Selecting the Right Alterationist


added June 2010

I just came from your site Leanna.
I am a bundle of nerves.  I just dropped off my gown to a local store.  The place handles darned near everything.  They sell dresses, tuxedoes, dry cleaning, etc., etc.  They have been in business more than 10 years and people have given them four out of five stars.
Why can't I stop thinking the place will burn down with my dress in it?  Or something awful will happen to the dress in her possession?  How can I get over this feeling?  I could have had my dress altered by the store I bought it from.  But, between the distance and the NYC over pricing, it was easier to have it done locally.  Now that I have handed it off.  I am scared.

I want her to hem it and give it right back.  Instead, she told me I will have it next month.  I am thinking of asking for it sooner.


Since I prefer to work independently from any bridal salon, I recommend that brides use independent alteration specialists. They can give you more service geared to you, not their store's needs. I do think you would be feeling jittery even if you used the store's alteration service. You have a right to be cautious. You don't know these people you are dealing with.
Did you ask your lady if she had liability insurance? I carry a nice policy that doesn't cost me much but covers any garment I work on should some odd thing happen like my house burning down. I know that I am human and can make mistakes. Though highly unlikely, I could damage a gown. I have very specific rules for my studio so the most likely things will not happen.
My studio is kept neat and clean so my brides can feel that I am careful of details. I can understand if you thought her place was a disorganized mess that she might not care for your gown well.
I am careful to return phone calls promptly so my brides know I am willing to take extra time to help them feel comfortable with any aspect of the alteration process.
If I hem a wedding gown the bride comes to see me to fit the gown. Then she gets a second fitting appointment about 2 weeks from the first to test the basting of the hem. Nothing is cut until the bride approves of the length. She is given another fitting appointment about 2 weeks later to pick up the finished gown and is asked to try it on one more time for double check the work.
Did you check this lady out before you went to her? Do you know her experience level? The store is 10 years old but has she worked there this whole time? Are there other ladies there and will they be working on your gown too?
I would not advise you ask her to do the work quicker. You will get less quality. Some things I can do faster than others. If your hem has some complicated sewing in the inside of the gown it could take her longer to do a good job. Besides, I doubt you are her only client. She needs time to give each of her brides good service. If you rush her, she may do poor work for you and her other brides as well.
It may help you to work on other aspects of the wedding planning. I'm sure there are many things you need to arrange for your big day.

Wow Leanna!  Thank you so much for your quick response!  It was a pleasant surprise.

To answer your questions, yes she's insured, it is her shop, she has employees.  I am just nervous as it is the last piece of my pie.  And the dress is so critical for me to keep in my possession.

However, she didn't say she required more than one visit.  My dress has no beading beyond the knee.

Again, many, many thanks!


added January 2007

I came across your website and had a question for you.
I'm looking at several stores for a wedding gown. i finally found one store that has a dress i like that can be altered the way i want it. the only thing is that the store does not do alterations. instead, the owner will recommend a tailor whom she has worked with before. so once i buy the dress, the store is out of the picture and now if i need alterations i have to go to the tailor - do you think this is safe? or should i stick with a place that has a seamstress onsite?
Thank you

There are advantages and problems with both situations.

I choose to work totally separate from a salon because it gives me the freedom to do for my brides as I see fit without having to be concerned about the needs of the salon. I can take as long as I want to talk with a bride about her needs without worrying about the time limits the salon puts on appointments. I can do what shes wishes to her dress without being told I have to conform to rules the salon dictates to me about what they think are "proper" alterations.

The question of safety runs both ways. Just because a lady works in a salon does not mean she is any more talented or capable of working on these precious gowns. Odds are she won't last long there is she is not, but you still don't get any guarantees.

The one thing you need to know is that once you pay for the gown the salon is not responsible for anything that happens. You don't get any special consideration for an in-house lady making a mistake on your gown. Using an outside lady doesn't necessarily get you someone more capable or any extra guarantees.

What you can do is educate yourself about these things so you can ask lots of questions to the ladies you interview for working on your gown. Read all the stuff on my site and look for other sites too. Since your salon does not have alterations you have to go outside. Interview the "tailor" she recommends and find out how long they have had this relationship. Most tailors don't do wedding gowns so I'd be a little suspicious of this right off.

I am always here if you have more questions.

Thanks so much for your response! I really appreciate it!
I've been search everywhere for dresses with sleeves and most bridal stores do not have any so most of the places have a seamstress on site and they'll add sleeves on to a dress I like. This makes me wary b/c I don't know how it's going to come out.

The dress that I'm looking is manufactured by Casablanca and the store will give me requirements and measurements to the manufacturer to design the dress that I want. The store owner showed me a picture of something similar done for another bride. They say the dress should come in to fit my measurements and will have sleeves created by the manufacturer.

I would really need alterations only if I drop a size or needed certain fitting adjustments.

I'm really just sad with all this wedding shopping especially since alot of the dresses are strapless...I think I've been to at least 10 shops now and it's very hard for me to imagine the dress with sleeves, so when they say the manufacturer will do it - do you think I have to be wary of anything?

Thanks so much!

Always be wary of anything they say. They said, "the dress should come in to fit my measurements" - that does not mean it is guaranteed to be that way and most likely will not fit perfectly. If the sleeves end up not being to your liking, you will have to pay extra to change them. The pictures do make me think they are trying to do what you want, but you just don't know for sure. Since they have done this before they might be a better bet, but it's still a bet.

