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 a Low Neckline

Have you ever tried to alter a blouse that was lower at the neck than you were comfortable with?

To make this alteration, we are going to do two things: take up the front shoulder seam and take in the collar.

Generally, you don’t need to take up the back of the blouse, but have the customer try it on so you can see how the back fits.

If the back fits well, don’t touch it.

If it doesn’t, you could pull up the back and front at the same time.

This back of this blouse fit great, so it didn’t need to be altered.

The only seam on this collar was at the back:


and I was glad because I didn’t want to mess with the “fluff” on the front.

The center back neck seam was stitched and then gathered to fit:


Let me explain what we’re going to do and then we’ll get after it.

We are going to decrease the circumference of the neck at the middle back seam and when we do that, we’ll need to decrease the circumference of the top as well.

To begin, take a seam ripper and unstitch the stitches that hold the collar and the shoulder seam together:


Take out the stitches from just past one shoulder seam, all around the back of the neck to just past the other shoulder seam like this:


Next, you’ll want to open up the shoulder seam. This was a delicate knit and I had to be careful where I placed my seam ripper so as not to cut the knit, but just cut the stitch:


I opened up the shoulder seam halfway:


Once that was opened up, I was able to shorten the front of the blouse by pinning like this:


Stitch that new shoulder seam by sewing along the original back shoulder seam line and trim off the excess front fabric.

Next, you’ll need to take in the back neck seam on the collar. Can you see the excess collar material?


Since I took one inch off of the front of the blouse on the left and the right for a total of 2″, I need to take up 2 total inches on the collar as well.

I took the seam apart and stitched up two inches of fabric and trimmed the seam. You may not need to take the seam apart. You might just fold the collar at the original seam line and stitch across at the one inch mark (you are taking one inch from the left side and one inch from the right side to equal 2″)

I apologize that the photo is not real clear, but I hope you get the idea:


Now, stitch the collar to the neck edge of the blouse. The collar and the blouse should fit perfectly.


You can see the newly adjusted collar:

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You might want to re-serge or zigzag any uneven edges.

That’s all there is to it!

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If you have a t-shirt type top, you may need to work with ribbing or a facing.

Use the same principle of taking up the shoulders and taking in the circumference of the top to the measurements you need.

This will work for tank tops too.

Unless you have a really long top, you may not be able to adjust more than a couple of inches before it affects the length of the blouse or top.

But this should help those tops that are just a little too low for your comfort level.