Before I start with this month’s newsletter, I need to point out that this article might upset some people, and for that I am sorry. However, I have always been known to call a spade a spade, and that means saying it how it is. If only one person reads this newsletter and gains something from it, then I have achieved what I set out to do. That is to shock you into good workmanship when it comes to your sewing.
So how did this all start?
I was watching Project Runway recently and one of the judges made a comment about the construction of one of the garments. He said that the way the garment was constructed was like “Home Sewing”. You know when you have one of those “Ah huh”! moments. Well that was one of mine.
I seem to recall that terminology used before, however this time when I heard it, it really did hit home to me that this is how I feel about some peoples attempt at clothing alterations.
Clothing alterations is probably one of the greatest challenges for people to perform quality workmanship. Offering a guarantee to a client, which means standing up for your work. One of my greatest challenges when training people on doing clothing alterations is stressing how important workmanship is. When you are altering a readymade garment, you want the person to look at the garment and she or he should see that the workmanship is of a high standard. When you buy clothes the workmanship is generally not in question. It usually comes down to style and fashion fabric colour which helps you to make a decision on whether you will buy it or not. Designers and manufacturers do not produce poor workmanship (generally speaking). If clothes are sold with excellent workmanship, then why can it not be altered and still look the same?
One of my biggest concerns when people do clothing alterations is the fact that they think for some reason they can take a nip here or a tuck there, and the client will be happy as long as it appears ok from the outside and that the garment fits. But turn the garment inside out, and it’s like “fright night” aaaghhhhh!!!
How many ways can we talk about altering clothes (or dressmaking for that matter) where the garment (when completed) looks the same as it would if it was purchased from a store?
If you are going to take in the centre back of a dress, do it so that it does not look like you altered it. If it has a zip and you do not understand how to bag the zip at the top or attach it to the lining first, then take the time to look at how it is done, BEFORE you unpick it.
Clothing alterations is about working backwards 99.9% of the time. Generally the last section sewn is the FIRST to be unpicked, and you work backwards from that. It’s not rocket science, but what it does is allow you to alter the garment in an orderly and timely manner. The old “hack and slash” mentality will not give a good alteration.
If you are going to put darts in a gown, then put them in so that the dart is in between the fashion fabric and the lining. Increase or reduce the dart size, working as the original garment was sewn. Get back to the dart section by unpicking around the beginning of the dart.
Whether you are putting in new darts, extending the size of the dart, taking in the sides or a centre back seam from the top, UNDO any under stitching BEFORE you open out the seam. The under stitching should always be unpicked a little more than the seam, so that when you take the garment in, the under stitching is not in the way, and you can close the seam without any interference from the under stitching. And always put the under stitching back on as it was originally AFTER you have sewn the seam.
There is only ONE TIME when you would not do this, and that is when you are taking up the shoulders of a sleeveless dress that has under stitching on the sides. Naturally you cannot get in there to re do the stitching, and to be honest it will not affect the way the shoulder sits.
So the only reasons you would not put the garment back together the way it was, is because it is physically impossible to do that. And I do not mean that it is just a little bit difficult. In a lot of alterations you have to be a contortionist to alter some garments, but when it is physically impossible, is when you have to leave it alone.
I have a saying which is “Good enough isn’t” and it stands for itself. Another is never sew to a fold. That means unpicking hems or edges that are to be taken in. It gives for an excellent alteration and one that will have people coming back to you time and again.
So back to the judges comment about “home sewn”. I loved the terminology because it really does allow me to imagine that the garment is not sewn well. These people are all working on the same machines, and a good seamstress or tailor never blames their sewing machine.
One’s first impression of “Home Sewn” is that the person works from home and uses a small domestic sewing machine and this is the reason for the bad work. There is no truth in that. Blaming a machine is a cop out BECAUSE – I only use a domestic sewing machine. In fact I have said this a few times. All of my clothing alteration shops in major capital cities, ONLY HAD DOMESTIC SEWING MACHINES. This also allowed for long workstations to have three or four machines on them and we could swivel in between the domestic sewing machine, over locker, cover stitch machine and blind hemmer (all domestic or semi industrial so it sat on the work station).
I have always said that a domestic sewing machine is all you need to do alterations. If you like using an industrial machine and have found a way to do your alterations with care and precision on one, then my hat goes off to you.
I am not saying there is anything wrong with an industrial sewing machine. I am just saying that they were originally designed for factory work. Or rather piece work. Machinists sat in rows and each machinist had a particular piece to sew. It was then passed on to another machinist. The machines were developed for speed. I have been in a few factories, and the “brrrrr”, “brrrr” of the machine was all you heard.
When all you do is clothing alterations and a little dressmaking, then a good old domestic will do the trick. When you have to do a few stitches to close a seam (say 10 stitches) a domestic will allow you the precision. An industrial (standard industrial I mean) can sometimes be difficult to slow down for such a small amount of sewing. Mind you a good industrial is great to have around when you are sewing curtains, large hems on wedding gowns etc. So they do come in handy. But a domestic will do the same thing.
The only other machine you need to perform professional clothing alterations is an over locker. If you do not have an over locker, then there is no way that you can produce professional looking clothing alterations.
Using the zig zag on your machine is not going to provide quality workmanship. You might be happy to do that for your own clothes, but do not expect a customer to pay you good money for a raw edge that has been zig zagged.
I am reminded when I started my first shop with an old mini Elna sewing machine and a borrowed over locker from my sister in law. The over locker looked like it was over the hill, but it did a great stitch and that is all I was interested in. You can start a small business working from home with a simple cheap domestic sewing machine and an old over locker. They both just have to sew well. Buying them second hand does not matter. You do not have to have an expensive machine to produce quality workmanship, and that is what you have to do to get repeat business.
I am sure this article may result in a few emails. If you have an industrial machine, and you love it like I love my little dog Nina, then I do understand. (see I do understand the passion for sewing machines) But there are a lot of ladies (and men) out there who would like to begin to earn an income from their sewing skills, and they have been told they cannot do any form of clothing alterations or dressmaking on a domestic sewing machine. They have been told they have to go out and buy an industrial, and I am just saying that this is not the case. I have been doing clothing alterations for over 16 years now, and I use a normal domestic sewing machine. One that does a nice stitch, and I have a normal domestic over locker which sews well and does what I need it to do.
And finally the domestic machine allows me the precision to get into small areas, it has an arm, which allows me to have my hems in a circle around the arm, giving me greater control.
Judith aka genie