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What Does an Alterations Tailor Do?

A tailor uses a seam ripper to remove stitches in clothing to prepare for alterations.
An alterations tailor adding a button.
Alterations tailors repair or customize clothes rather than making new ones.
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  • Written By: Cassie L. Damewood
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2014
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An alterations tailor is a professional seamster who specializes in customizing or repairing existing clothing. He differs from a general tailor in that he normally does not create articles of clothing from fabric, but only alters and fixes existing pieces. An alterations tailor may work for a department store, a private clothier or operate his business as an independent contractor.

The clothing presented to the tailor may belong to men, women or children. It may be newly purchased, unworn garments, slightly used clothing or outfits that are decades old. The alterations or repairs customarily range from simple to complex.

Although an alteration tailor may prefer to have the person who will be wearing the article of clothing have it on their person when he assesses the needed adjustments, he may not have that advantage in many cases. Pieces of clothing are often presented to him with alteration or repair requests written on an attached tag. Not having an actual human body to instantly gauge the success or progress of his work normally makes it more difficult.

Commonly requested clothing repairs presented to an alterations tailor include torn or ripped pockets, coat, jacket or pant linings, lapels and pocket flaps. Fixing these flaws may require hand or machine stitching. If the tears are extensive and irreparable, the damaged area may require replacement.

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Alteration requests can be made for almost any part of an article of clothing. Among the most common demands are adjusting the lengths of sleeves or legs, narrowing or expanding waistbands and adjusting the heights of lapels or collars. Less common are requests for shoulder pads to be inserted or removed from jackets, blouses, shirts and coats.

Whether an alterations tailor repairs or alters clothing, he normally uses a tape measure to gauge the extent of the changes and marks the fabric accordingly. Marks indicating points of revision are traditionally made using multicolored straight pins. If a garment requires restructuring, the stitches are normally removed by a razor blade or a tool made for this purpose called a ripper.

The modifications to the clothing are finalized using either a needle and thread or a sewing machine. Hand sewing is typically applied to small areas that cannot be efficiently sewn by machine. When the seamster’s sewing is complete, he traditionally presses the garment by hand or machine before returning it to the customer.

No formal education is normally required for this job. It is typically a skill that is learned on the job through assisting an experienced tailor, seamster or seamstress. A good eye for detail and advanced math skills are generally required.

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