Tuesday, April 17, 2012

When to Hem/Alter Your Gown

Prom season is in full swing!!  Beautiful gowns are arriving and now is the season you want to be sure you are allowing plenty of time to have the work done.

This blog post is two-fold:
1. When & where to alter & 2. What to look for when shopping to save on alteration costs

1.  Do your best to plan at least 4 weeks for your gown alterations.  During the heavy prom season, if you call within the two to four weeks you could encounter a rush fee.  Personally it is one charge I don't like to have to add to someones' bill, because that means I have to work extra hours that week and it's money that my customer could have been saved.
2.  There are many wonderful seamstresses who can alter your gown.  Be sure you have confidence in the seamstress you have selected.
3.  If you are price shopping, be mindful that no seamstress can provide an "exact" estimate of the work you want them to do until they see the gown and how it fits.  Many clients call and want a quote on a hem, yet without seeing it, knowing the number of layers, type of fabric, bead and/or lace work can make a huge difference in how the work needs to be addressed.  The more experienced seamstress will be able to look at a dress and see the details involved in making the necessary adjustments, from fabric to construction.
4.  And if your goal in price shopping is to find the cheapest rate, all I recommend is to be cautious.  In some cases it will not matter, but in others, it will make a huge difference!!
5.  Sometimes you can get an estimate, but sometimes a client arrives and what they thought they needed, will not "make the dress" fit well.
6.  Do not compare the cost of your dress to the cost of your alterations, while it may cause me to giggle, it will cause you to panic.  If you were given a dress, got it on sale for less than $150, there is a good chance the alterations will cost start around $150 or more.  Unless of course it is a simple fix, based on the seamstress viewpoint.

I was contacted this past week about doing a "simple" hem, "it only needs to be brought up a little bit".  Just because the dress needs to be shorten a 1/2 in or more, it's not about how much needs to be taken up, it depends on the type of fabric and number of layers.  Providing this service takes time, and cannot be compared to what you spent on your gown.

This leads me to share with you, the consumer, on how to shop for your gown, in order to avoid alterations.  Now, please understand, that alterations are a huge part of my business.  I appreciate my loyal and new customers who place their trust in the work I provide for them.  While I enjoy being able to contribute to making a lady feel beautiful in her gown, as well as supporting my family with the wages I earn, I also understand that to have the work done, might not fit within everyone's budget.


1.  Wear the bra you plan on wearing...a good bra will make all the difference in the world!!  It can affect your hem length as well.
2.  Wear the heal height you plan on wearing with your gown.  Better than that is to bring your dress shoes with you to try on with your gown.  Most stores will not have a problem with this if you explain what you are doing!  They want to sell you a gown that you will keep!!  If the length is 1" off the floor with your heels, you are golden and no hem work is needed!!
3.  DON'T purchase a gown that is way too big in the bodice!!  If you can hide packages in the bodice, then the cost to adjust this alone could be more than you want to image!!
4.  A gown that is "slightly" too large, can be adjusted for a reasonable cost.
5.  Consider a tea length or knee length gown and be sure to purchase a petite length if you are under 5'5"
6.  If you have to choose between a dress that is too tight vs. too big (by one size) from the rack, take the one that is one size too big!!  Many dresses today do not have sufficient seam allowances to take dresses out.
7.  If you find the dress that you really have your heart set on, and it's too tight, check the seam allowance.  If you place your finger on the seam, from where it is stitched to the edge of the fabric, and you can't see the fabric, it cannot be taken out.  If you insist there is plenty of seam allowance, you will risk having to sign a waiver or the seamstress telling you it can't be done.
8.  Strapless dress & don't enjoy wearing a strapless bra?  Okay...have someone put the bra cups in for you. But, when you try the gown on, wear the bra you would want to wear if it had straps.  That way all you will need are the bra cups.
9.  Beaded and lace covered gowns cost more to alter than plain gowns.  This is going to be a choice though, as I know many young ladies who love the bling!!  It's fun, it sparkles, and makes them feel special.
10.  When selecting a gown filled with beads, look at it closely to be sure it is not losing them when you try the gown on.  Securing and/or re-beading gowns can be costly.
NOTE:   Not quite sure how to secure and/or re-bead?  I have provided clients with a private lesson/consult so they can do that work on their own for the dress they purchased as well as any future gowns they wish to embellish.
11.  Can't seem to find a dress to your liking?  Consider asking a friend of similar size if they might have a gown you can borrow or offer to purchase.  They make a little extra, you save the full cost of a gown and alteration costs.
12.  Last but not around in your gown.  Does it move nicely on you?  Is it too snug when you wrap your arms around yourself?  Is it too warm to wear during the short time you have it on in the dressing room?  Do you feel comfortable and beautiful in this gown?

