how to: not be an idiot at the tailor

While this post is from the summer of 2010, Sew Simple remains my go-to spot for all my alterations. Since they just opened the doors to their new location (yay!), I thought it’d be a good time to refresh this post with updated info and additional tips.

Confession: I can’t sew for shit. My most recent accomplishment involving a needle and thread was sewing buttons onto a shirt of my sweetheart’s—a task that took me approximately an hour and an extra-large whiskey ginger.

It’s understandable then, when I need something hemmed, patched or repaired, I take it to the pros. Like Pahoua Hoffman and her mom, Chia, at Sew Simple, a-cute-as-a-button operation (conveniently located in the same building as my favorite Chinese takeout joint) that specializes in speedy, affordable alterations and tailoring. Since taking your thrifted vintage in to a tailor can be a bit intimidating at first, I thought, with the help of Sew Simple’s pros, we could cover some basics so your next visit is a snap.

1. Learn some basic lingo.

Knowing what to ask for is half the battle, and getting some simple terms down will definitely help you to not sound like a fool.

Hem: A hem is made when the bottom edge of a garment is folded over once, folded over again and then sewed down. A simple hem is when the garment is unlined. If you want a maxi dress made into a mini, or pants made into shorts, hemming is what you want. This also applies to shortening shirt hems, sleeves, jackets…anything with an edge.

Original hem: At Sew Simple, you can choose to have a simple hem (described above), or you can opt to keep the original hem (also known as a Euro hem) where the extra length is tucked under and sewn in such a way that the original hem is kept intact. This option is good for when you want to keep a detailed hem or maintain the same thread color used on other parts of the garment.

Taking in: The process of taking in an item makes it smaller for a more fitted silhouette. If you love a skirt, for example, but the waist is slightly too big, this is what you ask for.

Let out: The process of opening the seam allowance (definition below) to let out the extra fabric to create a looser fit. This is what you want to ask for if you thrifted a blazer or dress and the fit is a little too snug.

Seam allowance: A seam allowance is the area between the edge of fabric and the stitching line on two (or more) pieces of material being stitched together. Seam allowances can range from 1/4-inch wide  to as much as several inches. If you’re hoping to have something let out, check the seam allowance. If it’s small (like 1/2-inch or less), your tailor won’t be able to do much.

Lining: Lining is an inner layer of fabric, fur or other fabric that provides a nice, neat finish.

Seam: A seam is a line of fabric held together by thread.

2. Have realistic expectations.

Don’t get your hopes up; not everything is reparable. “We’ll tell you when we can’t fix something,” says Hoffman. Bringing your item in to a tailor is a good first step (don’t call and try to explain what you want fixed over the phone!). Consultations are often free, as is the case at Sew Simple.

Don’t expect that your garment will look “perfect” or brand-new, especially if you’re getting holes repaired, Hoffman cautions. “Most people who understand what vintage is are just happy that their garment is wearable again,” she says.

Don’t plan on being in and out in a flash. You will need to allot time to explain to your tailor what you want done, and if you want the fit altered, you’ll need time to try the garment on and have your tailor work with you to hatch a plan.

Some fixes need more of a designer’s touch, for example, if you want to reconstruct a piece or alter is drastically. An experienced tailor will know when something is beyond their skill level, and can refer you to a designer who can help. Sew Simple has relationships with local designers who can help you with a more creative project and can refer you to them.

3. Don’t go empty-handed.

Do bring (or wear) the underthings you’ll be wearing with the piece of clothing you want altered or fixed. It’s amazing the difference that foundation garments (a strapless bra or pair of Spanx, for example) can make in terms of fit. Also be sure to bring the shoes you’ll be wearing with the item—heels, flats, etc.—this goes for guys, too!

Do bring your wallet. Most tailors require full or partial payment in advance. Pricing varies per tailor, per repair. Most tailors will give you a quote for every piece. Sew Simple has a handy list of prices for common alterations, which you can check out here. (Handy much?)

Do be prepared to wait for your goodies. Your tailor should be able to give you a ballpark range of when your garment will be ready—usually in a few days to a week, with more complex alterations taking longer. If you need it in a jiffy, let them know, and they might be able to rush it through. At Sew Simple, there’s no fee to put a rush on an item, but be ready to shell out a bit more for faster service at other tailors.

A big thank you goes to Pahoua and her mom, who were ultra-helpful with putting this post together. Keep your eyes out for more tailoring-related posts featuring wisdom from the friendly folks at Sew Simple!

Sew Simple
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Closed on Sunday
Location: 2424 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55404
Contact: Phone, 612.872.4430
They’re also on Facebook and Twitter!



etsy finds: radiant orchid

pantone-color-of-the-year-2014-radiant-orchidReady or not, the new year is nearly here, and with the flipping of the calendar, comes a brand-new Color of the Year from our friends at Pantone. This year’s pick? Radiant Orchid, a variety of purple that hums with pink and grey undertones. While purple’s never topped my list of favorite colors, Radiant Orchid doesn’t bug me. So much so that just for fun, I pulled together collection of vintage prettiness from Etsy in 2014’s banner hue.

Etsy Finds: Orchid // High Plains ThrifterTOP: 1980s Ruffle Party Dress ($20), Lucite Heart Vase ($10), 1960s Belted Coat Dress ($64)

MIDDLE: 1940s Tap Pants ($35.15), Knitted Lace Curtain Panels ($25)

BOTTOM: Painting Idaho’s Snake River ($7)

Do you have feelings re: Radiant Orchid? Can you picture it in your rooms, wardrobes or  makeups bags this year?



recently thrifted

Hey all, we made it through Monday! High fives all around!

