A Dress, Stress, and a Learning Curve

About six weeks ago, I had a woman contact me via my Facebook page regarding a dress alteration. It is the first time someone has contacted me that wasn’t a friend of mine, or a friend of a friend. A complete stranger. I was excited, because it meant my little label was getting out there. So we arranged a time for her to come to my house and discuss the dress she wanted fixed.

When she arrived, she brought with her a blue dress that she required an extra ten cms of length on. She had already bought her fabric, and so I had a quick look, deduced that something could be done, quoted her a price and a deal was made. I took it to my friend’s mum, who was a seamstress, and got her opinion on it. It never hurts to consult with someone who knows more than you! And that’s about when I realised things were not going to be as easy as I had first thought.

The dress itself had a skirt made in two layers…two very intentionally uneven layers. It was made from a heavy fabric, similar to suiting, and both hems had been reinforced with horsehair braid. The fabric I was to lengthen the dress with was much lighter and floatier, more of a crepe. The colour match was similar, but everything else was completely different. However, undeterred, I went about my process.

I had figured, upon seeing the dress, that it would be a simple case of making a circle skirt ten cms longer than the bottom hem, and putting in an elastic waist so she could wear it underneath. But when I tried, the fabric wasn’t wide enough. So I tried another approach, and managed to fit two half circle templates of the correct measurement on the fabric provided. I measured twice to be sure, and then cut into the fabric. When I pinned it to the dress to see how it looked…disaster struck. What I thought was a circle hem on the dress was actually wider; it was an oval.

So then the fiddly work began. Determined not to waste any fabric, I set about making a template for the skirt. Which I did. But again, when I lay it out, it was wonky. So I pinned the pattern to the floor, pinned the dress opened out on top, and set about making the pattern the correct length around, using scraps of fabric I had on hand. Finally, finally, I thought I had it. So I cut the fabric to the template, sewed the seams together and made a skirt. I then pinned that to the dress at the waistband, made sure it was ten cms longer around, lined the seams up and voila. Alas, not voila.

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This took me four hours...

Because the dress was shorter at the sides, the additional length combined with the lighter fabric made the front of the skirt hang noticeably longer than the sides. It looked awful. But I figured once I sewed in the horsehair braid, it would stiffen out and look fine. But I had the same problem, only the hem now looked especially dodgy. Finally I had to concede and call my client and tell her we needed to work something else out. I was starting to panic. I had had the dress a month by this stage (only being able to work on it during weekends) and I should mention it was a bridesmaid dress for her wedding. I had a dream that I ruined her special day, all because I couldn’t solve the puzzle of the dress!

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I consulted with my nan, and she told me what I had considered doing in the first place; dispensing with the horsehair and just attaching a band of fabric to the hem. Using scraps left over, I did just that with pins and when my client came around to chat about it, I showed her both the botched attempt at an underskirt, and the band I’d attached to the dress. We decided that the band was the best way to go, she was more than lovely about it and in no way as stressed as I was about how long I had had her dress in my possession. With that decision made, I set about making and attaching the band. We upped the length to thirteen cms just to be safe and so I altered my measurements and started from scratch.

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I made the band, measured and pinned, shortened it at the front to accommodate for the uneven hem, and ensure it sat evenly when the bridesmaid in question wore the dress in the day. Then I overlocked (though the machine tried to eat the fabric a little) sewed it to the dress, hung it on my mannequin and…huzzah! After six weeks, endless stress, more frustration than I had ever imagined, and countless issues on my part, the dress was finally complete. The lighter fabric at the hem flowed with the existing horsehair and hung nicely rather than sticking out at a wonky angle like my first attempt. When my client came to pick it up this week, she was happy with it and certain that her friend would feel comfortable on the day in a dress that wouldn’t be too short. And I honestly couldn’t have asked for a nicer or more patient client; if everyone else was like her, I’d love customer service a lot more!

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And so, saga of the bridesmaid dress is finally complete. It’s been a learning curve and a challenge, but I have become a more skilled sewist (damn you, that is a word!) as a result.

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