Changing Your Clothes

Shopping, Sewing, Upcycling, Repairing: Make the most of your clothes!


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Makeover Monday: Second Coating, Part 2

In which I finish creating a monster: the Franken-Coat!

In last week’s Part 1, I got started on this experiment in the CYC lab. Preparations for this radical disassembly-shuffle parts-reassembly project involved analyzing the 2 thrift-shop jackets for compatibility, doing a folded mock-up, and finally, rather extensive surgical (scissor-al?) procedures on both jackets. Here’s a quick recap:

Franken-Coat prep

Franken-Coat prep. At top left and right are the 2 thrift-shop jackets I started with, and the jacket parts after cutting them up are shown at bottom. (Details of this process are in Second Coating, Part 1.)

Now that everything is ready for the next step, I’m scrubbed and ready to sew!

Action plan:

  1. Stitch jackets together at waist seam, keeping linings out of the way.
  2. Add shoulder pads to, well, shoulders, between lining and outside fabric.
  3. Repair pocket lining on lower part.
  4. Make and add belt loops to sides.
  5. Remove old linings; use as patterns, and replace the lining.*
  6. Remove existing buttons; replace with new ones. Alter buttonholes if necessary.

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Altering the Alteration: Knit Top Follow-up

On the last Thrift-Shop Thursday, I showed you how to manage a couple of tricky alterations for Valerie’s stretchy knit thrift-shop top: shortening the straps, and closing the gap where the crisscross front panels overlap. The results were somewhat mixed; shortening the straps made a positive difference, but Valerie thought my attempt at invisibly stitching the front panels together was not invisible enough. (She’s right.)

Today, I’ll show you the newly altered alteration, which basically entailed removing my hand-stitching from the side where it showed.

Here’s what it looked like after the original alteration:

After first alteration

After the first round of alterations. Yes, the potential for gaping in the center front is eliminated, but unfortunately, my hoped-for invisible stitching was not quite all that.

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Thrift-Shop Thursday: Altering a Knit Top

It seemed so simple at the time. On one of our thrift-shop jaunts, my daughter had found a beautiful cream-colored silk-blend rib-knit top whose shoulder straps were perhaps just a little too long. Little did I know…

Valerie's top, before

Valerie’s top, before… it turned into an epic alteration project. Issues: 1. Shoulder straps are almost falling off her shoulders, and showing bra straps. 2. Overlapping front panels are too far apart, causing the dreaded gaposis (and showing a little too much cleavage for her taste). 3. Excess fabric under the arms, creating bunched-up areas. What to do, what to do…

Tip: I asked Valerie to wear a bra in a contrasting color, so that we could be really sure if the straps and/or the band in the back were visible or not.

The armhole-shortening alteration is one I’m all too familiar with. Since I am relatively large-busted but with a narrow rib cage and shoulders, when I buy clothes to fit around my bust, they almost always are too big in the shoulders and armholes; if the garment is sleeveless, this is especially a problem, showing a lot more of my bra than I’d like, not to mention threatening to fall off my shoulders.

Aside: Why is it that manufacturers seem to think that if one part of a woman’s body is large (like my bust), the rest will be equally large, including her height? I understand that they’re using averaging to come up with their sizing, but since when does a person get taller when she puts on a few pounds? It’s as if they take, say, a size 2 pattern and simply stretch it out in all directions to upsize it. Proportionally, this doesn’t make sense. End of aside.

So I’ve had a lot of experience with the armhole-shortening concept. However, with this particular top, in trying to come up with an alteration strategy, I was perplexed by a couple of things:

1. Because this top was constructed by essentially knitting the pieces together (not sewn in the conventional sense), there are no seams; instead, on the shoulders, where there would normally be a seam, the front and back appear to be grafted together.

The main issue is keeping bulk to a minimum. No matter how I sew a new seam at the shoulders, the newly-created seam allowances will create bulk. Another issue is that, with this very stretchy rib knit, the fabric is likely to stretch while I’m sewing it; this could actually be beneficial, in that if the strap does become a bit wider because of stretching, it will do a better job of hiding bra straps.

2. The center front poses a similar problem. There is a seam going from side to side under the bust, but it’s an enclosed seam, a technique done on knitting machines. Here’s what the under-bust seam looks like on the inside:

Enclosed seam

Enclosed seam. This is the seamline that runs from side to side, under the bust. (Shown on wrong side.) Problem: I can’t undo this in order to move the front panels closer together.

