Why the High Cost?
If you have never had the need for clothing alterations the bill for your wedding gown needs may be quite a surprise. Beside the fact that working on a valued wedding gown takes a type of bravery some sewing artists don't have, the special knowledge for doing bridal alterations is hard to learn because no one teaches it. I would be very cautious of any Alterationist Specialist who charges very little. It's a very good indicator that they are not very good. It's not a sure thing that a high price means a skilled alterations person, but it is a good bet.
added December 2009
I bought my dress at Priscilla of Boston ,the dress has no beading at all . It is taffeta with a chapel length. I only need the spaghetti straps shortened and the waist taken in about 1/2 inch. They told me when I ordered it I needed to order extra length and charged additional 300 dollars. So now it needs to be hemmed about 2 inches it also needs to be busseled. They are telling me the cost is $600. for the alterations. This seems absurd....Any advise???
added December 2008
Thank you for your helpful website.
added June 2007
Your site is great, I wish I had found you earlier because its unbelievable stressful when you don’t have no info. or tips on what’s what.
I have a question about an average price for a bustle to a wedding gown. I know every price is different depending on how big or how long your train is. The bridal shop that I purchased my dress at is charging me about $175 for a traditional bust I believe. It took her less than 2 minute to know how she was going to do it, without taking away the details, of course she’s a professional. She lift up the middle part up to bustle it up around my hip area and the train just flow and shows all the details.
Below is a picture of my dress. The dress has a lot of details as you can see. Base on your professionalism is $175-$300 a average price or if there’s elsewhere I can have them bustle for cheaper? If you can please advise ASAP before I its too late into the process of doing the bustle for me if I need to shop around. My dress came in June 12. Thank you in advance.
My event date is June 29th. Best regards, Mimi
If that price is for only a bustle and does not include a hem or any other alteration than it's a bit high. For the gown pictured I would guess that the bustle I would make would need to be at least 6 points, maybe 8. I charge $10 per point. I can't say that you can find someone to match my price in your town, but I should hope you can do better than $175.
Thank you for replying,
That price is just for the bustle and now she has said it’s for steaming also. I feel like this price is overrated for such because I have call other stores and they said it don’t cost that much. So I believe she sense that I might be changing my mind because I told her I wasn’t happy with the price she’s charging. She had told me that the bustle is about 7 or 8 . 1 french on ea side and an over bustle in the middle so all together is about 7-8 bustle. And she had mention just now to me that if I decides to change my mind she will charge for pinning. With your professionalism in this is that possible? Charging me for pinning instead of just taking it out and I can pick up my dress to have my dress done else where. Is this some stores rules? no one at the bridal shop told me anything for any charge.
Please help educated me although I feel like I’ve been taking advantage. Where are you located?
Thank you, Mimi
If she adds the steaming it is a much better deal. For an 8
point bustle I would charge $80. My steaming starts at $60. Your gown is a
bit more involved for the $60. I'd need to see it in person, but it would
probably be a bit more work to steam than a gown with a smaller train and
not so much decoration.
I think you have done well to question her and she has offered you a better deal. I would stick with it at this point. Paying the pinning fee could be quite expensive. Yes, they can charge you that. It sucks, but they did spend time pinning your gown and discussing the options with you. I don't charge this way, but stores really do have to make more money because their expenses are much higher than mine.
added June 2007
Thanks Leanna for sending the DVD out ASAP. I was looking
at your site and you have some helpful tips. I have a tailor shop. A majority
of my business is clothing alterations. I do about 20% bridal alterations.
So far most of the dresses I have done are rolled hems. I recently got a dress
that has to be shortened from the waist and needs a bustle. Your stated your
average price for Bridal alterations was $200. Do you charge them for a fitting?
I think my prices are too low. Do you charge brides for a fitting? How much
do you generally charge to shorten a gown from the waist and for a French
bustle? The dress is simple, two tucks on the princess seam, V piping on center
front. I am charging her $105 ( 4 hours). I generally base my work @ $25.00
an hour. Any help you offer would be greatly appreciated.
