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Anyone need tips on altering RTW?

becksnyc | Posted in General Discussion on

Hi All,


I have been altering men’s and women’s ready-to-wear for the last 13 years now, full time.  If anyone needs tips in this area, happy to help.  I also teach alterations and fitting, and although I am not taking any students at this time, when I have time I would love to hear/share success stories on difficult altering challenges.  My experience on altering patterns is limited to myself and close friends, as I have not done custom sewing for others in many years.

Also happy to share advice on keeping clients happy, ergonomics issues of fitting, fitting “strange” bodies, etc. Altering men’s jackets and pants gives me my greatest satisfaction, and I’d like to spread the joy.  Ha Ha.

Have loved reading all the amazingly concise and insightful advice on pants fitting, etc.  You go girls!  And guys–are there any guys among us?

Becks NYC



  1. CJM | | #1

    Wow Becks! You are the answer to my prayer!

    I spontaniously offered to do an alteration for a woman and now I am rather flumaxed! I need to remove a top and rework the double layed mid-calf skirt into a miniskirt. the problem is that I need to keep all the fullness and make a dropped waist band. I cant just gather up all this fabric onto an elastic waist band and I don't want to mess with the hems, the "under skirt" is trimmed with lace and the over skirt is a threequarter, open at the front style. I can only afford two hours so I am considering cutting triangular pieces out from the newly cut waist in order to make he fabric fit on a facing or a band. The biggest problem is the fabric, it's some crinkled rayon/manmade type. Any ideas would be gratefully appreciated.


    1. becksnyc | | #2

      Ouch! That does sound like more than 2 hours!

      Without the time limit factor, my first inclination is to view the skirt as fabric and cut the skirt out from a pattern that the customer likes.

      My second choice would be to actually pin fit the skirt on her after the top portion has been removed, taking in the sides and darting to fit her waist.  Create a waistband from the excess.

      Definitely more than 2 hours each option. No miracle cures for that one!


      1. CJM | | #3

        Thanks Becks,

        I actually had to cut down the two skirts, keeping the fulness, eventually gather the two layers as one, I ended up joining them, w/sides together, then flip them and gather them as one; I cut a facing from the underskirt fabric, matched the side seams and created a tiny 1" waistband by flipping the reinforced facing and top stitching it. Finally added a zipper and hook & eye. When I hand her back the cut off top and she asks me to alter it I intend to tell her just how many fruitless hours I spent on this crummy poleyester garment and suggests she have her dance costumes made from scratch from quality fabric. I couldn't press this garment except when I made the waist band because of the wrinkled aspect. NEVER AGAIN! Fool me once.........!

        Might need your expertise again!

        Thanks for trying Becks,

        All Good Things, CJ

  2. hunnybun | | #4

    For years I had flirted with the notion of doing alterations, but was unsure of myself. A few years ago at a "In Stitches Conference" in Chicago I attended a seminar taught by Mary Roehr. It was titled " Altering Ready to Wear". In her seminar I learned that alterations are not as hard as they may ,at first ,seem

    I purchased her two books "Altering Men's Ready-to-Wear "and  "Altering Women's Ready-to-Wear" . Each of these books give easy to understand directions for each project from simple hems to altering jackets and coats.

    I don't usually do very complicated alterations but that's alright, I have several repeat customers. Most who won't even try to thread a needle. The website to find out more about Mary roehr is  http://www.maryroehr.com.  

    Becks, you inspired me to reply about alterations, I'm sure there will  a time when I will need your help with doing an alteratiion. I'm glad to know ther is someone I can turn to.

    lv2sew - Chicago

    1. becksnyc | | #5

      I've always wanted to get/read Mary Roehr's books, but since I work with a large shop, I've never lacked for ideas on how to accomplish any particular job.  If anyone has these available at a discount, I might be interested.

      It's great to have authors like Mary, willing to share their hard earned knowledge!


      1. hunnybun | | #6

        Hi Becks,

        Your job sounds very interesting. I'm sure  you have had to tackle most any alteration that could be done. I want to build my altering skills. I enjoy taking things apart and putting them together again. Hoping to get as good as you.

        I hope you are able to get copies of Mary Roehr's books, right now I can't part with mine, they are like the  second Bibles.


