How to Avoid Ruining a Garment

Here’s  another good question from a reader…

Judy wrote:  My question regards mistakes.  I’ve never destroyed anyone’s item (thank goodness!) but I’ve always been afraid of messing something up, especially an expensive item, like a prom or wedding dress.  Have any of you ever made an error like this?  If so, what did you do?

Here’s my answer:

Yes, I’ve made two errors in the last 13 years. First, I ruined a man’s shirt once when I accidentally serged part of the shirt in a seam and it got cut off by the serger blade. There was no way to fix it, so I gave him the money to buy him a new one, along with a huge apology, of course. I simply asked him how much he had spent on his shirt and gave him the money. He was thrilled that I would pay for a new one. By giving him the cash, I didn’t have to go shopping and find him a new one. Win-win. (The second error is explained below).

There are two things I do before I begin working on a garment.

First, I pray before I start each alteration asking that God would help me pay attention and do my best work and keep me from making any irretrievable mistakes. By His grace, that hasn’t happened since.  Now, I realize that that could have happened with a wedding gown or something else that was expensive, but I determined in my mind that if that were to ever happen, I would make it right. In other words, I would pay for a new garment or pay to have it fixed if it was possible.

Second, I always examine each garment well before the customer leaves my presence. That way, I can point out any flaw, defect, stain or problem the article of clothing has and that covers my back so that the customer knows it was not something I had done, while it was in my care.

Once, when I had finished a wedding gown and had my customer try it on, I noticed a pencil mark on the front of the gown. Knowing that I had checked the gown over very well before she left it in my care, I knew it had happened on my watch. So, I pointed it out to her and told her I would get the dress cleaned for her at the cleaner of her choice.

The pencil mark came out of the gown and it cost me $50, but it was a good lesson for me and I’m just so thankful it didn’t cost more than that to fix it.

I think the bottom line is to have confidence when you take a garment in. Have faith in your ability. Take your time (haste makes waste) and be careful. Mistakes happen when you’re tired, distracted, and/or in a hurry. You’re human. You will make mistakes, but the more alterations you do, the more confident you will feel sewing on different fabrics and garments. If you can, go to the fabric store and get a swatch of a fabric that is close to the one you’ll be working on and practice on that first. The more you do, the better you’ll get.

Now, let’s hear from you.

What do you do to minimize costly situations?







27 Responses

  1. I do the same. I pray before I begin, I think it through. However, last summer the day before we were leaving for vacation, I was hemming a pair of shorts. I accidentally cut them too short. This gentleman likes them to be the exact length. So I drove to three different stores and finally got the very last pair in the style, color & size he had given me. I did the hem and it came out great that time.

    But that is something I worry about — making a mistake on something that can’t be easily replaced. I give you a lot of credit for doing bridal wear!

    • Oh Kristin, I am so glad you finally found the right shorts! Yes, I worry about not finding the right replacement. In the situation where I ruined the man’s shirt, he said they didn’t have any more in his size, but he was fine with getting a different shirt. Whew!

      Thanks for writing in!

  2. The power of prayer! 🙂

  3. I have never ruined someone else’s garment before luckily! I do a few alterations for friends and family so I do not feel as much pressure as I would if I was altering a strangers garment. I have however ruined my own.. oops!

  4. I am getting ready to alter a bridesmaid dress and then wedding dress. These postings have helped me and I do pray before doing a job like this – it’s great to read there are others out there that share the same interest and faith. I, too, have ruined a pair of ladies slacks in just simple hemming! My ruler turned over and I cut way to short! She received money to buy another pair. All good comments and suggestions.

  5. I also pray before doing alterations, especially on expensive clothing or a particularly difficult job. And I say a prayer of thanks when it turns out alright. I also only take out one half of the alteration (i.e., sleeve, bodice,, etc.) so I can refer back to make sure I’m putting it back together the right way.

    • Wonderful comments, Eileen! How great to thank The Lord when you’re finished as well. He’s the reason we have success in our work. May yours be doubly blessed and fruitful. 🙂

  6. Hi! I stumbled upon your blog while researching what to charge someone to replace a zipper (ha! I had already done the job before looking up this info). We have decided to trade a block of my favorite cheese for the job. Nevertheless, I have been reading your entries. My business mainly deals with memory bears made from loved ones clothing. From the first bear out of my shop, prayer was the first and main ingredient in that project and every subsequent one. I pray not only for God to guide me in my sewing, but also for the people who are left behind or if it’s a garment, for the people wearing the garment that God will bless them, show them favor, bring peace to their lives and so on. It is a blessing and honor to create things for them to remember others by and to fix their broken zipper on their favorite jeans. 🙂 Thank you for the reminder.

    • I am so touched by your business. Wow. What a great ministry you have! Thanks for sharing about it. Do you sell online or locally where you live? I was also touched by the fact that you also pray for your customers. Awesome. May God continue to richly bless you as you pour into the lives of those who are hurting and need some encouragement.