I don't charge for fittings. I do have a price list that I use as a guideline for setting my prices. For the most part hemming starts at $80, then depending on what the gown needs it goes up from there. I never quote prices over the phone or by email for it gets you into difficult situations. Once I can see the gown on the body I can figure out what it needs and how I'm going to do it. I then give a written list of what I am doing to the gown and the prices for each item.
added June 2007
I went to my first fitting and everything seemed to go well; the lady knew what she was talking about and seemed very at easy with her job. Anyhow, the dress fits almost perfect. The top needs not work what so ever, the front bottom will only require the “creation” of one more small fold, the lining will not even require cutting/hemming. She worked on arranging the bustle so that the bunches of flowers join onto one another starting from the first flower on the lower waist. The overall effect is lovely.
However, the work seemed minimal and the price seemed ridiculous: $575. I spoke with a couple of aunts who are seamstresses and they laughed at the price and offered to alter the dress. My question to you is would you recommend doing something like the “tufted ballroom bustle” on your website, since the hooks will be hidden over the flower bunches or should I try to have my aunt do a “French bustle” with the ties on the underside of the dress.
Thank you for your assistance… your site is fantastic..
the knot.com should have a link to you!
For what you are asking this price does not sound so outrageous to me. The bustle will be very difficult and tedious to create. The tufted bustle pictured on my site was over $200 if I remember correctly. It had more places to put hooks than your gown has. Getting the sides up on your gown will be a difficult task. Doing your hem is not an easy thing either. Creating a fold AND having it look good is not totally simple on such a complicated gown.
I find that many ladies who sew at home have no idea what their talent is worth. Sewing for love of family is very different than sewing as a professional. Your aunts never think of the time they are investing in the garment they sew for they do it for the joy it brings them and their family members. If they actually counted the time they put into their projects and put a serious dollar amount to that time, I'm sure they would be amazed at what it comes to.
added May 2007
I found your site through a Google search. Thank you for such honest answers regarding alterations. Unfortunately I am in NJ and you are in Cincinnati, so I can't utilize your services. I will be attending my brother's wedding in early June, and today I finally found a dress I love. The problem is, the store has to order it in a larger size, a 16, whereas I normally wear a 12 in Gap pants. I imagine that the alterations will be quite costly, but I haven't a clue as to how much. Could I trouble you to look at a picture of the dress, and possibly give me an estimate of how much it would cost? It is by JDL Boutique by Alyce Designs, style 29100, made of silk chiffon, with a lining, and a ruched bodice with some beading. The reason that I am panicking is that the boutique where I purchased it has a final sale policy, and I need to order it tomorrow so that I can get it altered in time. The dress is $330, and if alterations are $300, I'm afraid I'll faint. I just need to prepare myself, LOL. So if you would be so kind as to offer your expertise to a random stranger, I would be so appreciative. Here is the link to the dress: http://www.alycedesigns.com/joom/index.php?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=10 .. I will most likely need to have the bodice taken in, the hem shortened slightly, and the straps shortened. Thank you so much if you are able to offer a rough estimate.
I really need to see the dress on the body to give a good estimate, but from the picture, yes alterations are not going to be cheap if you need a lot of sizing. But, also, wedding sizes have nothing to do with reality. You can't compare them to regular store sizes. This dress might come in fitting you well and need only minor adjustments. I know it's hard to trust the size charts because they seem so far off, but there is a reason for the madness. You really do not want the problem of this coming in too tight!
added July 2006
First, let me say that I love your website and I really appreciate all of the effort you have obviously put into it. It's a great resource and very helpful. I actually just purchased a wedding gown off ebay, and of course the gown was not "pristine" as promised. I took it to a seamstress I found through the PACC (is this a resource you would recommend?) who works out of her home, and she very nicely looked at the gown and told me what it would cost to repair (her prices are very reasonable), without a consultation fee. I was planning on asking her to alter the gown if I decide to keep it. However, I was wondering if I should or am expected to add gratuity to her prices. I was planning on tipping her, but then I thought that maybe it would not be appropriate, or maybe it's expected and there is a scale of which I should be aware. Since you are in a similar situation, I thought maybe you would have an opinion or know what I should do! On an unrelated note, I was wondering if you charged extra if the bride gained weight before her wedding and the dress needed to be let out slightly. I'm really hoping this doesn't happen to me, but stress does funny things to your body!
