I buy a LOT of clothes online. I will often see potential in an item even if it’s a little outside my measurements or the photos aren’t great quality, especially if it’s reasonably priced. Or I’ll fall in love with the most beautiful piece of vintage that I just have to have, even if I know it’s not going to fit quite right when I first put it on. But all of this is totally ok because of tailoring!
Now I am definitely not a good sewer by any stretch, but with a little time, patience, and trial and error, I have learnt to know what will look like it was made for me. It breaks my heart when I see ladies getting rid of beautiful pieces because they are only an inch too big in the bust, or spending lots of money on a seamstress when there are really simple fixes you can do at home. Here are my top tips:
This is my favourite type of alteration to do because you can often uncover many inches of beautiful vintage fabric! I have been delighted to find upon receiving a dress in the post or flipping up the hem of one in store to see that it has been tacked up, or has simply been sewn with a really large hem. Even though I’m a petite lass, I still prefer my dresses and skirts to fall a few inches below the knee, and I feel that petticoats at least 24″ long sit better on me anyway.
The dress pictured above sat about at my knees when I got it, which left my petticoat poking out just a wee bit much for my liking. So I undid the 2.5″ hem and re-sewed it as above – then it was absolutely perfect! As you’ll see I just did a simple tacking stitch, one that doesn’t require much in the way of sewing skills but is sturdy nonetheless. For this I put my needle and thread through the top of the inside part of the fabric, and then when I’m connecting it to the outside piece of fabric I make sure to only go through the teensiest part of the dress I can; this is so that the stitches aren’t obvious when you have the dress on, making it look all professional! It might feel weird only looping your needle through only one or two threads in the fabric, but trust me this will be plenty!
2. Nipping the bust and waist
I can’t remember the last time I bought something that actually fit me in the bust. Usually I try to fix this issue by taking a dress up in the shoulders (see Tip 3) but occasionally more of a makeover is needed (especially if I have bought a dress that is an inch or two big all over), so in this case I will sew up the sides.
I don’t like to use pins, mostly because I lose them and then worry about sitting down or stepping anywhere in case they go through me, so this is something I would do by putting a dress on, pinching the sides to see how much to take in, but mostly imagining how I would sew it so it nips in all the right places. This is a lot easier to do on dresses with a back zip, as sewing up the sides isn’t very noticable as they’re usually covered by your arms (see first picture set). For this I just follow ‘my curve’ – ie, starting at the waist and then sewing a simple straight stitch in an hourglass curve to suit my figure. Careful doing this with dresses that have sleeves though, as you will probably have to bring your curve round at the base of the armhole lest you sew too far into it and can’t get your arm through!
Then there is the dreaded back zip – now for this one there is a fine line between sewing it to fit you, and not sewing too far that you can’t get it over your head! Usually there are some guidelines to follow in the form of darts up the back of the dress; I will just straight stitch following the curve of these darts, but stitching out and up further so that I’m nipping in the dress. The second picture set is a prime example of this; that’s a dress I bought at a market that was hanging up and looked like it would fit me perfectly – as soon as I got it home I realised that it had a belt that had been pulled too tight and consequently it was swimming on me! However I loved the colour and print far too much to let it go and some quick stitching did the trick.
3. Sewing up the shoulders
As a small-busted lady, this is my go-to quick fix for making a dress fit me. I feel that ladies back in the 50s must have had tiny waists and huge boobs, because if the waist is a perfect fit on me then it’s a guarantee that the bust will look like a sack on me!
Sleeveless dresses are the best for this trick because it’s simply a case of trying the dress on, pulling up the straps to see where it sits right, and then sewing up that much fabric (see first picture set). I will also do this if the dress doesn’t have a full sleeve, like in picture set two where I’ve just sewn straight across the top; and for this scenario, just always make sure that you match the outside edges of the fabric together – as you’ll see from the third picture in this set, the inside edges won’t always end up together (depends on the cut of the neckline), but by folding the fabric back it won’t be noticeable.
For a dress with a sleeve that’s too big in the bust, I have had many failed attempts at trying to make these work for me if they don’t fit right. You need to pull up the shoulders so you don’t look like you need to stuff your bra, but if you pull them up too much you risk tight sleeves pinching under your arms. My favourite technique for sleeves is to pleat the excess fabric inside the shoulder, and then fan this out and stitch it, as shown in the second picture of the third picture set. This essentially gathers the sleeve right at the neckline, and then you don’t risk getting weird shapes by sewing all along the shoulder. Sorted!
Obviously this post isn’t exhaustive, and these ideas won’t suit everyone. But if there’s an amazing dress hanging out in the back of your wardrobe because it just needs a bit of tweaking then hopefully this post might have provided a solution. As always I’m happy to answer any questions you have, and I would love to know your tailoring tips!
Miss Hero Holliday