      2. Sewnow | | #7

        Hi Becks,

        It's great to have this source of info!  Here's the challenge:  I have two new, identical pair of pants, iridescent-type silk (has body), lined, beautifully done (Talbot's).  There is a curved yoke all the way around except that it stops at the front darts, and the front is flat up to the faced waist. 

        I need this to be a skirt to match a Talbot's jacket that the fabric was designed to go with.  The waist is a good fit, but it's just tooooo tight in the hips/crotch.  (Talbot's thinks all women are sticks.)

        Do you think it would be possible to cut the second pair of pants apart and make a gored skirt from the first pants by adding a panel of fabric to the center front and the center back??  This was a super give-away price on all, to-die-for pants were 14.50 each and the jacket only about 29$ -- so it wouldn't be a huge loss if I ruined the pants.  Finding a matching fabric has been impossible; this is a dark blackish purple.

        Can you comment on my chances of success?  I have intermediate sewing skills, but no alteration saavy.

        Thank you for any advice!


        1. becksnyc | | #8

          It's certainly possible!  I saw instructions for doing this with jeans in a sewing magazine.  I saved it, but it's at work.  Will look for it.

          Where is the zipper?  Will the inserts go with the overall design? (I've never seen a yoked dress with gores, but, if the design is coherent overall, why not?)

          You might make the seams of the added pieces part of the design by adding embroidery or something to focus the eye on them, but I don't know if that would coordinate with the jacket.


          1. Sewnow | | #9

            Hi Becks,

            This is a skirt, not dress, but image a curved yoke about 2.5 inches wide that ends at the  front darts, is incorporated into the front dart seam.  I thought the front panel could replace the pants front and crotch, wouled be about 7 inches wide.  There's an invisible zipper on the side, so no fussing with that.  The back "gore" would be a panel from the bottom of the yoke in back that replaces the crotch and center back area.  The final version would have three panels in front, three in back, straight skirt.

            I'm wondering about getting a good grainline on the panel inserts I'd cut from the spare pants.  Do you think cutting a piece from the front of the leg would be the way to go?  I'm still mulling over attempting this as the lining would need to be dealt with too, but, of course, replacing that might be easier than redoing to match.

            Talbot's clothes are so beautifully made.  Inspiration just oozes out of them.

            Thanks for your advice.  If you find the article, tell me the magazine and # and I'll try to get a copy.


          2. FitnessNut | | #10

            It might be a tedious job, but why don't you pick apart the second pair of pants so you have 4 pieces (leg). The grainline will be in the centre of each piece if you fold them in half lengthwise from the hem to the knee and continue up to the waist, which is where any crease should be. You may find it handy to baste along the grainline for use when cutting later. Cut your panels from the appropriately sized legs.

            I think that replacing the lining would be a good option....its what I would do personally.

            Good luck with this project. Let us know how it goes.


          3. Sewnow | | #11

            Thanks Sandy,

            I'm glad to know that's where the grainline on the pants is determined.  I'm a basting sorta sewor, so that's what I'll do.  My "sewee" will be very happy to see progress on this project.

          4. becksnyc | | #12

            I looked for the article in my references and couldn't find it.  I think it was in Sew News, and as I just said in another posting, I could rarely relate to their projects.  So evidently, I read it but didn't clip it.

            I think your idea is plausible now that you've described it more fully.  The only thing to remember about a skirt divided into three pieces across the front is that it is more visually widening than some other styles, as the eye is drawn across from seam to seam rather than down (unless you create vertical interest somehow.)  If that isn't an issue for your body type, or if the skirt is long enough to compensate for the width, OR if you have strong visual interest up near your face, you should be ok.  If you are one of the fortunate slim sewers, disregard what I just said.

            Lining will be the least of your worries, just piece it. and you should be ok.

            With Talbots quality, using the front crease as a guide should pretty much ensure you are on grain.  Since it is silk, I would first cut my panels from the pants.  I would baste in the panels WITHOUT cutting out anything from the skirt.  Check how the panels fall, and when you are satisfied, remove the excess and sew the final seams.

            Let me know how it goes.


          5. Sewnow | | #13


            I will follow your suggestion about cutting and basting the front panels first; that's excellent!  I think there's enough length to draw the eye vertically, but that also is a good consideration.  Thank you so much.

          6. becksnyc | | #14

            You're welcome!

