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Can this Beautiful Jacket Be Transformed After a Botched Alteration?

This thrift store find needs expert Kenneth D. King's touch to work around a previous owner's attempt to alter it.

A friend of mine found a jacket at the thrift shop that she knew I would love. The jacket’s fabric  was really beautiful–a wool herringbone with a floral flocked design.

I was smitten—until I put it on.

Disaster! Someone did an appalling alteration job on this beautiful jacket, rendering it unwearable.

The sleeve was crammed into a much deepened armhole, and there was no shoulder pad.  
The photos give a close-up look at the er, “craftsmanship.”  It looks as horrible as it fits. Really.

So, what to do? I wanted to save this jacket in some way because the fabric is so beautiful, but there was no way to keep it as a jacket. So, I decided to make a vest from it and document that process.


Here’s what I did:

To make this a quick fix (spending a lot of time wasn’t cost effective for me), I decided to not remove the lining, but to treat it as an interlining.

The first step is to smooth the lining into the inside of the jacket, and pin the body and lining together around the armholes at the front and back. After pinning, thread-baste the lining and body layers together. Once the lining and body are basted together, the pins can be removed. Once the layers are stitched together, cut the sleeves away at the botched armhole. To establish the design line for the new armhole, place the jacket on the form (or on the body). I’m using what is called cold tape, a gummed fabric tape used in fur and leather construction. You could substitute narrow masking tape. The advantage of cold tape is that it’s repositionable, so you can experiment to get the proper line. After you’ve established your design line, transfer the…

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  1. Rabia | | #1

    The vest looks great...way to salvage that poor mangled jacket! That "Quelle horreur!" really gave me a laugh and a half! The fabric IS great, and I actually think it looks BETTER as a vest than a jacket anyway!

  2. Retro_Girl | | #2

    Love the vest! And I want to say thank you for a wonderful tutorial on refashioning an existing garment. I learned quite a few things from this article. Thanks, again!

  3. threadjunkie | | #3

    I agree, it works better as a vest. That fabric was just too much for a whole jacket. I also love the cropped jacket, it's got a very Central American folky vibe!

  4. GreyBird | | #4

    Wow, what a beautiful makeover. Thank you for the step by step look. It will make me look at all ready made clothes from a different angle!!

  5. NoraBora | | #5

    Cannot say that I like the very deep armholes, but it is an inspiration to re-purpose other items.

  6. WandaJW | | #6

    Fantastic makeover. I too feel the fabric was just 'too' much for a complete jacket, but as a vest it is perfect. Personally, I would prefer seeing it worn over a long-sleeved turtleneck sweater than a jacket. A bit too much for my rather conservative taste; however, the vest is a winner. Thanks for the photos and step-by-step instructions also.

  7. ElizaDolittle | | #7

    I love all your posts. Really, you are a master craftsman. I can't imagine why the armholes were extended in the jacket. How could you possibly raise your arms while wearing it?

    Lovely fabric, so absolutely great job saving it!

    May I make a request? Please do something on working with light knits, i.e. pleating, manipulating, draping, etc. I love the idea, but I have a real problem making it look finished, as opposed to a 'quelle horreur!'

  8. LaurieDiane | | #8

    This was a bonus article for me. Great re-purposing but also how to fold in to mirror and duplicate. I'll remember this tip and the way it was done. But I really love the 2 options with the layering...very visually pleasing combinations.

  9. ElizaDolittle | | #9

    I meant to add that I like it much better under the jacket. And I can't help thinking it would be great over a billowy white shirt! Very Beau Brummel!

  10. EleanorSews | | #10

    Ce n'est pas quelle horreur. C'est formidable! A wonderful save, giving new life to such interesting fabric! Having had the treat of attending a couple of your classes, I can easily picture you wearing the vest under or over that jacket, and possibly other combinations in your wardrobe which must be its own little treasure chest. Nice foresight on use of the deeper armhole allowing a such a range of options for wear. The use of tape for marking is one of those why-haven't-I thought-of-that moments. As ever, lots of pearls of sewing/construction wisdom. Now, about that tutorial on drafting pleats that naturally pull in for an ever sharp appearance...

