Alterations With a Challenge Attached

I’d like to walk you through how to address an alteration that has a challenge to it.

Most alterations are straight forward. You have a correction to make and there is an answer that suits it best.

Along the way to getting that alteration done, many people have come up with solutions that offer efficiency in the process.

But, sometimes, you run into a challenge that doesn’t fit the “textbook” solution to the problem.

This is one such dress.

For this particular alteration, I needed to take in the side seams at the bust area.

Here is the dress.

Black on one side:

Red on the other:

The fact that it is reversible was not the challenge.

(Although, I will show you how I worked on a totally reversible garment as part of this post.)

The challenge was that the construction of the garment was different than I thought it would be.

To begin,  first look at the garment from top to bottom, looking for an easy way to get in.

This dress had some topstitching along the center back seam:

Because the fabric is tightly woven (it feels like a cotton chintz) and the black and red sections were sewn together here, I quickly realized that I would never be able to get these two sections back together again perfectly.

If I didn’t sew on the exact same stitching lines, the original needle holes would show and the garment would look like it had been altered. And the chance of sewing on the exact same lines on both the red and black simultaneously, were slim to none.

So, I found an easier “in”:

I began opening up the side seam on the red side of the dress. I chose the red side because I figure she will most likely wear the black side more often.

Once I opened up a few stitches, I took a look inside:

This was interesting to me.

The left side shows that the manufacturer used the selvage (or finished edge of the fabric). Usually that is trimmed off.

The right side shows a raw edge. You can see the slight ravelling going on.

This is a perfect place to go into the dress because it will be easy to close this area up with hand stitching when I am finished with the alteration.

Next, I reached my hand up the side seam to grab the underarm area and turn it inside out.

But in this case, I was stopped at the waist seam:

Most dresses are sewn so that the outer dress is like one dress and the lining (or in this case, the reversible side) is sewn separately.

In this case, they sewed the bodice together and then joined it to the skirt.

Ok, so all I needed to do was take out that waist seam and then proceed to the underarm area:

You can see how all 4 layers were sewn together in that waist seam.

Once I opened that seam up, I noticed I had a challenge:

The bodice area was not sewn in a conventional way either.

Do you see how the seam allowances are all going toward the right?

That means that the side seams were sewn last on this bodice, instead of first.

That also means that the red front of the dress was sewn to the black front.

Then, the red back was sewn to the black back piece.

Then, the side seams were sewn.

This is not a problem unless you have to alter it.

And it’s still not a huge problem. It’s just that I had to make an adjustment in how I altered it.

Follow me as I show you how I figured out what to do, which is what you sometimes have to do when you see something out of the ordinary.

When I turned the underarm area inside out, this is what I saw:

I was hoping I could just sew vertically, from where my thumb is down to meet the side seam at the wasit.

So, I put a pin in the desired area and turned it right side out to see what it would look like after I sewed it.

As you can see, it isn’t lying flat.

So, I can’t just stitch it down like I thought I could.

I needed to take it apart.

Know why?

It’s because the armscye seam (the seam that follows the underarm) has a curve. It isn’t straight across. The front of the dress is higher than the back.

So, that means I had to take this apart and put it back together using the conventional construction method of sewing the side seams first and then the armscye seam.

So, I took it apart down the side seam:

Once I opened that up, I took out a few stitches going along the armscye seam (take out some stitches going toward the front of the dress and some toward the back of the dress):

Next, my goal was to sew the red front to the red back and the black front to the black back. (Remember, the manufacturer sewed the red front to the black front.) That is what made this process a little more challenging.

First, I pinned the black seams along the original seamlines:

Then I stitched a new seamline based on the measurements that needed to be taken in.

To see how I transfer measurements to make the new seam (or to see how I do this alteration in general), look at this post.

Once that new seam is sewn, I trim off the excess seam allowance. I don’t need all that bulk later on.

Here is the new black seam. You can see the original below the new one if you look closely.

Here is the new red seam (the one on the left):

Next, I matched the side seams together at the top because I wanted to stitch the armscye (top of the underarm) closed.

When I got them matched up properly, I noticed that the red seam didn’t lie flat to the black one.

So, I stitched in an additional 1/8″ so they would match:

Then, I ripped out those extra stitches (to the right) because I wanted the seam to lie flat when I stitched them.

Next, I matched the side seams up again and put pins in:

You can see that the stitching lines that run basically horozontal do not match up.

No problem.

Just stitch a new line gradually tapering it to meet both ends of stitching like this:

Pull out the pins and trim the seam allowance:

Go back to the waist seam:

Pull all those layers together and stitch them closed again:

Pull the dress right side out and hand stitch that side seam shut.

Press the dress at the armscye seam:

There you go!

What I wanted to communicate in this post is that you may come across unusual circumstances once in awhile (or maybe several in a week.)

If the conventional approach doesn’t work, try something else.

As long as you don’t cut any material, you can always go back to where you started and start over. The reason I trimmed the seam in one of the steps above, is that I knew I had to take the dress in, no matter what process I used, so that was a given. But you may want to be a little more careful with your particular alteration until you are sure your method will work.

If you are still confused, shoot me an e-mail and I’ll give it my best shot.

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3 Responses

  1. Way to go! I enjoyed your tour through the construction minefield of this dress. Good job fixing it!

  2. What do you do about your charges on a project like this that isn’t as easy as you originally thought it would be? When you see that it’s going to take more work than anticipated, do you let the customer know and see if it’s ok to charge more?
    I just found your blog yesterday and appreciate the time you’ve taken to write about what you do. I do alterations from my home and it sounds like we have the same philosophy. I’m glad that I have the talent to help people with their clothes. I don’t have to “make a living” at my sewing, but I do enjoy the extra income it give me.

    • Hi Sandy,
      That’s a great question. I usually let them know that I am in a pickle that I didn’t anticipate and that it will cost more. Then, sometimes, I split the difference between them and I.

      I’m so glad you like the site so far. There are over 100 posts now, so I hope you can find what you are looking for.

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