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books on alterations

justsew | Posted in General Sewing Info on

Does anyone have any good books on altering clothes.

Especially formal dresses?

They are not easy to find.



  1. mimi | | #1

    justsew:  There is a book on Amazon called How to Alter a Bridal Gown.  I can' vouch for it since I have never used it, but you could look it up and decide for yourself.


    1. sewchris703 | | #18

      I have that book. I was taught how to alter wedding gowns by my boss but the book basicly teaches the same techniques. Doing the bustles is about the only thing that I do differently. But doing bustles is all about a matter of preferences on the part of the seamstress and the bride and the style of the gown.Chris

  2. becksnyc | | #2

    I've been altering clothes for over 20 years, 15 full time.  There are few books on alterations.  The ones I've read were not that great, and were printed long ago.

    Best advice:

    1.  Put in new seams before removing old, where possible.

    2.  Alter through the fewest seams possible to save time, but don't sacrifice the balance of the garment.  (Don't cut apart and size down a garment when a smaller size is available--have the customer get the proper size).

    3.  Make alterations as invisible as possible by carefully matching the thread color, thickness and stitch length.

    4.  Take time to analyze the fit carefully.  Quality fitting is a skill that takes time to develop.

    5.  Maintain the design integrity of the garment (don't try to make a fitted jacket out of a boxy one, for example.   The results won't gel.)

    6.  Be honest with the customer if less than satisfactory results will come from their request.  If they're still willing to pay, take the money and run. :-)

    7.  Don't bite off more than you can sew--be realistic about your skills or you and the customer will be unhappy.  Challenge yourself....but do so realistically.

    8.  Charge what your services are worth!  Alterations is an advanced sewing skill that requires knowledge of fabrics, pressing and garment construction, among other things.  Don't underrate the value of your craft!

    9.  Educate your customers on fit and quality...tactfully.  It will save you work in the long run.

    10.  Good quality work and good customer relations with fair prices will guarantee you work.

    Happy sewing.


    1. justsew | | #3

      Thanks so much for taking the time to post your message.

      I especially enjoy the comment about price, as sometimes it is hard to set a price on the craft of alterations. I really don't know to many that even enjoy doing it.

      I worked 5 years for another lady, and have since stayed home with my two children and have been able to build a good client base ove the past 6 years.

      I know that there is always more to learn, and I welcome that aspect of it.

      I do love a challenge

      thanks again and keep sewing!


    2. busybee | | #4


      Just interested to see what you had to say about alterations and I agree totally. I started off about 10 years ago here in the UK and I ordered 2 books on alterations by Mary Rohr (inUSA)  I found them very helpful. The main problem is getting people to agree to pay the price. Its a lot of work unpicking ( so as to get it together again properly)  and takes a long time. Generally I find people turn their noses up, at some of the prices. I have generally ended up sewing for old ladies and going to their homes at no extra cost. They seem to be the ones with the money - a purse full of notes at the ready, Its so careless of them really, but they all seem to hate bank accounts. Husbands of these ladies are getting podgy round the waist so they all need it let out andI dont do a lot else now. I worked for a very expensive ladies clothes shop ( 2 in fact)  and the pay was so low that it just wasn't worth it and the stress was high. Lots of these gaments were made in Germany or Switzerland and had been sewn so well it was almost impossible to get them apart let alone alter and re-sew. What I'm really saying is , you need to think carefully before going into this kind of work and not be too sensitive like me. You can be upset by some people who can very nasty indeed.

      Bye  Winifred ( busybee) View Image View Image

    3. charm | | #5

      Beck, I have seen that you have been doing alterations for over 20 years. I have been asking around of what kind of sewing machine or heavy duty machines do you used to do clothing alterations? I have asked the local viking dealer the same questions and they haven't answer my questions. I'll be working on all type of jackets but will not do any leather jackets. I will also be working on jeans and many other clothes to alter its for my friends, family, neighbors.  we have singer inguenity sewing machine that only can sew lightweight fabrics. and have a 3-4 sergers that i'm currently trying to learn how to use it myself. my singer sewing machine cannot do any heavy duty clothings or sew over thick fabrics. I'll be planning on buying a new machine next month. thanks happy sewing

      1. becksnyc | | #16

        Sorry for the delay. I've been away. I used Juki factory machines for years and was very happy with them. Recently, I started working from home again, and purchased a Bernina machine designed for quilting. It handles all fabrics well and has a long machine bed that allows me to handle awkward, bulky garments.
        Hope this is helpful.