  3. User avater
    Dinosaur | | #15

    Usually the stuff I build is made of wood; I'm a sneak-in visitor from BREAKTIME Forum. But DW flipped her wig last spring and ran off with the kid and the two sewing machines I'd bought her. I got the kid back. I couldn't care less about the machines. I've still got my grandmother's 1912 Singer, a bunch of her notions , and a box of needles and thread and bobbins. Machine still works, of course, but it could use a tune up.

    Problem is, my son is 5 years old and very few companies make decent clothing for winter sports for guys his size. He's an incredibly talented back-country skier, and this sport requires something much different than the standard kid's over-stuffed snowsuit, which would kill him with hyperthermia if he ever wore it skinning up a mountain wearing his 9lb. backpack....

    I cut a paper pattern from my own unlined anorak last winter; DW had grudgingly promised to take it to her sewing prof for help cutting the pattern down so she could make him his own, but she never 'got around to it' and it's still sitting down in the file cabinet. And ski season is approaching fast.

    Can you give me some guidance--general rules; book references; whatever--on how to re-size a pattern that radically? I'm not afraid to tackle cutting and assembly and I'll get Grandma's black beauty dusted and oiled by a good mechanic. I've already bought the material.

  4. thirdnorn | | #16

    Hi Becks!

     I hope you don't mind being asked yet another alterations question!

    My boyfriend is a runner whose training has given him a round bottom and muscular thighs. He looks quite nice, but since most men's clothing is cut for a straight up-and-down figure, he's having a problem with getting a good fit in shorts and pants.

    The biggest problem is that the back of shorts or pants bought to fit his waist are pulled very tight across his rear end and a little fold or wrinkle forms right below the waistband in the center back. In the front, the pleats won't lie flat and the side pockets are pulled slightly open. I've tried simply buying the next size up, but there's still some pulling and the wrinkle in back is still faintly present.

    To get a good fit, should I have him buy pants to fit the widest part of his bottom and take in the waist to fit? And would buying "baggy fit" style pants give me more fabric to work with?

    I would appreciate any advice-- as a sewer, his badly fitting clothes are driving me NUTS!



    1. becksnyc | | #17

      Dear Shale,

      Buying the next size up can sometimes give you more room in the seat and stride (a.k.a.: crotch depth--distance front to back between the crotch curves).  However, an athletic man will often have a round bottom and full thighs with a relatively small waist.

      Dress slacks often have a little room in the seat seam and inseam to release(releasing the inseam increases back crotch depth), but dockers and athletic wear rarely do.

      My best suggestion is to buy his clothes to fit the seat (hip) circumference and alter the waist as needed.  (If he has a really sharp slant to the seat seam when you pin or mark the excess, keep a straight line up from where the seat fits to the waist.  Any amount additionally needed to make the waist fit can be taken through back darts or sides (if construction is simple.) 

      If the back crotch depth is still too small, add a gusset (an elongated triangle of fabric) to the inseam.  The triangular gusset follows the straight line of the inseam on the side closest to the front panel; the other side slants back towards the seat.  The total length of the gusset is usually about 6" long, but can vary according to need.  The idea is to add a piece that is discreet, but tapers gently back into the inseam.  A gusset will add space for the bum, (front to back) and add to the circumference of the thighs.

      So basically, to recap, releasing the seat seam (and, rarely, the sides) gives more fabric coverage around the hip. Releasing or adding to the inseam creates more space for the seat, front to back.  Slacks fitting is truly a 3-D endeavor.

      If his thighs are large in front, that's a different ball game.  Best look for pants with a baggier fit, or dress slacks with full pleats.

      My hubby has the same figure!  Please let me know if I can help with more details.

      Becks, now upstate NY

      1. thirdnorn | | #19


         You truly rock- that's just the information I needed!

         Now here's follow-up question: Any reccomendations for where I could get a good match for the gusset fabric? Or  should I just buy another pair of the same shorts/pants off of the clearance rack next time we go clothes shopping for him?

        Thanks a million!


        1. becksnyc | | #20

          Hems or pockets can sometimes be replaced with another fabric.  Or try to buy a garment that's a little long?  Extra fabric can be a challenge!

  5. carobanano | | #18

    Hi Becks!

    I....kinda have a reverse question for you! I'm making prom gowns to be sold at an eveningwear shop. Is there anything special I should do in the construction process to make alteration work easier?



