Jul 032014

Throwback Thursday: in which we discussed alterations a few years ago. The good news: I have learned a bit, enough to do some simple alterations myself. The bad: I still have stuff hanging around waiting for me to do something with it.

True confession:  my studio is full of random garments I can’t bear to part with.  While the situation is not as bad as it has been in times past, nevertheless, I am sitting on a number of items which I love in every way but ____ .

One of those items has been my charcoal gray wool trouser suit, previously featured in a fashion lab.  I think I paid twenty bucks for it at the thrift store and have worn the trousers quite a bit, but the jacket never felt quite right.  The shoulders fit fabulously, but the back was baggy.  Viewing it somewhat as an experiment – if it worked, perhaps next round I’d take in the vintage tweed skirt suit or the red formal – I took the plunge and took it to an alterations shop.

Long story short:  it cost me $55!  And yesterday I bent over and split the lining in the trousers!  😳

Conclusion:  I need to learn to do my own alterations.  Alternatively, since I have an easy enough time fitting off the rack clothes, I could just biff the stuff that’s not perfect and shop harder, perhaps making my own dresses from scratch.

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A question or two for you:

  1. What part do alterations play in your wardrobe?
  2. How do you budget for them?

  15 Responses to “Budget Busters: Alterations”

  1. I just had a similar experience.

    I am a lapsed seamstress–fully capable of doing an excellent job of hemming by hand or machine, but lazy/swamped, with my out-of-adjustment sewing machine currently in storage. I decided to take a long A-line denim skirt in to be hemmed below the knee, reasoning that my machine would never handle the bulk and that a hand hem would “look funny.”

    On impulse, I threw in a cute but excessively long summer dress of my daughter’s, which I had picked up secondhand for $2.

    The skirt looks good–not great, but entirely wearable–but the dress was a pretty sloppy job. The total price for both items? $43.

    I have resolved to do my own hems from now on!

  2. Wow, that was a bracing tailoring bill. The shoulders take some work but if they and the armscyes were correct and all the tailor did was open the lining, take in several seams (and the same on the lining) and sew the lining back up – whew.

    If I had to pay for tailoring, I’d be wearing togas. I’m ecstatic when I find something that doesn’t need alteration. All pants and most sleeve lengths and many hems. I like some skirts longer so I leave the original hem. I often change buttons and I recently added some thin black soutache trim to a black and white houndstooth jacket. I even, occasionally, lower the crotch seam on pants because I have a long rise. I move in the shoulders on jackets, change shoulder pads. Having said all that, I don’t care as much about perfect fit as I am told I am supposed to because what I like most about clothing is the idea it conveys. 🙂

    My oddest alteration was a khaki brown almost felted long overcoat that had a wonderful persimmon lining. I reversed the coat so that it had the khaki brown collar and cuffs and a band at the hem but was otherwise persimmon. I don’t wear it very often because every time I do people stop me in the street or call out to me in a shop about what a great coat it is.

  3. I’m on a roll with jackets that don’t need tailoring and hope to keep it that way, as I’ve dropped a lot more than $55 on that kind of project.

    Since moving to Phoenix in 2006, I’ve never gotten around to finding a tailor, so I guess I’m doing okay on avoidance. It helps that the culture here is very informal.

  4. That is a bad alterations experience Rebecca – a good alterations person is worth their weight in gold. If you’ve already spent money on an item and it’s good quality, it’s worth altering if it needs it.

    Otherwise, if you’re not prepared to factor the cost of alterations into your budget, don’t buy anything that needs altering.

  5. While $55 might seem outrageous for an alteration, you have to know that depending on the alteration of that jacket, it probably took her 2.5 hours to tear it apart and put it back together. With that, she got less than $20 per/hr. $55 is more than reasonable for the type of knowledge and training needed to do the job. Some would argue it’s too little.

    While a suit is different (and worth doing alterations on) because it has higher costs for materials and is labor intensive, with the way I shop for sewing materials, it’s cheaper to make pants and dresses new vs. buying and doing alterations. Depending on the article of clothing, sometimes by the time you rip and tear then fit and restitch, you can make fresh. All in all, I rarely alter. Because I hate the alteration hassle of ripping out (I’ve been known to slip with the seam ripper and completely ruin a piece – which defeats the purpose!), I only buy ready made that fits already or I make my own.