You are not alone in your displeasure of the styles this year. I don't know what's gotten into the bridal industry that it thinks every one wants strapless. There used to be more variety in styles.

That said, as long as you are making an informed decision I don't see where you can much loose letting them try to make the sleeves. You may need to have them adjusted a little but they may also come in just right. There is a large possibility they will come out just right too, so I think it's a good bet.

added February 2002

Hi leanna this is Karlynn, I have a young friend who is getting married in Jan. next year. She bought her dress but needs it hemmed. Do you have any tips on finding the "right person" to hem. They will do the hemming where she bought it,, {I'm didn't ask where}.. for an extra fee. This fee was pretty right on as to what I thought it would cost... NO>> I don't do bridal... I told her at this point her best bet was to have the store hem needs to be shortened at the waiste....OH,, we live near Austin, Tx. Any suggestions? Thanks for your time.

Usually the seamstress at whatever bridal store is competent. If not she would not be there for long. You could ask what her experience is, and also ask if it is she that will do the work. Quite often the fitter at a salon is not the person who does the work. If this is so ask the qualifications of the person doing the sewing. They may not appreciate this, but it is your right to know and the best bridal seamstresses will understand your hesitancy and take the time to reassure you. If there is no way for you to talk to the actual sewing person (which is often the case) than ask the policies for alterations and make sure they do NOT cut anything until you have tried it on and give approval.

Working with a fitter and not the actual seamstress is common and not bad as long as you have last say in the workmanship. Quite often salons have several seamstress working in their homes to get the sewing done because there is not enough space at the store to do a proper job. On site workers are better, but it is often impossible so a salon will do what it can to get the work done well off site.

A hem at the waist is a bit tricky and you do want an experienced seamstress. If the hem could be done at the bottom, it would be less of a concern. Quite often I have brides come to me thinking the dress just has to be done at the waist when they don't realize that it is possible at the bottom. Since you do sew I think you probably would understand better than the average young bride, so I would say ask the lady at the bridal store her qualifications and if she does not answer to your satisfaction get out your yellow pages and look under Alterations. There should be several listings for a big city like Austin. Make a few phone calls and find someone who is willing to take the time to answer the questions. Any "Good" seamstress will understand your need to ask.

added September 2003

I too have an alteration dilemma. I bought my dress in New York, and had to relocate sooner than anticipated to Sarasota, Florida, where my wedding will be held in October. So I'm here, I have a dress, it hasn't been altered, touched, fitted at all, and no one is willing to alter it here - if I didn't buy it through their store. The dress is from a Canadian couture designer, and the fabrics are silk gaza, a little minor beaded chiffon in the torso, and peau de soie. I had thought originally that I should have a bridal salon fit it, but now I don't know what to do. Will I have to fly back to New York for alterations? Do seamstresses and independent alterers have much experience with these fabrics? If so, do I just leave the dress with them, and are they responsible for it while it's in their care? I really wanted to get someone who was familiar with this designer (Justina McCaffrey) to work on the dress, but maybe that's not possible. Help!

There are lots of ways to find an independent Alterationist. Here's a link to the PACC referral list for Florida:
Check this list and see if anyone is convenient for you. You can use the e-mail link to ask them questions. I don't know any of the listees personally, so I can't help you with a recommendation, but I can say that PACC members are good at what they do, or else they would not be in PACC.

I can make a posting to a professional Sewing list I belong to if you like to see if anyone responds in your area.

Lastly, look in your local Yellow pages under "Clothing Alteration". Make some phone calls and ask a lot of questions.

You do not need a person familiar with your Canadian designer. Designers do not make the clothing they design and frequently have no idea how to sew, so knowing a designer says nothing about one's sewing ability. Besides, to tell you the honest truth - I don't care who designed any gown I work on. I never look at price tags, labels, or listen intently when customers brag about how much the dress costs. It does not matter if the gown is worth $100 or $10,000, or if the designer was Vera Wang, or Vince Wootowl. Every gown is precious and should be cared for as such simply because it is the bride's special gown for her special day.

You may think this a silly thing to say and I don't mean to make you care for your gown any less if this designer happens to be a favorite of yours. But from my viewpoint, all gowns are constructed with some basic principles that I have to adhere to in altering. Sure, the lower end gowns are made differently than the higher end Couture gowns, but any Alterationist has had plenty of both in her career and can certainly adjust to anything new a manufacturer may work up. She does not have to be familiar with any designer to alter a gown that designer has put out.

Yes, you do have to find the confidence to leave the dress with them. You can ask them if they have business or liability insurance if you are worried. For most Sewists like me who work at home, my home owners insurance would take care of any problems but you don't want reimbursement for any mistakes, you want your gown done right. So no one ever asks me about insurance, they ask about my ability.

It is a big risk and one I understand is not easy for brides to take -"What, leave my precious gown with a stranger?" But by the time you have talked on the phone, meet and had a fitting, you should feel at ease about leaving your gown. Ask all the questions you need to until you feel that you can trust this person. It is not a shame to take the gown for a second opinion at another Alterationist. I think it's necessary for a Sewing Professional to be able to act in such a manner that her brides grow to trust her and can leave their precious gowns with confidence. I really believe it's a bride's trust in me that helps me do the best job I can for her.

So, good luck finding the right Alterationist and if you have any more question, you know where to find me.


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