DIY Alterations – 15 typical clothing problems & what to do about them

You have your dream dress on – but something is not quite right. And that one thing is ruining it for you. Time for Alterations.

Alterations sometimes become a necessity, like the scenario where your favorite dress is too tight that you absolutely cannot get into it OR sometimes it is just for the aesthetics like the bootleg jeans which you want to transform into a tapering one.

Whether as an option or a necessity, alterations are something I do not enjoy as much as sewing a new garment. I have this pile of clothes ready for alterations at any point in my wardrobe – hems which have come loose, dresses which need a bit of seam stitching, hooks that have come loose etc – all of those clothes sitting it out in the wardrobe for months. Timeout is over, clothing. 

If you know just what to do and you have your seam ripper, there is nothing you cannot do to that dress to make it wearable and turn it, maybe, even gorgeous.

What do you need to do clothing alterations

For simple alterations, you can do with your seam ripper and sewing machine. Sometimes you may have to retake body measurements and need to stitch with a hand sewing needle and thread. Then replacements have to be bought – like new zipper, buttons etc.

You also need some sewing knowhow for alterations – knowing the 9 easy hand sewing stitches, the best 5 invisible stitches with which you can sew seams and hems without a sewing machine, the basic 20 stitches on your sewing machine and the basic knowledge of how your sewing machine works and how to take your body measurement, the darning stitches and other methods for mending clothes if there are tears – all come handy.

Clothing Alterations – and simple solutions

 1 The dress is too tight

This is a sad situation to be in. Either you have put on weight, which is sad or you bought a size smaller hoping you will lose weight, which is sadder. Or you may have shrunk the clothing in the wash ( Check out the tips in the post “How not to shrink clothes” to prevent this from happening again)

You may have to let out seams or darts. Loosening the side seam and restitching is the most often solution – you will need extra seam allowance in this case

You may have to add an extra fabric piece if there is no seam allowance to let out – for this you will need to find matching fabric to the fabric of the dress, with the same care instructions. This extra piece is to be inserted into the seam to add some more width.

You can add lace trims and use insertion stitches to stitch this piece – check out this post on insertion stitches for more details. 

2 Dress/pants too short

You will need to lengthen hemlines. You can do this in many ways like adding ruffles to the hems, or even making a slip extender to wear under the clothing, to give it length.  Check out this post on How to lengthen skirts for more details on this

3 The dress is too loose 

This involves Tapering of Dresses & Shirts or skirts.  You will have to retake body measurements and add enough ease and then make a new stitching line to the inside. You can also take out excess fabric by adding a dart or two

If you got this dress which is much too big, you can add a waistband like the one in this post on sewing a beach cover up to gather the fullness

Know more about what to do if your dress is too loose here.

swimsuits coverup diy

4 The Bodice is loose

Here the problem is that the bodice of the  dress seems to be too long and bulges/folds

This is a similar problem as the above, but here the bodice alone is loose, not the skirt. It happens if the person stands straight while taking the body measurements but afterward return to her true posture of slumping.

See if the problem can be solved by a tuck straight across the chest area or in the area below the bust if it seems to bulge with extra length there.Check out the post on sewing darts correctly here. 

5 Dress is too long

This involves Shortening the length of dress, skirt, top, Pants or Jeans. For dresses tops and skirts this involves cutting out the extra portion and sewing the hemline again. Check out the post on 20 different ways to sew a machine made hem; you can also hand sew hems – Check out this post on the 17 ways to handmade hems 

For jeans you can check out this post on shortening and hemming jeans – 3 different ways – all of them work

6 Straps too long or short

Adjust the length of straps on shirts & dresses; You may have to remake the straps or add adjusting sliders. Check out this post on making thin fabric tubes that can be used for making these straps

7  Add/replace lining in jackets and dresses

This is too much trouble if you ask me but sometimes it has to be done. Prewash the lining fabric. You will have to let out the seams and restitch or add it as an underlining and hand stitch it to the garment

8 Altering a neckline that is too big

A neckline which is too wide will gape and expose too much of what you do not want to be shown. There are many solutions to this problem. Check out the post on How to fix a neckline that gapes for these.

9. Wrinkles at the back of the waist

There is extra at the  back between the base of the neck and waist. You can see this if the hip area is too tight.

You can try to shape this by taking in some ( 1 cm ) at the side seam or the center seam at the waistline and by loosening at the hip

10 The collar needs replacement or repair

If the collar is looking odd, ask yourself – Did you cut the collar correctly. The outer piece should be cut lengthwise on the fabric and the inner collar piece should be cut crosswise for better stretch. Most of the time problem happens when the collar is too small

You will have to replace the whole collar.

11  Sleeves not fitting

Tightness in the sleeve

This is evident especially when you lift up the arm. 

You should always measure a long sleeve with the arm slightly bent.

One reason for this is because the crown height is lesser. You will have to mark the crown height a  little higher next time. If the dress has shoulder pads, you can take it off to increase the crown height a little bit.

Sometimes it becomes tight because you have developed more muscles in the forearm

Wrinkles in the crown of the sleeve

This is because crown height of the sleeve is more. Add a shoulder pad to immediately solve the problem. Otherwise, let out the seam , decrease the crown height and sew.

Wrinkles in the arm of a long sleeve

This may be because the sleeve is not fitting for the measurement of the arm of the person.

Cut out armscye slightly. Shapes of armscyes must vary with muscular development around armpits of individuals.

12 Replace pockets and trims

Pockets can get worn or tear at the pressure points. If simple tear repair would not do it you can replace the pocket. Check out the post on sewing patch pockets 

Trims also may need replacement – learn how you can add trim to edges here

13 Replace fasteners

Zippers break, buttonholes get wide, buttons pop out, thread bars get threadbare. A garment is virtually useless without its fastener. So you will need to repair these pronto.

Check out posts like ” How to fix zippersHow to sew a button with a sewing machine or by hand or how to sew button loops for solutions to some of these problems

14 Pant side pockets get open

This is because the pants are not fitting around the hips – it is too tight for you. You will have to find a solution to this problem first. 

15 Armscye Gapes

Droopiness in the armscye under the arm.

Make a dart in the back pattern. This may solve this problem 

If the armscye gapes near the bust you will have to make a diagonal dart to the point of the bust. Do not over pinch or it will be too tight.

First Let out the seam at the armscye. You may have to add a small diagonal dart from the armscye line near the bust to the bust point on the main bodice.

If the armscye gapes near the shoulder make a corrective dart at the shoulder. A basic shoulder dart will take out the too much ease.

Related post : Clothing repairs and solutions.


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