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DIY Clothing Alterations: Taking in a Dress Shirt

post #1 of 27
Thread Starter 
Hello. Today I am going to share the process I use for taking in a dress shirt along the side seams and sleeves. Hopefully by the time I'm finished this will be a useful guide for others who want to try doing this relatively simple alteration on their own (and not look like one of Iroh's guides)!

I am intending this as a guide for those with little sewing experience. For this reason I will be finishing the shirt with french seams as opposed to the flat felled seams you usually find on dress shirts simply because I believe a frech seam is a little easier to do well. Once you have done a few shirts you may decide that it's worth your time to do flat-felled seams, but on your first try it would likely just frustrate and discourage you. While the following might still look like it's beyond your ability, look at it this way: You are ripping a total of 4 seams, sewing 8 seams with a standard straight stitch, and doing a little ironing, so it's not all that bad.

Hopefully if you decide to try it yourself you'll discover that you enjoy sewing and wearing clothes that fit well. You may also save a lot of time, money, and frustration trying to find that perfectly fitting shirt, or taking your entire closet to the tailor.

First, you need a shirt and your supplies. This time I am using a shirt from T.M. Lewin:
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Choose a shirt that already has the options you would want in a custom shirt. This T.M. Lewin shirt has a spread collar, no pocket, a split yoke, long tails, french cuffs and a placket, so I am happy with it, except for the fit.

To do this alteration you will need:
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A sewing machine that does a straight stitch, a tailors tape measure, thread, a seam ripper, regular scissors and pinking shears, and some pins. You'll also need an iron and ironing board, of course.

First, unpackage and iron your shirt;
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As you can see, with this regular fit shirt, I have a lot of excess room:
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Before you do any sewing, it is important to rip the appropriate seams. If you are taking in a shirt along the side seams and the sleeves, you need to rip the hems at the side seams, and the cuffs like so:
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Do this on both sides of the shirt, naturally.

If you already have a dress shirt that fits well, I reccomend simply laying your shirt flat and placing some pins at the measurements you want.to achieve all the way up the side seam and down the arm. Simply subtract equal amounts from each side of the shirt to obtain the 1/2 measurement you need. For example, I like 40" around the chest, so with the shirt buttoned and laying flat I pin it at 20" accross.

For myself, I do 20" at the hips:
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18" at the waist:
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20" at the chest/armpit to armpit (on this shirt I needed to subtract 1.5" from each side):
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7 " at the bicep and 6" at the forearm:
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If you don't have a best fitting shirt, have someone pin the shirt while you are wearing it. Leave some fullness as the new seams are going to consume some fabric on each side and it can quicly become too tight:
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Once you are happy with the shirt as you've pinned it up you're ready to start sewing. As long as you are folling your pins as a guide it shouldn't matter if you start from the hem or the cuff - you just sew a straight stich all the way from one to the other with your shirt right side out:
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Now your shirt looks like this:
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Here is what the seam currently looks like:
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To make french seams you now need to do the scary part which is cutting off the excess frabric. This is your POINT OF NO RETURN. Cut with your pinking shears (the zig zag scissors) to avoid ravelling of the cloth. Leave a small (1/8") amounts of fabric beyond the seam you've sewn:
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Next, to avoid seams that look sloppy I suggest you press open the allowance of fabric with your iron:
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Now turn the shirt inside out. You will sew from hem to cuff again with the shirt inside out which will enclose the raw edges of your shirt inside the french seam to further protect the fabric from ravelling:
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Keep the first seam on a tight fold and make sure you sew just far enough in to enclose the raw edge:
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Now the side seams/sleeves are nicely and cleanly finished. The last step is to resew your hem and cuffs. Go back to your ironing board and roll and press the bem back into it's original shape, then sew:
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Iron in a hard crease on the hem.
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Sew it.

Now lay the end the sleeve back between the cuff. Make sure it is properaly alligned so that you catch all 3 layers as you sew along the very edge to match the original seam:
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Make sure you snip off all those loose threads:
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Try on the shirt to make sure no further adjustments are needed:
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Now do the rest of your baggy shirts - practice makes perfect better.
Before and After (Click to show)
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post #2 of 27

Sharp stuff.........only wish I could sew!

post #3 of 27
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by homespun View Post

Sharp stuff.........only wish I could sew!

If I can, you can.
post #4 of 27
one of the most informative and quality posts I have seen on SF - nice work, details, and images icon_gu_b_slayer[1].gif
post #5 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by lostron View Post

one of the most informative and quality posts I have seen on SF - nice work, details, and images icon_gu_b_slayer[1].gif

+1. Good post!
post #6 of 27
Why didn't you just flat fell the side seams?
post #7 of 27
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ataturk View Post

Why didn't you just flat fell the side seams?

