An Alteration Dilemma, How Do You Know if a Garment Can Be Altered?

I received a good question via email today.

It concerns taking in a garment where the customer has lost a lot of weight.

Here is the question I received from a reader:

“I need to alter scrub jackets for a woman who lost 22 pounds after she purchased them. They are embroidered with the dental clinic she works for, so she can’t return them. These jackets have snaps in the front, they aren’t pullover tops. They are too wide in the shoulders, the sleeves are too long and too big around. My concern is is that she is very large busted. They have set in sleeves. So, my question is, should I remove the sleeves, shorten the shoulder seam, reattach the sleeves, cut off the length needed to shorten the sleeves from the bottom of the sleeve (they have ribbing cuffs) and reattach the cuffs, then take in the side seams, making sure to leave room for her to snap them closed when needed? I tried taking one in by just basting in the side seams and sleeve, but there is still too much fabric at the underarm. Would appreciate any help you can give, thank you.”

My answer:

This is a great alteration question because there are a few things to think about when taking on a job like this. First, in order to do all of the things you are thinking of doing, it could cost the customer two or three times what a new scrub jacket would cost (assuming you are charging enough for your work!) If the customer is ok with that, then doing all of those things is possible, but it is difficult to get a great fit if you basically have to remake the top. The reason is that if you’ve done clothing construction, you know that each size is cut differently in the shoulders, bust, waist, hips, etc. That means that if you’re having to remake the garment, it is alot of work and it may not have the results you are looking for. However, it depends on how many sizes the customer is changing to. I have written a post that explains what I’m talking about a little more in detail. It’s called, How to take in a dress that is 5 sizes too big.

So, let’s say she doesn’t want to pay that much to alter each of these scrub tops or that you aren’t able to alter every part of the garment. You want to consider what you can do to get the most bang for her buck. In this case, I would take as much out of the side seams and sleeves as I could, not tampering with the cuffs, as I don’t think it’s necessary for the time involved. And, we are talking about scrubs. If it were a formal jacket, that might be another story. Here is a post that explains How to take in the side seams and facings. It gives a complete overview on what part of the side seams and facings need adjusting.

You may need to take in much more than the diagram on that post shows. Yes, the jackets may be still too large, but they are going to be a lot better than what she started with. It’s up to you and the customer to decide how much work is worth doing for scrub tops. Maybe fit for her is a greater priority than price and she’d like for you to take them apart and put them back together again, but I don’t think they’ll ever fit perfectly. Again, that is because you are altering every part of the garment and the garment was cut for a certain size. So, perhaps alter the sleeves and side seams of one of them and see how she likes it before you do all of them. That will give you a better handle on what your customer wants.

I hope that helps!


How to Alter a Top With an Elastic Hem

You’ve seen these blouses everywhere:

ImageThey’ve got elastic running around the bottom edge.

Many women complain that they don’t like how they look when they wear them and pass up the idea of buying them.

Altering them is an easy fix.

Just trim off the elastic close to the edge:


I use sharp small scissors to accomplish this task:


Next, turn the hem up and press if necessary.

I hand baste the hem as well so that the knit doesn’t slip around.

If you have a woven fabric, you should press the hem up as well.


In addition, if you are sewing on a woven cloth, be sure and finish the edge with a serger or a zig zag stitch first.

Next, look for a thread to match:


On this top, I will sew a double row of stitching on the hem.

This means I’ll need two spools of thread.

If I don’t have two spools of matching thread, or they are very close in color, I will wind two bobbins from one spool of thread, because….

One bobbin will be used in the bobbin case and the other bobbin will be used as the second spool of thread.


Then, get yourself a double stretch needle. They look like this:


Put the spool of thread on the first spool pin and the newly wound bobbin on the second spool pin. (or use two different spools of thread if you have them).

To thread your machine with two threads, treat them as one thread and thread through until you get to the needle area:


Then, thread one thread through each needle:


Stitch the hem, keeping the right side of the shirt facing up so you can watch to make sure you are stitching straight.

If you flip over the top, you can see that the bottom threads form sort of a zig zag stitch:


As you can see, it doesn’t take long to convert your top and the hem looks great!: