Avoiding alteration problems by choosing proper styles, fabrics

Altering clothes is tricky, and the results can be disastrous if alterations are not well done. You can avoid such disappointments by knowing which flaws are the most difficult to correct. These are:

* The too-large neck. The neckline of a dress, jacket, coat, or blouse should feel comfortable without gaping. Adjusting the neck also requires taking in the neckline facings and collar, which is rarely successful.

* Poorly fitting shoulders. Shoulder seams should end where your shoulder does, as shortening them involves extensive and tricky alterations on the sleeve cap. If you are broad-shouldered, make sure your clothes do not pull in this area or the entire garment will feel skimpy. In such cases, set-in sleeves are less comfortable to wear than raglan, kimono, or dolman styles. But make sure these styles fit perfectly. Altering them also requires adjusting the neck and shoulders of a garment.

* Poorly fitting bustline. This area should feel comfortable and be free of wrinkles. If you are generously proportioned, you should either wear separates or buy dresses large enough to fit the bust.

If your bust is small in proportion to your hips, you will notice wrinkles at the center front and side seams of a garment. This is difficult to correct; it involves altering collar, neck, and shoulders as well as adjusting the bust. Avoid the problem by selecting clothes that are softly gathered on top (such as elastic-waisted dresses) rather than severely tailored styles.

* Bodice that is the wrong length for your figure. Waistline seams should fall at your natural waist rather than above or below it. A short bodice makes the entire garment look skimpy. One that is too long can be raised, though the hem of a garment often does not hang evenly after such an alteration.

Checking fit is only one part of avoiding complicated alterations. Some construction features also make a garment a poor candidate for remodeling. These are:

* Bias cut. If your dress or skirt swirls around your legs, it is cut on the bias grain of fabric. Attractive as this drifting is, it often results in an uneven hem and a back that bulges after being sat on.

* Accordion pleats. The hem of these garments cannot be forced to hang straight, no matter how many times they are altered.

Once you have examined a garment's fit and overall construction, consider fabric. Some materials are guaranteed to challenge even the most skilled seamstress. Among them:

* Synthetic jersey and its newer cousin, Qiana. These fabrics run and tear very easily. In addition, their stretchy quality often results in puckered seams and crooked hems.

* Loosely woven fabrics. This problem is indicated by ravely seams and results in a garment that will get larger with each wearing. Taking in the seams will not permanently correct the problem. An added liability of this type of material is its fragility. One slip of the scissors often results in a gaping hole.

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