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!


Funky, Funny, Fabulous Dresses

As a bridal seamstress, I’ve seen all sorts of gowns and several designs multiple times.  I’m always intrigued by the styles folks bring in and the stories behind what about the gown appealed to them.  People always ask me if there are some gowns that stick out in my mind, for whatever reason, and the answer is a resounding “YES!”  Here are descriptions of some of the wild and wonderful dresses I’ve seen.

There’s one I always like to discuss. I affectionately refer to her as “the Octopus.”  This dress had 30, count ‘em, THIRTY layers of tulle to the skirt!  It literally stood up by itself when you took it off the hanger. This dress drove me crazy when I attempted not only to shorten the skirts, for obvious reasons, but also when I tried to alter the bustle.  No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get all 30 layers to lay straight and behave themselves to coordinate into a bustle point.  So, I ended up doing 5 layers at a time and making a rather pretty layered scalloped effect.  Unfortunately for the maid of honor, the silly thing had 46 bustle points when I was done. Yes, you read that correctly.  I think I gave her an 8-page diagram of instructions.  I have no idea if it was even attempted, but I am very grateful that I’ve never broken this bustle point record.

One bride brought me not one, but two weird dresses.  The ceremony dress was a bodycon column number covered in crystals from neckline to hemline.  The silly thing was so heavy that I didn’t move it from the fitting room until I was ready to work on it.  I had to remove 2 inches of crystals on either side of the seam to be altered in order to get it into the sewing machine and then I got to put them back when I was done with the change.  The even crazier thing was that this young lady was short and built like a pencil.  The running joke was that the dress weighed more than she did!

The second dress, in complete contrast, was made from a type of scuba fabric, extremely stretchy, was off the shoulder, and had an A-line skirt.  She was a size 00. So was the dress supposedly, but I ended up taking 4 inches out of each side seam! She also had me change the skirt while I was at it.  The A line became a mermaid.  Not sure what the rest of her wedding was like, but I’m quite certain that it was a showstopper.

Another bride brought in a gorgeous ball gown with an off the shoulder neckline and what seemed like millions of little 3D flowers all over it.  She asked for a Belle al a Beauty and the Beast style bustle for the train.  The only way to achieve this well was through French points (attaching under the skirt versus over) and there were 25 of them.  This was my second “worst” bustle in terms of difficulty.  I’ll never forget the look on the maid of honor’s face as I was trying to show her how to bustle the dress.  There was murder in her eyes directed at both myself as well as her sister, the bride.  I advised the bride to buy her sister a double after she successfully completed bustling the gown.  Alas, I have no idea if either occurred.

A bride also brought me this fabulous Italian number that was long sleeved and had dress-length lace illusion insets from shoulder to hem. It created a VERY striking silhouette, as they were strategically placed to show just the right amount of skin and leave the imagination wondering. 

Then there was the bride who brought me the gown that was 8 sizes too small for her and wanted me to add panels to either seam in order to make it fit.  I talked about this gown (as well as included a pic) in my blog entry “Fairy Godmother.”

Also in this parade of gowns is an incredibly cheap garment made in China and haphazardly constructed. The bride wanted me to fix all the issues it had AND make it look fabulous on her.  It was like putting lipstick on the proverbial pig.  I did the best I could with what I had to work with. To the bride, not only did her pig have lipstick on, it came complete with earrings, smoky eye shadow AND the smolder!  My alterations were 3 times what she spent on the dress.  Probably not her smartest move, but at least she was happy.

One of my favorite gowns looked like Picasso and Edith Head went to Greece for inspiration and collaborated on the project. The fabric had a very unique hand as well.  There were asymmetrical petals everywhere.  I thought it was gorgeous.  It, however, was also a pain to bustle. Since it didn’t have normal symmetrical layers to it, drawing a diagram for it was nigh on impossible.  I had the mother of the bride video me bustling it as I hoped it would help the day of.  Again, no report back, so I can only speculate if bustle-age was ever achieved.

Not only do I alter wedding gowns, but I also remake vintage gowns into something more modern.  One gown in particular was straight out of the ‘80s–HUGE sleeves, super high neckline with illusion fabric to the sweet heart of the satin, tons of sequined Battenburg lace appliques everywhere with the satin cut out from behind them, and a HUGE bow on the back.  It was fashionable for the time, but mom, bride, and I all agreed that it was hideous now.  First, we got rid of the bow and the sleeves.  I took off the illusion neckline, adjusted the front, and lowered the back so they were both a V.  I removed about half the sequins and filled in select appliques so they had backing again. We also took down the skirt from a generous A line to a more narrow and fitted A line.  Both bride and mom loved the finished product. 

