Troublesome Brides


added November 2009

First, Thanks very much for all the helpful information on your website.  I refer to it quite often.  It’s been a great sounding board and I am always pleased to find someone else thinks like me.  Your policies read very close to mine.

Looks like you are located in Cincinnati?  I am 50 miles south in Carrollton, Kentucky.

I have a bride that’s asking me to alter a straight across neckline into a sweetheart neckline.  I’ve not been asked to do that before so I’m just not sure I want to commit.  The dress looks like this:

into sweet heart neckline. The beading is a concern.  What do you think?  She’s a small gal – if I remember right from her prom dresses about a size 4.


Hi Barbara,
I have done many sweetheart conversions and this dress is not a good candidate for one. The collar can not be converted into the dip so she will either loose it in the conversion or the dip will have to be done through it. I doubt that will look very pretty. I can not see under the collar so I can't tell you what kind of work will be necessary if the collar is removed to create the dip. If she insists that she wants to retain the collar along the new line of the sweetheart neck, a new collar will have to be cut and beaded and sewn into the new neckline.
I will be a lot of work to get this dress looking good with a sweetheart neckline. I would advise her to choose a dress that already has a sweetheart neckline.

She wants the collar removed too so that should make it more doable, shouldn’t it?

Getting the collar totally off and reconstructing the sides and back of the neckline will be a job in itself, and then you have to deal with what's under the collar. If it's nothing, than you'll have to add beading to finish the edge nicely. If there is some beading under there, you'll have to adjust it to the new neckline. Either way, I think you're in for a good amount of hand beading work. It's not hard, just really tedious. I charge $30 an hour for this. I give the client a guess at how long I think it may take to do this AND I explain that my guess is NOT an estimate. The actual work may take much longer once I get to actually doing the work. And, she might change her mind on the beading pattern once I am half way through it and I will have to spend time changing it. She will have to agree to accept the final charge whatever it may end up being before I agree to take on the project.
In my state, Ohio, estimates have a rule. A laborer can not charge a final billing that is more than 10% above a written estimate. So, for hand work such as this, I don't give estimates. My guesses are good ones for I know how I work and can pretty closely calculate how long it will take me to do a certain job. Another alterationist may take more or less time than I do. Your client will want some kind of cost from you before she agrees to have the work done. What you give her can depend on your skill level, your desire to take on this job if you just happen to think you will like doing it, your schedule of other dresses you have already contracted to have done (i.e. The time you have available for this project), and what your store owner or manager wants you to do. If you are your own boss than it's you decision.
"Doable" is a measure of what kind of work you like to do or have the experience to do. I used to HATE hand work of any kind. Over the years I have developed a liking for the creative element in hand beading. So, after looking under the collar and discussing what "look" the bride is wanting, I may do this project even if it's tricky because I am in the mood for a challenge. If you have never done a sweetheart conversion than you might be concerned that you won't do a good job. This is great. It means you are a conscientious professional. Experience doesn't mean you have to have done the exact job before, just that you have enough alteration hours under your belt that you can think your way through a new experience.
The first sweetheart neckline I ever did was for a friend so it wasn't as nerve racking as for a client. But - just one week later - I had a bride ask for the same thing. Both jobs had differing elements but the process is mainly the same as in all alteration jobs = take apart the existing area, make the change and put things back securely.
I can't tell you step-by-step how to do this but you have a great picture to guide the design and good communication from the bride and if you have a few years experience, I think I can safely say you can do this.

added June 2009

Dear Leanna,

Thank you so much for your sharing your wisdom and experience!  You have given a wonderful gift to so many, and I really appreciate it.  I just bought your bustle video and it is very useful.  The level of detail for sewing on the rigging is very helpful.
I have sewn garments since a child, and I worked for about 2 years part time as a seamstress in an independent bridal/formal shop while in grad. School, 15 years ago.  That owner/shop pretty much did only ballroom bustles, and that is basically all I knew about til now in bustling.   I have continued to sew garments and do alterations for family and friends but have not worked on bridal gowns since that time.
I have a bridal hemming/bustle question. I have been asked to do Alterations for the July wedding of a daughter of acquaintances through my church.
The dress is Mori Lee by Madeline Gardner Voyage/Destination 6144. Based on measurements, the bride was told to purchase a sz 4.  In reality, the Bodice was large and I had to take it in 3" total on sides and taper to lower bodice, in the beaded area.  The bride loves the fit now, and I am now to the hem.
The skirt train consists of two separate layers:  chiffon over satin with horsehair braid in hem of satin.  The dress front needs to be hemmed 6 inches.  The bride wants it just about "on the floor", she thought 1" off the floor was too high.  I pinned satin at 1/2" off floor and she liked it.   She wants chiffon just slightly longer than the satin.  With the dress on her, I marked the chiffon with pencil where the bride wanted the hem.  The bride said she does not want the side seams hemmed at all, so our agreement is to taper the 6" hem over to the side seams.  I have not hemmed this type of bridal dress before, and am concerned about it.  I used a rolled hemmer in the distant past on dresses, but have upgraded machines in the past year, and to be honest, at this point I am not confident enough in using the one I have now to do this exact of a hem with so little room for error on this, where the plain drapey chiffon is really the interest at the front hem.
How would you advise doing this--by hand--with a tiny rolled hem?  As the dress came, the chiffon is about 1 1/4" longer than the satin all the way around, and is anchored to fall this way at side seams.  Should I taper the 6" front hem [with chiffon about 1/4" longer than satin], slowly til it's about 1 1/4", like it came?
The second question is on the bustle.  This dress has covered buttons all the way down the train, and it seems very much like one of your examples where you used a pickup bustle. The bride loves the look of the Pickup bustle (outer) with the one point.  [She did not like the inverted pickup bustle.]  In reality, when the bustle is rigged, the sides drag the ground since the side seams are not being hemmed.  She indicated it was fine with her to have the sides drag ground.  Given that she did not want the sides hemmed, I was not sure anything else to suggest if she _had no_t wanted it to drag--there is no waist point or decoration to attach any other outer bustle anchor points to.    Could you suggest what to try here if the bride in fact did not want the sides to drag?
Again, thank you so very much for sharing your time and wisdom.  I really, really appreciate it.

