Wedding Wednesday: Ask a Seamstress

by Ashton Cude

Happy Wednesday, friends! While brainstorming topics from the blog, we always try to keep in mind what our brides want to know most. Taylor had a great idea to reach out to a bridal seamstress to get some insight on alterations. Did you know that almost every bride’s wedding gown will end up needing alterations of some kind? Keep reading for all the alterations answers you didn’t even know you needed!

First, meet the seamstress who’s sharing her expertise with us: Michelle Meissner of Handstitch Studio. She’s an experienced seamstress and dressmaker who has done work both in the U.S. and Europe. Michelle shares a space with us at Meant to Be, performing fittings there on the days we are closed. When we needed an expert’s opinion, she was the natural choice!

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What do you think is the biggest misconception about bridal alterations?

A bridal gown has so many layers that it is often more accurate to think of it as several dresses. Your alterations will be done to every layer of your dress - fashion fabric, lace, tulle, lining(s), petticoat, etc. This is why bridal alterations are so different (and costlier) than hemming a pair of pants.

On average, how many hours of labor go into altering a wedding gown?

One of the things I love about bridal alterations is that every gown is different. That being said, I rarely spend less than ten hours on a dress, and that is if it has been ordered for the bride or fits her fairly well already. This is the most common situation for me. Changing the size of a dress, or altering elements like horsehair hem or beading will often double that time.

What is the average cost of bridal alterations in the Lexington area?

I tell brides to expect about $500 for their alterations. It can be less (or more!) depending on the amount of work that needs to be done but I've found that is a good number to work into your total dress budget.

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How difficult is it to do a lace hem?

Lace hems have quite a lot of work done by hand on them! The scalloped lace must be detached, then pinned at the correct height and re-attached by hand. This method is completely secure and it prevents the lace from looking 'overworked' or fuzzy before your big walk down the aisle.

How difficult/costly is it to add beading and lace to a dress?

Adding beading must be done by hand and takes time. Whether your seamstress charges an hourly rate or a flat fee for a specific job, adding beading to a dress is going to cost money. Adding a piece of heirloom lace (such as from your mother's wedding dress) is often possible but will also have to be done by hand.

What is the most rewarding part of being a seamstress for you?

My favorite part of the whole process is at the final fitting when the bride puts the dress on again. She usually stands a little straighter and on more than a few occasions I've heard 'I feel strong.' I love that. I love being part of making women feel confident about this next, momentous step they are about to take and hopefully being a small blessing along the way.

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How much can a dress be taken in?

A dress can be taken in at side seams alone by about 3 inches all around (1.5 inches each side). It can be brought in further through the seam at the back and through seams over the bust. Sizing down any further than 5 inches or so truly requires that the dress be re-made, which means your dress will have to be completely taken apart and a smaller version sewn back together. It is sometimes possible, but certainly will cost money.

 How much can a dress be let out? Should you size up or down?

The amount a dress can be let out is dictated by how much was left in the seam allowance during construction. Some dresses could be safely let out about an inch all around, while others have hardly any seam allowance to speak of. When letting a dress out you will often have some indentation from the original seam which is impossible to press out, not to mention gaps if there is beading present! I advise brides to buy a dress that comfortably fits the biggest part of them and never to size down. Most bridal alterations specialists will schedule your fittings to account for any weight fluctuations but please do not buy a dress that is too small!

What timeline can I expect for my fittings?

Nearly all of my brides require three fittings. I evaluate alterations to be made at the first fitting, check on how the major changes look at the second, and complete the finishing work for brides to take the dress home at their third fitting. I personally schedule these fittings two weeks apart, starting eight weeks before the wedding date. This allows for some wiggle room in case we need a fourth fitting or something comes up and you need to reschedule. I would advise all brides to book their alterations as soon as they pick up their dress, and potentially sooner if your wedding is during the summer.

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We hope this info was helpful for those of you shopping for your wedding gown, as well as for those who are preparing to take their gown in for alterations. To get in touch with Michelle, you can email Michelle@HandstitchStudio.com. Keep visiting the blog for more helpful tips and info. Have a great rest of your week, gals!

Photos by Samantha Moore Photography

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