An Alteration Dilemma, How Do You Know if a Garment Can Be Altered?

I received a good question via email today.

It concerns taking in a garment where the customer has lost a lot of weight.

Here is the question I received from a reader:

“I need to alter scrub jackets for a woman who lost 22 pounds after she purchased them. They are embroidered with the dental clinic she works for, so she can’t return them. These jackets have snaps in the front, they aren’t pullover tops. They are too wide in the shoulders, the sleeves are too long and too big around. My concern is is that she is very large busted. They have set in sleeves. So, my question is, should I remove the sleeves, shorten the shoulder seam, reattach the sleeves, cut off the length needed to shorten the sleeves from the bottom of the sleeve (they have ribbing cuffs) and reattach the cuffs, then take in the side seams, making sure to leave room for her to snap them closed when needed? I tried taking one in by just basting in the side seams and sleeve, but there is still too much fabric at the underarm. Would appreciate any help you can give, thank you.”

My answer:

This is a great alteration question because there are several things to think about when taking on a job like this. First, in order to do all of the things you are thinking of doing, it could cost the customer two or three times what a new scrub jacket would cost (assuming you are charging enough for your work!) If the customer is ok with that, then doing all of those things is possible, but it is difficult to get a great fit if you basically have to remake the top. The reason is that if you’ve done clothing construction, you know that each size is cut differently in the shoulders, bust, waist, hips, etc. That means that if you’re having to remake the garment, it is alot of work and it may not have the results you are looking for. However, it depends on how many sizes the customer is changing to. I have written a post that explains what I’m talking about a little more in detail. It’s called, How to take in a dress that is 5 sizes too big.

So, let’s say she doesn’t want to pay that much to alter each of these scrub tops or that you aren’t able to alter every part of the garment. You want to consider what you can do to get the most bang for her buck. In this case, I would take as much out of the side seams and sleeves as I could, not tampering with the cuffs, as I don’t think it’s necessary for the time that taking off cuffs would involve. To take in the side seams and some of the sleeves, I’d sew along the red lines as shown in the diagram below:

diagram of taking in side seams and arm on jacket, e9393

Yes, the scrub jackets may be still too large, but they are going to be a lot better than what she started with. It’s up to you and the customer to decide how much work is worth doing for scrub tops. Or for any garment. Maybe the fit for her is a greater priority than price and she’d like for you to take them apart and put them back together again, but I don’t think they’ll ever fit perfectly. Again, that is because you are altering every part of the garment and the garment was cut for a certain size. So, perhaps alter the sleeves and side seams of one of them and see how she likes it before you do all of them. That will give you a better handle on what your customer wants. I wrote a post entitled, How to take in the side seams and facings. It gives a complete overview on what part of the side seams and facings need adjusting.

Another thought is that scrubs (and really any garment), need to be comfortable for the person wearing them. It can be unnerving to wear clothing that just doesn’t fit or rubs against your skin all day. So, again, try one scrub jacket and see if there need to be any other modifications done on it.

And, as a rule of thumb, the most you can comfortably take in is 2 sizes. For instance, if the garment is a size 12, you can take it in to a size 8 (generally speaking) without any problems. There are always exceptions to the rule. It will be easier to take in more fabric on a garment that is not tailored and fitted. The baggier it is, the greater chance you have of taking in more fabric than 2 sizes. It all depends on the shape of the garment, the shape of the customer and how much detail work there is. You might also need to consider “special” circumstances. Does the garment have embroidery that the alteration might effect? How about darts, side pockets, yokes, plackets, buttonholes, snaps, etc.? Each item is unique and has it’s own unique challenges. Have the customer try the garment on. Many times just having them try it on gives you the answer.

What if an alteration just isn’t an option. This is where your creative juices are needed. Try to come up with solutions that are not the norm. Ones that are outside the box. Sometimes, I’ll think about a garment for a couple of days before the light bulb goes on in my head. Give yourself some time and space to think about the dilemma. I think you’ll find that you have solid alternatives to donating the garment. Donating is not a bad idea either. Another option is to repurpose the item if you can envision another garment from it.

One more thought. Many of you write and ask how to price your work. How much do you charge to alter a scrub jacket like this? How much do you charge to make every change the customer wants, or a few of them? How do I charge for a best friend or family member? Pricing is something you want to get right because sometimes you feel that if you don’t, you could lose a friendship, a customer or make a family member mad. These are questions I figured out over many years of sewing for customers and family. It was frustrating until I came up with a formula. A time tested way of pricing your work that leaves both parties happy and satisfied. So, I decided to write an e-book that explains all the different scenarios and what I did to find success in my sewing business. This will work no matter what type of hobby business you have. And, it will pay for itself on the first use!! In fact, I have written two e-books. One is entitled, Pricing Strategies for Your Sewing or Alteration Business and the other is A Jumpstart Guide To Starting Your Own Sewing Business. Both are comprehensive guides that take your business to another level to make it the most successful it can be! They are instant downloads, so you can be reaping the benefits just seconds from now!

Happy Sewing!!