My wish for all the young ladies attending prom this year:  Be safe, have fun, respect yourself, and enjoy being treated like a lady!!  Respectful young men enjoy treating a lady well.  And, by the way, it's okay for him to open your door.  My husband still opens mine and I love it!!

Davina Dawn Sewing Specialties

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Today's inquiries - Decisions in Gown Alterations

Yesterday I received a few different requests to alter gowns for upcoming proms and weddings.  I find it to be an interesting contrast of values when it comes to hiring a seamstress.

My first client was a mom whos daughter came to me last year needing overnight work done because the seamstress she originally hired decided she couldn't work on the dress because she was inexperienced in the sequin type work.  I remember the day she called panicked and frustrated with a seamstress who didn't call until the very last minute sharing she could not complete the job.

Yesterday her mom called, sharing how I was able to turn her negative experience of working with a seamstress into a positive one.  At a young age her daughter discovered the need to be pro-active in her search for someone she can trust.  This young client, knowing that alterations were a probable possibility for this years prom, decided to ask a friend about the dress she wore last year.  Her friend was happy to sell her gown, providing my client an expensive dress at the fraction of the cost.  In doing so, she saved resources so that the cost of alteration work would fit comfortably into her budget.  Fortunately, the other benefit of purchasing this gown from a friend similar in size could possibly result in less costly alteration work.

My 2nd request came from a woman who is new in the area, yet is in an upcoming, elegant wedding as a bridesmaid, asking what the cost and turn-around time would be.  In sharing with her that I don't provide estimates over the phone, but that my average bridesmaid/prom style dresses with minimal layers run between $150 - $200, also noting that some are less with very few alteration needs, while others needing extensive work cost more.  Right now my turn-around is approximately 3 weeks on bridesmaids, yet as my rack fills up, this will be extended.  After sharing the basic information, she booked with the understanding of my inability to provide an exact estimate over the phone and acceptance of my turn-around schedule.

Both are examples of customers who desire their gowns to fit well for both of their occasions, and although price will always be a factor for all consumers, these clients were  first looking for quality service.  My first client, knowing how quickly my schedule fills for the prom season, already satisfied with previous work I did for them, called soon in the season to avoid rush fees for waiting until the last minute, while also booking for both her daughters.  My 2nd customer was looking for a basic idea of what costs could be and a turn-around time.  Yet both understood the value of my time, for the work they wanted, in order to make their gowns fit them well.

My final call was from someone who has never needed someone to alter her gowns or clothing.  She found her dream wedding dress on Ebay for $50.00.  Personally, I think it's a great deal even if reasonable alterations are needed.  The only downside was that it came in too small for her with the request that I add small pieces of fabric to expand the sides.  Unfortunately, providing gussets into a gown can sometimes be a tedious and costly chore, as it requires lining fabric as well as matching gown fabric, along with determining how to apply them to fit the style of the garment as well as create a proper fit.  It is something I have done in the past, but is usually quite costly.  Not something I recommend unless there are no other options.

Sight unseen, if the client was really set on this gown, would require a paid consult of her taking the time to visit so we could discuss the options available.  The decision:  Since she only spent $50 on the dress, the cost for the consult along with alterations would cost more than she paid for the dress.  She decided she would rather buy a new gown.

The positive side of her decision is that she could probably find another dress that would fit her better, with less alteration work.  The down side is that her larger size will limit what she will be able to find off the rack, with only a month before her wedding.  If she is able to find a dress that will reasonably fit, she will still incur the cost of alterations, which can sometimes still cost more than the cost of a dress (most especially if found on sale) along with rush fees.  I hope she is blessed in finding a dress that fits her perfectly.

