Learning to tailor your own clothes is like having a money tree.
In fact I can't even begin to tell you how much I've saved over the years by doing my own sewing and alterations.
At first it started out as a hobby. I just loved to sew so I would buy clothes that should never see the light of day and, with the aid of a sewing machine and a glue gun, turn them into something I loved. Then one day I was trolling the mall and I fell in love with an amazing little black dress with lace sleeves and a sweetheart neckline (yes, I still remember the dress) but the only size left was a large. Cue the sad trombone.
Against my better judgement, I decided to take it home and see what I could I make of it.
Two hours and endless do-overs later, I had successfully completed my first real alterations. And I was hooked.
Since then I have moved on tailoring mainly thrifted and vintage finds. As any thrift-lover knows, sizing is tricky when it comes to secondhand clothing and a good tailor is always nice to have on hand. But alterations add up quickly and sometimes it's hard to justify spending $15 to tailor a $5 find. That's when it pays to know how to sew it yourself.
I nearly dropped dead when I came across this beautiful J Crew skirt at our local Unique Thrift Store for a whopping 5-bucks. It's made of a warm, chunky wool that's fully-lined, has pockets, and would look great with tights and boots (#winning). The only downside is that it was a size 8, but given the weight of the fabric and construction of the side seams, I knew it would be an easy fix.
Here's what to look for when tailoring a piece of clothing:
- Back zipper. When taking in too-large clothing, it's easier if the zipper is on the back, not on the side. Having to remove the zipper and re-insert it will make you want to rip your hair out.
- Indented pockets. Pockets that butt right up against the side seam will get smaller and less useful as you remove inches from the seams. If your clothing has pockets, make sure they don't touch the seams you need to bring in.
- Removable lining. Some skirts and dresses have the lining sewn in such a way that it's hard to reach the side seams. Make sure your article of clothing has a lining that's easy to move out of the way so you can get to the seams.
- Sturdy fabric. Light weight fabrics have a tendency to show stitches more easily than heavier fabrics. If you're not well versed in which type of thread and needles to use with which type of fabric, stick to a heavier fabric that won't show your alterations as much.
- Size. You can only bring in clothing but so much. Only buy clothes that are 3 or 4 dress sizes larger than you normally wear. Any more than that and you might still have fit issues after bringing in the side seams.
A skirt you already own
Now the fun part...
- Turn your skirt inside out and pull the lining out of the way. With a seam ripper, rip the thread out all along the bottom hem of the skirt. Turn hem so it lies flat.
- With the skirt still inside out, take a skirt you already own, and with it right-side out, place it on top of the first skirt. Line up the edges and make sure they're both centered.
- Trace around the top skirt with a fabric pencil.
- In order to get the side seams to lie flat, use your seam ripper to remove about an inch of stitching where the waistband and lining meet the side seam. (This can always be done before Step 3 but I did it after and didn't have any problems.)
- Pin the side seams and sew along the line you made in Step 3.
- Trim the seam allowance. Iron flat.
- Fold the bottom hem up, pin, and sew.
- (Not pictured) If you had to rip seams where the waistband meets the side seam to get your skirt to lie flat (Step 4), turn the skirt right-side out, align the edges, and sew the holes at the waistband closed by hand. I usually just use a basic hand stitch and make sure the thread is an exact match so you can't see it from far away.
And here's what it looks like:
As you can see in the picture above, the tailored skirt hits right at the knee and is more form fitting at the hips.
Ahhhh. Much better.