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When it no longer fits - time for an alteration

Anyone who has hidden in a convenient corner to adjust an uncomfortable waistband, or made extra trips to the ladies' room to realign separating separates knows this fact: a good fit is priceless. Beyond lovely fabric, color or line, a comfortable fit determines whether you will reach for an item or slide it into the nether regions of your closet.

Many people can sew, but very few like to alter garments and alteration is the key to a good fit. You may have hemmed a pair of pants or skirt, or (admit it) reached for the safety pins or masking tape to do the job. But when the pant has a stylish slit or the skirt has an uneven hem or a border, you might want to reach for the phone to make an appointment for alterations.

"Everyone says I want comfortable clothes," says Joyce Stockstill, owner of Rogue Valley Tailoring in Ashland. Sometime a scant half-inch change makes the difference.

Sleeves can be shortened, narrowed, and sometimes even loosened. Waistbands can be removed or narrowed. Shoulders can be narrowed. Backs and bodices can be loosened, or fit to hug the body more closely, a must in strapless styles, says Stockstill. Darts or gathers can be changed by letting them out, taking them in, or moving their location. And the list goes on.

Some alterations are irrevocable, such as raising the hem of a jacket. Some ideas are more creative: Stockstill had a customer who had a collar changed from shirt-style to mandarin collar, making the garment more comfortable. Another alteration that can be complicated is shortening the length of a skirt with a fashion border. The skirt must be shortened above the border, sometimes at the waistline or a new seam is necessary.

Knits are the most difficult to alter because they can stretch in the sewing machine, causing a wavy seam. The extremely light pressure needed to hold the fabric in place is difficult to achieve outside the factory, says Stockstill. "We are somewhat limited with what we can do to knits." At the opposite end of the spectrum, leather alterations require a special heavy duty machine, says Nu-Way Cleaners' seamstress Stephanie von Loewenfeldt. They do leather repairs, re-line leather jackets and reconstruct motorcycle gear.

Weight loss or gain, health issues and changes due to aging lead to alterations for some people's clothing. Stockstill fondly remembers a longtime client who suffered from osteoporosis. As her spine bent, she had the bodice of her clothes shortened in front to eliminate the extra folds of fabric.

It seems few of us actually get rid of all the clothes that we don't wear, and some items update nicely with alterations. It could be that fabulous dress with the frightening shoulder pads, or a man's sweater re-made for a woman's proportions, or even resizing a classic suit inherited from a parent. Stockstill had one entertainer who repaired her grandmother's dress to wear it on stage. Unfortunately, re-styling is not possible with every garment; other times the cost is prohibitive.

In fact, style should always be balanced with cost, says Stockstill. She charges $34 an hour for alterations, so hems cost about $15 and collar changes about $20. Von Loewenfeldt says Nu-Way Cleaners charges $12 for simple hems, $19 for cuffed pants and $20 for lined pants, plus an extra $10 for slits.

Remember alterations next time you swing past an outfit in your closet, or tug at a waistband. "If your clothes fit properly, you can relax and enjoy the occasion," says Stockstill. Yes, people with clothing that fits might just have more fun.

When it no longer fits – time for an alteration