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Give it all up!

JanF | Posted in Fitting on

I’m going to play “devil’s advocate here!”
All this talk of alterations – aged 56 – I’ve come to realise that Ive been wasting my precious time!
When I was younger, alterations I did to save money! (and to earn extra cash!)- and I do see the purpose of shortening or lengthening something RTW. but do people really need to do such complicated fitting alterations as some described here?
I now think that life is too short to “stuff a mushroom!” as someone famous has been quoted as saying and i realise that Ive spent a lot of my precious time altering things when really – sell it on and buy something that fits a little better -would have been a better scenario for me!
How long do you spend unpicking it first?
(By the way – you never get your true time value back in payment for taking in jackets etc – realistic pricing soon cuts out those “friends” who ask you if you wouldn’t mind doing just a little alteration for them!)
I would far rather those of you who are learning to sew – learn the basics of pattern alteration first and then developed your own style for individual, creative stuff to wear that shows off your expertise,flair and interest in the subject, than do fiddly bits of alterations that are far harder to master if you are untutored than some people obviously imagine.
I do appreciate that people have differing size issues which might mean a problem for starting to make clothes from scratch, but i have taught various sizes of schoolgirls over 25 yrs. to sew, and as no girl is a standard size anyway – you will always find something wrong with RTW – but its relatively cheap to buy now – and easily out of fashion soon so bite the bullet and buy it for what it is and spend your leisure time perfecting skills that will enable you to produce stuff that is different to anyone else’s clothes.
Bite the bullet – “just say no!”


  1. jatman | | #1

    I think I agree with you but I also have to say that these days the only things that I want to alter are things that I sewed for myself and STILL don't fit to begin with, so unfortunately, I still need to know how to do the alterations.  (Oh yeah - I still can't quite get it right...maybe someday).


    1. JanF | | #2

      Its funny how us so called "experts" still have disasters!
      I'm still finding that I have no confidence to really wear what I make with attitude! I still feel a little "home-made!"

      1. jatman | | #3

        Oh thank GOD.  I was thinking it was just me.  That actually REALLY makes me feel better!  Thank you!



      2. HeartFire2 | | #4

        I'm convinced that the "home made" look is a result of all the "quick and easy" patterns out there along with the quick & easy instructions.Quality clothing is first made with quality fabric and if all you have is Joanns for a fabric store, then you can't get quality fabric. You need to throw away all the 'quick & easy techniques - they scream "homemade" It takes a lot of time and effort to make something worth wearing, and yes, fit is very important, and there are 2 issues to fit here - first most of the commercial patterns on the market are baggy boxy shapes with no fit. (the quick & easy again - sew it up in one hour -!) the second part of fit is getting the pattern to fit you, that takes some doing. you have to understand where you differ from the pattern and make the alterations to the paper. Otherwise it is virtually impossible to fit yourself. You have to also know how to move darts so the bust dart points to your bust.After that its using the correct sewing techniques for the fabric and pressing.Its also very important to understand the characteristics of the fabric you are using, and how to manage it.After that - you will be proud to tell people "I made this"I am working on a swing jacket right now - the patter calls for 'quick & easy steps - just serge the edges and sew it up in one hr, well, first off, I'm using double cloth wool for it at $100.00/yd. Each seam (about 30 inches at the most) is taking me about 2 - 3 hrs to complete! now this is because its double cloth wool that it takes so long. but they are painstakingly completed to perfection. I made the jacket up twice in muslin before I cut the wool, I decided I didn't like the dolman sleeves and I didn't like the way the collar draped, so I changed them.I don't make much of everyday type clothing - it doesn't seem worth the effort to put so much work into that but special clothing I love to do.

        1. JanF | | #5

          I couldn't agree more - but does this mean you only wear special stuff? i dont know how you do that? i don't wear special commissioned stuff to do the housework etc. its too expensive!
          I say - horses for courses - take time effort and money for good quality stuff that is different to everyone elses but if i want a pair of denims - its less time consuming and saves money to buy from Next or even Tesco (sorry - uk supermarket chain!)than to make my own!! I want a life too!(Please bear in mind I'm one person who bitterly resents paying over inflated prices to wear someone's name blazoned across my bum - or any other part of me!)
          I just want to save time for all those of us stitchers who feel "I should alter this or that to fit properly after Ive bought it from a shop" and tell us to be brave and not feel guilty if we don't alter the ready made stuff and just move on from it. a lot of people seem to be doing just this if you look at Ebay!
          This of course is not the same as altering patterns before you make your own clothes- i do think this is worth it! and as for drafting your own "slopers" i think you call them ( we say "blocks")- if you can acquire the knowledge - I think its a worthwhile exercise!
          By the way - if you make all your own stuff you must be very multi talented and I take my hat off to you - you must have a lot more time and possibly money than I have.I can only do this for special items these days!