Tip: Just for the record, this kind of construction actually shows use of high-quality techniques, and I’m not complaining about that! It’s just that without normal seam allowances to work with, alterations are almost always more complicated.

If there was a normal seam under the bust, what I’d do is undo that seam, and overlap the center panels closer together to eliminate gaping (gapping?); but with this enclosed seam, that’s not an option. Aaargh…

For lack of a concrete plan, I just started pinning to see what would happen. Here, with just one shoulder pinned into a new seam, you can immediately see the difference shortening the strap makes:

Pinning the shoulders

Pinning the shoulders. With 1 shoulder pinned, you can see the difference: most of the bra strap is covered, and that bunching of fabric on the side of the bust is eliminated!

I had been concerned that shortening the shoulder straps that much would pull the under-bust seam up, but that didn’t happen, as you can see in the photo above. My guess is that the stretchiness of the fabric, and possibly the close fit of the bodice under the bust, made the difference.

When pinning the shoulders, I thought I might as well really refine the fit, so I pinned the new seams to fit the slope of Valerie’s shoulders:

Pinning shoulders

Pinning the shoulders (the sequel): With both sides pinned in place, the improvement in fit is even more obvious.

Sloping shoulder

Refining the fit: Instead of following the original shoulder line of the top, I’ve pinned the new seam to follow the natural slope of Valerie’s shoulders.

Now to sew the new seams! As usual when I’m sewing something stretchy, I’m using a wide, shallow zigzag stitch.

Tip: When sewing knits, I always use a ball-point needle in my sewing machine. This type of needle separates threads in the fabric, rather than piercing them, reducing the possibility of snags or runs.

Sewing shoulder seams

Sewing shoulder seams. 1. Zigzag-stitching the seam. 2. Snipping the new seam allowance open. 3. Zigzag-stitching the seam allowance .5″ from seamline (both sides). 4. The seam allowance on the right has had the excess trimmed away; left side has not yet been trimmed.

Some details about sewing the seams (numbers refer to the photos):

1. I had thought I’d have to stretch the fabric slightly while sewing, but this stuff is so flexible that it stretched by itself in the course of sewing.

2. Because there was no previous seam, I cut the folded edge after stitching the seam, so I could press the seam open; this will make much less bulk than if I simply folded all the excess to one side.

3 & 4. I knew I’d have to finish the cut edges of the seam allowance in some way to keep it from unraveling, as knits are wont to do (don’t you just love that word?). With almost anything else, I’d use my serger, but with all the thread used in serging, I thought it would add unnecessary bulk. So I just zigzagged about .5″ from the seamline, the trimmed the excess close to the stitching.

You can also see in photo 4 that the seam allowances look wider than the straps, due to the stretching of the fabric while sewing the seams. I dealt with this by hand-tacking the corners of the seam allowances into place:

Making tacks

Making tacks. Being careful to roll the outside edge of the top out (where it wants to curl under), I’m carefully making just a couple of stitches on the inside of that roll, to hold the corner of the seam allowance in place.

Tip: To anchor your thread, make your first stitch through the seam allowance, a little away from the corner you want to stitch down. This will allow you to make your final knot under the seam allowance, keeping the trimmed thread ends from showing. And yes, I figured that out the hard way.

Here’s what the new shoulder seam looks like on the outside, after tacking the seam allowance ends and steam-pressing very lightly:

After tacking

After tacking. If you really look you can tell where I tacked the corners of the seam allowances, but at least there’s no visible bulk showing through.

Tip: It’s a little embarrassing to me to show you that last picture; honestly, it wasn’t until after I sewed both seams that I even thought about trying the match the ribs on both sides of the seams. However, with fabric as stretchy as this (it’s mostly silk with a little Spandex), even if I had hand-basted the seams together before machine-stitching, I’m not sure they would have come out exactly right. If I was doing this over, I’d at least try basting, though.

Whew. Now on to the center front! You know how, with overlapping panels like we have here, if you try and pin them together, you can always tell? Here, I’ve put 1 pin in to see what would happen:

1 pin at center front

1 pin at center front. This actually doesn’t look too bad, but we both wanted to have more here than just a single tack hold these pieces together.