What I have discovered is that those who have never had the need for a seamstress for alteration or custom sewing services, find the cost to be a little overwhelming.  Some gowns need minimal work, so the cost comes under the norm.  Yet, sight unseen, I will let people know the averages of gowns I have worked on over the past year.  Excessive alterations and custom work will always increase the cost, many times matching the cost of the gown or more.  If their gown was purchased on sale, or clearance, they forget that a seamstress cannot provide their services to match the cost of their dress, most especially a $50-$100 gown, unless the alteration is mild.

My goal in sharing this information is to educate.  Seamstresses who run a business, even if done at home, are looking to provide you a quality service that you will be pleased with.  Quality service comes with experience and the ability to take the necessary time to evaluate your needs, listen to your goals, and take the time to properly evaluate the construction to determine the time involved in make those necessary alterations and/or added custom services.

Don't call a seamstress expecting to pay $25 - $50 for gown alterations.  The same holds true for hems on pants, jeans and slacks....long gone are the days when jean hems cost $5.00.  There's more to alteration work then putting the item on the machine and stitching in place.

Almost like going to the mechanic for your car inspection.  Sometimes the minor repair you want to have done is not so minor.  Until they see your car up on the lift, they will not be able to definitively share what your estimate of labor and parts will be.  The same holds true to your garment alteration and custom sewing needs.

Davina Dawn Sewing Specialties

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Deciding when to alter a garment - educating the customer

Men slacks with shorten cuffed hem

Jean hem shorten to look like original
Throughout the course of a day or week, I receive a variety of phone calls from clients looking to have a variety of alteration work done.  It ranges from a simple hem to replacing thick leather jacket type zippers, among the many other type of inquiries.

Unfortunately I cannot possibly know for certain what each item will cost until I see the garment/item.  But, for those who are ready to run over with the basket of clothing or a pair of jeans they just received at an incredible deal, I share with them that my hems range starting around $20.  For some this is too much.  But, what it does do is allow them to take a look at what they have and decide if the cost outweighs the value of their garment/item.

This provides me the opportunity to educate my potential client.  Using jeans as my example; depending on how much of a hem change needs to be made on the jeans, depends on how much time is involved.  It's not always about cutting and hemming, but rather removing the secure jean type stitching, measuring and remeasuring to make sure I am placing the hem where the client has chosen for the length they chose to wear them at.

There is more to a hem than sitting at a machine and stitching.  These are the steps for pant hems (not including overhead costs):
  1. meet with the client  - sometimes they have already pinned the garment and other times I need to spend 15 min fitting to the shoe height they desire to wear their pants with.
  2. determine if the hem can be cut off, or stitches need to be removed
  3. if applicable, remove the old stitching
  4. cut the excess off
  5. refold, add bias tape, etc...whatever is needed to prepare for the new hem
  6. either machine stitch, jean stitch, blind stitch or hand stitch in place.
  7. put thread into machine and replace needle to make sure there are no burrs to snag material from over-use of a previous order (or thread a needle if hand stitching)
  8. press the hem
  9. double check to make sure the length is accurate
  10. create their invoice, email (sometimes followed up with a phone call) and schedule a meeting for them to try on and pick up their garment(s)
  11. hang garment(s) and clean up to prepare for next sewing or alteration job.
Not everyone is willing to value the work that goes into making their garment fit them well, as they look at the cost they paid and subconsiously have decided what they are willing to pay.  Yet some will take the time and rationalize that "well, I paid $120 for these dress slacks, I want them done well", or "I got a great deal, it is worth the extra that I saved to get the length I need", etc.  While others will not take the time to understand that my time is invested on their behalf so that they look great!  People work hard for their earnings and there's nothing more discouraging when, no matter how much or little, realize that their awesome deal will cost them more than a few dollars to fit well.

My goal as a seamstress, whether creating from materials and patterns, heirlooms from a wedding gown, applying military patches or even the basics of hemming jeans and replacing zippers, is to provide a quality service that makes the customer leave knowing that I care about how they look or feel about their final product. 

I want my customers to feel good about the value of service they are receiving from my seamstress skills.

Davina Dawn Sewing Specialties
~ Putting Thread to Fabric ~