          1. user-51823 | | #6

            about picking out seams- i hate seam rippers, too slow. i use a drafting exacto knife. holding the fabric taut, all i have to do is touch the blade to the stetched threads and they just open up like a zipper, an inch per second.

            Edited 12/4/2006 9:43 am ET by msm-s

          2. JanF | | #7

            God - i couldn't do this in school in a month of Sundays!!!
            Health and safety would have a field day to say nothing of the mess the students would make of their work - its easy enough already to bodge things with an unpicker!never mind a blade!!!
            i do find the quickest method at home is unpicker cutting every few stiches on 1 side and then just pulling the thread out on the other doesn't do a bad job - but i'm aiming never to do any of this unpicking only if its work in progress - sod it for a game of soldiers sitting unpicking bought clothes to adjust - this is what i'm refusing to do from now on!!

          3. Ralphetta | | #9

            Have you tried the rippers that have a curved, knife-like blade?  It's sort of a cross between ripper and exacto knife and it really cuts instead of rips.  You can control it and it works better than the older kind.

          4. JanF | | #14

            I haven't seen one of these - sounds as if it would be a lot more control-able (oops not sure of the spelling of that!)and might be good for myself, however I'm not sure lads with no patience and little desire to do the work in front of them to start with, would be the best ones to give a tool like this to!!!bear in mind i have to teach a class - sometimes with 25 in - often more lads than girls - aged 13/14 and only 12 machines - and eyes in my backside!
            I'm going to try to source something like this for home- does it have a trade name?
            Thanks for your reply

          5. Ralphetta | | #16


            woops!  I was only thinking of the ripper and forgot about the kids.  You're absolutely right about NOT letting them use them.  (I know from experience how nutty they can get with even harmless items.) I can't read a name on this one, but I think there is more than one brand.  They cost more than the regular ones, but I think they are worth it.

          6. MaryinColorado | | #17

            They are called serger seam rippers here.  They work well.

          7. JanF | | #19

            Does it possibly have a trade name i could research for? Thanks Jan

          8. JanF | | #18

            Does it have a trade name i could check on the web? Much obliged! Jan

          9. Ralphetta | | #20

            I can't find a trade name on it, but, as the other writer mentioned, it was marketed as a serger ripper.  I don't think that was the trade name though.

          10. MarshaK | | #27

            I just glanced through  Clotilde's catalog, she has several seam rippers that may be what you are in search of. They all look like a scalpel surgeons use, one is made by Havel's and is called Ultra-Pro Seam Ripper, next one is called Bet-A-Seam Ripper and the third is 3 3/8" Surgical Sleel Seam Ripper.


          11. JanF | | #34

            Thanks for the info - ill try to find them -Thanks jan

          12. NovaSkills | | #10

            Here's my "rule of thumb" for such issues: I'll alter RTW if the "unsewing" and resewing is about 15 minutes of time, and if the garment is something that I expect to keep around a while, long enough to wear it out, assuming that I fix the fit. That means, for example, I'll adjust the elastic in waistlines IF it's not sewn into the waistband with 3 rows of stitching; I'll elongate back darts or recurve front dart that may not even have to be unpicked; I'll recontour crotch seams to more of an "L" shape; I'll add vertical back darts to shape a top; and I'll let down cuffs into a longer, non-cuffed pants inseam.

            I figure that my time is only worth it on alterations if the garment will live with me awhile. Trendy stuff is something I buy at TJMaxx or other discount retailer, or don't even bother with, and certainly don't alter. Most of that never fits me anyway, given my long torso and other issues.

            Oddly, I'd alter jeans/denims if the alterations were quick, because I'd never go to the trouble to make them, and none of them fit me off the rack. It's the one piece of clothing I rarely get to have in my closet, as a result--unlike most other folks.