Center pinned

Pinning both sides together. By pinning on both sides where the panels overlap, I think we could create something more secure, and possibly a smoother finish.

The issue now is, how do I sew this in place invisibly? The part that’s pinned on the left side in the photo (above) is where stitching will show the most; on the right, with the natural roll of the edge of the fabric, I thought I could conceal hand-stitching fairly easily. I decided to try a simple blind hemstitch, the same as I would use to make a normal hem:

Stitching the center

Stitching the center. Top: Working on the wrong side, I’m using a blind hemstitch, unrolling the edge of the topmost panel as I go. Bottom: Working now on the right side, I’m doing the same thing, trying to make my stitches under the rolling edge.

So how did it all work? Here’s the before and after:

Before & After!

Before & after! The differences are subtle, but effective: The shoulder straps, widened by creating seams, cover more of the bra, the bunching on the sides is gone, and the crisscross center looks smoother and more stable, and is just that crucial bit more covered.

So what seemed at first to be an easy matter of shortening shoulder straps turned into quite the daunting alterations project! I had to figure out how to create shoulder seams where there were none before, without adding visible bulk, by the way, and how to smoothly connect the 2 front panels where they overlap. That may not sound like much, but it was more than I expected, I must say. But I learned a lot, and Valerie now has a lovely silk-blend top to add to her wardrobe (although I don’t think she’ll be wearing it for field work), and for which she paid the princely sum of $4.99!

Late-breaking news: Valerie has decided that the stitching that I tried so hard to make invisible on the center front (the part to left of center in the After photo) is not quite invisible enough. I really can’t disagree. After talking it over, we’ve decided that we’ll see what happens if I take out the not-quite-invisible stitching, leaving just the one side stitched down (the part overlapping on the outside, to the right of center in the photo). I’ll post an update with photos when I get that done.

Special note: Since these tutorials, and the Makeover Monday ones, are quite time-consuming to produce in blog-post form, I’ve decided that henceforth, Thrift-Shop Thursdays will happen on the last Thursday of every month, and Makeover Mondays will be on the second Monday of each month. So look for the next Makeover Monday on September 9, and the next Thrift-Shop Thursday will come up on September 26. In between, I’ll finally be getting to a lot of other ideas I have for you here on Changing Your Clothes— next up (after the knit top update), a new installment of Closet Confessions!


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A Year of Change

It’s my anniversary! Today it’s exactly one year since I published my very first post here on Changing Your Clothes. And since anniversaries tend to inspire nostalgia for the year that was, here’s a recap of my first year at CYC.

First, some blog numbers:

Followers: 127 (thank you!)

Posts: 113 (this one makes 114)

Views: 7,489

Comments: 428

And some wardrobe numbers:

Clothing items made: 19 (plus 2 for my daughter)

Clothing items altered, repaired, or made over: 25 (including one at my hair salon)

Travel wardrobes created: 2 (Santa Fe and Chicago)

So I’ve averaged more than 2 followers, 2 posts, 144 views, and 8 comments per week, not to mention a total of 46 garments (almost 1 per week) that I’ve either created or altered in the last year. That’s a lot of clothes-changing (and writing) going on!

But these statistics represent just a tiny part of the bigger-picture transformation that’s marked this year for me. As I’ve changed my clothes, my blog has changed, and creating my blog has changed me, which contributes to changing my blog even more in turn.

How can something as apparently superficial as clothes be the catalyst for this kind of chain-reaction growth cycle?

What we choose to wear communicates who we are to the observing world. Whether we dress to stand out, or try to hide in our clothes, we’re all sending a message that’s as clear as a neon sign flashing, “This is who I am”. So as long as we’re growing, shouldn’t our clothes be changing to reflect our internal state?

Try this. Imagine you’re an actor, and you’ve just received your script for an upcoming play. Let’s say you’re  normally a casual dresser, but as you read over your part, you realize you’re playing a super-glamorous, high-profile celebrity. Imagine working through all your scenes, wearing your usual jeans and t-shirt “uniform”; now imagine your first dress rehearsal, in your character’s full red-carpet style. How different do you feel, wearing clothes that are so different from your own style?

That’s the power of changing your clothes.

