Expert Tips on Wedding Dress Alterations

Image of altering a wedding dress

Anyone undertaking wedding dress alternations can always benefit from expert tips. Whether a bride needs only a minor adjustment or a major fix, nearly every wedding dress needs changes. Experts specializing in wedding gowns and wedding dress alterations offer some great tips on obtaining the perfect gown for the best fit on that special day.

Victoria Cain: A Seamstress with Experience

Although she laughingly refers to her sewing as a "hobby," Victoria Cain is anything but an amateur. With over thirty years experience and having completed thousands of sewing and alteration projects, this versatile seamstress has developed an exceptional eye for detail and skills that meet the challenge of virtually any task. Her passion for sewing and design started at an early age; as a young child she began with simple sewing projects and quickly progressed to making clothes for her own mother, who had difficulty finding clothes to fit her figure properly.

Victoria's passion for sewing spurred her to learn everything and anything about the art of sewing - she worked with other experienced seamstresses, poured over educational materials, and at a young age worked in retail fabric and craft establishments to further her skills. Her talents landed her a stream of clientele, and this mother of five also took time to make many garments for her own children, finding fabrics with lovely colors or unique prints to create fun frocks and handsome outfits. Pleased clients spread the word of her exceptional dressmaking and alteration skills, and she has continued to bring the joy to brides and women of all ages that comes with obtaining gowns and clothing that is perfectly flattering to their personal figure.

Timeline: When to Get Your Dress Altered

If your bridal gown or bridesmaid dress needs altered, sooner is better.

LTK: What is a good general time guideline for getting wedding and bridesmaid dresses altered (how far in advance of the wedding?) Are there typically charges for "rush" services?

Victoria Cain (VC): At least six to eight weeks before the wedding for alterations and hems. Also be aware that the dress may need additional pressing or that the linings or petticoats may need to be cleaned after the fittings. Rush services, even two weeks before the wedding, can easily cost double the normal alteration costs.

Finding the Person to Make Your Wedding Dress or Do the Alterations

A bridal gown with hand-sewn beads

LTK What advice would you give brides on finding the right person to alter their dress?VC: Get references from others who have had work done and are pleased with the results. You can also ask to see samples of finished work the person has done, and ask plenty of questions. Make sure the person is experienced or skilled enough to handle your specific requests -- if you want hand-sewn beads added to your gown, for example. You should also be able to receive an initial estimate, and the person should be up front with you if there are any changes or difficulties that would up the cost. Estimates typically run close to initial pricing, although if a bride changes her mind or adds something the cost can change.

LTK: You've worked with brides on designing dresses to their individual preferences. What advice would you give a bride who wants to have her dress custom-made?

VC: First, I would advise trying on dresses in a shop like David's Bridal and finding examples of what you really like. You can have someone take pictures of your favorites and make copies and pencil in any changes or details you want added. It's not always necessary for you to choose the dress pattern itself, a good seamstress knows the right pattern, and the right sizing after she's measured you, so you don't necessarily have to buy the pattern.

You can also collect pictures from magazines. With pictures and photos, make more than one copy and keep original picture to ensure your desired results.

Beach Wedding Dresses

LTK: You have also altered dresses for beach/outdoor weddings. What types of dresses do you see that are popular for this time of year or for outdoor weddings?

VC: Materials I would recommend would be cotton or cotton blends, such as cotton sateen, that has a shiny finish. Look for materials that are breathable and comfortable.

Really, you can wear anything you want, for beach weddings I've seen:

  • Satin
  • Sheer materials
  • Lace
  • Cotton

I don't recommend full length dresses, as they will go through abrasion from sand and stains from water; I recommend tea-length gowns. In regards to length, also consider that your feet will be sinking in the sand, an inch or more. Consider how the dress will look during the wedding and how well it can be preserved. It can also be a real advantage if bridesmaids can wear sundresses that can be reused.

For beach dresses, popular wedding shoes I've seen include:

  • Ballet slippers
  • Flip flops
  • Sandals

Dress Difficulties

LTK: What's more difficult - letting a dress out or taking it in?VC: Letting a dress out is usually more difficult. There is a tendency of the original stitching to show and if it is serged there is little room to make it larger. Lace dresses can fray and delicate fabrics can fray and stretch. The most important part to be well-fitting is the bust area, as other areas are easier to adjust.

LTK: Are some wedding dress materials more difficult to alter? Should potential brides avoid them?

Some fabrics are more challenging than others. Difficult fabrics include organza, which is very sheer, and chiffon, which is very delicate. Real silk and satin may snag easily. Lace is not generally difficult for experienced seamstresses. For your wedding day, you want to choose what's beautiful to you, so either find the perfect dress or the seamstress skilled enough and willing to take it on. Seamstress should be able to tell you what fabrics they have handled and are willing/able work with, such as delicate and sheer fabrics.

Preparing for Fittings

LTK: How can a bride or bridesmaid prepare for fittings? What should she expect? When's the best time to get the fitting done? Should the bride wear her bustier or lingerie she will be wearing under the dress during a fitting?

VC: The best time to get the fitting done - For the beginning fittings, it doesn't really matter; for later fittings, around same time the wedding will take place (as day wears on, women may retain water).

You can expect a seamstress to make a muslin copy at the beginning fitting. Adjustment can be done before the fashion fabric is cut to find the perfect fit; this eliminates waste and minimizes risk of imperfections on the finished gown. Prepare for several sittings. You can expect:

  • A fitting done before and after the lining is put in.
  • A fitting when gown is almost complete for the hem.
  • Always have a final fitting, and the dress should fit well across chest area, (this is hardest area to change).
  • The seamstress should also be able to tell you if they can take it out or take it in before starting.

Whatever you will have on for foundation garments for the day of your wedding should be worn during fittings, including hose and shoes. Your undergarments can make a difference of up to 2 inches on hemline or waist, and also show if dress will be too revealing in any area or if different garments are needed.

written by Amy Finley

LoveToKnow would like to thank Victoria Cain for taking the time for this interview, and wish her continued success and joy in all her endeavors.

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Expert Tips on Wedding Dress Alterations