Alteration Disasters

As a professional seamstress, I am often called on to fix other people’s sewing mistakes. Well-meaning friends, relatives, and the like are always eager to help; however, they often bite off more than they can chew and get themselves in over their heads in a hurry, especially with bridal alterations.

My entrance into the wild business of bridal alterations came when a theatre friend called me for emergency alterations. The bride in question was the daughter of her best friend, and they had taken the gown to a well-meaning “lady at church.” The gown was a strapless mermaid, and it needed the side seams taken in, the skirts shortened, and a bustle put in. So what had the church lady done? She had only taken it in at the top to about 2” down, and that was it. They paid her a reasonable sum for not much work, and she wasn’t returning phone calls—probably because she knew she’d messed up.

Enter me. I undid the minimal work the “lady at church” had done and proceeded to pin the gown up according to the bride’s preferences. One of those preferences was that it be so tight she looked like a doll in it. One side effect of said pinning was that she was unable to walk. However, she still insisted that I sew it like that. Even at that time, I knew physics was NOT going to be on our side, but I sewed it down anyway.

The fitting went as predicted. She was actually surprised when she couldn’t walk. We eventually adjusted everything, and the wedding went off without a hitch. To this day, however, I STILL hate strapless mermaids.

The second bride had allowed a well-meaning future mother-in-law to take a crack at her dress. Said bonus mom took in the side seams, but very unevenly. She adjusted the straps but didn’t tuck in the extra fabric, AND to add insult to injury, the bustle was in a very unflattering state. The bride told me her nephew burst into the room while she was trying the dress on, took one look at the bustle, and proudly told her aunt that she had “unicorn butt.” I must have laughed until I cried for at least five minutes. To this day, I use that phrase to describe unflattering bustles.

Bride #3 had taken her crepe gown to just a run-of-the-mill alterations person who had little to no experience with bridal but who had assured the bride she could handle it. When the bride sent me her bridal portraits to show what the other person had done, I was appalled. First, the bust darts were in horrible shape. They didn’t do anything to help the bustline at all. They may as well have not even been there. She didn’t trim the hemline, so the skirts were pooling on the floor. This may look cool in pictures, but it’s not practical. She also attempted to take in the bodice seams, but they were uneven. Then she told the poor bride that she didn’t need a bustle—to just carry the skirt around with her.

When the bride came to see me and I got a look under the hood, so to speak, at the actual work done, I was beside myself. To say that it was amateur and messy is being nice. So I undid everything and pinned the dress on the bride. She had tears in her eyes while looking in the mirror–partly out of shame at her mistake but mostly out of gratitude and relief that I knew what I was doing and could make the dress fit her like a glove. Hard lesson learned.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that all amateurs have horrible skills. Quite the opposite actually, as I was an amateur once. What I AM saying is that amateurs of all stripes tend NOT to know when to quit or to ask for professional help. My own mistakes have led me to hiring a web designer, an accountant, a prop maker, and the like. Some things—some big and small things—are just too important not to have a professional handle it.

Until next time, dear readers. May your bobbins be full and your seams straight!


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