            It is true that altering a high-quality tailored garment that you get at an amazing discount can allow you to wear something you'd otherwise not be able to afford, and may not have the skills to create. If you know what you're doing, this can be worth it, and I've bought a $500 item marked down to $80 and done the work, resulting in a piece of what I call, investment clothing. Oddly, this was a double-cloth jacket...and I knew I'd never even find the fabric in ratty South Florida stores, so making it myself was ootq (out of the question), anyway. Where does JatMan shop, bless her! This lovely jacket will live with me for the next 20 years, at least, and I don't regret the time spent on a minor adjustment.

            I won't, ever, alter a bathing suit. Not worth it, when around here there are tons and they all go on sale. Same for tee tops, tanks, etc., the staples of S FL wardrobe.

          13. jatman | | #11

            It's not that I'm so very hard to fit, just that I can't seem to get it right on the things that I make for myself.  I made a blouse several months ago and I really wanted to make sure that I got a good fit, so I measured several times to make sure I used the right pattern size, then I even took a blouse from my closet that fits well and measured it against the pattern before I cut it out.  When I sewed it up, it still didn't fit right.  I'll wear it, but it doesn't fit the way I want it to.  Sort of makes me think if I can't get the fit I want with the things I'm making for myself, then I might as well buy my clothes.  But that gets me back to the reason I wanted to make it myself to begin with - so that I'd have something unique that no one else has.  I have begun to have a lot of good luck with knits as opposed to wovens.  They are just more forgiving in the too tight/too loose areas so my fitting errors are just not as obvious.  However, I can't spend the rest of my life in t-shirt material, no matter how much I'd like to.

            I have to say as far as buying something I knew I had to alter before I could wear it - I'll only do that with length - either pants, skirts or sleeve lengths.  Anything else, forget it.  Too much work or too expensive to have it done for me.




            Edited 12/5/2006 3:06 am ET by jatman

          14. User avater
            Becky-book | | #12

            I know what you mean about fitting (myself); it gives me 'fits' !  There must be sewing imps that wait till we are asleep then sneak out and mess with our 'stuff'.  Sometimes I get 'it' to work and sometimes something went wrong.  It is very disappointing to work so hard, and measure so many times and still get it wrong, or just not quite right.

            After the holidays I have promised myself I will perfect a sloper (block) for myself even if it takes the rest of the year!!


          15. jatman | | #13

            Imps in the sewing room....that is the only explanation that I've ever heard that could possibly explain it!

            You have to let us know how the sloper works for you - if it's worthwhile or not.  I've thought about making one but haven't yet.  Maybe that should be my next project!


          16. JanF | | #15

            I couldn't agree more - 15 mins is about ok - after that its definitely getting a chore!
            luckily I dont have to alter much to fit these days as getting to be a more realistic size per age! but I have been a lot overweight in the past and remember how difficult it was to find clothes to fit that were affordable. We have a store called Evans over here which isn't bad if you are over size 16 (im not sure what that is in Us - prob a size 12?)with quite a lot of fashionable stuff. However still the age old problem - lots of other people wearing the same stuff!
            I do agree spend the time for something special/different to make from scratch!

        2. thimbles1260 | | #8

          My hat's off to you! I wouldn't dare cut fabric that was that expensive. I do think, however, that sewing does give those who become accomplished an opportunity to wear clothing of a calibar that they would not otherwise be able to have.

        3. Wallaby | | #29

          I agree with your comments and details. My Grandmother always said you put the same amount of time in to make a garment whatever the material, so get the best material for the purpose.

          So much depends on the preparation,.... right pattern, appropriate fabric, perhaps a muslin first to be sure the design is flattering and what you expected, fabric on the correct grain, fresh needle, correct thread and machine tension, etc., etc. and paying attention to detail during proceedings.

          One of the most difficult parts is to fit oneself. Suggestion, set up a digital camera to take a series of photos during the construction process. Photos of the rear and side view can be set on timer. The enlarged image when shown on a computer screen helps you to see where there is a spot that needs adjustment.......too tight, too loose, position of shoulder pads, are the side seams vertical?, etc. This can be an inexpensive way of having a record of the progress of a garment and so pinpoint the alterations needed and the stage at which you may need to pay particular attention in future on the next garment. Inexpensive too.

