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Monday, November 14, 2011

Adding a Zipper to a Raglan Sleeve

I've been trying out some new software. Sometimes it is hard to explain things in text, and even pictures can be misleading. Let me know what you think about my answer to Cathy's question. I will also follow up with some pictures of this process.

Cathy writes from Australia:

Monday, October 24, 2011

Hemming Chiffon

Today I got an email from Marlene. She is working on a prom dress and has this question:
I want hem a prom dress that the outer layer is chiffon..very delicate..what is the best method and what size need..etc
I have hemmed then before but the hems are puckered..what is your methond for hemming the outer layer.

Hi Marlene,

This blog post will show you the technique I use to do a narrow hem. It shows a dress made of satin, but I use the same method for all fabrics. It is not a true web page, but I think you can get the idea from the pictures and text.

As for working with chiffon, it is sometimes a challenge. The good thing here is that the stitching is quite close to the edge, so that minimizes the rippling. I use a smaller needle, maybe a size 9. It pierces the fabric with a smaller hole so  it doesn't create snags. The needle will go between the threads, instead of trying to break them.

Also, make the lining (inside) layer a good 1"-2" shorter than the chiffon. I pin the chiffon on the client at 1"-1¼" from the floor. I pin the lining 2"-2½" from the floor. Those dresses are usually so full that the wavy nature of the hem makes it a bit uneven. If you don't give yourself enough distance between the layers, then you get the problem described in this post and shown above.
Uneven Chiffon Hem

Good luck and let me know how it goes. I will post your question on the blog tonight and we'll see if you get any other insights.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Shortening Vented Sleeves

Here's a nice note from Vicki

I was so happy to find your webpage today. I have a home business doing wedding and formal alterations, but my sister brought me an expensive jacket and wanted the sleeves shortened two inches. It has vented sleeves with buttons, and I had no confidence! Your web page explained perfectly how to do it, and the jacket looks great. Thank you! I'll be coming back when I have more questions. Yours is the best website I've found for help with common alterations.

Thanks so much for your kind words, Vicki. I love to hear success stories!!
I think you saw the instructions on the blog entry for shortening sleeves.
If anyone else is interested, the page Vicki is referring to is here.

 I actually have a full blown web page coming soon that has the steps in chart form with the yellow "table" format. I'm so glad you could get the whole idea from what I've written so far.
Stay tuned :) I'll keep your email address and let you know when it's posted.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Shortening a Wedding Gown

Here is a note from Carolyn, She writes:

Was asked to shorten an A line wedding gown with a chapel train.{removing the chapel train entirely-making it even in length with the rest of the gown).10, up to 15 inches will have to come off -and I am stumped how to shorten the full chapel train, and will it look stupid? I plan to hand sew the hem. Any help appreciated!

My answer to her needs to be in two parts because I need more information. We'll start here:

Hi Carolyn
I have several ideas but I need some more info, please.
Are you shortening the whole gown, that includes a train (all one piece gown, not a train that is detachable)?
Do you have a picture? You can email it to me at If you don't have a picture, try going to Google and type in chapel train. Then go to the top left corner and click on images. You will get 815,000 results ... Yikes!! Try to pick one that looks similar to the gown you are working on. Roll your mouse over the picture and it will give you information. Copy that and send it to me; maybe a few, if you want). We'll get this thing going.
Remember, don't panic. It just a dress with a lot of extra fluffy stuff going on :) Oh, yeah, tell me how many layers, tulle, etc. it has.
If you are doing this for money make sure you charge enough. I usually start hems at $100.00 and this sounds like it should be more than that. You are also being paid for the risk you are taking by cutting this gown and working on it. There is no shame in being compensated for this.


Someone Else is Getting into the Business

Below is a letter from Kris. Hopefully some of you are in the same place as she is.
If you are starting a business, or have one going already, drop me a line and let me know about it.