Also, the dress currently has a chapel length train. Due to the dirt I was told was not on the hem, I'm going to have to have the train shortened by about 5 inches. I was wondering at what length you recommend bustling the dress--are sweep trains and court trains too short?
Any insight or advice you have would be greatly appreciated. Thank you very much for your time!
Tipping is not expected or required in my profession. I get
tipped about once a year. It's usually about 10% when it does happen, but
it's rare. If you are extra pleased with her work or service towards you,
do tip her.
Yes, I do charge extra if a person gains or looses weight after I have done an alteration. I have a strict rule for ladies on diets that they must go on a maintenance regime once they have their first fitting, so they are not trying to loose more. If they do loose more either on purpose or by chance, I do charge them again for taking the dress in a second time. It's only fair that I be paid twice for doing a job twice.
I also refuse to see brides over 8 weeks before their wedding date to try to limit the weight change possibilities. I do understand that stress does sometime have this effect beyond our control. So I do my best to limit that stress by taking good care of my brides and their gowns so her stress level is less and the odds of her weight changing is very low. Other than brides who are pregnant, I have not had an issue in this area for many years.
Concerning the bustle. It is usually created to lift the train totally off the floor. I have on occasion left some drag if the bride wanted it, but that's not the norm.
added May 2006
I have a question regarding the cost of having a dress made by a non-professional seamstress. A lady that I work with agreed to make my wedding dress as I had seen some of her alterations and heard others talk about what a great job she did. My dress is actually an evening gown pattern. I already paid for the fabric and thread, etc. She also does embroidery and has done some embroidery on the dress which has taken the longest time. She has spent 45 hours on the dress. The dress is made from a fabric called "peachskin". It has a lining but nothing else, no bustle, no crinoline or anything like that. She doesn't know what to charge me as she has never made a dress like this before. My question is should I pay her by the hour? Since she does not sew professionally and doesn't do this sort of thing everyday I imagine it took her longer to sew than it would a professional. However, she has spent so many hours working on it and has done a very a nice job on the dress. It is not professional quality but still very nice. Thanks so much for any suggestions.
There's really more than one question here. The first is: is
this lady professional? It all depends on how you define "professional".
In the strict sense a professional is one who is paid for what they do. Since
this agreement between you and her was one for money you need to see her as
Some define professional as someone who is very, very good at what they do and therefore deserve to be paid for it. This definition also applies to her. You said that people have given recommendations for her good workmanship. She is obviously skilled.
Her obvious skill proves the third definition for professionalism. She is not a beginner. A professional has been doing what they do for enough time to gain a reputation. This she obviously has.
You may be calling her unprofessional because she does not do this job full time. This has nothing to do with what her work is worth. Many professionals do not work full time at their craft.
You may also be thinking she is not worthy to be labeled professional because she does not have a separate place of business for her craft. Well, in that sense, many would not label me professional because I sew in my own home. Once people see my skill and my experience they change their minds.
So, she has skill and she has experience and I think she is worthy to have the professional label and therefore is worth being paid well for her time. What that translates into a dollar amount is very hard for me to say. I have not seen her workmanship. I have only your report that you are pleased with the result.
The other factor here is that many people who do not sew have no idea the time it takes to construct a garment. There is time in talking with the client about the design, shopping for fabric, drafting a pattern, or altering a bought pattern to the design specifics, handling the fabric from laying out the pattern to cutting and marking various seams for joining intersections etc., then comes the sewing and the fitting and altering for changes between design and actually body needs. This can all take much longer than one would think. Besides, Peachskin is a difficult fabric to work with. Even a simple dress made from a fine fabric as you described could easily take me several days to make from start to finish. Maybe I could have done it a little faster than she only because I have better machinery and more experience, but does that mean her time is worth less than mine?
I could easily give you a simple dollar amount to tell you what I feel her 45 hours of work is worth, but let me ask you something first. Put yourself in her shoes and think about what you would feel your time is worth. I'm sure you have a job. What do you get paid for that job? Does it match what you feel you are worth? Many dressmakers end up making less than minimum wage for their skills and I think that is lousy. Anyone who has the talent to sew even at a less than "professional" level is worth more than that. Using minimum wage ($5.15) this job is worth $231.75.