  7. Linda, I came across your blog, while researching what to charge for alterations of different kinds. Even though I’ve been sewing since I was a teen, there is always more to learn or an easier way to do something. I’ve gotten alot of good info from your blog and some of the posters. I’m going to start a small alterations business and am putting together my pricing. My 33yr. old daughter also sews my machine is always humming. Thanks for all your pointers.

  8. I was altering shoulder seams in a see thru overlay on a prom dress and cut off too much. It is almost like netting material. How can I add to shoulders to correct mistake

  9. After working in bridal retail for the past 21/2 years, I recently began praying about starting my own alterations business. So glad the Lord led me to your site! Lots of insight and information that would be helpful should I decide to take the plunge!

  10. I have been doing alterations for about 12 years now, first in my home and for the last 3 1/2 years in a rented shop space. I nearly quit a couple of times early on when I ruined or obviously snagged or stained a garment. The stress of it nearly killed me! Then I realized that if I was going to do this, stuff was going to happen, and I just had to learn to deal with it. My plan to go forward was to assess the options. Could it still be worn with some repair? Was it a total loss? Either way I call my customer IMMEDIATELY!!! and explain what happened, convey how sorry I am that it happened to their garment, and assure them that I will cover the full cost of replacement, and if possible return them a wearable item as well. They are almost always very gracious and often if the repair is good enough they decline payment. If that is the case I give them several free alterations. They almost always return and become wonderful customers. This can be costly, but, I call it advertising. If someone treats you this good you tell everyone!!!

    I was recently trying to estimate how many alterations I have done over the years and came to about 15 to 20 thousand. And I have only had to replace 2 items totally. That put it all in perspective and I no longer stress (except when my daughter cut off those $200 Hugo Boss pants at the fold line! -but, I rescued those)The best thing to do right away :1. Pray! 2. Assess 3. Call 4. walk away for awhile!

  11. Constant prayer is my first line of defense.

    Even so I am always terrified that I will make a mistake. So, if I am unsure of the fit, I don’t cut out excess fabric until I have done a fitting. I hate to have a bride try on her dress when it is torn apart (like the one I am working on now) but , in this case, I am not sewing all those appliques back on until I know the bust fits! Let’s hope it doesn’t scare her too much.

    So far I have never done something that cannot be undone. Thank you to a merciful God!

  12. I was hemming a pair of pants for a customer and I accidently cut the amount needed off the same leg. I hemmed them as crop pants and told what I had done and that if that was not ok with her I would buy her a new pair. She tried them on and was happy I made the boo boo
    Happy customer, but does not happen that way all the time

  13. First time coming across your wonderful blog. What a blessing! I was thinking of things to do in retirement that I would enjoy doing (sewing) and also net a little profit. Like the post above, the Lord was urging me to consider alterations since so many people these days are either too busy, or not able to sew and make alterations for themselves. Although I have sewn for years, I am just starting out in this endeavor and have had three paying clients, which happen to be from the building where I work. Most of all, it is so inspiring that you and many of your blog followers are fellow believers. I will continue to watch your site and pick up all the tips and techniques that I can!

    • Oh, thanks, Deb, for your sweet comments. I’m so glad this blog is such a blessing to you! And yes, I’m so thankful for all these sisters in Christ all over the globe!

  14. The only garment I’ve ruined was the same situation with the man’s shirt. I ruined a lady’s skirt when I let the underneath get caught in the knife of my serger. Bummer. I gave her cash along with an embarrassing apology and she graciously received both.

    You’re so right about prayer. There are so many times when, in frustration, I just push back from the sewing machine and say, “Lord, this is your business. You are going to have to do this because I am out of options.” Of course, He takes over every time. He’s like that.
    I have Psalm 90:17 taped to the top of my sewing machine. I cannot do anything without Him.
    “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,
    And establish the work of our hands for us;
    Yes, establish the work of our hands.”

    Thank you for sharing your expertise; your generosity has saved me lots of frustration.

  15. Blessed by your blog as I continue my sewing journey and create my business.. Thank you .. 🙂

  16. I ruined 3 pairs of Levis that I had been entrusted to hem. Somehow they came out 3 inches too short. I went to the local store and purchased 3 pairs of Levis in the closest size that I could and only had to do minimum hemming. I told him what I had done and he was mad that I replaced the pants. Said I shouldn’t have spent my money on his clothes, so he paid me for the pants that I purchased and for the alterations. I felt SO BAD but he insisted.

    • Wow! That is the kind of client to have! My daughter was house cleaning for some wealthy folks nearby. She discovered some shorts and a little girl’s dress had gotten torn in the wash. So she brought them home for me to mend. She showed the fixed items to the mother who was so thrilled that she offered to pay me! Honesty is the best policy.

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