I LOVE your blog/webpage!!!! I am doing the same thing you are, a former teacher with a home sewing business, only I am on the beginning end of it, after sewing for my family for 20+ years. Business is starting to pick up, and I am thinking that I can actually make a go of this. I read your blog and don't feel like I am the only one. Thank you so much!

Hi Kris,
Thanks for the kind words in your email. You sound like you are well on your way to having a successful business. You have the confidence you need and the rest will come. Most of alterations is trial and error, trying to put things back the way you found them.
I wish I had had a digital camera back when I started. I really rely on it to remind me of how things looked before I started opening up seams and ripping things apart. Keep that in mind when you get something challenging.
As always, write to me if you are stuck on something. I'm sure I can help! And some of my readers have great ideas too.
Good luck and stay in touch.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Volunteering with a Seamstress

Nancy has written this nice note from Ireland. Is there anyone out there who can help her out with an answer?

where can I do a course in altrations in Meath or louth Ireland or can one work voluntary with an altrations person to get experence. thank you.

Nancy, I don't know of any classes. Hopefully someone who reads this blog will be able to help.
I am thinking about offering online alteration classes in the future. I need to see how much interest there is. If anyone wants to know more, could you drop me a line on the Contact Me page, or leave a comment below?

As for working on a volunteer basis, I'm sure most seamstresses/tailors would love the idea. You may get stuck doing some mundane tasks, like ripping out seams or something, but you can watch carefully and learn a lot. Eventually you will gain confidence and you can practice what you are learning on used clothing or old stuff from your closets.
Let us know if you are able to get this going. I'd love to hear about what you're learning!
Thanks so much.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Anyone interested in pieces of clothing from the 40s and 50s?

Hi Everyone.
I got this nice note from Tina, reprinted below. Go to the Contact Me button and leave me a note if you are interested.

Hi, I was just wondering if you or someone you know would be interested in some pieces from my cousins grandmother they are gorgeous but need some TLC or could be reworked into something fabulous.I can just not bring myself to throw them out.They are dresses from I think the 40's and 50's.Thank you for any ideas.
You Rock,

Hi Tina
Thanks for contacting me. I don't think I have any use for them, but someone might. I'll reprint your note on my blog and see what response I get. I will not give out your email address, but will wait to see if someone contacts me.
Thanks for your kind words, too :)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wedding Gown Emergency PART 3

Here are the results of my work. The ribbon color reflects a lot of the flash in these shots. It is actually very close in color to the dress.

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Wedding Gown Emergency PART 2

Decision Number One: I will not dismantle this dress. I do not have time. I could do it right if the wedding were later in the year, but that is not the case. I need another option.

Decision Two: Cover up the mess by blending in the solution. I will put some kind of treatment around the damaged area to cover it. The challenge? Make it look like it belongs there, like it came that way from the factory. In other words, create a design element.

One piece of ribbon around the top is going to look stupid. It will look like exactly was it is... a last minute attempt to hide something! But three pieces of ribbon, now that's a possibility.

Decision Three: Find ornate ribbon or plain ribbon that can be layered.

The dress has ruching across the bodice. I would like to mimic that. The only ribbon I can find on such short notice in a matching color, is plain and ¼" wide. I bought enough to make my own trim that will be a layering of three ribbons.

I used a fabric glue to glue three lengths of ribbon together. I overlapped them slightly and used a thin bead of glue. I made the strips 40+ inches long.>

I now need a way to attach this ribbon stack to the upper edge of the dress. The machine is not going to work. It may cause additionaly fraying by putting it under the presser foot. It will also create a wobbly semline because of all the stitching and boning already in the dress. The only choice I have is to hand stitch it.

I practiced with little strips until I got a look I liked. The stitches have now become part of the design, and I really like the look. Though it took a little extra time, I'm really excited about the results.

I need to keep the top edge of the ribbon along the top edge of the dress. Attention to detail will pay off. I begin to attach the ribbon, with the hand stitches equally distant from each other. It's just a little time consuming, but I really do love hand work.

Keeping the edges aligned and the ribbon kind of taut, I attached it from one end to the other.