  6. Imzadi | | #21

    Hi Becks, this is a wonderfully generous thread you are doing for us. :-)

    I bought a beautiful powder blue, faux suede, full length, winter coat on clearance at the end of winter season. The beautiful material alone was worth the price & time to alter it. It is a basic straight line coat. It looks like one of those suede, sheep shearling lined coats. It is unlined. It is a size 12 and I am a size 6-8.

    I alter many of my clothes. Hunting down cheap bargains and tailoring less-constructed shapes or making one size larger down to a more formfitting size by added darts or sewing the shoulder or side seams in, is something I do regularly. I save so much money over the RTW formfitted counterparts sold by buying the less constructed or detailed, and tailoring & adding my own details. So I was all prepared to simply sew all necessary seams on this coat in a couple of inches and add a much needed lining. Since it's mostly straight lines, no problem I thought.

    However, I had tried on another coat at the store (for 3 times the price)that was really fitted in the bodice and flared from the waist outward into an A-line, princess style (I think it's called,) like a Cinderella ball gown. I loved the look and couldn't get it out of my head but couldn't afford that coat.

    When I got home with my coat, I cinched the waist in with a belt and there is enough of the size 12 material flowing around the hips and down to make that part the flowy A-line I want. However, all the extra nipping and tucking and adding of deep curves around the waist, back and underarms wasn't what I was originally planning. There are two extra side panels right under the underarm area, so feasibly I can really make this more formfitting on top.

    Any suggestions on how to do this easily? I've never altered a winter coat before. I've never had to take down 2+ sizes before, or have to factor in leaving room for bulky winter layers of clothing underneath as well as the lining, while trying to make it formfitting enough & flattering at the same time.

    Thanks for any help!

    Edited 8/24/2004 5:18 am ET by Imzadi

    1. becksnyc | | #22

      Do you have a friend who sews?  My best advice is to wear whatever heavy clothing you would usually have on under the coat during your fitting.  Have a friend pin the proposed alterations in with long, new quilting or silk pins.  Faux suede doesn't usually leave holes, but do a test if in doubt.  If pins will damage the fabric, you'll have to rely on your eye.

      If the armholes/shoulder line is correct, it's simply a matter of pinning your seams from nothing at the armhole, in at the waist and back out gradually to the hem.  Try to distribute the alteration evenly through existing seams, maintaining garment balance while still tweaking the fit for your particular shape.

      If you still have easy access to the coat you're trying to duplicate, take your tape measure to the store.  Or lay out the coat to see how the seams are shaped. (Ie: do all the seams widen near the hem, or just the sides?) 

      If you pin or estimate carefully, then alter with seams that go gradually from existing seams to desired shape, you should be happy with the results.  If this suede leaves needle punch holes when tested on an inconspicuous seam, and you are in doubt about the amount of the alteration, alter in increments until you are happy with the fit.  Better to alter less, a few times, than taking in too much, and have damaged fabric.

      Happy Altering!  I'll be away for a few weeks, so hope this gives you enough courage to tackle the coat.


      1. Imzadi | | #23

        Thanks Becks! I'm off to the store with a tape measure to see if the other coat is still there, and really check out the seam construction. :-)

  7. Grandma C | | #25

    underarm gussets

    I made a jacket for DGD from Burda kids pattern 9487 9 (a peacoat with gathers at the back yoke).  It is uncomfortable under the arms.  I want to put gussets under the arm to get the seams out of the way and giver her a little more flexibility.  Could you give me a link to instructions somewhere or even a video or even your own instructions and opinions.  The problem is that the sleeve seam bothers her.  Because I have used 3 layers of fabric as one for the whole jacket (poly satin,wool,poly lining), the seam is thick and hard.  I tried trimming the wool out to the seam and have weakened the sleeve seam.I do not have enough fabric left to recut the sleeves.  The sleeves are a bit narrow so I have taken out the stitches to mid forearm and will resew them with a 3/8inch seam instead of 5/8 inch. giving her a little more room.  I will do the jacket side seam the same to match the sleeve seam.  I do not know how large to calculate the size of the gusset and how to join it to the sleeve seam.  I thought about appliqueing the gusset in place so the seam would be flat .  I do not have acesess to the child to fit it to check the amount of space needed.  I estimate 1" or less. 

    Thank You


    1. Grandma C | | #24

      underarm gussets/ photos of original jacket and pattern

      Hope this helps give you a visual of my problem.

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