably also find many tutorials for dart-repositioning. Here is a conceptual one on bust darts and princess seams which I did long ago. Altering the shoulder/armscye region is conceptually more challenging than dart-changing, and there are fewer tutorials available on it, which is why I picked it to show you today. 

Next up: some hems and cuffs!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Alterations - Waist-Hip Shaping Part 2: Seams

Hello, all -we're back home from a weekend of Thanksgiving feasting! Now that we're (some of us anyway) are full and slightly dulled and snoozy from whatever-it-is-in-turkey-that-moonlights-as-a-sleeping-drug, here is the theory-heavy Part 2 of Waist-Hip Shaping! Cruel! Cruel!
In Part 1 of Waist-Hip Shaping, we introduced the idea of shaping the waist-hip region of a garment in two ways:
  1. darts
  2. curved/slanted seams. 

We also looked at how to reduce unwanted ease with the first method, darts.

Q: How do we know which method to pick for a particular garment that fits badly? 
A: Here's my rule-of-thumb:
I usually use darts for localized unwanted ease. Another way of saying it is that darts can reduce unwanted ease in one part of a garment while leaving another part unchanged.  However, I'd use seams if the unwanted ease is spread out over a larger area. So:
  • If the hips of a pair of pants fit, and the waist gapes, I'll use darts to reduce the unwanted ease that's localized in the waist area, but if the waist and hip are both baggy, I'll use seams.
  • If the chest of a blouse fits, but the waist is baggy, I'll use darts to reduce the unwanted ease that's localized in the waist area, but if the blouse is baggy, I'll use seams.
There are many instances in which you might need a combination of both methods -seams and darts - and we'll also discuss that in theory in this post. Right now, let's jump right into two cases - one in which there is a little bit of unwanted ease, and the other in which there is a lot of unwanted ease.

Case A
The One-Size-Too-Loose Skirt (Sewing in the Side Seams)
Suppose you've lost a little bit of weight and your skirt now feels a little loose all over in the waist and hips.  Maybe the excess ease is about 1" total in the waist and 1" total in the hips and you can tell with a simple pinch of the fabric that the skirt is going to stay the same shape, just a wee bit narrower all down the sides.
So we divide the 1" between the left and right side seams and take in 0.5" on the left side and 0.5" on the right side. That would mean sewing in 0.25" from the original side seam on each side. You wouldn't need to unpick the seam finishing - just sew a new line of stitching farther in from the original seam, and trim off the excess seam allowance.

For a small reduction in all-over excess ease, this would work quite well without distorting any side seams.

Case B
The Sack (Repositioning the Seams Plus Darts)
Suppose you've lost a lot of weight and your skirt now hangs loosely around your entire lower body, like a sack. You do some measuring and find there's about 4" that needs to be taken in around your waist and your hips. But because everything is so baggy, it's hard to tell exactly how that excess ease is distributed, or if the new, smaller fit is even of the same shape as the old, bigger one. So let's start by doing what everyone instinctively does: we sew in the side seams.

Let's forget for the moment whether we need to first unpick the tailored, faced waistband etc - we're just interested in how the garment eventually fits, OK? So press open the now-huge and very visible seam allowance (or trim and serge) and you're set! You try on your skirt and from the front (or back), it looks great!

From the side, though:

Ah, the side seam has skewed to the front. And there's pulling at the buttocks! And while your waist now fits, you can hardly move your legs. Why? Why?

When you alter a garment by simply "sewing in" a seam, you're making both pieces of fabric involved in that seam smaller by the same amount. Since a side seam joins the front and the back pieces of a garment, you've taken in a total of 2" from the back and 2" from the front of the garment. This might work at the waist, which is generally the same in the front and back, but not through the hips, which are bigger in the back area (the buttocks) than the front area (the abdomen/thighs). You have, in effect, forced a symmetrical alteration upon an unsymmetrical part of the body.

One alternative is a combination of darts and seam-alteration. First, sew in the existing side seams until they fit the hips. There will still be ease at the waist

which you'd then reduce by inserting darts (or making the pre-existing ones deeper) at the back, or front or both.