One bride brought me a gown that had a split overlay.  She wanted me to take the satin underskirt off and make her fitted ankle pants out of the same shiny satin as the dress.  One problem . . . she was too plump to be wearing shiny satin in the form of fitted ankle pants! Palazzo, maybe.  Matte satin, maybe.  I tried to tell her this, but she insisted I make the shiny satin pants.  Of course, she was disappointed when she came for the fitting.  I always make things larger as you can pin things to make a perfect fit, but the satin was unforgiving of her curves, as I knew it would be even after pinning.  I think that’s the only tantrum I’ve had in my studio, knock on wood.


Thank goodness wedding gowns are as varied as the folks purchasing them.  I would surely get bored altering the same thing over and over. I can’t wait for the next surprise to come through my studio door!

Until next time Dear Readers, may all your bobbins be full and all your seams be straight.


Fairy Godmother

If you’ve met me in person, you know I have a penchant for wearing snarky sewing tee shirts. I have one that says, “I broke my wand so now I sew,” and it has a picture of Disney’s Fairy Godmother on it. Once in a while, the universe sends me a special project that lets me demonstrate that I am, in fact, related to said Fairy Godmother.

The first dress belonged to a young lady with Lupus. Under stress, her body would drastically change shape and size and would make a wardrobe choice nigh on impossible. She told me that she had at least three sizes in her closet to accommodate her condition. So, what to do about a wedding gown? I think she made an initial smart choice. She bought a skirt separate from a bodice. After telling me about her condition, I set about noodling on a solution. It came to me, as many things do, as I was falling asleep. The bodice was easy; I just installed a corset closure on the back. It’s extremely forgiving. You can go up and down in weight ‘til the cows come home, and it will still look amazing. Then, I thought, Well, why not do the same for the skirt? So, I installed a modesty panel that would accommodate quite a large change and did the same corset treatment as the bodice. It worked beautifully! The best were the joyful tears in the bride’s eyes when she tried the dress on for the final time in my studio and realized that it was one less thing that she had to worry about on her special day.

The second dress belonged to a lady who was a “big girl,” in her terms–tall and curvy but not overweight. She told her grandmother about her dream dress, and Grandma surprised her by going online and purchasing it. The only problem was that it was eight sizes too small. Her question to me was “Could you make it bigger?” My first suggestion was the corset back, but she didn’t want that. The only other solution was to add fabric in on the sides–4 INCHES on each side. Luckily, the dress had several things going for it that made it easier for me to hide my alterations. First, it was strapless. Second, the bodice had ruching over the top of the base layer, which made it easier to hide the side seams. Third, the skirt was gathered. Again, it made hiding the side seams a breeze. The other problem was the color. It was a delicate shade of champagne blush. I went to my go-to fabric place and couldn’t match it . . . only to come home and discover that I had the right stuff in my stash. Lesson learned: always go shopping in your stash first. Since I was adding fabric to the skirt, I also added pockets. When she tried it on, she was speechless. She couldn’t believe how the new seams disappeared and loved the pockets . . . of course.

The third dress belonged to a tiny woman. I think she was a street size zero, but she fell in love with this dress that was eight sizes too big. (What’s with the number 8?!?) She found the dress at a bridal resale shop with which I work closely, so they suggested that she call me and ask if I would meet her there and pin her up so she could decide. Normally when brides-to-be are trying on dresses, the helpers will clamp the excess material at the back. When she sent the pictures to me, I knew that taking it in from the back would be a lot more complicated than taking it in from the sides, but she was having a hard time picturing it. I met her with tools in hand and proceeded to pin the dress from the sides so she could see what the front and back would look like when I got done with it. We also had to move the straps in so the dress would lay correctly at the shoulders. I took pictures of the back after pinning, and she agreed that it looked fine that way, so she purchased the dress. In addition to taking four inches off each side, I also had to take six inches off the bottom, AND the train from the side seams back had a lace border on it. So, we did the alterations in stages–take the sides in first and then adjust the length and fuss with the lace border. Admittedly, I was rather nervous cutting that much off the dress, but the first fitting was amazing. She actually squealed when she viewed herself in the mirror. She couldn’t believe her eyes. The rest of it was easy.

In fact, most wedding gown alterations are easy for me now. That, of course, comes with experience, expertise, and a whole lot of plan B’s. (Still, I guarantee you that I’ve made a TON of mistakes along the way.) I’m glad the universe throws me curveballs like these now and again. They keep me on top of my game and help me earn the title of Fairy Godmother.

Until next time, dear reader, may all your seams be straight!