Tailoring and Alterations


Whether you're thrifting and unsure if you should purchase an item, or decluttering Marie Kondo-style and uncertain about what to keep, knowing what's possible in the realm of tailoring is often helpful. You can only alter a garment so much before it ruins the original fit- approximately one size. Here is a general list of what tailors, cobblers, and dressmakers can or cannot do. Bear in mind that a talented tailor is capable of all the tasks in the "can't" list and more, including restyling knitwear, furs, and recutting garments. However, certain alterations are risky and can ruin the drape of a garment. The best tailors will tell you when a modification isn't worthwhile. Ask for samples of their work first, and be specific about what you want. Alterations get more expensive if the garment is embellished, lined, or consists of several layers of fabric. With shoes, dried out materials and overly worn soles are almost impossible to restore affordably. When considering whether to DIY or go to a tailor, consider your sewing skills and the time and resources you can devote to alterations. I can mend and hem most things, but generally don't undertake changing the shape of any garment I really like.

what a tailor can do 

Shorten sleeves
Slim sleeve width
Hems shortened
Taper pants
Take in waists
Take in body of dresses and seat of pants
Replace cuffs and collar
Replace zippers
Adjust bodice length
Add snaps for modesty (gaping blouses, deep necklines) 
Stitch or remove pockets
Line garments / replace lining
Reweave holes
Remove shoulder pads
Shorten and reset straps
Take in / Let out darts
Move belt loops
Tighten / reshape seams
Narrow or widen necklines
Add slits

what a tailor can't do

Lengthen sleeves
Change rise
Shoulder adjustments
Recut neckline (for instance, cutting down a too-high neckline or redoing a too-low neckline)
Let out hems and waistbands
Let out seams of certain fabrics (linen, cotton, etc.)
Alter the chest
Remove / add pleats
Adjust armholes
Alter lapels
Add or remove jacket vents
Recut or move darts
Restyle garments (changing design)
Add gussets (for instance, to widen thighs)




cobblers can...

Stretch widthwise (not lengthwise)
Stretch selectively (such as toe box)
Take in and stretch boot calves
Resole leather shoes (not sneakers EDIT: See comment below about sneakers!)
Replace heel tips
Adjust heel height (depends on shoe)
Change heels (e.g. chunky to stiletto or vice versa)
Dye light shoes
Repair tiny gashes in heels (easier for current season shoes, so they can match leather)
Shorten shaft


Note: Cobblers cannot shrink shoes, but insoles may be added to fill space.

















For a free downloadable version of this post, with a general price guide for tailoring and alterations, click here.

P.S. I wrote an e-book on zero-waste, that I want to turn into a limited-edition, completely biodegradable zine using paper I made and stitched together myself. It still needs to be illustrated, and I'm not sure when I'll be ready to share it with anyone, but is anybody perchance interested in reading a VERY rough first draft of the text only? It's a method designed for busy people that I've tested on a small control group, so I want to make sure it makes sense or that I'm not missing anything. It's only eight pages long. Email me or comment if you'd be interested! EDIT: Thank you SO much! I had more replies than I even hoped for and have all the readers that I need right now, I won't be asking for more at this time. Thank you, thank you!

Paris to Go

32 comments:

  1. Actually I already had resoled my sneackers ;-)
    But I'm a crazy cobbler, so…

    Thanks talking about our profession ! We really need that. Most of the time people forgot shoes can be fixed.

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    1. Ah that is good to know! Thank you Daphné (and I will be taking your advice about getting another pair of shoes so my poor bow ones don't wear out :D ). You must be a very skilled cobbler, because a few back home told me it was impossible. Maybe they just didn't want to go to the trouble? :(

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  2. That's true, some cobblers don't want repair sport shoes, because it's not a "serious" work.
    But actually, all of us are able to do anything on any shoes !
    The problem is there are so much different sole materials, some of these don't match with the glue we use. After some time, the sole we put on is peeling off, and that's over :-(

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    1. I'm learning so much! Thank you for sharing! I love the pomme d'api you did on your website... really beautiful work.

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  3. This is an awesome post! I was literally just wondering about the capabilities of tailors as I try to invest in higher quality clothing. I'm sure I will be referring back to here in the future.

    Also, I use to run my own amateur editing side business: novels, academic papers and journals, how-to's, etc. Feel free to send a Word document (or whatever format you can) to noneedformars@gmail.com if you're interested in me giving it a look!

