Ghost Stories

Ghost stories . . . usually the stuff of campouts and slumber parties. That doesn’t mean it excludes seamstresses, however, especially when it comes to vintage clothing.

Revamping a vintage wedding gown is one of my favorite things to do. I love repurposing things, especially when grandma wore the dress and then mom wore the dress and now granddaughter is going to wear the dress.

In one particular case, grandma had made the dress for her daughter (now the mom) by hand, in many sections, without the assistance of a sewing machine. Needless to say, it was a very delicate dress and veil. While the length fit the granddaughter perfectly, it did not fit her through the chest and waist, and it was a bit dated in style.

Consequently, we discussed ways to expand the bodice and change the neckline. We also discussed changing the veil into a cape, as that was more the granddaughter’s style. Both mother and granddaughter were happy with the drawings and went away satisfied that I would complete the alterations and make something old and loved into something new and fabulous.

The day I began work on her dress, I felt what could only be called a “presence.” I made an educated guess that it was the grandmother, so I reached out to the granddaughter and asked her what her grandmother‘s name was. I did not tell her why. Armed with this information, I began to speak to the “presence” using the grandmother‘s name and explained each step of what I was going to do. As I worked through the alterations, the “presence” almost became like a hug. I took that to mean that grandma was satisfied with the changes that I was making for her granddaughter. Once I finished the alterations and took the final pictures, the ”presence” went away.

Mother and granddaughter came to pick up the dress, and both were crying joyful tears at the results. I then relayed the story about my visitation. The mother was completely gobsmacked as her mother had been dead for many years, but the granddaughter only smiled. Both seemed grateful that the “new” dress was grandma approved.

My second seamstress related ghost story has to do with the shut down during the initial stages of the Covid pandemic. My mother-in-law had died the previous year and had given us the bulk of the contents of her sewing room. Included in that, of course, were boxes and boxes of scraps. When I decided that it became imperative for me to lend a hand, I started making masks.  It was actually my husband who suggested that we use all the scraps from my mother-in-law‘s stash.

As I began to cut the scraps into the shapes that would eventually become the over masks that would extend the lives of the N95 masks that the hospital personnel were forced to wear repeatedly, I could swear that I felt my mother-in-law’s presence standing just behind me with her hand on my shoulder while I cut and stitched each mask into being.

She didn’t stay the entire time during the lockdown, but I felt her off and on through my efforts to eventually create 2,500 masks.  When I relayed this to my father-in-law, he commented that Jayne would be very proud of me and my creative use of her scraps.

The third story isn’t strictly seamstress related, but it is definitely family related. My grandfather was in the Navy during World War II, so it was important to my mother that we visit the USS Arizona Memorial while we were in Hawaii.

The ferry ride in Oahu was fairly uneventful. It was windy on the bay, and it was a normal warm Hawaiian day. As we got closer to the memorial itself, I felt the temperature drop a degree or so, but I didn’t think anything of it. We wandered along the exhibit, reading all of the materials and eventually coming to the plaque room where the names of all of the service members who perished on Pearl Harbor Day in 1941 when the Japanese attacked are listed.

I entered the room and immediately noticed a drastic temperature change. It felt like I had stepped into a walk-in freezer. I tried to read the names on the wall, but I was having a very difficult time focusing. When I looked up from the names, I noticed all of these men standing in silent, regimented rows gazing at me. Most of them were young, but a handful of them were very old. I recognized the naval uniforms, and I was completely startled by the fact that I could see them at all. I did the only thing I could think of at the time, which was to thank them for their service. Almost immediately, all of them began to sing the naval theme song “Anchors Aweigh.”

To say that I was completely freaked out is putting it mildly. I immediately turned tail and exited the plaque room back into the Hawaiian sunshine where the temperature difference was immediately discernable.

I walked in a daze through the remaining exhibits until I found one entry that described how divers were interring the ashes of the handful of servicemen who were not on the ship when the Japanese attacked to reside forever with their fellow servicemen after they died. This explained the older apparitions alongside the younger ones.

I recounted this experience to my mother. She confirmed that she also felt the temperature difference, but she did not see or hear anything. I could tell by the look on her face that the whole episode was far more moving than either of us had anticipated.

I know a lot of folks don’t believe in ghosts, and I can respect that.  I also know what I experienced. That being said, I always approach “vintage” type items with a healthy respect, as you don’t know what memories and emotions are attached to them.

Until next time, dear reader . . . . Boo!


Little Black Dress

The little black dress has been around for 100 plus years. Prior to the Roaring Twenties, black was worn mostly for funerary occasions. Then, artist John Singer Sargent came along and painted a canvas that rocked not only the art world but also the fashion world, Madame X. It transformed black from mournful to sexy.

Coco Chanel took the concept and ran with it, creating a fashion trend that has survived to this day. It has gone through many iterations from the full skirts of the ’50s, to the sleekness of the ’60s as exemplified by the iconic Audrey Hepburn dress from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, to the crazy shoulder pads and embellishments of the ’80s, to the basic pared down grunge inspired number of the ’90s and beyond.

It is a universal piece of fashion that belongs in every woman’s closet. I even have a few.

What I’ve noticed, being in the wedding industry, is the influence that the little black dress is having on those gowns.

Wedding gowns also reflect the changes in fashion, but black wedding gowns or gowns with black decorations on them are becoming increasingly en vogue. I’ve made several gowns that incorporate black elements, and I’ve also added black accents like buttons and lace to existing dresses.  It’s not for everyone, but, then again, I’m all for uniqueness in every situation.

The above was a two-piece wedding gown. I loved the way the black racer back of the bodice highlighted the rose ink on her left shoulder blade.  She brought me black lace that went with the bodice to attach to her veil and the hem of her gown.  The end result was just superb.

This mermaid gown had dark silver lace appliques on it, but the bride wanted to take it further into goth territory.  We added a black and rhinestone trim at her neckline (as well as to her partner’s outfit) and black pearl buttons all down the back of the dress.  She wore black jewelry and carried blood red roses and calla lilies. Stunning is the best way to describe this bride!

To meet this bride’s desire to go all the way goth, I built this dream dress from scratch in two pieces.  I made both with a corset back so that she could continue to wear it on anniversary dates no matter how her weight changed.  She added the red garnet jewelry and diadem, and, instead of a veil, we attached a long length of tulle as a cape to the back of her dress.  Talk about drama!

Here is my latest creation.  The young lady came to me almost in tears, telling awful tales of fat shaming at all of the boutiques she visited.  (Honestly, I’m in shock that this still happens in this day and age.)  Even if they had been willing to accommodate her, they wouldn’t have had this gem in stock in her size.  Since we were starting from scratch, she told me of her secret desire to have black lace incorporated into her gown.  She knew her mother was going to hate it, but I told her what I tell all my brides, “It’s YOUR gown and YOUR wedding, NOT your mother’s.”

We designed something simple and elegant, hiding her “faults,” enhancing all her good bits, and adding just that bit of daring that made this gown truly one of a kind–in her words, “a real show stopper.”

The little black dress . . . no longer just for funerals and fancy cocktail parties. It was only a matter of time before it burst onto the wedding scene in its unapologetic way, bringing with it drama, sex appeal, and just a bit of mystery.  I am thrilled that so many brides trust me with their secret longing to add black, in big or small ways, to their wedding stories.

Until next time, dear readers, may your bobbins be full and your seams be 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!