After a winter-imposed thrifting siesta, I’ve finally, just recently, been in the mood to make the rounds. And so, since it’s been a while, I thought I’d share a few finds from this past week

First up, two beauties from Empty the Nest


dryerAnd then a few random doo-dads from (clockwise from the left) the Salvation Army Family Store on Nicollet, Empty the Nest (yes, again) and the New to You Thriftique on Highway 55, which I visited over my lunch break last week.

option3Of all my buys, I’m most stoked about the hair dryer, with the granny sandals coming in a close 2nd. (Wearing them is like walking on a cuddly little cloud!) Have you thrifted anything recently that’s brought you a bit of comfort, surprise or delight? If so, I’d love to hear!



an ode to grandma’s dressing room

mary & haroldToday over on the Etsy blog, I shared a few pretty ideas for building a vintage-y vanity area, inspired by my beautiful Grandma Mary (pictured above) and the nook where she used to get ready. With inspiration coming equally from Naples, Florida, circa 1977, and femininity’s golden age of the 1940s and 1950s, the curated collections of dress, decor and details were SO fun to put together. If you have a minute, please do check it out!



heads up: christmas clearance sale at Arc’s Value Village

tumblr_meoo1bcdRQ1qlirlwo1_500Starting today, all blue-tagged holiday items at Arc’s Value Village stores are 50% off. This special sale runs all the way through December 22, and includes ornaments, cookie tins, serving ware, linens, candles, trees, wreaths, lights, clothing (anyone have an ugly sweater party coming up?) and more. You can read my original review of the Merry Thriftmas boutiques at Value Village here and find the store nearest you here.



Photo source: Vintage Penny Lane

a (little) weekend revelation

While I was doing the old keep-toss-donate routine around the house this weekend, I had a “why didn’t I think of this forever ago?” moment. After sorting through some bags of clothes and boxes of miscellaneous stuff I’d been ignoring for ages, I realized there were a fair number of tidbits leftover that were A. too nice to donate to the thrift or B. purchased with someone special in mind. Like, for example, an exquisite silk scarf I found for my mom for $1. A precious dress I picked up at a church rummage sale for a friend’s little girl. And these cute 1950s “his” and “her” drink coozies that would make a super adorable bridal shower gift.

They had potential, these little odds and ends, but without a home, I knew they would never be connected to the person they were intended for. So I gathered them together and threw ’em in a bin, along with some basic wrapping supplies, and am calling it my gift bin. I figure it’ll come in handy when the holidays roll around and the need for impromptu hostess gifts, White Elephant fodder and stocking stuffers all arises in the same week. It’s a little fix, and an unoriginal one I’m sure at that, but still, I feel good about it.

So dears, tell me, how were your weekends? Did you all have any big (or small) epiphanies, housekeeping-related or otherwise?



friday night finds

Growing up Baptist in a predominantly Catholic small town wasn’t easy come autumn. Why? Because by the time September rolled around, so did our local parishes’ fall festivals. Festivals I could never go to because there would be BEER and GAMBLING. (Never mind the fact that all the money raised went to the church!) Fast-forward a decade or two and the allure of a quintessentially Catholic fall festival still hasn’t diminished. And in fact, many of them offer thrift- and vintage-loving folks like me really wonderful shopping opps.

On Friday, I had the good fortune of attending St. Helena’s Autumn Daze festival with my friend Phil, Mighty Swell‘s Mr. Fix-It + all-around awesome dude.

I got there around 6 p.m., right when the massive rummage sale started. It was really packed, but the prices were great and Phil was there to help me carry my stuff, so I soldiered through. (Next year, I’ll be bringing a huge IKEA tote or my grocery-getter!)

Starving after combing the sale, we hit up the fish fry tent. Seven bucks for a hefty plate of fried walleye, fries and the most delicious fresh coleslaw I’ve ever had. (Price included coffee + homemade cookies too!) It was so good.

After that, we ventured inside the church to scope out the book sale and bingo situation, with a few pit stops along the way to look at the Country Store and bid on some silent auction items.

I really wanted to stick around to play quilt bingo and see the fireworks, but after working all day, I was pooped, so I headed home, arms heavy with my treasures. Speaking of treasures, here are a few of the things I found.

Vintage decorating books to add to my collection. The Better Homes & Gardens guide is from 1956 and the condition =  mint. I can’t wait to dig into the Betty Pepis one, too—it’s from 1965. All the hardcover books were $2 each.

I found a half-dozen or so records, including this Linda Ronstadt one. I’m not a humongous  fan of hers but I was charmed by the photo on the cover. How sweet does she look? I just love her smile (and her hair). All the records were $2 a piece.

This “No Smoking” cross-stitched magnet was all of 10 cents. Y’all already know about my love for plastic canvas so picking it up was a no-brainer. (Side note: Did you know that social scientists can determine how much clutter there is in our homes just by looking at the number of magnets, pictures, calendars, etc. on the front of our fridges? It’s scary and true!)
And last but not least, yet another sentimental cross-stitched sampler to add to my bedroom collection, bring the total up to four. (!!!)

Anyway, if you’re curious about parish festivals and want to check one out for yourself, here’s a fairly comprehensive run-down of events coming up in the Twin Cities area. I’ve already got my eye on the Touch of Lebanon festival up in Northeast. Perhaps I’ll see you there?