I just think that trimming/folding/ironing them and then sewing them on the sleeve, which is like sewing a tube and can be awkward would be discouraging for beginners, as I said.
post #8 of 27
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post #9 of 27
Some Points:
- For people like me with a hollow back, the addition of darts is also useful. I know they're traditionally a feature found on women's clothes but I find they make for a much cleaner look. Note though that this doesn't really work with a middle/single back pleat, and if there are double back pleats then you can even start right from there and then expand as you go further down. Also, watch out because thinner fabrics will show the pleats quite obviously, and also shirts with pattens are harder to do this with. This is a good way to tighten up the fit if only a bit is needed instead of resewing everything.
- if your shirt tails are WAY too long (as is the case here with the OP IMO) this won't help much, that being said... see questions below.


Questions:
Can you include instructions/demonstrations of doing darts, shortening the tails, as well as narrowing the sleeve at the cuff?
post #10 of 27
Oh. You actually said something about that in the OP. Sorry. I don't agree, though. This is styleforum, no point in doing something half ass. If that guy over at ask andy can do a flat felled seam, anybody can.

Here's a video of Mike Maldonado demonstrating how to do a flat felled seam (for people who don't know what it is):

Also, Maldonado sells videos (and gives a lot of them away) showing out to do a lot of this stuff: http://mikemaldonado.com/ There's also a lot of free ones there, somewhere.
post #11 of 27
Thanks for the info. I should tip the old lady more who does this to all my shirts for $4.00 each. I had no idea all that hassle went into it.
post #12 of 27
Very impressive!
post #13 of 27
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Master-Classter View Post

Some Points:
- For people like me with a hollow back, the addition of darts is also useful. I know they're traditionally a feature found on women's clothes but I find they make for a much cleaner look. Note though that this doesn't really work with a middle/single back pleat, and if there are double back pleats then you can even start right from there and then expand as you go further down. Also, watch out because thinner fabrics will show the pleats quite obviously, and also shirts with pattens are harder to do this with. This is a good way to tighten up the fit if only a bit is needed instead of resewing everything.
- if your shirt tails are WAY too long (as is the case here with the OP IMO) this won't help much, that being said... see questions below.
Questions:
Can you include instructions/demonstrations of doing darts, shortening the tails, as well as narrowing the sleeve at the cuff?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I actually remove darts from shirts that come with them from time to time and I like long tails because I find they stay tucked more securely, so I don't normally/never do these alterations, but if I have time to do them on a shirt that I'm planning to get rid of, I will do another installment.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ataturk View Post

Oh. You actually said something about that in the OP. Sorry. I don't agree, though. This is styleforum, no point in doing something half ass. If that guy over at ask andy can do a flat felled seam, anybody can.
Here's a video of Mike Maldonado demonstrating how to do a flat felled seam (for people who don't know what it is): Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Also, Maldonado sells videos (and gives a lot of them away) showing out to do a lot of this stuff: http://mikemaldonado.com/ There's also a lot of free ones there, somewhere.

Fair enough - but are you basing your claim that a flat felled seam would be just as easy as a french seam on experience? Sewing a flat felled seam on a piece of straight, flat cloth is pretty simple, but following the curve of the side seam and going through the sleeve will probably look like a mess if attempted by a beginner, for whom I intended this thread to be a possible starting point. You are of course entitled to your opinion, especially if it's based on experience. I stand by my opinion, but thank you for contributing your thoughts and the video.
Quote:
Originally Posted by koor View Post

Thanks for the info. I should tip the old lady more who does this to all my shirts for $4.00 each. I had no idea all that hassle went into it.

$4.00 is a very good rate. She must like you.
Quote:
Originally Posted by TheTukker View Post

Very impressive!

Not really, but thank you nonetheless.
Edited by inlandisland - 2/27/12 at 6:48am
post #14 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by koor View Post

Thanks for the info. I should tip the old lady more who does this to all my shirts for $4.00 each. I had no idea all that hassle went into it.

Where do you get this done for $4? Around me the best price I have found is $20 and that's for a crappy job. It's $40-$45 for a good tailor. What do other people pay for this?

OP, if I had skills like you, I would do this to all my shirts. You might not be a professional, but you are certainly good enough to get the job done well enough. Good work.
post #15 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by rathebaindc View Post

Where do you get this done for $4? Around me the best price I have found is $20 and that's for a crappy job. It's $40-$45 for a good tailor. What do other people pay for this?
OP, if I had skills like you, I would do this to all my shirts. You might not be a professional, but you are certainly good enough to get the job done well enough. Good work.

Anyone near Oakland CA want the name of my $4.00 seamstress PM me.......I have no affiliation with this person (don't bitch if your shirts get jacked up, start with ONE to see if you like the work).... don't expect the greatest job, but is good for the price. I bring all my GAP/BR type casual shirts there. I brought her a M2M shirt that fits me well as a model and she took care of the rest. I don't think I would bring my business shirts there though.
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