    If you’re going to start sewing from scratch, invest in the time it takes to take proper measurements and then make a well fitter sloper. After you have that, you’ll be able to easily alter your patterns to fit. Yes it takes practice, but the end results are more than worth it.

  6. BTW: This is what I was talking about when I mentioned “well fitted sloper,” sometimes called a fitting shell. They make them for pants as well.

  7. Well, I was prepared to spend whatever, because it was an experiment, but for me I think it makes more sense to go ready-made. Depending on a person’s budget and fit issues, it might make sense for another to spend the $$ for the alterations.

    Regarding making stuff from scratch, my problem is that I don’t like the fabrics available in the stores, or maybe I just haven’t developed the perseverance for that kind of shopping. It’s such a chore to find natural fibres! And the prices are high. I’m thinking for dresses, though, it might be worth the effort.

  8. I am spoiled because both my mother and my aunt (who is also my next door neighbor) are wonderful seamstresses. So I don’t have to take into account additional alteration costs when purchasing clothing.

    However, I have often thought that I should start making an attempt to learn to do it myself, as I might not always be so blessed as to live this close to someone who can do it for me. I would have a heart attack to pay that much for someone to sew something for me. However, it would be worth it if you absolutely loved a piece, and it was a quality piece of work.

  9. Love the comments and stories! I do ALL my own alterations now, I did pay for a few jackets years ago but they are out of date now (not fashion-wise, just decided they weren’t my style anymore) . . . but it was in Korea so it was super inexpensive! It’s quite easy to alter things yourself, it just takes time and patience . . . right now it’s all by hand but when we return to the US I have my eye on a nice new sewing machine! I’ve done quite a few things by hand though, and no one can tell, which is how I judge the quality of the handiwork . . . ^^

  10. I purchased a pair of very nice wool trousers last year for $2 at the thrift store. I think they’d been altered for someone with my proportions, because nothing from that designer has ever fit me off the rack. They fit beautifully, but the lining of one leg was ripped. It cost $45 to have the lining replaced, but I still consider it a bargain. The tailor had to take the trousers apart, build a pair of pants to go inside (full lining), and put it back together. Even if I could have managed the work, it would have taken me days. $45 for a couple hours of the tailor’s time was worth it. For $47, I have a pair of classic trousers which I’ll be wearing for years. I’d have spent $100-150 for new, plus alterations to get the length and backside correct.

    Did you have the trousers altered too, or just the jacket? If it was both, You definitely had the bad alteration experience, and the shop should set things right.

  11. It was just the jacket. But I will consider having the trousers re-lined, since you brought it up :), as they fit really well and are just the kind of thing I prefer to wear in the winter.

  12. […] cleaning isn’t really a budget buster – but, like alterations, if you forget to plan for it, it could […]

  13. I have had a few formal dresses tailored, but that’s it. They did/do fit so beautifully afterward, but I just can’t factor in the cost for other items. That said, I have been thinking for years about having two of my second-hand skirts shortened, as they would be more flattering it they hit at/just below the knee. Again, I just can’t see paying… I would rather have a new skirt in the right length. I am about ready to biff those two anyway, as I’ve had them so long I am growing weary of them.

  14. The only alterations I do are ones I do myself. I’ve really been concentrating on my sewing in recent months, and it’s been really paying off. I have new shirts that fit just right made from sheets that were sitting in the cupboard not being used. I took in the waist on my pants until I could afford new pants. Darn loosing weight & being broke when I reached my goal weight!

    It would have to be something pretty major before I either 1) purchased something that needed an alteration I couldn’t do myself or 2) paid someone do do an alteration for me. Just call me cheap. LOL!

  15. It does take a LOT of persistance to find fabrics you love at prices you want to pay. Or should I say, at prices that make it cost effective to sew for yourself.

    I keep a running list of my wants and needs then when I find a good price, I stock up. For example, I found denim on clearance last spring for $1.50 a yard. I think it regularly runs $6-$12 per yard. I bought almost 20 yards in different colors. I’m still using from that stash. I do that for linen and nice cottons as well.

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