Here is how it is turning out. I will post pictures tomorrow of the finished dress.

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Wedding Gown Emergency PART 1

I was given this gown to repair by one of the dry cleaners I work for. I never really got the full story on what happened to this dress. I have some theories, and I do know that it was a floor model and it was taken to be cleaned the week before the wedding.
The edges on the dress were severely threadbare, fraying as much as a quarter inch into the bodice of the dress. The dresss is strapless and these areas of weak fabric were all along the top edge of the gown.

My first reaction was to give the dress back to the cleaner. There is no way I had time (or inclination) to get into the gown, partially remove the boning, underlining and lining, then restitch the whole thing ½" into the bodice.
Who's fault is this anyway?
Who brings a dress to the cleaner the week before the wedding?
Why does it look like this and why am I putting myself out for someone else's lack of planning?

Well, the dry cleaner talked me into changing my mind. Believe me, I was not happy, but I couldn't be harsh enough to say "no". After all, the bride just needs to get into this gown and have a nice wedding. Basically I was guilted into it. I'm also getting the message that the bride doesn't want to pay a lot of money. She will be changing to another garment after the ceremony. But she doesn't want my repair to look like an afterthought either.

Really? What am I feeling right now? Trapped. But as a nice person, and a professional, I am also feeling the challenge to do my very best to make this dress look great. It's what I do. I rearranged some other commitments, changed my attitude and got to work.

Tomorrow I will tell you the ideas I had and my plans to fix up this baby!!!
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Jean Zipper w/ Double Fly

Jean Zipper with Extra FlyJean Zipper with Extra FlyJean Zipper with Extra Fly

Jean Zipper w/ Double Fly, a set on Flickr.
Here I have one of the weirdest zippers I have ever seen. For some reason the manufacturer decided to put in two Fly Flaps.
It's a pair of jeans made from really heavy denim. Really? There is no need for this in any pair of pants.

Replacing the zipper was not any different than another pair of jeans, except for the fact that the thickness was impossible to get through. I broke two needles before the job was done!

Boooo to you, Mr. Manufacturer.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Challenge of Today...Master the settings on my New Machine

As you will see in the photos for some of the upcoming blog posts, I have a new sewing machine. I finally broke down and got an industrial. I really love the way it sews, though I'm still getting used to the settings and features. I've been working on a project using very thin monofilament thread and my installer has set the machine to handle this. Today, however, I need to alter some slacks that are a white denim type fabric. I changed my needle and adjusted the tension. I practiced on scraps and the stitch looked beautiful. But I forgot to look at the back side . Sigh...

Well, the photo isn't great because the waistband is not lying flat, but you can see that the stitches look good. I used a normal weight thread and a heavier thread together, both going through the same needle. I've done this a lot with my old machine, using regular single strand thread in the bobbin, as explained in this post.
fraying bra strap
But as you can see, the under side looks like a bird's nest! Yikes. This machine is not happy having the bobbin thread weight not matching the needle thread.
After lots of trial and error, I have rethreaded with the monofilament thread, so I can finish that project and I will straighten this mess out later.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What You're Altering...Which Suit Pants are Easiest to Alter?

John has an interesting question for us today. See if you agree with my response.
He writes:
Which would be easier to alter for a proper fit: a pair of mens suit pants that fit slightly tight in the waist and definitely too tight in the crotch, or a pair of suit pants that fit too loose in the waist, slightly too loose in the crotch, and too loose in the thigh?

I would always go with pants that are too big. You never know how much the manufacturer is going to leave in a seam allowance. Sometimes, there is just nothing there to let out.

You can alter the crotch/thigh area at the same time, basically. The waist is not difficult. You should use these directions if you need to split the waistband. Otherwise, use the directions for letting out the waistband here. Just make your seamline to the left of the original seam, not the right, as shown. If the pants are facing the way they are in Step Four, the left will take them in, the right will let them out.

I am currently working on a page for altering the thigh. It is on women's pants, but the instructions are the same. Let us know how things go.