  11. JuliamaeSews | | #11

    I wonder if I'm the only reader who didn't find the initial outside photo of the botched jacket before alteration. It would be critical to assessing the success of the re-do. However, the end result photo did show up,and I think it was a great save. Carry on, fellow thrifters!

  12. putnam | | #12

    Your dressmaker form is really very cute, but we'd LOVE to see some of these designs worn by their creator...!

  13. 416 | | #13

    Kenneth King is awesome! I have watched him for years on TV. His new book, "Cool Couture" is a wonderful hands on book that teaches you how to make ordinary clothes extraordinary. I have an expensive jacket I have refused to throw away although it is outdated. I plan to try Keneth's method to make a vest and I am sure I will enjoy wearing it.

  14. User avater
    duchessga | | #14

    Love the vest, great save. I like the combination of the vest and jacket.

  15. curlysuzieq | | #15

    wow, that is a great way to save a garment! Would it be possible to see the process of how the binding was attached to the vest?

  16. User avater
    kins | | #16

    That is amazing Kenneth . I will be looking at jackets now that don't really fit in the sleeves to turn into vests.
    Thanks keep inspiring us all.

  17. Yuilletidings | | #17

    See the vintage shop across the street from Superior Dressforms on W.25th Street, for a hands on lesson in construction and tailoring. "Mistakes" boost your morale because you must re-engineer your thinking and usually the end result is a masterpiece.

    Mr. King, I would love to meet you sometime or even take a class.

  18. Carolebarrel | | #18

    Loved the repurposing. Since colorblocking and patchwork is still fashionable, I have always wanted to add the moth-holed sweater's sleeves to the jacket I made a vest out of, combine two sweaters into one and fool around with clothing I am ready to trash for one reason or another by combining two or more articles of clothing. By that time, they don't owe me anything and sometimes even if it is just learning from your mistakes there is value in such creative attempts.

  19. sewtherapeutic | | #19

    the jacket that you pared up with the vest is exquisite I would love a view of the sleeve's embroidered motif and a little commentary from you on it. Did you make it?

  20. User avater
    carynification | | #20

    Don't think it was really necessary to point out the sloppy tack-down in the lining that didn't effect fit at all. To many, and I don't think this is unjustified, there is no reason to make pretty stitches that don't show on the outside as long as they serve their purpose. All that did is make me feel pretty crappy about my own stitches that may be unseen from the outside.

  21. jgflo | | #21

    Can you please explain French binding to us?

  22. sewmafrani | | #22

    Excuse me, carynification. The absurd 'alterations" that I saw in the many years of doing such work put me through many hours of tedious picking out stitches in order to salvage a garment. I, as KK does, pride myself on my hand stitching and masterful recreations of a possible piece of trash. The garments he creates are not always to my taste but nonetheless beautifully recreated. As to the deep armholes in another post; this will be worn by a male. Beautiful work, KK and I would love to work along side you. Call me anytime. My sewing and millinery instructors said they could hold a measure to my stitching and it was always on the money. I value pretty inside/ pretty out. Oh where can one purchase the tape?

  23. Yuilletidings | | #23

    "Carynification", learn a new work ethic..."Be proud of your creation, both INSIDE and OUTSIDE." This is what I teach my students at Baltimore City Community College in the Fashion Design Program.

    Mrs. Sally DiMarco, author of "Draping Basics", secured a collection of "couture" costumes for the School (i.e., Chanel, Halston, Anne Klein, etc.), which I found interesting to study the tailoring (building of structure) techniques, both inside and out.

    You should visit the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY. I was a bit sadden by his art, but his tailoring was superb!

  24. User avater
    kennethdking | | #24

    To answer comments:

    Regarding the cold tape, you get that at leather or furrier suppliers, like J. Bauer in New York. There's also a 1/4" wide black masking tape you can get from photography suppliers that does well.

    As for the deep armholes, and a view of the jacket "before"--I actually couldn't wear it, as the person who altered brought the armhole and shoulder way in. It actually pulled up off my shoulders about 4". The armhole was made so deep, because the initial botch was so big. I would have liked it smaller, but proportionally as well as technically, it had to be large.

