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DIY Tailoring Tips

Good tailoring is essential to good style, and if you aren't blessed with a sample sized body shape like the 99.99% of us, then this one is for you.

It is important to note that adjusting a garment that is too small is more of a challenge and may require additional material or a design adjustment. It's a lot easier to remove than to add. This notion is also relevant to seam allowances, the amount of material needed to create a desired finish is important to considered before embarking on a project.




Stitch ripper

Chalk (or any other medium to temporary make marks for precision)


Measuring tape

Needle & Thread



Know your measurements

The numbers that retailers use to size their clothing vary from brand to brand. Rather than reference clothing sizes, keep a list of your measurements (neck, bust, arms, waist, hips, and inseam) on hand when you shop. When shopping online, look for the sizing chart on the item page; when shopping in person, bring a measuring tape or pay attention to how a garment fits in the dressing room. Then, when you’re ready to tailor, you’ll know the precise areas you need to address.

Buy clothes that fit your widest measurement

Aim to buy clothing that fits your widest measurement—for example, if your hips are your widest part, buy jeans that fit your hips, rather than jeans that fit properly in the waist but are too tight in the hips. When you buy clothing that fits your widest measurement, you can then use your sewing machine to take in other areas that are too loose.

Experiment on old clothes first

Practice is an essential part of becoming a skilled tailor. With experience, you’ll become more comfortable with using your sewing machine to alter garments to your preference. Try out techniques on an old shirt or distressed pair of pants, or pick up a garment at a local thrift store. Avoid practicing alterations on a new or expensive article of clothing.

Test before you cut

Before altering your clothes, measure and preview the fit. You can preview your alterations by sketching your stitches onto the garment in tailor’s chalk and pinning the garment where you’re going to sew, or by sewing the new seam (you can always unstitch the seam if it’s not quite right). Try the garment on again before cutting away the excess fabric to ensure the alterations are correct.

Use the right thread

When sewing alterations, use thread that blends into the fabric—for instance, use black thread to alter a black blouse. Choosing the appropriate color thread makes your alteration more discrete, and you won’t need to worry about stitching a perfectly straight line.

Lock in your stitches

Once you begin sewing, ensure that your stitches will last by locking them in (also called “backstitching”) at the beginning and end of each seam. To backstitch, sew a few straight stitches forward and then press the button on your machine to sew in reverse (or use the “lock stitch” button, if your machine has one), doubling up on the first few stitches before releasing the reverse button and sewing forward again.


Altering Trousers

Tightening the waist

Decide how much fabric to remove from the waist. Try on the garment and pinch the excess fabric at the waist until the waist is as tight as you like. Mark the place where you're pinching with pins or chalk, being sure to get both sides of the pinched fabric. Then, take the trousers off and measure between the two points you marked to see how much fabric to remove.

You may need to remove belt loops to achieve a clean finish depending on your garment. If needed, use a seam ripper to pull out the stitches that are securing the back belt loop to the waist of the trouser. Then, remove the loop and set it aside. Keep the back loop so you can reattach it to the pants after you've adjusted the waist.

Fold the waistband and straight stitch it closed. The waistband stitches should line up with where they were before you seam ripped them out. Then, sew the waistband back in place and reattach the back belt loop if you like

Tapering trousers

Try the garment inside out and decide how much fabric you want to remove. Pinch these sections and mark with chalk or pins and . Sew a straight stitch across the marked areas ensuring that the stitch is straight. Cut off excess fabric and iron the seams open to secure them and for a clean finish. Try on the garment and make adjustments accordingly. It's truly that simple.

For a dramatic taper, you'll probably want to remove more fabric from the pant leg hemline than from the inner thigh.

Hemming trousers

To hem trousers is similar to tapering them. Unpick the current hemming and try on the trousers inside out, Make markings on your desired length and pin in place. Cut off excess material but ensure you have enough material to create a new hem. Because the hem is folded on itself, you will require a larger seam allowance. Fold the edges upwards twice to hide raw edged and sew in place. Iron the hem flat and and try on.


Altering a dress

Before you let out a dress to make it bigger, you need to check to see if this is possible with your dress. The dress will have to have been sewn with extra material at the seams so it's possible to let it out.

++. More expensive clothing typically have extra material at the seams but if you have a casual dress that you picked up at the department store, you might be out of luck ++

Turn the dress inside out and take a look at one of the side seams of the dress so you can see if it can be let out. You're looking for two different options. With the first, there will be extra fabric at the side seam that will be folded along the seam. If you were to remove the stitches, the extra fabric would unfold. If possible, remove the line of stitching and get a little bit of extra fabric that can be used to make the dress bigger. If you don't have any extra fabric at the seam, you won't be able to let out the dress.

In relation to shape, using darts is a great way to add re-shape and structure your garment. If you have a garment that is baggy or doesn't fit your body shape, you could try adding darts to change that.

Take your measuring tape and measure from one side seam to the other on the dress at the waist and write this number down. Repeat with your hips. Take each number and then multiply it times 2 to determine the waist and hip measurements of the dress. Subtract your waist and hips measurement from the numbers you found. Divide this number by 2. This is the number of inches you'll need to let out the dress on each of the sides.


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