Friday, May 21, 2010

Using Great Aunt Fanny

Often a bride will tell me that she has a "Great Aunt Fanny" who will be doing her alterations for her as her wedding gift. Having a knowledgeable seamstress in the family can be a real savings for a bride, since industry estimates are between $250 to $350 for a standard alteration to a wedding gown. This figure typically includes a hem, a bustle, taking in the sides, lifting the straps. The differences in the low to high end of the figure have to do with how beaded the gown is, what kind of straps/sleeves/halter it is, and whether the hem is simple, or requires a trim piece be removed and reset when the gown is shortened. There are hours of work involved in the alteration of a gown to make it fit perfectly, and that is why it can get so pricey. So should you save a few hundred bucks and have Great Aunt Fanny do it?

My first question is always whether or not she has worked with wedding gowns before. The response is so often, "She made her own wedding dress." That is wonderful and an accomplishment (certainly one I could never do!) but does not address the issues specific to altering a special-order gown.

Here is a list of ways in which altering a wedding gown is more challenging than altering a store-bought dress, or creating your own gown from scratch:

  • Unlike clothing that is purchased at the store, or clothing that is made from a pattern, wedding gowns are specifically constructed with the expectation of alterations. The majority of alterations are accomplished in the side seams of the gown, as opposed to off-the-rack clothing that has darts under the bust and construction throughout that can be taken in or added for better fit.

  • There are often details, like beading or appliques that are present across the seams, that require being removed and replaced during the alteration process. Getting an applique to lie flat across a seam that has just been taken in can be tricky to even a veteran seamstress whose experience lies in making a garment from scratch.

  • A hem seems like a straightforward alteration, especially if you have done it a hundred times on trousers or casual dresses. Add a petticoat underneath, and a train on the back, and getting it straight and at the right height can be a time consuming process. Often a hem will have a lace trim, applique or another detail that needs to be detached before the hem can be sewn. Once the hem is complete, the trim is replaced. Since this detail will usually not be detached from the side seams to the train, it is a complicated maneuver to replace it without buckling.

  • If you have strapless dress, it especially imperative that your side alterations be as good as possible so that your gown will not be inching down all day long. Who hasn't been to a wedding where the bride was hiking up her dress?

  • A poorly constructed bustle will have the biggest impact on your day. If it is not even and part of it touches the floor, someone will likely step on it, causing footprints on your gown, and it will probably tear out the bustle. Losing your bustle means that not only will you lose your beautiful look, but that now you will have to carry your train around as you move amongst your guests.

  • Typically, the delicate fabrics and beading involved with a wedding gown, and the fact that the dress is probably some shade of white, make it difficult to work with. The dress may get dirty during sewing and need to be cleaned. The fabric will wrinkle while in the sewing machine, and need to be pressed. Does your Great Aunt Fanny have the tools to deal with the cleaning and pressing of a fine fabric? A professional has special spot-cleaners and high-end irons designed specifically for wedding gowns.

I will never tell any bride that she should not use her "Great Aunt Fanny" for her alterations. And I know there are many bridal stores that have internet reviews claiming that their alterations are overpriced. My advice is that now that I have given you this information, talk to your Great Aunt Fanny about the specifics of your gown, the beads and trims, the alterations you are likely to need and her experience with them. The problem with badly done alterations is that often they cannot be undone. I remember a favorite bride from my past that had had an "experienced" seamstress working on her $4000 Christos dress. The seamstress took her lace dress completely apart to solve a problem with making it more short-waisted for the bride. Once she had it apart, she did some cutting of the lace that she shouldn't have, and she could not get the dress back together again. I met this bride 3 weeks before her wedding, as she came to my dressing room as a referral looking for a new dress. Don't let a generous and well-meaning Great Aunt Fanny get in over her head with your gown and do this to you.

1 comment:

Katy said...

but my auntie dottie is going to do the hem! she's amazing! ... well auntie dottie is 100 years old and hasn't seem the serious hem this dress has...