image by Alissa Dinneen
How did you get started working with wedding gowns?
I started sewing Barbie doll clothes at age 9. My first job working on wedding gowns was at a bridal store in Hartford 35 years ago, which is where I got hooked on bridal. The following year a wedding gown factory opened in Enfield, Connecticut and I became their first seamstress. I later worked directly with the designer as his sample maker. The factory closed after only 2 years and I unhappily joined the insurance industry.
During the insurance years I would make or alter the wedding dresses of friends and family, and performed part-time alterations at various bridal shops in Connecticut. I eventually left the insurance industry and devoted all of my time to dressmaking and alterations. I estimate that I have worked on somewhere between 4500 and 5000 bride, mother, bridesmaid or flower girl dresses in the past 35 years. I love what I do and am blessed to be doing it here at The White Dress by the shore.
What goes into altering a wedding gown?
Our gowns are from the top couture designers in the industry. As a result, they are extremely well constructed. Each gown has multiple layers and when altering them, each layer has to be taken in exactly the same amount to ensure a proper fit. We appreciate the delicate silks and laces and the special handling required to alter each gown. We always take the time to do the job properly. There are No shortcuts- EVER. Shortcuts create lumps and bumps that no bride wants.
At The White Dress by the shore, we spend an extraordinary amount of time with the bride and her gown. Generally, we have 4 fittings for each gown. We concentrate on making the bodice fit at the first fitting because the bodice affects the skirt length. The hem and bustle are the focus at the second fitting. At the third fitting we check the overall fit of the gown and ensure that the hem is perfect. At the final fitting the brides puts the dress on one more time to check for perfection, the wrinkles are removed and the dress is packaged and placed in her car. We devote one hour to each fitting and two hours for the final pickup, just in case any minor tweaks need to make while the bride waits.
Although the bride may see the seamstress for 3 to 4 hours in fittings, the dress also spends many hours in the sewing room getting carefully taken apart and stitched for the next fitting. Our goal is to ensure that the dress feels as great as it looks.
Hemming even a simple design can take several hours due to the number of layers in the gown. Each layer of the skirt needs to be measured, stitched, checked, trimmed and pressed separately.
Lace hems take much longer because the lace usually needs to be removed and re-attached after hemming the shell and petticoats of the gown.
What is the most difficult aspect of altering a wedding gown?
The wedding dress has evolved over the last 60 years from a single layer of satin worn over a bra and separate petticoat into elaborately constructed multi-layered works of art. Gowns today often are designed with the petticoat built-in, and often with a bra or fully boned corset built-in.
Each layer needs to be altered in the same exact manner or the overall result will be less than perfect.
A common question is how do you alter a gown with a lace hem?
It depends on the type of lace and the style of the dress. Sometimes we need to remove the lace, shorten the fabric portion and then reapply the lace along the new hemline. Sometimes we need to carefully cut along a design in the lace pattern, reposition the lace, sew it, and then cut away the excess. If there is a horizontal waistline seam, we sometimes shorten from the top of the skirt. The waist seam is taken apart and then we cut away the unnecessary inches from the top of the skirt panels and then put the bodice and the skirt back together. Either way is very time-consuming and can be tricky, but it's our specialty is making any changes to the dress imperceptible.
How do you feel about customizing gowns from their original design?
We love to customize dresses at the White Dress by the shore. It is what makes the dress truly unique for each bride. We can do just about anything imaginable. If the bride wants a slimmer skirt, a dip in the neckline, a "V" in the back, shoulder straps, a sleeve added or taken away, or a little bling added here and there, we can do it all!
One thing we love to do is place a personal memento into the dress. It can be a piece of fabric from their mother’s or grandmother’s wedding dress, a strand of yarn from her grandfather’s favorite afghan, or a piece of tattered handkerchief sewn to the lining near the hem. We once added a tiny pocket inside the gown for a special coin or medal. A Dad once hand embroidered the couple's names and wedding date onto a piece of silk and I stitched it into the lining. That was truly sweet.
What are the biggest misconceptions about your job?
1. That we have a magic wand in the back room.
2. That if the right size was ordered they wouldn't have needed alterations.
3. That we can do a hem without the proper shoe.
What words of wisdom can you provide brides going through the alterations process?
If you plan on losing weight and have a specific regimen that you are using, tell your seamstress at the first fitting. It is important to formalize a plan for the weight loss so that the gown does not have to be taken in at every fitting.
Proper undergarments are KEY! It is important to come to the first fitting with the foundations that you plan to wear under your gown. The appropriate foundation makes all of the difference in the fit of your gown. We love that we share our space with Beneath the Gown so that Josie can outfit all of our brides in the perfect undergarments for their gown.
It is critical that you have the finalized shoe by the second fitting. We need the EXACT shoe at the fitting in order to ensure that the hem is perfect.
What do you love about the process?
I just love working with brides. They are women who are happy and in love, at one of the best times in their lives. The most gratifying part is that one moment during a fitting when the bride sees herself in the mirror and realizes that, yes, it really is HER wedding gown and she feels fabulous in it. All those months of wondering how it would turn out are over and bridal worry and silly nightmares were unnecessary. They get that glow, do a little twirl or let out a little squeal or a couple of laughing tears and say they don't want to take the dress off. It gets my heart every time.