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    1. Perfect! You are so sweet Danielle. I will send you a Google Docs link if that's ok? I think it's awfully dry right now and needs a sense of humor so I think I won't be able to send anything until this weekend if that's ok. And I'll give you an editor's credit with a link to your site (and the zw bloggers network will be linked of course) when it's finished! I don't think it will have many readers lol but it's more a project for my resumé and to have a one-stop place for people who don't have time to read through a blog

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  4. I would definitely be interested in your book! Happy to look it over for you if you like =) procrastinatingpretty@gmail.com!

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    1. Thank you so much!! I can't believe people are so nice lol! I'll give you an editor's credit of course and link to your website. If there's anything else you want me to link to let me know :)

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  5. uh, TOTALLY INTERESTED!!! sommer@pengustudio.com

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    1. You are too sweet! You'll get an editor's credit and is there something you want me to link to? You don't have to reply here if you want I can email you the question too :)

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  6. I'd be interested for sure!

    I wish I could find cobblers around here that were willing to stretch toe boxes. It would open up far more shoe options for me, but I've never met one willing to do it :(

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    1. Thank you Cassie! This is so helpful! Actually now that you think of it in Cleveland I knew only one cobbler who would stretch the toe box. Here, it's standard procedure, even if you ask for a regular stretching they offer the service!

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  7. Tailors: I have a sleeveless dress that I was able to adjust a too low neckline by having the shoulder seams taken up.
    Cobblers: I've been to two in my city and have been unimpressed with either. I'll keep looking!
    Book: I'd love to test if you need a working mom perspective!

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    1. Thank you so much Laurie! I would LOVE that, I haven't been able to get it in front of a mom yet, that would be wonderful. Could you email me so I have your address, when you get a chance?

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  8. I would love to help review your book. If I can help in any way, email me at rowan.nicole@gmail.com, otherwise please let me know when the book is available.

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    1. Thank you so much! I could use the help, I really appreciate this :)

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  9. Absolutely interested in anything you produce. I like the straight forward manner you speak and write without being condescending or preppy about your lifestyle. Please include me!

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    1. Thank you so much! You are an excellent writer so I was hoping to have you take a look at it! I need to fix so many things so it probably will be ready at earliest this weekend... thank you!

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  10. Thank you for this very helpful list. Lets keep the tailoring business alive.

    And your book, I will be more than happy to give some feedback. Or take stock photos if you have a story board in mind.

    Why the limited edition ? Why not a pdf or ebook ? Why not ?

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    1. That is wonderful Archana! Thank you so much, and what a good idea for the photos! It's not very interesting right now so I hope to give it a sense of humor by the weekend (I thought illustrations would make it less cold, I want it to look like the notes people pass to each other in school, if that makes any sense)... also I'm a little worried the steps are too much all at once. It will be both a pdf and ebook in French and English, but for the physical zine edition, I only have a little paper and I can produce only so much more, so it will probably be a run of 30, 50 tops. There is a publisher in Kansas that could produce it sustainably but for now I want it to be something made with my own two hands... maybe I'll change my mind when I get sick of gluing everything together with plastic free glue and stitching a bunch of pages!

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  11. Hi! I would also be interested in reading your draft, count me in :)

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  12. I would be interested in reading/editing for you--especially if it is only a short work--I've got two kiddos, so time is important!
    Great post, I don't know what I would do without my cobbler! I just had them restore and put new soles on my favorite pair of cowboy boots!

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad they saved them and that you found a good cobbler :)

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  13. Ohhh, did I arrive too late? Send me please I would love it! carolsouzaa@gmail.com :)

    Ps: Paris was Lovely, as usual.

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  14. Ah why did you say a tailor can't let out a hem?

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    1. Hi Sarah! A good tailor usually can, but the way garments are made now, they can't always let them out- for example, with fabrics that fray easily or where stitch marks show. When they do let hems out there are limits- usually 1/2 inch, and letting hems out in certain areas is risky or impossible (like in the shoulder area).

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  15. Wonderful post! I have a button up dress inherited from my mother. I adore the pattern and style but it's very tight in the bust. Considering it's a button up, would a decent tailor be able to alter it?

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    1. Hi Alexia, a tight bust can't always be fixed, but it's possible. They could move the buttons depending on the cut of the dress. Sometimes dressmakers build more give into the seams so they can be let out but without looking at the garment it's hard to tell if that would be risky or not.

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