You don’t have to be an actor, putting a new character on each time you go to work, to experience this power. You simply have to raise your awareness of how you feel when you get dressed. It’s simple: if you don’t feel good, all you need to do is change your clothes. It’s not that you’re pretending to be someone else; you’re choosing to allow your clothes to be an active part of your personal growth.

An example from my own blog work is the jeans I made over by adding reversible cuffs. Prior to this project, I hadn’t worn these jeans in a long time, only because they were marginally too short for me; I stopped wearing them when I realized how self-conscious this was making me. But since their makeover, I’ve worn these jeans more times than I can count, even including them in my recent Chicago travel wardrobe!

My jeans, post-makeover

My jeans, post-makeover! On the left are my “new” jeans with bronze cuffs down; at right, I’ve folded up the cuffs to reveal the lace-print side. Definitely a change for the better!

So I not only changed the jeans, but how I felt about wearing them! Sure, I could have simply bought a pair that was long enough (actually not that simple, with a 33″ inseam), but this way, I get a bonus: the sense of accomplishment from making my jeans better than they were originally.

In addition to the wardrobe work, writing about changing my clothes has also been a significant part of this year’s growth for me. I’ve not only become more disciplined as a writer, I’ve also developed a sharper focus: writing about creative ways to get the most out of clothes we already have. And I realized recently that, for me, writing about clothes has become analogous to actually wearing them: both allow me to tell the world a little about who I am, as I am right now, today, and also how I’m changing over time.

It’s funny, when I try to articulate exactly how I’ve changed, it’s hard; it seems simpler to look at my clothes for clues. Virtually all the clothes I’ve either made, bought, or altered in some way have something special about them; I think my days of buying “practical” basics are behind me. What I want now is to wear clothes that express my individuality. (Think about it: if people were to describe the way you dress in one word, would you want that word to be “practical”?) So I think I can conclude that I’ve become more comfortable with myself, with who I am, and that’s what I’m seeing in my new (and newly-made-over) clothes.

Yes, I’ve changed a lot of my clothes over the past year; my writing has changed too, all of which is reflective of even greater internal changes. So what’s next?

Maybe I can begin to answer that question… over the next year or so.


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Makeover Monday: Recapping a Top Story

For this Makeover Monday*, I have a quick tutorial for you: changing long sleeves into cap sleeves! It may sound tres simple, and it is, but as with so many of my projects, it also brings up issues that I wouldn’t necessarily think about if I wasn’t going to write about it afterwards.

My top is made with an interesting textured nylon fabric, very stretchy and lightweight; it also has a shapely, close fit, plus a bit of support, thanks to the two-layer construction of the fabric that helps to create the puckered texture. My favorite feature, though, is the neckline, a modified square. (I happen to love square necklines, but they are amazingly rare in ready-to-wear.) Here’s my top, pre-makeover:

My long-sleeved top

My long-sleeved top, before its makeover.

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Makeover Monday: Cropping Jeans

A couple of weeks ago, I showed you how to crop thrift-shop yoga pants to capri length. Today, I’ll show you how I cropped a pair of jeans; the process is very similar, except that the jeans are a non-stretch fabric, requiring a different stitching technique.

Here are my jeans at their original length:

Jeans at original length

My jeans at their original length. (You may recognize them from some early Makeover Mondays.)

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Thrift-Shop Thursday: A Fresh Crop

For many (including moi), thrift shopping is primarily about the thrill of the hunt: slowly circling the aisles, gradually narrowing your search until you finally zero in on the one pristine cashmere sweater in the entire store. Yesss! You do the dance of joy. You carry your prize home in triumph, carefully remove it from its recycled plastic shroud, lay it on your bed to admire it, and then can’t resist slipping into it. Which is when you realize the sleeves are longer than you thought.

This has happened to me, and I have to admit (shamefully) that it mostly happens when I don’t try things on in the store. But wait— all is not lost!

Even non-thrift shop purchases often come with a catch: alterations that are necessary for a really perfect fit. In the case of a sweater, alterations can be challenging; you’re dealing with a knitted fabric, so cutting into it means having to secure a lot of ends so that runs don’t happen. I’ll probably show you how to do this at some point, but for today, I’m going to use something simpler as an example a common thrift-shop garment alteration: shortening yoga pants.

Thrift-shop yoga pants

Thrift-shop yoga pants, before cropping. Even on a 5’6″ girl, these are way too long.

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