I'm sure you are on a budget of some kind. Few brides have unlimited funds to use for their weddings. Maybe you were hoping that having your dress sewn would make it less expensive than buying one, but many people don't know that custom crafted garments usually end up being more than twice what you could buy them off the rack for. Also, I'm sure this lady, being a coworker, may be considered by you as a friend and you don't want to insult her by offering too little. This is a difficult situation for you.
This discussion about money really should have taken place before the fabric was bought. I'm sure you and she did talk about it some because you have said you are obligated to pay her something and she kept track of her time. She is having a difficult time formulating a bill for you because doing alterations is very different than dressmaking. This is really her call, not yours. I am going to assume she has said something to the effect of, "Oh, honey, just pay me what you think it's worth."
So, for whatever reason, you are feeling you need to put a price on this. OK, if I were you, I would pay her no less than $200 and buy her a nice little thank you gift. But being me, I would pay her at least $10 an hour. ($450.00) That is what I feel any seamstress is worth.
Now, if you really want to know, if I did this job for you, I would charge you $30 an hour and make no apologies for it. I would probably be able to make the dress in about 25 hours - that's $750.00.
My average fee for altering a wedding gown has been $200 for most gowns I have done so far this year. If you take into consideration you did not have to buy a gown and then pay for altering, you are way ahead if you pay her the $200.
All this is just my opinion. I hope I have not talked your ear off and that some of this has helped you make your decision.
added March 2005
I was hoping for some advice. I am to be married on the 30th of March of this year. I recently bought an off the rack dress from "XYZ bridal " it has heavy beading on the bodice and the chapel train. With a crinoline slip, I won't need to have it hemmed as much as I thought (im only 5 ft) I need the shoulders taken in a bit and a bustle put on. I was told that the hem alone would cost 200 dollars, the shoulders would cost 80 a piece ( I had a seamstress look at it and she said all that was needed would take 5 minutes to do) and the bustle would cost roughly 250. Is this reasonable? I know it has some heavy detailing on the hem but they wanted to alter it without a slip (it has an extremely full skirt) or shoes. I know very little about alterations, but if I have it hemmed when I am barefoot, and without the much needed slip, wouldn't that make it too short once I got the slip and shoes? I was hoping to wear some heel so I can at least see over the alter.... They said the slip was my choice because there was one built into the dress and they didn't see a need for one. the front also has a sheer insert that goes down to the bottom of my ribcage. I asked about putting a modesty panel in and they said it would cost $50 plus the cost of the material because it is in such an odd place, (it starts from right at the neck line of a sweetheart neckline. (where else do they go???) I said no to all of the alterations and took the gown home without even having them press it... Do I have any luck getting the alterations done in 16 days??? cheaper than they quoted?
The prices they quoted were in line with most other Big Bridal
store prices. You can find lower prices but the main rule is "you get
what you pay for". Cheaper prices are usually an indication of lesser
quality workmanship. Having said that, it is also a rule that an independent
alteration specialist will be lower priced than a big chain Bridal Store.
But you have a bigger problem - the 16 days. I usually ask for 8 weeks. Yes,
my prices are lower than you are quoting here, but for that kind of rush,
you are looking at an expense that you would not have had to deal with if
you had more time to give your alterationist. I've never had a hem run more
than $150 and a bustle more than $80. Heavy beading does make a big difference
though. If there is a lot of hand sewing those beads back on it could get
up their fast. Hand beading runs $30 an hour on my list.
At this point I would get on the phone. Look in the Yellow Pages under "Alteration - Clothing". Is that seamstress you showed the gown to available? If not ask her for recommendations. You can go back to the store you started at but that no slip and shoes thing has me really worried about their judgment.
If you are willing to tell me where you are, I can post a request on a sewing professional Internet list I'm a member of and maybe find you someone that way.
added July 2004
I thought your "advice" to brides to be laughable at times. You have no problem knocking full service bridal shops; however, I'm sure full service bridal shops that don't make any $$ on alterations would find your prices extremely high. It's called "price gouging". First of all, $10 for each "point" on a bustle seems ridiculous. How long does it take you to sew on each point anyway? I bet it equals way more than $20 per hour. I hear more complaints about alteration prices (and in my area, they are much lower than your prices ) than I hear about the quality of service from bridal shops. There are some alteration specialists that know they have brides over a barrel...they have no problem taking advantage of them.