    As for the jacket I show it with, it's a "standard issue" Guatemalan jacket, and yes, I'll do a post on it and a couple of others I own.

    Also a good idea is a post for the French binding, which I believe is also treated in Claire Schaeffer's book on couture sewing. Also, a post on making pleats hang closed and crisp--I can do that. It's a really easy trick.

    Regarding the comment on the hand stitching: I've done that kind of stitching, which I call '"Frankenstein stitches", but only INSIDE a lining where they won't show. We all do it, even though we may not admit to it. It's just when the stitches are on view like that-perhaps it wasn't the best way to show just what a botch job this was but it was what I decided at the time--if the stitches are on view, it's the same amount of time to sew them even as it is to make them uneven.

    Really, with a little practice ( and only a little, along with some rhythmic music strangely enough), one can get the stitches even. Also, I find that ironing the thread before you thread the needle, whether you wax it (natural fibers) or not (man-made fibers), makes for more even stitches, just because the thread travels more smoothly through the fabric. When the thread doesn't snarl while stitching, you don't break rhythm and the stitches will be more even. Also spinning the needle counter-clockwise every so often while sewing, will keep the thread from twisting and snarling.

    This exploration of even stitching falls under my general feeling that, if you want ready to wear, it's less expensive from a time and money standpoint, to just buy it. There's immense satisfaction to making something nice. I still secretly enjoy it when people say with evident surprise, "You MADE that?!?" (They do. Really. Even though they know what I do for a living.) It is, in part, because my hand stitches are even.

  25. User avater
    ustabahippie | | #25

    That was a beautiful success! I love "upcycling" thrift store treasures. I teach this kind of re-purposing in a very fun class and will surely recommend this link to my class this weekend.
    I'm kind of sorry for the young gal who was so defensive about her uneven stitches that don't show on the outside of her garment. It's so satisfying to put something on and see the inside, as you do so, looking as lovely as the outside. But we don't all have the same aesthetic when it comes to finishing. Just have to accept that fact.

  26. User avater
    kennethdking | | #26

    Thanks for the kind words, Ustabahippie! I think it's fun to re-purpose something that has potential but just "needs something".

    But let's not pile on about the viewpoints on hand stitching-people are evolving at different points along this path we all call sewing. I remember early on, wondering why one does or doesn't do a certain thing a certain way, but it was through making lots of things, and observing the results, that I myself came to the desire to do things a certain way.

    Also, to defend the uneven stitching: I had a studio partner in San Francisco, who did graphic arts, and she had a saying: "Good enough for what it's for." And that's a valid outlook--as I said in my last comment, I've done the Frankenstein stitches. On costumes, that would be worn once, that someone needed as a favor at the last minute. But I threatened them with bodily harm if they told anyone I actually sewed them. But I did. So, in those cases, the stitches shown in the photo I posted, would have looked exactly like what I did.

    I guess what I'm trying to say, is that one can evaluate the methods used on a case by case basis, deciding what is "good enough for what it's for", and what needs the extra effort. Over time, with more practice and a trained eye, I believe people who sew come to want to do it well, because of the tangible and intangible benefits of doing so.

  27. Shelly50 | | #27

    Kenneth - I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE what you did with the jacket!!! And then paring your finished vest with the little jacket!!!! I love the idea! RE: the stiching comments - there are many reasons for poor stitching, but I am in total agreement that proper stiching shows a quality garment and a pride and care of work well done. I really enjoy your posts and appreciate your skill in garment construciton. Thank you for sharing your talent with us :o)

  28. ichefdiane | | #28

    Thank you for this. I didn't understand how you decided on the size of the arm-hole opening until the last picture, wearing the vest over a sleeved jacket. Did you have a vest in your wardrobe that you measured?

    Cold tape - I learn something new everyday, and will look for this. I have used painter's tape for similar applications.

  29. User avater
    kennethdking | | #29

    Regarding the size of the armhole, I really didn't think of wearing it over a jacket until I was finished--the botch job was sooooo big, that a very large armhole was what was needed. I figured it would be under a jacket, so that wouldn't matter, but them tried it on over a jacket, and--there you are!