Sincerely, Becky


Hi Becky,
You have a lot of issues here. Let me try to hit them one by one.
Your bride might have been "advised" to purchase a size 4 because that was the smallest size the manufacturer makes.
The length of the hem is a bride's wish. I start at 1" because that's a comfortable length that many brides like. I do my best to teach the brides all the reasons why this is a good length, but in the end it's her choice that counts and if she says she can walk comfortable and gratefully in a hem that touches the floor, I do it that way.
I try to set the layers at 1/2 drop from satin to chiffon. I like that look better, but if the bride wants the original drop ratio I do that.
Chiffon is a nasty fabric that does not cooperate with seamstresses. I have found ways of dealing with it's character that work for me. To do a rolled hem I machine sew a folded line 1/8" lower than the hem pins, trim the fabric 1/16" from this line, turn the folded edge up 1/16" and sew another line right on the fold.  
As you have discovered, the bride can make poor choices in her hemming wishes that cause problems for you once you get to doing the bustle. Not hemming the gown across the whole front is a major one. If a bride wishes to make this decision, she needs to be informed that the sides will drag when bustled before the hem is sewn. If she says this is ok, then you do what she wishes but protect yourself by making a big deal of it so she can't blame you for guests stepping on her dragging sides at her reception. 
I have one example of a bride who wanted this in my bustle pictures. I set the whole train so it gave the same drag as the sides did. It's the second set of pictures on this page:
The only other thing I do to solve dragging sides is set more bustle points to bring up the sides. This is usually undesirable for it often creates funny pulling effects in the sides area of the skirt. Generally, I spend a lot of time educating the bride at the hem stage to convince her that dragging sides is not a good idea.
Good Luck with your bride.

added August 2007

I have a problem saying no. I always squeeze people in and then I get stressed. Then it seems the ones you go out of your way for are the ones that complain. I just had one bridesmaid today. She had a fitting before and we were going to take the dress out in the bust. That was the only alteration it needed. Well, she comes back for a fitting, pregnant, and it is now my fault that it doesn’t fit in the hips! She told me she wasn’t paying for alterations because I did such a shoddy job. I told her the money didn’t matter to me, but I didn’t want the rest of the bridesmaids coming in expecting free alterations because she threw a fit. Yes, I could have held onto the dress until she paid, but it wasn’t worth the whopping $12 I was charging her.

Sorry, didn’t mean to start complaining. Just when I was thinking how I’d only had happy brides lately, then I have to deal with bridesmaidzilla! I have more problems with bridesmaids and moms than I do with brides. I had one mom that kept having a fit because the dress still touched the floor after it was bustled. I don’t know about you, but most brides I work with, do want it still sweeping the floor in back. The mom kept yelling “It can’t touch the floor!”. Now mind you this is a garden wedding for which the train will be down, but it is not allowed to touch the floor during the reception. Oops, there I go again.

Well, happy sewing!

Wow, she got pregnant and it's your fault. Golly, some people! I have a new rant on my site about women letting themselves get pregnant and then claiming it was something that happened to them, like they had no choice in the matter. I can be a real hard case when it comes to ladies pulling stuff like that on me. I do not let them walk on me. I do good work and I know it. So do they. They are simply pulling this sh!t to get at you because they don't want to admit they are truly responsible.