My normal fee is $30 per hour for my time and talent. I don't apologize for it. I do this to make a living. This is how I feed myself and my child, provide housing, clothing and the necessities of life that cost a lot to a single mother. Plumbers have no qualms charging $60 per hour and more for their time. I have a friend who is a graphic artist. She charges $65 an hour for sitting on her butt and playing on her computer. Why do you think my time is worth less?
You have to understand many things about pricing for alterations. First I don't get the $30 an hour for a 40 hour work week. I am lucky to get 4 to 6 hours a day of chargeable work. The rest of my time is spent doing other business related tasks- discussing options and helping clients decide what they wish to have done, scheduling appointments, answering all kinds of questions over the phone, driving to and from the stores I service, doing my book keeping. All of this I have to do and get $0 for it so I have to make it up by charging more for the time I spend sewing.
How long does it take you to sew on each point anyway? That depends on the gown (how many layers it has, the type of fabric, and fullness of the train) and the look the bride wants. Here's a breakdown for you:
Discussing bustling options to bride at first fitting - 10 to
Helping brides decide which bustle look she wants once hem is finished - 10 to 20 minutes
Figuring out where to put the "points" on a 4 point bustle - 30 to 60 minutes
Sewing the points in a secure, reinforced manner - 30 to 40 minutes
Refitting the gown to test the bustle and teach bride and maid of honor how to rig it - 20 to 30 minutes
Sometimes readjusting the positioning of the points is necessary - 30 to 60 minutes (I don't charge extra for this, even if it's because the bride decided to get different shoes.)
So, to do a 4 point bustle could run close to 3 hours of my time. I think $40 is not a bad price for that.
BUT - Designing a bustle is way more than the sum of the minutes a sewist uses. It is very much an art. It involves my brain power in rigging it securely and creatively. It often takes a lot of trial and error time to create a bustle that is both beautiful and secure. I've seen a lot of ugly bustles. I don't want any bride of mine to have her butt looking that way.
added November 2002
Hi. I want to thank you for the time you took to put together your web
site. I am getting married in May, and I went to my first fitting of my
wedding gown today. I chose to use the lady who is actually on the top floor
of the bridal salon where I purchased my gown.
Like many brides, I do not know the costs of alterations, but I was extremely shocked when my bridal gown alterations came to $391. I only paid $696 for my dress. The seamstress required that I pay her in full before she would work on my gown. I assumed this must be normal, wrote her a check, and came home. However, I am up now tossing and turning feeling that something is not right.
First of all, when the salon's manager measured me for my gown she said I measured straight into a 12, but she said she was ordering me a 14 because the dress I had on was a 12 and she didn't think that it fit loose enough. Today, when I put on my dress, the seamstress' first words were, "Wow, your gown's a little big, don't you think?"
The gown I purchased has straps, which I am having removed. The second thing my gown needed was taken in almost an inch on each side. The seamstress said that my bra had to be sewn into my dress to prevent the dress from pulling downward. The dress also needed a hem, and a bustle.
My dress has a mesh front with a satin sweep going down to left. The bottom half in the front is satin with a triangle of mesh on the left side. The top half of the back has buttons going down and then the satin splits about mid thigh, and rounds out, and there is the same mesh pattern in the middle of the train. (Please excuse the terms I'm using, it is the best way I know how to describe it).
She asked me if I wanted her to press and steam my gown, and she charges $85 for that. I know I don't want to take the chance of ironing it, so I said OK.
I am uneasy about this,. and would like help knowing if I have a reason to worry, or if I am just stressing over nothing. I am wondering if it is standard procedure to collect 100% up front on alterations? Also, why would the manager of the salon order me a dress so big? Would it be appropriate to contact her and question her on this?
Any advice, or comments you could offer would help me greatly. Thank you for your time, and your kindness.
Wow, I can certainly understand why you are questioning this, but I don't think it's a case for panic.
Let's go at this one item at a time. First the $391. Along with that price usually goes a hefty guarantee that the dress will be right no matter what complications come along. That's a valuable thing. Asking for the money up front is not strange. They are taking a big risk in working on your gown because after many hours of labor you could up and cancel the wedding and never pick up the finished gown or pay your bill. Though that is the farthest thing from your mind right now, it does happen and salons do loose a lot when it does.
