Alterations With a Challenge Attached

I’d like to walk you through how to address an alteration that has a challenge to it.

Most alterations are straight forward. You have a correction to make and there is an solution that suits it best.

Along the way to getting that alteration done, many people have come up with solutions that offer efficiency in the process.

But, sometimes, you run into a challenge that doesn’t fit the “textbook” solution to the problem.

This is one such dress.

For this particular alteration, I needed to take in the side seams at the bust area.

Here is the dress.

Black on one side:

reversible dress, alterations with a challenge, 928

Red on the other:

red dress, alterations with a challenge, 927

The fact that it is reversible was not the challenge.

(Although, I will show you how I worked on a totally reversible garment as part of this post.)

The challenge was that the construction of the garment was different than I thought it would be.

To begin,  first look at the garment from top to bottom, looking for an easy way to get in.

This dress had some topstitching along the center back seam:

alterations with a challenge, 926

Because the fabric is tightly woven (it feels like a cotton chintz) and the black and red sections were sewn together here, I quickly realized that I would never be able to get these two sections back together again perfectly.

red side, alterations with a challenge, 925

If I didn’t sew on the exact same stitching lines, the original needle holes would show and the garment would look like it had been altered. And the chance of sewing on the exact same lines on both the red and black simultaneously, were slim to none.

So, I found an easier “in”:

getting inside the reversible dress, alterations with a challenge, 924

I began opening up the side seam on the red side of the dress. I chose the red side because I figure she will most likely wear the black side more often.

Once I opened up a few stitches, I took a look inside:

looking inside reversible dress, alterations with a challenge, 923

This was interesting to me.

The left side shows that the manufacturer used the selvage (or finished edge of the fabric). Usually that is trimmed off.

The right side shows a raw edge. You can see the slight ravelling going on.

This is a perfect place to go into the dress because it will be easy to close this area up with hand stitching when I am finished with the alteration.

Next, I reached my hand up the side seam to grab the underarm area and turn it inside out.

But in this case, I was stopped at the waist seam:

taking apart waist, alterations with a challenge, 922

Most dresses are sewn so that the outer dress is like one dress and the lining (or in this case, the reversible side) is also it’s own “dress”, sewn separately.

In this case, they sewed the bodice together and then joined it to the skirt.

Ok, so all I needed to do was take out that waist seam and then proceed to the underarm area:

taking out under arm seam, alterations with a challenge, 921

You can see how all 4 layers were sewn together in that waist seam.

Once I opened that seam up, I noticed I had another challenge:

bodice, alterations with a challenge, 920

The bodice area was not sewn in a conventional way either.

Do you see how the seam allowances are all going toward the right?

That means that the side seams were sewn last on this bodice, instead of first.

That also means that the red front of the dress was sewn to the black front.

Then, the red back was sewn to the black back piece.

Then, the side seams were sewn.

This is not a problem unless you have to alter it.

And it’s still not a huge problem. It’s just that I had to make an adjustment in how I altered it.

Follow me as I show you how I figured out what to do, which is what you sometimes have to do when you see something out of the ordinary.

When I turned the underarm area inside out, this is what I saw:

underarm area, alterations with a challenge, 919

I was hoping I could just sew vertically, from where my thumb is down to meet the side seam at the waist.

So, I put a pin in the desired area and turned it right side out to see what it would look like after I sewed it.

put a pin in to test new seam, alterations with a challenge, 918

As you can see, it isn’t lying flat.

So, I can’t just stitch it down like I thought I could.

I needed to take it apart.

Do you know why?

It’s because the armscye seam (the seam that follows the underarm) has a curve. It isn’t straight across. The front of the dress is higher than the back.

So, that means I had to take this apart and put it back together using the conventional construction method of sewing the side seams first and then the armscye seam.

So, I took it apart down the side seam:

taking apart the side seam, alterations with a challenge, 916

Once I opened that up, I took out a few stitches going along the armscye seam (take out some stitches going toward the front of the dress and some toward the back of the dress):

taking out armscye area, alterations with a challenge, 915

Next, my goal was to sew the red front to the red back and the black front to the black back. (Remember, the manufacturer sewed the red front to the black front.) That is what made this process a little more challenging.

First, I pinned the black seams along the original seamlines:

pinning black seams together, alterations with a challenge, 914

Then I stitched a new seamline based on the measurements that needed to be taken in.

To see how I transfer measurements to make the new seam (or to see how I do this alteration in general), look at How To Take In The Bust on a Dress or Top.

Once that new seam is sewn, I trim off the excess seam allowance. I don’t need all that bulk later on.

Next, I matched the side seams together at the top because I wanted to stitch the armscye (top of the underarm) closed.

When I got them matched up properly, I noticed that the red seam didn’t lie flat to the black one.

alterations with a challenge, 912

So, I stitched in an additional 1/8″ so they would match:

took in an additional 1/8", alterations with a challenge, 911

Then, I ripped out those extra stitches (to the right) because I wanted the seam to lie flat when I pressed them.

Next, I matched the side seams up again and put pins in:

matching the side seams, alterations with a challenge, 910

You can see that the stitching lines that run basically horozontal do not match up.

No problem.

Just stitch a new line gradually tapering it to meet both ends of stitching like this:

stitching new underarm seam, alterations with a challenge, 909

Pull out the pins and trim the seam allowance:

trim seam allowance, alterations with a challenge, 908

Go back to the waist seam:

waist seam, alterations with a challenge, 906

Pull all those layers together and stitch them closed again, like this:

stitch all layers, alterations with a challenge, 905

Turn the dress right side out and hand stitch that side seam closed.

Press the dress at the armscye seam:

press the dress at the underarm area, alterations with a challenge, 907

There you go!

What I wanted to communicate in this post is that you may come across unusual circumstances once in awhile (or maybe several in a week.)

My best tip to handle this is to pay attention to how the garment was put together before you begin taking out stitches. Usually, once you make the alteration, you just put the garment back together in reverse order. But, that doesn’t always work, hence the encouragement to be creative in your approach. If you understand the basic mechanics of dressmaking or upholstery construction, then you can tackle most any alteration.

If you are still confused, send me an e-mail with a few photos of your project and I’ll give you my best advice.

With every garment you sew, you are learning and building confidence in your craft. Keep up the good job! It’s paying off!