        1. charm | | #17

          thanks for answering my message. what is your bernina model #. would you prefer juki or bernina to do clothing alterations

          1. becksnyc | | #22

            virtuosa 153 (quilters)

            1300 MDC serger

      2. sewchris703 | | #19

        At work, I use a Singer Athena 2000 (70s) and a Singer Featherweight (1967). The serger is a Singer 14U64 set for 3 thread and rolled hems. At home I use a 6 yo Kenmore I bought for $300 and a Featherweight (1951). And a 7 yo Phaff serger w/differental feed set for 4 thread and a 12 yo Babylock set for 3 thread. The Babylock does a better rolled hem than the Phaff.Chris

        1. charm | | #20

          wow you sure have alot of machines. just like guys they like their tools. lol! sounds like you found the right machines to do the job you needed it to have done. I have a singer 4-threads and trying to get a hang of it. so hopefully within a few months I'll be able to manage with it. thanks for the info. have a nice holidays!

          1. sewchris703 | | #21

            Those are only the machines I use regularly. I have 4 other sewing machines. 5 if I'm counting the cast iron Singer chain stitch child's sewing machine I got when I was 8. And I have another serger, a blind hemmer, and an industrial buttonhole/eyelet machine. 3 of the sewing machines don't work and neither does the 3rd serger. Most can be repaired but one of the sewing machines needs a new foot control. Sears doesn't make it anymore and so far I haven't fount a used one. But I can't bear to get rid of any of them.I use the Featherweight for bridal and most other alterations and the Kenmore for general sewing.Chris

  3. kapnoel | | #6

    Dear friends,


    I asked this same question some months ago and two books were mainly suggested to me:

    -Alterations for Professionals by Linda Steward


    -Altering Women's Ready-to-Wear by Mary Roehr.

    The first is a CD Rom book which is quite expensive (around 65 Euros). It is printable and has pictures. Linda Steward is a professional specialized in bridal wear. The book was good but too expensive for the information it contained.

    The second one is an older book with drawings. It costed around 15 Euros. I found it very useful and well worth its price.

    Since then I have been altering several RTW, mainly jackets. I have slopped shoulders and short arms, so I have been repositioning and shorting sleeves. I am not a professional, but as a sewer I thought that prices in alteration shops in Brussels were too hight. For the alteration I described they would charge me around 25 Euros. From my point of view, alteration prices have to be seen in relation to prices for RTW. RTW is so cheap in these days. If I buy a jacket for 50 Euros, 25 Euros is half the price I paid. Pscycologically, this is too much, even if an alteration requires a lot of time, knowledge and skill. So, I would pay for an alteration only if the initial cost of the jacket and the price of the alteration were in proportion. This practicly means I would pay only for altering quite expensive clothes. Then again, I would not buy so expensive clothes if they did not fit right (I am impossible, no?)

    Best regards



    1. User avater
      ThreadKoe | | #7

      I think the expression here is caught between a rock and a hard place.  Cheap clothing is just that.  Cheap.  Poorer construction methods, less expensive fabric, less expected lifetime.  Poorer fit.  A more expensive garment generally has a more generous fit, better construction, better fabric, and more room for alterations in the garment.  And yes, the garment is going to cost way more.  The upside is that once you have paid the price to have the garment altered, the garment is generally going to last a very long time. 

      Break down the cost this way.  (Garment cost + alteration cost)/number of times worn.  You will see that it is not as expensive in the end.   For example: A good quality suit type jacket that you can mix and match to wear for work and casual wear.  Say you can wear it 5 days a week on average, August through Winter into May (roughly 9 months out of 12).  That is ballpark 36 weeks or 180 wearings a year.

      So a 75 euro (alterations included) jacket replaced each year, costs .42 euro each wearing.

      Now a 175 euro(alterations included) jacket repaced every 5 years, costs .20 euros.

      This also gives you time to save up for the next one!  Or that really great vacation or sewing machine you want. 

      Not that I am saying you would Want to wear the same jacket that much for that long.  But you could.  A basic jacket becomes a Wardrobe Staple.  Much of the rest of what you wear centres around it. 

