Right now I’m working on two wedding dresses. One of them is an alteration project, the other one a full sewing project from beginning to the end. These are not the first gowns I’ve worked on, yet I always feel a little timid taking on a project like this. It’s probably the most important dress of the bride’s life – I believe it’s only a good thing not to feel too confident when it comes to working on a piece like this.
If you are an experienced seamstress I’m sure you’ve figured these things out a long time ago already. But for those who have less experience in working with festive dress fabrics – here are the ABC’s for getting started!
Have the bride wear the exact accessories planned for the wedding
When your customer comes in for her first fitting, have her bring the same underwear and shoes she is planning to wear on her wedding day. This is crucial for getting just the right fit in the right places.
Make sure the bride is ready to come in for at least 1 or 2 fittings before the dress is done
It’s going to save you a lot of time to have several fittings, instead of having to correct some alterations that didn’t work after all. And where you save time, your customer saves money. So don’t be afraid to ask her to come in again as often as you feel it’s necessary.
Clean up your sewing space thoroughly
When I say thoroughly, I mean THOROUGHLY. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just cleaned it up last night after finishing your last project. Do it again. Vacuum the floor, your sewing machine, the table your working on. Swipe clean all the surfaces and make sure there’s nothing around you where the delicate fabrics of the dress can get stuck on. Materials like satin, silk or chiffon tend to get pretty static and they pull every tiny piece of dust towards them.
Wash your hands
You may think your hands are clean but you should still wash them. Try to avoid touching your face or your hair when working on the dress. You’d be unpleasantly surprised by how the invisible hairspray makes a stain in that white satin. And removing any grease stains is a task you do not want to do!
Make the dress more workable
Use small ribbons to gather large hems in a smaller bunch. This will make a big difference in working with the dress! Wedding gowns are huge compared to any other dresses, and you are going to find yourself wrestling with a lot of fabric if you don’t make some preparations first. If the dress has several layers in the hem and some of them can easily be de-attached, you may want to consider doing that. Sometimes it’s easier to remove a piece and sew it back on after alterations, than to try and work your way around it.
I hate using pins. After so many years of experience in the industrial sewing I have pretty much given up on using pins. But when you’re working on a piece like this the materials are usually very slippery, light weight or otherwise kind of hard to handle. You will do yourself a favor by using as many pins as possible. Even though it seems slow, it’s going to be a lot faster than having to rip up the seam and sew it again after failing the first time! Just make sure you pin within the seam allowences. Some festive fabrics tend to show all pin marks.
Use wider seam allowances rather than narrower
Let’s say your bride wants the hem shortened quite a bit. Do as she says but use wide seam allowences. This way you can still correct it after the next fitting, if she thinks it may be shorter than she first expected. The same goes with all of the altered seams. This will also be helpful in the future, in case the bride wants to sell her gown and the new owner needs to have it let out a little.
Consider hand sewing over using a sewing machine
Altering a wedding dress is, in my opinion, a lot harder than making one. When you’re working on certain seams, for example a halterneck attachment, you may actually find it easier to sew the new seam by hand. It could take you a lot longer and a lot more work to open enough seams to get the pieces under a sewing machine.