Hang in there, Lynanne, and don't let them get you down. I know how hard it can get. I'll make you a deal - You are welcome to write any complaints here any time, if it's ok that I can write some to you too.

added October 2004

I own a bridal store. A plus size bride bought a gown for $600.00. She later brought in a friend when we were swamped, along with a large bridal party. They also purchased from us bridal gown and maids dresses. The bride was upset that the $98.00 dollar gown was going to cost her more because she was a plus size. Her fiance came in a few days later to complain how we hurt her feelings and made her cry. We were dumbfounded. We wrote her a note of apology, absorbed the cost and treated her and three other guests to a breakfast buffet at an elegant restaraunt. For her four bridesmaids, the suggested retail was $160.00 we charged $135.00 and gave free jewelry valued at $29.95. Two of her girls wanted to diet because they didn't want to pay the plus size fee. One measured size 22 but wanted size16. I ordered a 16 & 20, just in case. The other measured size 26 but wanted a 22. I ordered a 22 and a 24. I showed the ladies the charts in advance and the prices that were additional. I don't pull extra charges out of the air but I do curb them in cases like these. She felt that I did a poor job in measuring since her girls needed alterations and that they needed an apology and retribution. The dresses were late due to a new staff member at P.C. Mary's who screwed our order up and the company backs us up. I gave my home phone number out and offered to come out after store hours so they could pick up their dresses, which they weren't anxious to pick up. I feel I went above and beyond what would you do? Kathy

A bride bought a gown from you that cost only $98.00 and had the gall to complain? And then had her groom complain too??? You got taken. I'm against shop owners treating brides poorly, but it goes the other way too. It's sometimes better to let some customers walk than to worry about the money you are loosing. The customers in this party were not worth your kindness and I bet you had many nights of headaches for your great efforts in pleasing these silly women. They are not the type to give out any recommendations to friends, and if they do you really don't want more of this type of customer. I would have advised you to stand firm on the prices at the beginning and if the customer doesn't like it - let them walk! It keeps the question on the prices and doesn't give them an opportunity to effect you personally. Trying to explain and teach them doesn't usually help matters. They get to thinking you are simply making stuff up to save yourself the trouble of doing it the way they want.

That's one of the reasons I started the Bridal section of my site. To educate brides before they go to the store so the store can do a better job for them. There is so much brides don't understand about the processes of getting their gown. It's so very different from buying other clothing that it's hard for a first time bride to know what she is getting into.

You did everything in you power to please these ladies. Aside from the trouble your supplier gave you, you should be proud of the fine service you provided. Orders often come in late even when no mistakes are made. Brides need to chill about stuff like this. Just remember that your desire to please your customers needs to be balanced with making the profit your business needs to survive. It's sometimes a hard choice to make, but by what you have written, I think you have what it takes. Some customers will never be pleased no matter what you do for them.

The First Phone Call

An article written for the April 1998 issue of Tangled Threads

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression."  How true this is when dealing with a bride.  Understand that she is already worried about everything from her floral arrangements to convincing her Mom-in-law-to-be that hot pink is not a good choice for her complexion. She could really use a trustworthy/ professional person caring for her precious gown, and you could really use that trust to make your job easier.

To insure that you get things off on the right footing, sometime during the first phone call, ask the wedding date and check your calendar for conflicts.  I keep a year-at-a-glance calendar for just this purpose. Explain that you are careful to make plenty of time to take care of a bridal customer's special needs.  It's my policy to keep brides at least two weeks apart.  This may be impossible to do for many of you, but I am only one person and I do have other obligations than just my brides. The point is that I do have a policy and it shows to the new bridal customer that I understand the importance of her occasion.  If I do have to schedule brides back to back I'm going to block out a 2 week buffer in front of them.

This means I may have to say "No" sometimes.  That's much better than overloading yourself. But I don't like to leave the bride with no alternatives. I do my best to keep up with sewing professionals in my area. I keep up with what kind of work they do and what services they offer. By giving a confident referral, you not only help her, but start a good first impression for the referee.

Your first phone call impression should also give her the sense that you are in control of all the things she might not have thought of yet.  It may help to make a list of points to discuss with a new bride and keep it by your phone.  One of these should be to ask her about her shoes and undergarments.  If she has already thought of these things praise her for her foresight.  If she does happen to ask you something you have not put on your list, discuss it with her briefly and tell her you will make a note to figure it out with her in detail when she sees you for her first appointment.  Then be sure to bring up the subject at the appointment.

Who's Important?

An article written for the March 1998 issue of Tangled Threads

Brides are not your normal customers.  Give the sweet little girl next door a ring and a date and she is all starry eyed because her dreams are coming true.  Until she walks into your alteration salon with the most important garment of her young life.  How quickly dreams can turn into nightmares for the both of you.

Luckily, there are a few easy things you can do to get off on the right footing with your new bridal customer.  I've been making these a habit and they have served me well.  Dealing with the "Princess for a Day" doesn't have to leave you tearing you hair out.  Something as simple as the right mind set can save you and her a lot of headaches.

I don't want to imply here that brides are the only important customers you have.  Certainly all your customers are individually important, but brides just need a little extra attention.  I'm sure you want your reputation to show that you treat every garment with care and do your very best job on even a simple hem.  But as far as personal attention goes, you need to realize that a bride will automatically take up more time for everything from fittings to talking on the phone.

Once you have the proper bridal care mind set, you can start to understand how to handle all the challenges that will inevitably face you.  Hopefully, you won't be facing everyone with every bride you see, but they will all crop up from time to time.  After awhile you won't be so surprised when they happen and will have gained the finesse to handle each with patience and grace.


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