When I first started providing alterations for clients there were plenty of cringe worthy moments. Practicing on friends is not the same as someone paying you. I hope you are able to find some of my more vulnerable challenges in alterations useful to you.

FULL DISCLOSURE! It’s a good idea if you are new to alterations that you let your clients know that you are practicing on them. Great things take time and honesty is a currency.

At first I would only hem pants, dresses and skirts. No formal wear. In the beginning hemming was one thing I felt confident doing. Taking a waistline in or letting bust lines out were still drastic alterations and very scary. Plus, we didn’t have Youtube yet.

For a time I was making garments from scratch for clients. Sounds silly now because making things from the ground up is a huge challenge in comparison to alterations, but we fear what we do not know.

Blind hemming. Little by little I forced myself to learn and build my alteration skills. Would you believe I only sewed these by hand for many years?

Formal wear. If the formal dress had any curved hemlines it meant the rolled hems were a challenge. Raw fabric edges would be popping out on the insides. Going over the french seams always left an uneven bubble in my work that was very noticeable. I remember my first rolled hem and my client requesting I fix the bumps. I decided I was going to practice over and over again until I got it using scraps of fabric. It only took a day on repeat!

Sleeve shortening on lined jackets with mitered corners – I still cringe at these! The first time I got this project I took it home and just stared at it all weekend. I almost cried real tears trying to figure it out. I take these apart and sew them very meticulously by hand when my schedule permits. They often look perfect.

Shoulder straps were one of the next alterations I learned. In most cases you alter from the top of the garment to the bottom in single sessions because the straps can change the rise of the bust, waist and sometimes even the hemline. I learned this the hard way. I’ve also sewn the wrong straps together once or twice. It happens!

Lining coats is a lot of fun if you have time on your hands. It’s actually not that hard to get the lining out, redraft the pattern and then cut and sew a new lining. The difficulty comes when you get to putting the sleeves in to the original piece. This is where my inner voice says over and over, “Tracy, you cannot flip a circle, you get a knot.” I would fold the sleeves in, pin them down and again hand stitch them with the tiniest stitches I could. I now use a much easier method.

Corset backs. I will do these if the customer lets me do fabric loops instead of grommets. I have no fear of grommets and have done many on custom garments. But on a readymade, off the rack garment – if I mess even one grommet up it ruins the entire piece.


Jewels, sequins and beads used to make my skin crawl. The summer of 2016 I worked for Fairy Godmother Creations taking apart wedding gowns to make christening gowns. That work helped me overcome that fear. I love working with this stuff now!


Up-cycling. Can you take an adult jersey and make it into a children’s size jersey? This was not as hard as I thought it would be, although you just never know…

The Wedding Dress! One – never cut anything off you do not absolutely need to cut off. Two – have multiple fittings before cutting anything. I don’t do a lot of wedding dresses and I always have my client send a picture of their dress to make sure it will be within my skill level. Communication is the key here.


I am sure if you ask me in ten years I may have resolved these issues and moved on to bigger challenges. There is always a lot to learn.

Behind the scenes~

The last two weeks have been extremely fun! Friday I gave a speech about my business to Dixie HS’s Intro to Small Business class. This is Abigail whom would like to run her own sewing business when she grows up.

There was also my favorite event of the year, the Surrealist Ball where I danced the night away. Shout out to everyone that organizes this, it was absolutely amazing!

Thank you for reading,

Tracy McElfresh

Dream it! Sew it!



Tracy McElfresh
Latest posts by Tracy McElfresh (see all)