  30. tissy | | #30

    Mr. King...Kenneth... Your work is amazing and I for one am delighted that you are a contributing editor for Threads. I learn so much from what you present. Techniques I never dreamed of. I may not make a coat from hair, but my imagination was set on fire by your coat! I think it is so sad that so many people who spend the time to read what you are doing feel so free to criticize and ridicule your work. So some of the things you create may not be what the average (people pleaser) population would wear! Learn the techniques! Appreciate the talent and imagination! Good grief! Look outside the safe little box you live in and IMAGINE! Then learn.

  31. tissy | | #31

    Mr. King...Kenneth... Your work is amazing and I for one am delighted that you are a contributing editor for Threads. I learn so much from what you present. Techniques I never dreamed of. I may not make a coat from hair, but my imagination was set on fire by your coat! I think it is so sad that so many people who spend the time to read what you are doing feel so free to criticize and ridicule your work. So some of the things you create may not be what the average (people pleaser) population would wear! Learn the techniques! Appreciate the talent and imagination! Good grief! Look outside the safe little box you live in and IMAGINE! Then learn.

  32. Lauraellene | | #32

    I was a couture clothing model for quite a few years, and I also have sewn since I was 12 years old. Since I was familiar with sewing techniques and craftsmanship, I really enjoyed seeing the inside of the clothes that I, myself, could never have afforded. A Christian Dior garment was always a work of art and inspired me to greater sewing and tailoring heights. The collars on his coats never had to be "reset." They seated correctly when the garment was put on--I truly fell in love with his coats. I also noticed to my dismay the work of other design houses that didn't meet my idea of acceptable standards and was horrified that the "house" could ask so much for the garment. As the only model for one establishment, I had the good fortune to change garments in the alteration room. What great bonus compensation to see and learn how to use fine finishing techniques. I'm with Mr. Kenneth--I like lovely work.

  33. Rabia | | #33

    Oh, and I wanted to say I LOVED your "Shadow Applique" article in this month's threads; that is something I am going to definitely try! And that dress in the article with the appliqued sleeves was just BEAUTIFUL...one of yours, I presume!

  34. User avater
    kennethdking | | #34

    Regarding the shadow applique dress: It is vintage, actually, and the technique was inspired by the dress, but I didn't actually make the dress. Thanks for thinking that I did though--it is really a lovely thing.

  35. sandisewsandsews | | #35
  36. sandisewsandsews | | #36

    Thank you for the inspiration...I just happen to have a few
    wonderful "older"(favoite) jackets that I just could not
    bear to part with. Now with turning them into vests, I not only get to wear them again, but in a new style.


  37. User avater
    Rogues_of_Thread | | #37


    Thank you for this post. It's nice to seem someone go through the steps on a re-purposing in both words and photographs. Your post is both inspiring and instructional. Though the fabric is not to my taste I do like the finished garment. Thanks again!

  38. brosmum | | #38

    I was really impressed by this make over. While the choice of making this jacket into a vest probably would not have been my first choice (I am not a vest fan)the end result is great. Your clear photos and instructions are the best.
    I have been reading the other comments about hand stitching. From experience in workshops, costume design and many family disasters that require stitching, yes there are occasions when you cannot spend time on the finest stitches. I generally find that neat hand stitching really does not take longer to complete when you add up the time pulling out snarls etc. in sloppy work. It takes time and practice to perfect hand sewing. Look back at some older projects you have sewn and compere them with what you have recently sewn, if you can see an improvement with all your stitching, Congratulations.

  39. roowbatry | | #39

    Well worth to read this article, thanks for sharing this information. With this article you offered me got a chance to know about this, anyway i say Great Article! and waiting for you next article about this interesting subject.

  40. Mihaela_Cristina | | #40

    Thank you Kenneth for your inspirational transformation!

  41. User avater
    user-7095274 | | #41

    This would be great shown as a video. I am a visual learner and sometimes have trouble wrapping my mine around what is happening. Videos are also a great way to learn new little (or big) tips for how to do something. As to sewing, if it makes you happy then go for it. You are sewing for your own enjoyment and can be a great learning experience.

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