          And as for "home-made", no, never.......handmade, custom made.                       People pay extra for such personal attention to detail and service.                          (For a joke, I suggest, anyone who is selfconscious could do the sewing at a different venue, then it is not home-made and you can say it with a chuckle....like catching a fish that is "thrown" to you).

          The double wool fabric sounds really special. Are you making a reversible or lined coat? The seams on such a garment become a feature and I understand the care and attention you are giving it. Could you give details of the pattern and perhaps post some photos, both overview and seam detail would be lovely to see and share. Thanks.


    2. stitchintime | | #21

      Hi Jatman,

      I've seen your pictures of the obi and the napkin rings. Both were very elegant and you show great patience and care in your work.

      Keep working on the fitting issue. I took a pattern drafting course (although I didn't know it at the time) 15 yrs ago and it completely changed the way I see and work with patterns. I was an advanced beginner at the time (I still feel like that whenever I start something new) but the teacher convinced me I could handle it.

      We drafted a basic skirt, boxy jacket, and pants based on our measurements and then she showed us different collars, sleeves, lapels, pockets, and skirt styles so we could design our own clothes (or copy  designs from RTW). We learned how much ease to add for blouses, jackets and coats and how much to subtract for knits,for the fit we preferred. Like an advanced Threads article I read, I could hardly keep up but I made all the little samples for the things we learned and took copious notes. And I understood patterns so much better. 

      Its been suggested on this site before, but take a look at the books on sloper/pattern making from the 1940's on http://www.vintagesewing.info. My course was far simpler than what's on the site but if you can slog through it or get a book/video/course on drafting your own "basic" that fits you, then you can see how much you differ from the pattern you are using. Or you may not want to bother with a bought pattern at all. Many times I buy a nice length of fabric and just make it up in a simple style that actually fits. The nice thing about the vintage sewing books is that they also show how to manipulate a basic to get all kinds of styles.

      I know I'm rambling but the other thing I've tried, is to make up a pattern in my suggested size. If it feels too big, I make it a size smaller and compare. If it feels too small I make it a size larger and compare. Like I do when I try on RTW. That way I have a better idea of where to make the least adjustments. 


      1. jatman | | #22

        Thank you for the compliment!

        Did the pattern drafting course include making a sloper?  Have you found that having a sloper has really helped enough to be worth while?  I have looked at that site before but I think I may print out the sloper chapter today and take another, more indepth look at it.  I've found that I'm inspired more by a beautiful fabric than a pattern most of the time so I should really look into trying to make some nice, simple dresses, jackets, etc.  Actually, I probably need to take a course but that will need to wait until I have better access to that sort of thing.

        Thank you for your encouraging words!


        1. stitchintime | | #24

          A sloper fits exacty with no ease. We made a modified sloper with no darts which is why the jacket came out boxy. The teacher had us add ease to our measurements so the pattern we ended up with fit comfortably. In retrospect that was more helpful than just a sloper because I will not make anything with less ease than that basic pattern. I know it won't fit comfortably.

          Is making a sloper worthwhile? I think so. I gives you an understanding that just working with patterns doesn't.

        2. HeartFire2 | | #25

          The key to having a personal sloper is in knowing how to use it to alter commercial pattern. and then it comes in VERY handy. It will improve the fit of your garments 100%. The bear basics is to adjust the waist length, bust point and darts and the shoulder slope. Also often the back width - people just seem to have a narrower back then the pattern companies draft.

          1. jatman | | #26

            Sounds like it's not too big of a time investment if it makes the things I make for myself easier (or more likely!) to fit. 

            That may have to be my next project (or ONE of my next projects!).


          2. stitchintime | | #28

            I'm checking out some other sites for slopers and pattern drafts that are simpler than the ones on the vintage site. I'll get back to you.

          3. jatman | | #30

            Thank you!  I appreciate that!


          4. User avater
            Becky-book | | #31

            A Sloper is my 'after holiday' project too!  Please post info to all of us.  I have printed out the 'vintage' directions and had my mom help with measurements, but got no further when Christmas necessities took first place in the schedule!


          5. stitchintime | | #33

            I'll be happy to post whatever I find!

      2. user-51823 | | #23

        wonderful website!
        i envy you that class!

