7 Things your Tailor Wishes You Knew

You found the perfect dress it is absolutely gorgeous and will turn heads when you step foot in the event venue. Only one slight problem, it doesn't quite fit. But you think to yourself that's no problem I'll get it altered.

In the rush to get the details and trimmings for your event you completely overlook taking that dress in to get altered. As you count down the days to your big event, you suddenly realize you need to find someone to make the darn thing fit right!

Any tailor or seamstress worth her salt can easily make the dress of your dreams fit your figure just perfectly in a few hours, easy peasy, right? You might be surprised to learn that is a lot of skill that goes into clothing alteration, especially for women’s clothing. Use these tips to help you before you purchase a garment that doesn’t quite fit right.

Sewing is part art, part science

Each body is unique as well as each job. Unless you are taking 5 of the exact same blouse to your seamstress please don't expect her to figure out what each garment needs without trying it on and letting her see how it looks on you.

Once you've worked with the same professional for a while you may not need to try on everything for her to alter perfectly. Most likely though your seamstress will need you to try on everything because the item of clothing may fit slightly different. This is especially true of mass produced clothing because during the cutting process the fabric is stacked up high and then a special heavy duty knife cuts through many layers. This process allows shifting and each piece can be slightly different from the one above or below it.

Sewing and alterations use a vast number of technical skills, like specific stitches and sewing techniques as the science behind it. Did you know there are dozens of sewing techniques for different types of fabrics? That there is science behind the fabrics, threads and supports that create the 3-dimensional clothing we wear!

The beauty and art of sewing and alterations is that there is typically more than one way to complete a task. Your sewing professional will take into account the type of fabric, the use of the clothing, time schedule and many other factors to weave together your clothing to get you a perfect fit.

Not all sewing professionals are equal

There are a ton of names for sewing professionals, you have tailor, seamstress, designer, alterations specialist to name a few. They mean different things to different people but here's some general guidance.

A tailor usually works on men's clothing sometimes from scratch and also does alterations. A seamstress is historically a woman that sews women's clothing, often from a commercial or purchased pattern. A seamstress may also do alterations. The term designer is a broad one, it can mean someone who sketches designs for clothing, someone who can create designs and can create patterns and sew the final garment. An alterations specialist is usually tied to a shop such as a wedding dress, clothing store or dry cleaners. They may specialize in certain types of garments like formal wear or may be more general.

It is important to know what your sewing professional specializes in to prevent heart ache or wasted time. Keep in mind not every sewing professional will even be willing to tackle your project. Be sure to ask!

Sewing takes time

Please, please, please do not wait until the last minute! Especially during peak seasons like spring/summer for prom and wedding alterations.

Alterations require a lot of brain work (planning out best way to tackle challenge), hand work (taking out seams, sewing new seams) and finishing work (hemming, reattaching trim and decorations). All of this is very labor intensive and can't really be rushed without sacrificing something!

So please do yourself and your seamstress or tailor a favor and bring that clothing in early (besides save yourself the rush fees!).

Sewing takes skill

Please do not say "oh this should be easy" to your sewing professional, especially if you don't know how to sew. Not only is it insulting it's very untrue. If sewing and alterations were easy work everyone would be doing it.

People who do alterations for a living are masters at not only sewing but also engineering (think about what skills are needed to take something completely apart and put it back together even better than before. Keep in mind that some feats of magic just can’t be done, there is are limits.

Alterations cost money

Another thing your tailor/seamstress wants you to know, is that these skills cost money. It has cost them money and time to develop them as well as to use them to help you now. They have likely invested thousands of dollars over the years in sewing machines, equipment and business overhead.

Depending on how complicated and/or labor intensive (remember something may seem simple but still require a lot of time to complete) will determine how much your alterations will cost. Time=money. There may be additional fees for certain types of fabric, rush jobs and other special cases.

Clothing close to your size work best

You may not know this but altering anything that is way too big or too small is a challenge. If you wear a size 12 normally but you can only find a size 6 blazer in the style you want, it is probably not going to work out well. Sizing up that much is almost impossible because there will not be enough fabric in the seam allowances for such a big change.

It is better to buy something slightly larger than too small so that your seamstress has enough fabric to work with. But remember too much of a good thing is too much! When you get more than 1-2 sizes larger than you normally wear your seamstress will have to spend more time trying to size the pieces down to fit you and remember more time=more money.

Some fabrics are from Hades

For those of you who don't sew, you may automatically be drawn to the shiny, blingy or featherweight fabrics. However, many of these fabrics make your alterations person want to pluck out their eyeballs. 

Fabrics such as satins, brocades or ones that are beaded, sequined or bedazzled require special care. Many specialty fabrics that used for formal wear have properties that make them more labor intensive. Repeated alterations on these types of fabric can cause them to weaken and/or lose their sparkle.

Just keep in mind specialty fabrics may require more time and financial investment because of the time and skill required. Specialty fabrics like those with glitter may require special handling while completing your order but also deep cleaning before working on another garment.

So, these are just 7 things your sewing professional wishes you knew. These tips will help you work in a better partnership with your sewing professional. Use these tips to make better buying decisions and get better results when you need alterations. Oh and when you do meet with alterations person bring chocolate!


I received valuable input from Shamra Shaw, a sewing professional and owner of “Stitching for You” located in Lake Stevens, Washington. Her specialty is Wedding Attire and Formal Gowns.


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