Taking it in

August 20 • 2012

Wedding dress alterations<br><a href=http://www.emilieink.com target=_blank>Jen Pepper</a>

The chances of finding a wedding gown that hugs your every curve right off the rack are about as slim as you hope your waist will be come aisle-walking time. For most brides, alterations are a crucial step in the planning process. But when to schedule the first fitting? What should you wear? What if you lose 15 pounds after buying your dress?
Thankfully, seamstress Sarah Michniewicz – described by many as Portland’s go-to bridal alteration authority – has answers. A seventeen-year veteran of the business, Sarah started sewing at age seven and stitched most of her own clothes in junior and high school, even her own prom dress. Today, she alters bridal, bridesmaid, mother-of-the-bride, prom, pageant and other formal gowns at her studio on Congress Street.

L&L: How far in advance of the wedding should brides plan for alterations?
SARAH: Like all aspects of wedding planning, lining up a seamstress for alterations should be done well in advance, ideally as soon as the gown is ordered and an arrival date is estimated. The fittings can take place anywhere from a year to a few months prior to the wedding, but booking the fittings early, even if the gown hasn’t arrived yet, will ensure the seamstress’s availability. If a bride’s weight is stable, fittings can be done as early as she is comfortable with, but even if a change in weight is expected, it’s worth beginning the fittings four to six months prior. Many times the hem, bustle, and other alterations can be pinned at that point and completed for a semi-final fitting closer to the wedding date when any weight change will have happened and taking in or letting out can be done at that point. I recommend doing the final fitting two to four weeks before the wedding to make sure everything is fitting the way it should and that there are no last-minute surprises for either the bride or the seamstress.

L&L: If a bride loses considerable weight after choosing a dress, how much can the dress be taken in?
SARAH: It depends on the dress. As a rule, taking a dress in a few sizes should be possible. There may be aspects of the design that will change somewhat, such as the pattern of the embroidery or the placement of the darts, but those factors may or may not affect how the bride feels about the dress. It’s best to discuss potential weight loss with a seamstress to determine if the dress can be worked with for an acceptable result. In my experience, dramatic weight loss before a wedding is the exception, not the rule, and it’s usually not a problem to work with a 5-20 pound change. Corset back gowns are also something to consider if a loss in that range is anticipated, though they are only adjustable to the end of the laced area and any substantial change in the hip area or a loss in inches wider than the span of the lacing may still require the gown to be taken in.

L&L: Are some fabrics more difficult to alter than others?
SARAH: Yes, but the reasons vary. Some fabrics are harder to handle because of quality, some because of fiber content, and some because of weave structure. It’s usually the construction more than the fabric itself that determines how difficult a dress is to alter. If beads, appliquéd lace, and internal structural components like boning have to be removed to get to a seam to take a dress in, that’s obviously going to take a lot more time than an unadorned surface. Then again, many high-end gowns look deceptively simple but have multiple layers of fabric that must each be taken in separately. The quantity of fabric matters too; a voluminous skirt makes the whole gown more challenging to work on while a slim silhouette is easier to maneuver.

L&L: What can a bride expect from a fitting?
SARAH: At the first fitting, the bride should expect a dialogue about how the dress looks and feels along with the pinning of the dress to make adjustments that will make her feel comfortable in it. Any major changes or customizations should be discussed at the beginning, as they may affect how the seamstress approaches the fitting process. Each fitting is different, but the bodice (sides, shoulders, bust darts, zipper, etc.) is usually pinned first, since where the gown rests on the body will affect the hem and bustle, which are pinned next. Sometimes pinning the hem and bustle needs to wait until the next fitting, especially if the gown is being let out a considerable amount, but often all of the pinning can be done at the first fitting. The bride should feel comfortable asking questions about the way the dress feels or looks, or just about the process in general. Her feedback is important to getting the best possible fit.

At the next fitting, the bride tries on her gown and the seamstress makes sure everything is fitting and feeling the way it should. This is when any further adjustments, if needed, will be pinned. Of course, weight changes or hormonal fluctuations can affect the fit of such a closely tailored garment, so being aware of these factors and letting the seamstress know if there has been a change is important. This is also the time to show someone who will be at the wedding how to do the bustle and, in the case of a corset gown, how to properly lace the dress. It really is best if someone has had a hands-on lesson in these tasks so that they know how to do them and how much time to allow for them on the wedding day. If everything is as expected, the bride will either take her gown or schedule a pick up time closer to the wedding. If the gown is being pressed, it’s best to pick it up as close to the wedding as is practical and to move it as few times as possible to maintain the integrity of the pressing.

L&L: What should be worn to a fitting?
SARAH: For all fittings, a bride should wear the bra, shoes, petticoat, etc., anything that she will be wearing with the gown on her wedding day, as they all affect the fit and any alterations have been done based on them. The right bra, if one is necessary, is especially important, and I like to discuss that with brides when booking their fitting so that they are prepared when they arrive. Sometimes it is necessary to see the dress on the body to determine what will work best, though. It’s also important to stand naturally but straight during the fitting so that the dress is hanging properly on the body.

L&L: What types of dresses and fabrics are best for outdoor weddings?
SARAH: In general, I don’t feel that there are specific dresses or fabrics that are better or worse for outdoor weddings, mainly because if a bride loves how she feels and looks in a dress, almost everything else is secondary. Also, with the variety of weather in New England, it’s difficult to anticipate what might happen on any given weekend, even in the summer. I’ve seen brides who wear full tulle skirts on windy beaches in spring and light silk charmeuse in winter. That said, most brides do seem to choose their gown based in part on their venue and an awareness of the environment they will be in. For example, a light, lacy gown in a garden with lots of bushes might need watching by a vigilant maid of honor so as to not snag on branches. As far as the gown staying clean goes, it’s always a risk with such light-colored fabrics whether indoors or out, and the bottom edge at least will most likely end up pretty dirty either way. I think you have to go with what you love and are comfortable in.

Thanks so much, Sarah, for sharing your expertise! She books up quickly, but if you’d like to inquire about Sarah’s services, reach her at 207-879-7397 or by email at sarahsews@me.com.

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