Friday, May 20, 2011

What You're Altering...How to Start Altering for Others

Hi Angela
First let me thank you for your kind words about my website.

I'd say experience gives you the most confidence. When I first started this business, I was given a pair of jeans that needed a new zipper. I let those things hang there for 2 WEEKS! I didn't know how to start and was petrified of making a mistake. Finally I dove in. Looking back, I should have practiced on an old pair first. But I finally put in the new zipper. It only took me about 2 hours, because I made so many mistakes that I had to rip out!!! Now it takes 20-25 minutes.

So practice on some old clothes first. It will give you a pat on the back to know you've done it. Then the next thing that will improve will be your speed. The more times you do things, the quicker you will finish them. Then your hourly wage will go up because you can do more in one hour than you did last week. I still work at this, even today.

I am putting up the "Shorten Suit Sleeves" page this week, so you may feel more comfortable waiting for that. When you work on something like that, you have 2 sleeves, so look at one while you work on the other. I try not to rip out both at the same time.

Also, use a digital camera. Snap shots of things you do, step by step so you have a record of how to put things back the way you found them.

Good luck and let me know when you get stuck. I'll walk you through it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What You're Altering...Removing Beads to take in a Formal

Our question today comes from Carolyn. She writes:

I began alterating formal gowns this year. There were two dresses with beads on the bodice. These dresses needed to be let in, and of course the beads were in the area. Could you give some pointers on altering dresses with beads around the bodice. Sometimes I would be so afraid of losing lots of beads when cutting out the beads around the seam area. Thanks

I am a big fan of digital cameras. I take pictures of everything I work on. That way you have a reference to the way the garment looked originally.
If you have a digital macro setting on your camera, learn to use it. You can see that my photos are up close and clear. This is the setting I use most often and it will be great for your beadwork. You can also photograph from a distance, in your case, if you need to remember the pattern of the beads.

I use a seam ripper when removing beads. It is tough to see the nylon thread sometimes, but a good light will help point out where to insert the seam ripper tip. When working on a dress with lots of beads, I put a sheet underneath the dress, to catch the beads that I don't see falling. As you know, they are often strung together and many come off at the same time. I put loose ones in a bowl.

Remember, you don't have to stress about replacing the beads as perfect as the original design. The client will not notice. You have a much keener eye, since you are doing the work. All she is looking for is the sparkle and the fact that there are no gaps where beads used to be.

Don't leave out the sequins, though. They are surprisingly effective at reflecting the light. They look tiny and useless, but they really do the job to add sparkle.

One last thing. Be sure you charge enough when altering these kind of gowns. They are time consuming. Inform your client up front as to how much work is involved, telling her that each bead must be sewn back on by hand. If you aren't getting paid enough, you will quickly resent your job and maybe your client. Wanna guess how I know this?? Yep, been there done that.

Anyone else have any tips for Carolyn?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What You're Altering...Invisible zipper questions

I've been getting so many questions about things that you guys are altering, that I've decided we can all benefit from the answers. Please feel free to offer your own comments that may help our readers.
Our first question comes from My. She writes:

I've been stressing out on my dress with an invisible zipper attached. The dress is loose on me, so I wanted to know if it's okay to carefully remove the zipper and sew it back on in a new position, or if the zipper would be too damaged to be reused? Also, is it okay if the zipper if shorter than the center back? Maybe I can use buttons at the edge of the neck instead? Thank you so much!

You can certainly remove the zipper and replace it. If you are careful, you can easily reuse the same one. Just remove the old threads. Sometimes a shot of steam from the iron will perk it up, if it is wrinkled.

With the dress on, pinch out the amount of fabric you need to take in. Measure that amount and create a new seam line for the center back. You will need to taper it into the existing seam line down below the zipper, or take in the entire center back seam.
You have three options if the zipper is too short.
1. Buy a longer zipper. It is actually the best if an invisible zipper is 2 or more inches longer than you need.
2. Close up part of the center back seam. Be sure you have enough room to get into the dress with a smaller opening.
3. As you've said, attach a couple of buttons at the neck edge. I always look for way to introduce new design features!
Good luck with the project. Let me know how it turns out.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A New Webpage is Live at

Topstitched or top stitched...whatever floats your boat!
This next webpage explains how to shorten a hem that's been stitched on other words, it shows, on purpose.

