How to Avoid Ruining a Garment

Here’s  another good question from a reader…

Judy wrote:  My question regards mistakes.  I’ve never destroyed anyone’s item (thank goodness!) but I’ve always been afraid of messing something up, especially an expensive item, like a prom or wedding dress.  Have any of you ever made an error like this?  If so, what did you do?

Here’s my answer:

Yes, I’ve made two big mistakes in the last 13 years. First, I ruined a man’s shirt once. I was taking up his cuffs and needed to serge the seam. When I serged the seam, I accidentally caught part of the front of that shirt cut off because I didn’t make sure that the shirt wasn’t in the way of the serger blade before I stitched. There was no way to fix it, so I simply asked him how much he had spent on his shirt and gave him the money and a huge apology, of course. I felt terrible because it ruined a beautiful, expensive new shirt, but he was thrilled that I would pay for a new one. (I think that’s an important lesson….always own up to what you’ve done and pay for what you’ve ruined.)

Now, you might be thinking, what if I ruin a wedding dress? They are so expensive and you might not be able to get another one like it especially in the time frame you need it in. I didn’t ruin a wedding dress, but I have come frighteningly close. Once, when I had finished altering a wedding gown and had my customer try it on, I noticed a pencil mark on the front of the gown, right on the belly area.

Knowing that I had checked the gown over very well before she left it in my care, I knew it had happened on my watch. I knew I didn’t want to try any type of cleaner I had on hand because wedding gowns can be tricky in the materials and finishes the fabrics are and have. So, I pointed it out to her and told her I would get the dress cleaned for her at the cleaner of her choice. (Another important tip…use the dry cleaner of your customer’s choice. That way, if anything happens, it’s not your dry cleaner to blame.) I was petrified that the mark wouldn’t come out, but I was thankful that we had time to have it cleaned.

The pencil mark came out of the gown! It cost me $50, but it was a good lesson for me and I’m just so thankful it didn’t cost more than that to fix it.

So, you might be thinking that that is amazing that I haven’t had more accidents than that.

There are two things I do before I begin working on a garment that are my “secret sauce” to success.

First, I pray before I start each alteration asking God to please help me pay attention and do my best work and keep me from making any irretrievable mistakes. By His grace, that hasn’t happened since. Now, I realize that worse things could have happened with a wedding gown or something else that was expensive, but I determined in my mind that if that were to ever happen, I would make it right. In other words, I would pay for a new garment or pay to have it fixed if it was possible.

Second, I always examine each garment well before the customer leaves my presence and I make sure they watch me do it. That way, I can point out any flaw, defect, stain or problem the article of clothing has and that covers my back so that the customer knows it was not something I had done, while it was in my care.

Third, I think the bottom line is to have confidence when you take a garment in. Have faith in your ability. If you don’t have alot of experience yet, don’t let that deter you. If you can, go to the fabric store and get a swatch of a fabric that is similar in fiber content to the one you’ll be working on and practice on that first. Become proficient in doing a certain alteration. If you want to be good at hems, get an old pair of pants or jeans and take apart the hem, shorten it and re-stitch it. Then start all over again. Take out the stitches, shorten it again and re-stitch it again. Do this on several types of fabrics until you feel confident in your work. And give yourself alot of grace because you are human. You will make mistakes, but the more you practice and the more alterations you do, the more confident you will feel sewing on different fabrics and garments. The more you do, the better you’ll get!

Some of you have written telling me that you’ve sewn for years, but you’re really scared to try altering a wedding gown. I want to encourage you to go for it anyway. I know that all of that white material can make you nervous, but put away your pets if you have them and drape a white sheet on the floor under your sewing machine. That will help give you confidence that the white dress will stay white. Actually, put your pets up every time you sew (and when you meet with customers) because that will take away the chance that their claws or teeth will ruin the garment you’re working on. Also, don’t have food or drinks near your sewing machine. It would be a tragedy for something to get spilled and ruined.

Lastly, take your time (haste makes waste) and be careful. Mistakes happen when you’re tired, distracted, and/or in a hurry. So, don’t start your sewing when you’re tired, when the kids are screaming, or when you’re frazzled. When my kids were little, I found that the best time to sew was when they were having their naps and quiet time in the afternoon, and after they went to bed at night. Later, I found that the best time to sew was when they were at school. If I did all my sewing during the day, I could be more present with them at night and not distracted with sewing. That wasn’t always the case, especially when I had a rush job to finish, but it worked best for me and my family. You will find your sew-jo too.

Now, let’s hear from you.

What do you do to minimize costly accidents?