Another alternative is to realign the side seams. This means unpicking the entire seams to separate the pieces of fabric, and creating new seams that take in different amounts from the front and back of the garment. 
So instead of evenly taking in
  •  2" from the front waist and 2" from the back waist  for a total of 4"
we might take in 
  •  3" from the front hips and 1" from the back hips for a total of 4"
which would have allowed more room for the buttocks, and produced a completely vertical side seam with no pulling.

Here's a worked example involving the crotch of a pair of pants - a bit more interesting than skirts. Just so we all know what we're talking about, here's a sketch to define the two kinds of seams here:
And here's the subject: a very baggy, saggy pair of sweatpants with a low crotch and general roominess around the entire thigh area. We bought this pair of sweatpants from Target in Emily's (supposed) size and she wore it the whole day with the waistband rolled over twice to keep it up, before letting me know "it is a bit big, but can we keep it because I love how soft it is inside?" Too late to return it now, so it had to be altered. And since there are no side seams (each leg was cut as one continuous front-back piece) the only seams to work with were the inseams and crotch seam.

To illustrate where well-fitting crotch-and in-seams should be, I took Emily's pants sloper, which gave a fit like this:

and laid it over this pair of sweatpants, turned inside out and folded in the appropriate configuration.

First is the back  - the brown pattern has no seam allowance, so you can see exactly where the seam line should be along its actual edges:
Now, because there was so much ease to manipulate, I could have positioned (above) the pattern flush with the waistband (to keep the waistband)

or (below) flush with the bottom hem (to keep the hem).

I chose to keep the waistband, just because it was easier to sew a new hem than a new waistband.

This is the front pattern:

Here's what I want to point out: the new seam lines are not the same shape for the front and back pieces.
Front                                                        Back

In other words, I cannot simply sew a new crotch/inseam inwards from the old ones. They have to be realigned.

I traced out the new seam lines

cut apart the seam, partway down the legs, separated the pieces of fabric and repined the new inseam. You can see the effect of this realignment in the seam allowances, which now no longer line up. Note that the back of the pants now has a fold at the inseam, as if there is more room in the back of the pants

than the front (which is flat and smooth).

Pants which fit well should have a significantly roomier back than front because of the buttocks and for sitting. This pair of sweatpants was almost identical in back and front when we bought it. Insane, but then, it was, overall, so baggy anyway, that even the concept of "fit" was moot.

The new inseam was then sewn (see white serger stitches), followed by the new crotch seam (where the pins are). 

This is the final fit after realigning the crotch seam and inseam.

It is still a roomy fit, being sweatpants after all, but they now sit at the waist and crotch instead of sliding down the hips, without my having done anything else to them.

                              Before                                    After

Q: Can we use this method for letting out a garment (making it bigger)?
A: Only if the seam allowances are wide enough. Often, commercial garments have narrow seam allowances which are serged, so you may not have much wiggle room, literally.

I leave you with one last photo - this is an old knit shirt I have and love. But the back of this shirt was cut too wide for the back of my neck, so that when it is pulled snug around my shoulders, the shoulder seam dips over to the front, and you actually see the back of the garment peeking over my shoulders. Not good. 

If it had a back seam (like where a zipper might be), I'd insert a central dart at the neck, or shape that back seam on either side of the zipper. But it's a knit shirt, so no such luck. Instead I might have to realign the shoulder seams, and take in ease only in the back shoulder, without changing the front shoulder at all. It would be very easy to make the mistake of symmetrical shoulder alteration and "sew in" that shoulder seam, taking in ease from BOTH the front and back. I'd be left with a higher front neckline (not bad in itself), folds in the center bust region (bad), pulling diagonally towards the armpits (bad) and who knows what else.

Clearly I'm not going to take my seam ripper to this shirt, not for the work just to alter those shoulders. I'd rather live with it and keep pulling the shoulder seams backwards and grow out my hair to cover that gaping neckline in the back. Sad, but realistic.

In the next post, we'll look at how to alter a hideous armscye!