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DIY Clothing Alterations: Taking in a Dress Shirt

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by inlandisland, Feb 26, 2012.

  1. inlandisland

    inlandisland Senior member

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    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:
    [​IMG]
    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:
    [​IMG]
    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;
    [​IMG]

    As you can see, with this regular fit shirt, I have a lot of excess room:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    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:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    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:
    [​IMG]

    18" at the waist:
    [​IMG]

    20" at the chest/armpit to armpit (on this shirt I needed to subtract 1.5" from each side):
    [​IMG]

    7 " at the bicep and 6" at the forearm:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    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:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    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:
    [​IMG]

    Now your shirt looks like this:
    [​IMG]

    Here is what the seam currently looks like:
    [​IMG]

    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:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Next, to avoid seams that look sloppy I suggest you press open the allowance of fabric with your iron:
    [​IMG]

    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:
    [​IMG]
    Keep the first seam on a tight fold and make sure you sew just far enough in to enclose the raw edge:
    [​IMG]

    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:
    [​IMG]
    Iron in a hard crease on the hem.
    [​IMG]
    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:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Make sure you snip off all those loose threads:
    [​IMG]

    Try on the shirt to make sure no further adjustments are needed:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Now do the rest of your baggy shirts - practice makes perfect better.

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    [​IMG][​IMG]
     
    5 people like this.
  2. homespun

    homespun Member

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

    inlandisland Senior member

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    If I can, you can.
     
  4. lostron

    lostron Senior member

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    one of the most informative and quality posts I have seen on SF - nice work, details, and images :slayer:
     
  5. Mercuryman76

    Mercuryman76 Senior member

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    +1. Good post!
     
  6. Ataturk

    Ataturk Senior member

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

    inlandisland Senior member

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    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.
     
  8. Trompe le Monde

    Trompe le Monde Senior member

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    <><>
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2012
  9. Master-Classter

    Master-Classter Senior member

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    Toronto, Canada
    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?
     
  10. Ataturk

    Ataturk Senior member

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    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):

    [VIDEO][/VIDEO]

    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.
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2012
  11. koor

    koor Well-Known Member

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    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.
     
  12. TheTukker

    TheTukker Senior member

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  13. inlandisland

    inlandisland Senior member

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    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.


    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.


    $4.00 is a very good rate. She must like you.


    Not really, but thank you nonetheless.
     
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2012
  14. rathebaindc

    rathebaindc Senior member

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    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.
     
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2012
  15. koor

    koor Well-Known Member

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    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.
     
  16. ktaatdotcom

    ktaatdotcom New Member

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  17. inlandisland

    inlandisland Senior member

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    While I know that it's heresy to even mention the name on SF, I feel that it's appropriate here to mention for Canadians that Moore's does this alteration for $10 (last time I checked, which was a couple of years ago). They don't do a felled or french seam, they just overcast the raw edges with a serger, so it's not as nice a finish, but it's very affordable and better than just getting darts in the back for the same price.
     
  18. Delosic

    Delosic New Member

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    This may be a silly question but I'm a beginner! Why is it necessary to rip the seams up the sides of the shirt and down the sleeves? Could you not size, pin, make the necessary top-stitch, and then go from there without tearing apart the seams?

    Also, do you have any tips for ripping a flat-felled seam? I am having a hell of a time getting mine apart!

    Thanks for the awesome tutorial inlandisland!
     
  19. rs232

    rs232 Senior member

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    You don't have to rip the side seam if there is sufficient seam allowance for your new seam. If not, and it's fine thread, and strong cloth, you can rip it by getting a start with the unpicking tool, and then just riipping it apart with your bare hands. Not recommended for a particularly nice shirt, though.


    This is right. Industrial flat-felled seams are done on a special machine that folds and stitches at the same time, wth a special post-type bobbin arrangement that allows the tube to pass under the hook race. Sew a flat felled side seam, including sleeve, with a single needle flatbed sewer, and you'll find out why this is a hard ask (especially a domestic machine with a zig-zag foot).
     
  20. inlandisland

    inlandisland Senior member

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    Yes - like rs232 said above, you don't need to rip the side seams at all if you have enough allowance as you'll just be cutting off the excess anyway. The ripping I did was at the hem and the cuff - these seams are finished after the side seam, so they need to be undone before you sew the side seam, then redone afterwards.
     

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