    3. user-238478 | | #37

      Jan F  and All


      I just bought, ok WON on e-bay an Armani Emporium jacket.. from the style it looks a little 80's... big shoulder pad and very long length.

      I HATE altering, but for a modest investment ($16 for the jacket, delivered -- in my size, but style needs the work)

      I plan to shorten it above the hip area bound pockets and remove the should pads and replace with something much smaller and then refit the shoulder to fit the new smaller pads...

      If it is an utter failure, I am not out much and will have gotten to see the inside of what I hope is an exquisitely constructed jacket.  Threads took apart an Armani or something similar a few years ago and I was fascinated by the notion...  forgot about it until I ran across one on ebay and decided to search for a bargain in my size and see what I could do with it.

      Maybe by the time I get working on it I will have figured out how to post photos here.


      I agree with most here  .. altering is a drag. I recently bought taller boots to avoid having to shorten a pair of dress pants.

      And  for a better fitting in RTW jeans for the "more mature figure"  try Gloria Vanderbilts  stretch jeans.  I find them generous where I need a little generosity,  hope this tip helps who ever was posting about jeans and fit.

      Nancy R.

      PS  I used to read and post on Sewing World in spurts here and there...  where did it go?  gone for ever?  I love this forum for sewers too... but I think there is room in cyberspace for both.



      1. jatman | | #38

        Hi Nancy R.,

        I would love to see before, during and after pictures.  What a bargain!

        I'm still chuckling over the purchase of taller boots to avoid altering the length of your pants.  Been there, done that...plus I never need too much of an excuse to buy shoes or boots....

        I have to say that I have serious thoughts about cutting into anything.  I have to really think about it before I cut the fabric for a pattern and will leave the paper pattern pinned to the fabric for a day or two before actually cutting.  I'm not sure I could cut into a jacket.  I can alter pant lengths, alter darts and easy stuff but things where I have to actually take something apart, cut into it and put it back together I just don't have the stomach for.  Just too afraid of messing it up, I think.  No guts, no glory!?

        Let us know how your project progresses!




      2. JanF | | #40

        Oh goodie - another excuse for another pair of shoes - I hadn't thought of this one!!
        Mind you - there does come a point when I can't walk - and then i will have to shorten the damn trousers!!

        1. Ralphetta | | #41

          I am so old that I remember when it was "dumb" to wear high heels with pants.  If you wore pants, you wore flats. Nowadays I get really annoyed at having to have different shoes for short pants and long pants. I get a headache every time I realize I can't wear "that" because I want to wear low heeled  shoes, or vice-versa.  I think it was a conspiracy by the shoe manufacturers.

          1. solosmocker | | #42

            I just wanted to say I have the utmost admiration and respect for anyone who does alterations for a living. You have earned every penny you have made and deserve more in my opinion.

        2. User avater
          Becky-book | | #43

          by the time you can't walk you will be in a wheel chair and want your trousers long so they will hang right as you sit. HA!


  2. catzu | | #32

    Perhaps I scrolled too fast. What location are  you? East, Middle, or West?


    1. JanF | | #35

      neither - I live in North Wales ... the UK!!
      Thats why things are so hard for me to get - you'd think we lived in the Gobi Desert sometimes!
      Websites welcome if you can advise - thanks Jan

  3. mainestitcher | | #36

    You make a good point in your original post. I'm currently employed to do alterations, and in many cases, it is less expensive to buy new. Case in point: relining a jacket. If it's a suit jacket, and the rest of the suit is in good shape, it may make sense. Generally though, the trou are going to wear out first, so when it come to a reline, there isn't any incentive to do that.As for a pea coat or something like that, well, a reline is $75-100, you can find a new jacket for that price.What is confounding us right now is zipper replacements for jackets and coats. It's costing the boss a lot to order zippers, especially unusual zippers, and the shipping on them. Then he has to pay for our labor to replace them. I suspect the price will go up soon.However, I did purchase a leather coat for a very low cost at a resale shop. I spent a couple hours altering it to fit and found it well worth the time.

    1. JanF | | #39

      Thanks for your reply - I am in admiration of anyone who can alter a leather jacket/coat - whenever Ive stitched on leather - even with leather needles - it has not been 100% successful!! Do you have an industrial machine? My Bernina does not handle leather that well at all - + I really rate Bernina machines!
      Well done!

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