As for the high amount, that does sound high, but you are using the in store service that is usually higher priced. The price you quoted for steaming is proper. A dry cleaner would charge about the same thing. You could do it yourself. It's really not hard, just nerve racking because of the scare factor. The rest of the $300 does sound a bit much to me, but I haven't seen the dress. Your description does make me think it is not too out of line with what you need done. Your hem is going to be a complicated operation. I did a couple gowns like that last month and they were difficult situations. That diagonal sweep is a bugger to get to hang correctly when changing the hemline. Also, when you make a strapped gown strapless there is a lot of structural work underneath that has to be done that was not in the gown's construction because it was not designed to be strapless. Boning has to be added to all the seams - or at least that's the most important thing I plan to do in this situation. The gown needs to be a bit tighter than normal at the waist to give it a stable base for the bodice to stay up. That's the proper way to fit a strapless gown. Many simply make it tight all over especially at the top, but it's much better for the dress to support a lift from the waist than to squeeze your boobs to support from the top. Sewing the bra in is a big mistake for this very reason. Your bra should not support the dress - it is designed to support your bust. It should not be forced to do both jobs. It will do neither well.
I do question why she didn't order the 12. I do think you have a case there, but it will be very hard for you to convince them. I do think you should bring it to their attention, but be prepared for their denial of any wrong doing. I would be surprised if they did not overwhelm you with excuses. The usual response to this is for you to get stronger with your complaint if you think it worth pressing. They will usually only offer more excuses that will seem meaningless to you. For you to get anywhere you will have to be very stern and it will make you feel like you are being bitchy. They will probably call you that too, but not to your face. If you don't mind risking this kind of difficult situation, than do confront them. I just want to warn you that it won't be easy and could end up only increasing your stress at a time when you don't need it. Salons are used to brides accusing them of ordering the wrong size and asking for breaks on the alteration fees. Most brides don't have a clue about the real need for alterations and think that a special ordered dress ought to fit without them. That's just not the case with bridal gowns. Remember that "Special Order" does not mean the same as "Custom Made".
I think at this point I would hang tight. See what happens at your next fitting. The gown should be basted in the areas they pinned and a hem based also. Nothing should be cut out of the seam allowances at this point. The fit may not be perfect because of the bulky seams, but it should give you a good feeling of the finished product. I bet you will feel better about the whole thing then, but if you don't ask questions. Make them explain why they are doing it the way they are. If they come back with something like, "that's the way it's done", don't accept it. You do have a right to understand the why's. You are the bride and the one paying for them to do the work. Insist on answers even if it takes longer and other brides are sitting around waiting for their turn. I don't suggest in making a scene, but if you are not used to speaking your mind they may make you feel like you are being unreasonable even though you are only asking for understanding, which is your right - in my opinion anyway.
added May 2004
I have ordered a $700 wedding dress and just received it 1 week before my wedding. When I went in to see it and try it on it was too small around the top, the zipper wouldn’t close all the way. Now I have to go in and have major alterations done when the wedding is close upon me. My question is since the owner of the boutique had to measure me to place the order and it is a huge risk that there might not be enough hem to let out which will leave me with a 700 dress I cannot wear, who pays for these in house alterations. I planned on paying for the hem but what about the rest?
You are usually responsible for any alterations. If the person taking the
measurements made a mistake on ordering a size too small, it's usually not
owned up to. You can try to force them to make it right by you, but they
are not obligated to. It's really lousy. A really good Bridal Salon will
do what they have to to make it right, but most just won't own up to admitting
it's their fault.
I've never seen a wedding gown with a hem that could be let down. They usually have a tiny rolled edge that has no fabric to let out. Letting the top out is sometimes difficult but not often impossible. Since the zipper can close some, I think it should be able to be made to fit by altering.
Who pays for this is the big question. You can ask them to but don't be surprised when they refuse. You can get upset and threaten them, but that will only make you feel awful. It's not fair, but paying for what you need is a good thing and will make you feel good on your day. It's an added expense that you didn't count on, but it's worth it to not add more stress to the situation.
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