      I would rather spend A Lot of money on a good Suit or Jacket, have it fitted to me perfectly and look great in it.    Then spend a little less money on good fitting shoes that would last just as long.  The rest will change with the seasons, and will be cheap as possible.  It will only last a season or two anyways.  It is the fluff that dresses up the classic suit, and makes that great suit look fashionable.  If you look at all the really fashionable ladies through history, like Chanel, that is what they have done.  Even a Chanel suit from way back when is as good looking and fashionable now as it was when it first was designed.   Cathy


      1. kapnoel | | #8

        What you say, dear Cathy, is correct but somehow theoretical. Nobody wears the same jacket 5 days a week and more expensive clothing does not necessarily mean better fit. If I was to find the perfect jacket that I would always want to wear, I would follow your advice and buy it, as long as I could pay it. Perhaps I did not find this perfect jacket yet. Or perhaps I dress and calculate in a different manner. A cheap jacket does not have to be cheap. Look at these clothes: http://www.oui.com/ http://www.xandres.be/ http://www.vestebene.com/EN/home2.asp?f=1 do they look cheap?  Yet, in certain outlets in Brussels you would pay 15 -50 Euros for a woolen jacket from last year's collection by Xandres, oui or vestebene. Xandres is made in Belgium, oui in Germany and Vestebene in Italy.  I have taken such clothes apart to get a close look at the techniques used, they are really well sewn and made of fine fabrics. Of course, you could not expect to find the maching skirt or pair of trousers, but then why are we sewers if not to be able to complete an outfit accordingly?

        The concept you are describing is correct, but there are possibilities to get fine clothes for less and not be stuck with one jacket, which becomes a second skin. Having it altered is certainly a possibility, but as I said before about my personal reactions, it strucks me as strange to pay half the price of the jacket for alterations. I do not deny that the fact that I can do the alterations myself plays an important role. 

        Best regards


        1. User avater
          ThreadKoe | | #9

          You are correct in all your points.  Quality garments can be bought Inexpensively.  So much the better.  It has been my experience, however, that the better quality garment I have purchased have room for alterations, such as actual seam allowances that are not fully trimmed off with sergers.  Altering an inexpensively purchased quality garment is well worth the effort or cost.  My point was Cheap is not.  Poor quality is not.  In this case Cheap meant poor quality. 

          " it strucks me as strange to pay half the price of the jacket for alterations. I do not deny that the fact that I can do the alterations myself plays an important role. "

          Alterations of tailored garments, as you so well know, are often time consuming, and require a great deal of skill.  Most garments are constructed in a factory.  Alterations are done by hand.  They often involve deconstructing and reconstructing the garment skillfully.  Would you deny the alterationist fair wages for the time, skill and training they have put into learning their craft?    Cathy

          1. kapnoel | | #10

            Dear Cathy,

            I agree with you that the alterationist should be get a fair pay, proportionate to her/his skill. Yet, it is not so easy to find a skilled alterationist who would be worth the price, especially if you can do the alterations yourself. The price is worth as long as there is added value. The reason I quite like this forum is that you experienced people can always advice us on how to do things properly. Thank you so much for that!

            Best regards


          2. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #11

            Kapnoel, I think we are getting off on the wrong foot here.  I think I understand your frustration.  You wish to have a nice jacket at a reasonable cost that fits you well.  You can purchase one at a good price, but it costs a lot to fix it.  Or it takes a lot of work to fix it.  This frustration is common to a lot of us. 

            You are very lucky to be able to purchase nice jackets of that quality at those prices!  It would be well worth it to fix them to fit.  If you are able to do it yourself, even better!  Then you could afford more!  Myself, I cannot even find clothing of that kind of quality that comes even close to fitting me in that price range, so I must make my own!  And I absolutely wear them to rags. 

            I do have one thought for you tho, You can either spend the time or the money on something.  Which is more valuable, the time or the money you spent?      Cathy

          3. kapnoel | | #12

            Dear Cathy,

            Money and time are both valuable assets. For me, when it gets to fixing something to suit you, acquiring or building a skill plays an important role. I am just proud when I can fix it right. This gives me a pleasure that you cannot buy with money, can you blame me for that?

            Nice talking to you!

            Best regards


          4. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #14

            My dear friend, You have just come to what I have been getting at!  Happy Sewing.  Cathy

          5. kapnoel | | #15

            To you too, dear Cathy!

  4. charm | | #13

    go to linda stewart website. she sale DVD on alterations. she is a honest lady. memeber my name to her. smiling

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