The best example of this is the hem on khakis. Check your closet. I bet you've got plenty of these casual slacks.

This particular page has an added twist. The alteration is really quick because I don't have to rip out the old stitching. I also use no pins here.

So check it out. Let me know what you think. Top Stitched Hem Instructions

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Are Your Jacket Pockets Flipping Open?

Sometimes when you buy a suit or ladies dress slacks the pockets are sewn shut. Why, you ask? Well the manufacturer wants to be sure the garment retains its shape, even on the sales rack. You can remove the stitching after purchase, if you want. Some ladies, however, chose to keep the pockets closed in order to keep their slacks smooth and attractive. It's really a matter of choice. In this case, however, the gentleman had a suede coat. The pockets had stretched out of shape and became unattractive. He wanted them sewn shut.

Unfortunately, I do not have a before picture. Here you see the finished product at a distance. Some pressing was needed in order to steam the pocket into shape. This type of pocket, by the way, is called a "welt pocket"

Choosing a matching color thread makes all the difference.. The stitches are visible here, in a close up photo, but you cannot see them from a distance. I left enough gap to give a natural look and a little movement to the fabric. Stitching too tightly would look awkward and pull the fabric ends too close. All in all an easy alteration that requires just a bit of attention to detail. Then again, don't they all?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fitting Tips for a Successful Alteration

I've fit a lot of clients over the years and I've had very few returned garments. One of the reasons for that is that I insist that they bring or wear the undergarments and shoes they'll be wearing the day of the event. For jeans or other pants hem, of course, this just means shoes.
Bridal and formal gowns are a different matter.
Anything the girl wears underneath that dress is going to affect its fit. Regular undergarments have an impact on the fit, and specialty shaper garments make a bigggg difference.

Men should wear a belt and have their shirt tucked in when being fitted for dress pants.

When fitting, have your client relax. They will not be standing at attention while wearing this garment, unless you are fitting someone for a military uniform! Talking small talk will usually put a client at ease. Just be sure they are not looking down at you in order to continue the conversation. Obviously this will affect the hem.

Their arms should rest comfortably at their sides and they should look forward, casually. If you are marking the hem on a formal and you need the client to rotate a little, wait until they get situated before you resume pinning. Use lots of pins. They will be your roadmap when the garment goes into your sewing room.

One more thing, ALWAYS ask if the client is "doing ok". Standing still for long periods does a number on the blood flow, especially if the client has their knees locked. Try to avoid having your customer pass out on the floor. It's just so messy!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What is a Waist Stay?

Well I'm happy to be back blogging again. I've taken on some new responsibilities, so finding the time to write has been a challenge, but it's a new year! I will be blogging a lot more often, though maybe with fewer photos, since that takes up the bulk of the writing time. If you have an idea you'd like me to write about, just leave a comment, or fill out the form labeled "Contact Me" on the left. You can also leave me a Facebook comment.

fraying bra strap

Very often, strapless wedding gowns have a waist stay as part of the corset. It is engineered to hold up the dress, so the weight of the fabric doesn't hang from the neckline. The strapless bridesmaid dress pictured here has a waist stay also. It is the grograin ribbon that is attached at the bottom of the bodice lining.

fraying bra strap

You can see the ends of the ribbon here. It is adjustable so you can make it comfortable. It holds the weight of the dress, so the bodice area is more free to be supported by your undergarments. In other words, the bra is holding up your body, while the waist stay is holding up the dress.

Sew new strap to front

Here you see how it fastens. When you have the dress on, hook the waist stay first, then zip the dress. Don't neglect this little step. It will keep everything where it needs to be while giving a nice shape to your figure. You won't be pulling your dress up at the armpits all day either!