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Frugal Clothing Alterations

by Nikki Willhite

If you are a frugal person, you probably buy clothing on sale, either retail, at  garage sales or at thrift stores. The selection is more limited when you buy clothing on sale. Many times an items is perfect, except that it needs a minor alteration.

If you want to save money on clothing, you need to be able to do minor alterations. You can take clothing to a tailor, but that is going to add to the cost of the item. The purpose of this article is to point out a few subtle differences in clothing that will make for either an easy alteration, or one that is more challenging.


Taking up hems is the most common alteration that is easily done. The hem may need to go up, or down. WHAT IS IMPORTANT as far as the difficult of the alteration is how the garment is cut.

Straight pants, skirts and sleeves are very easy to alter. You don't even need to remove the existing hem, unless there is going to be a problem with bulk.

However, it there is a big flare in the leg, skirt or arm, it is going to be more difficult. If you want to shorten the hem, and the design is tapered, there will not be enough fabric to turn under. If you want to lengthen the hem and the item is flared, there will be too much fabric.

This makes alterations more difficult, and is something to keep in mind when buying used clothing.


The most common alteration is the length of the legs. The first thing you have to decide is whether you can just turn up the hem and sew again, or if the pants will be too bulky.

If you determine the extra fabric is going to be a problem, then you must cut the legs approximately 1 1/2 inches longer than where you want them to end. 

Then you need to  finish the raw edge with a serger, a zigzag stitch, straight stitch, or by just turning a scant 1/4 inch seam up and sewing it down.

If the legs are straight, you can just turn them up 1 1/2 inch, and sew again, by hand or machine.

However, if the legs flare, you are going to have to run a basting stitch along the hem and gather up and try and evenly distribute the excess fabric.

The gathering of the fabric causes bulk, so with legs that flare, you will have to cut them first.

It your pants are too wide at the waist, you can rip out the back seam, including the waistband, take in the seam, and then stitch the seam again.

Always baste before you sew to make sure you are getting the right fit.


Skirts are just like pant legs, but wider. There will also be more fabric to gather, if the skirt has a big flare.

So can see difficulty of gathering fabric that has been flared when you look at the hems on flared skirts. Skirts with a wide flare are often hemmed with just a 1/4 inch seam allowance.

The more narrow the hem, the easier it is to turn it under. With a 1/4 inch hem you don't have to baste and gather the fabric.

On the other hand, a straight pencil skirt may have a hem as long as 3 inches.

If you need to make a skirt longer, and there is not enough fabric, let out the hem, and then use a piece of bias tape. Sew it to the edge of the fabric, and then turn the tape up and sew it down. Except for the fabric in the seam, you will use every bit in the fabric in the skirt.

You can also just turn up 1/4 inch and sew it down.

If there is a crease from the old hemline, use a mixture of half vinegar and half water. Wet the crease, and the press.


It can be difficult to work on small pieces of clothing on a sewing machine. If will be easier to just hand sew the new hem.

If a long sleeve cuffed sleeve is too long, you may be able to solve the problem by just moving the button so that the sleeve is tighter on the wrist.

If you need to shorten the sleeve, you will have to first take off the cuff, cut off the excess sleeve length, and then reattach the cuff.

No Sew Techniques

If you seriously do not like to sew, you can use fusing tape. It comes on a roll, and is just like glue. You put it between the two pieces of fabric, iron so that it melts, and the glue holds the pieces of fabric together.

Let me repeat that one- it holds them together. It is very strong, and if you do it, you will not be able to change it again. Even if you pull the two edges of fabric apart, the glue makes a mess.

Personally, I have found many uses for fusing tape. It is fast, and it is durable. I have used it for doll clothing and household items. I have no problem with it other than you lose the flexibility of changing the hem again, unless you cut off the fused section.

I know people that hem jeans with duct tape. I've never tried that, but apparently it works.

So these are some things to think about before you buy clothing that may not fit properly.  If you are unsure of the fit, be prepared to do what is necessary to alter the garment, or you will be wasting your money and had best pass on it.

About the Author: Nikki Willhite, mother of 3 and an interior design graduate, has been writing and publishing articles on the topic of frugal living for over a decade. Visit her at - where you will find hundreds of frugal living tips and articles. Frugal Happy Families- more than just money!

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