And now we come to the most important part of alterations -
making the difficult choices.
Suppose you have a shirt that needs its sleeves shortened. Its presenting problem, if you will, is that its sleeves are too long.
Everyone knows that presenting problems are very seldom the real (or full) issue. There is always something else, something more. Suppose the shirt is a proper tailored shirt, with beautiful seam finishing - there is not a single bit of serger stitching anywhere. It has beautifully sewn cuffs
and perfect flat fell seams at the armscye
that look as perfect on the inside (pictured below) as the outside; interfaced, and with chain stitching.
After measuring and fitting the client, you realize that to shorten the sleeves by the needed 3", you will lose almost the entire button placket at the cuff and have to create a brand new one that looks as perfect as the original.
It's a rock-and-a-hard-place scenario, so you call your best sewing friend (the one who's a professional tailor) and ask her. Then you call your mother (the one who sewed her-which-became-your wedding gown) and ask her. Then you fret some more because you don't like what you hear (is there really a choice between rocks and hard places?).
And then, because the shirt has already been sitting under your sewing table for 9 months, you ask the client an important question.
"Incidentally, is this shirt also too loose overall?"
Indeed. And while we're at it, the shoulders are too wide, too. And the sleeves themselves are too loose.
There is the answer.
I take a deep breath and unpick the perfect flat fell seams.
Those around the armscye and those along the side seams.
I also unpick the bottom hem, to accommodate the new side seams.
I take in the side seams. I take in the shoulder. I cut off a chunk of the sleeve cap.
And I shorten the sleeves. Without even going anywhere near the cuffs.
On the outside, the top-stitching looks as if the shirt was never touched.
But on the inside........ there is serger stitching, and there are faux fell seams because I was so tired that I couldn't bring myself to re-stabilize the armscye and do real fell seams around a curved edge. When I finished the shirt, I wanted to weep because I had desecrated a beautiful garment. I felt as if I should never, ever be allowed to touch a sewing machine again for my utter disrespect of good workmanship.
It fits now, though. And that's what alteration is for.
But what is alteration about?
And on as sombre a note as we began it, we come to the end of the mini-series on alterations. My aim, if your remember from the somewhat-noir introduction post, was never to pitch you this wonderful, money-saving, new sewing technique to magically turn all your hideous clothes into fits-like-a-glove wonders. Instead, I wanted you to renew your appreciation for the work that tailors do (the good ones, anyway) and be willing to invest in a job well done - whether by yourself, or by a professional that has every right to charge the moon.
All that said, let's look back at the simple alterations that can be done at home, and which are useful to learn:
- Tucks -shortening shoulder straps, raising necklines.
- Darts - for waistband adjustments and other localized reduction of ease.
- Seam Realignment - for reshaping garments.
- Hems - for changing lengths of garments.
- Combination alterations
Also remember that, in the introduction, we distinguished between alterations (on finished garments) and adjustments (changes made to patterns BEFORE being sewn into garments). Alterations are not something everyone should choose to do, but making adjustments is a skill that every dressmaker should aim to have. So here is link to a useful pictorial summary of the kinds of adjustments you can make to your paper patterns before sewing them into garments, so they fit you better and, hopefully, reduce the need for alterations later.
As a side-aim of this miniseries, I also wanted to share with you the Whys of alteration, rather than the quick-fix Hows. In a modern sewing movement that rides on fast, feel-good, miraculous and fun, alterations are something right out of the dark ages. If you've come away from these posts thinking, "Ooof. I'm demotivated to do anything other than the very simplest take-ins and let-downs." I have succeeded. Forgive my wet-blanketness, but what your mother said was true afterall: we'd much rather sew a brand-new garment from scratch than alter one to fit. Do the simple ones, but leave the others to the professionals - find one whose work you like, and pay them. Pay them well. Without complaining.