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Things to Know about Wedding Gown Alterations

PC David's Bridal

PC David's Bridal

Story time! I'm excited to announce that I am planning a styled event that's happening in August! The process for this has proven to be very complex, since a styled event--while not a real wedding--still requires a venue, a photographer, a cake provider, a florist, models, and of course a wedding gown. Early on, I found and purchased a used wedding gown that perfectly fit the model I'd contracted with. However, due to some conflicting events, the model fell through, and there I was, stuck with a gown that fit an incredibly unique hour-glass figure that I couldn't seem to match with anyone else.

After some initial frustration, I realized that if I chose to alter the gown myself, I would not only have a much easier time finding a model, but I would also have the opportunity to fashion the rather generic gown into exactly the style I dreamed of. And so after some ferocious sketches and overzealous designing, I made a plan and am currently living in a sewing-lab that once looked like my bedroom. 

This project has caused me to spend a lot of time pondering the wedding gown alteration process. It's lengthy and time-consuming and there are about a million things going on at once that require careful consideration. It is my hope that the suggestions listed below can simplify the process for you, whether you're hiring someone to alter your wedding gown for you, or are (bravely!) altering it yourself.

1. Don't buy your dress too small.

There are many brides who feel that their set-in-stone wedding date is the perfect motivation to diet toward their weight-goal. This is often accompanied by brides buying their dress in the size they plan to fit into by their wedding date. While in a perfect world this might be a good idea, it tempts disaster, since things don't always happen the way we want them to. The last thing a bride needs to worry about a week before her wedding is the fact that she cannot will her body to fit into the beautiful gown she spent a pretty penny on. And when it comes to altering too-small gowns to fit, options are limited; seams can only be taken out so much, after all. Do yourself a favor: buy your dress as close to your size as possible. Go ahead and diet away! If you do end up losing weight, your dress can always be altered to fit a smaller size. 

2. Don't buy a dress more than two sizes too big.

Not too small, not too big...sheesh, can't I give you any slack? Sorry ladies, but as a seamstress, I know firsthand that the larger a garment is, the harder it is to alter to a smaller size. This is not to say it is impossible. But it does mean that it will take longer, and therefore cost more money, since more parts of the gown must be seam-ripped, sized appropriately, and then resewn. Getting your gown  in a size as close to your own as possible will ensure that you're not wasting extra money on alteration costs. 

3. Make a plan.

If you're altering your dress yourself--bravo. You're in for quite the project, but it can be so fun if you plan ahead and prevent those hiccups! Draw out detailed designs of what your altered gown will look like, and make sure you have all the necessary items for the task. If you're changing the design in any way, know that you will need to make a pattern, or buy one that works for you. 

Sewing Tip #1: Make patterns with paper bags, not just tissue paper. I do use tissue paper--typically when I'm cutting out very tedious pieces of fabric that need to be pinned to their pattern with impressive exactness--but tissue paper can also be a pill to draw on. Ideally, charcoal pencils are used because they write so effortlessly, however, I don't have any, so I always cut up a few Trader Joe's paper bags and draw out rough patterns using a ruler and sharpies. My great grandmother taught me this method, and it's never let me down. 

Sewing Tip #2: Practice sewing complex parts of your dress pattern with cotton first. It is very cheap material that is easy to work with, and it will give you an idea of what the shape of your gown will turn out to be. This way, before any permanent alterations are made on your gown, you can be absolutely sure that the pattern you've created will give you the look you're going for. 

Sewing Tip #3: Prevent your machine from snagging your gown's delicate fabric by pinning tissue paper to the exposed seams before sewing them. It's very easy to tear away the paper once it's all sewn together.

Sewing Tip #4: Hand-stitch the delicate parts of your dress. By all means don't hand-sew the whole thing. You'd be celebrating your anniversary by the time you finished it... But lace, appliques, ribbon, beading, buttons, etc., should be hand-sewn to ensure they are not damaged by your machine.

Sewing Tip #5:  This feels obvious to list, but it's very important that you don't make any unnecessary trims on the gown while you're sewing until you're absolutely sure that it is perfect. Fabric that is cut cannot be uncut, and you may do serious damage to your gown by making premature alterations! I know it's exciting, but let's not toss caution to the wind just because we're getting married, alright?

Oh, and don't forget--

Sewing Tip #6: Get excited! You're going to have a great time.