Size Doesn’t Matter

Here is the story: “I just went into the bridal salon not expecting to buy anything but once I tried on this dress, I had to have it.”

It is a lovely dress on the proper sized model, 2 layers of embroidered lace netting buttoned down the back…only one problem…this one is a size 10 and she really needed a size 2 or smaller.

Wtoo Amalthea


She told me that the salon owner “clamped” her in the back and it looked wonderful. I told her “clamping ain’t sewing” and by the looks of my pinning, we had a huge job ahead.

Here you can see the first fitting with push up bust pads pinned inside and the famous blue grosgrain ribbon testing out a halter. The side seams are pinned and 2 inches will be taken in each side down to the hips, 4 inches (10 centimeters) total in circumference. The petticoat and layers of netting were shortened 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) all around.


Next area of pinning is the center back zipper, another 2.5 inches each side for a total of 5 inches reduced from the circumference…OK, let’s add that up…4 plus 5 equal 9 inches (22.86 centimeters) to be removed…why am I complaining?

Each seam has 6 layers to contend with, 2 lace layers, 2 tulle layers and lining and satin fabric layers…all have been seamed individually so that is how they will have to be altered. OK…let’s count those up – 6 times 2 areas…12 plus the zipper seams for only 14 different vertical seams and some horizontal lining seams inside. Removing all the buttons and the zipper and 2 strips of boning is the first step.

P1190426P1190427  P1190687

Here you can see the waistline in the lining and the horizontal seam that joins everything together. That has to be opened up since it was sewn last in the sequence of construction. See the red thread basting lines.


There was a elastic bra sewn into the side seams and that had to be tightened by moving it over 3 inches each side along with the side seam lining. The lining is knit…odd for a bridal gown.


Once the waistline seam is opened you can see the interfacing layer too, a gauzy kind of stuff.


Zipper is basted in for her second try-on. Halter is pinned on too. Everything went well until the bride whipped out a bag from JoAnn’s filled with 5 yards of 104 inch wide folded red tulle. OH OH…where is that going?


How about making hundreds of mini pleats and attaching all of it to the bottom layer of the lowest layer of netting?


Sure what else can we add? How about making a red and orange satin belt from ribbons and a chunk of bling. Sure. All I have to do is sew 2 layers of ribbon together, attach all the beads and then attach it to the dress…let’s get started.P1190811P1190812

Let’s use the Blind hem foot with the black metal edge guide and crank the needle all the way to the left position. I hand basted the edges together so let’s get sewing.


Belt is done and attached to the dress by hand with a final 22 inch waist measurement, just have to finish the halter attachment:


Attaching an extra long hang tag from the back zipper area to the center front area and under another French tack helps keep the dress hanging upright on the hanger. This can be done with any dress using satin polyester ribbon.


Buttons (19) re-attached, hook and eye at the top, all that is left is the one point bustle and we are done! At least seven hours of labor were packed into this dress.

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Yes, you can see the red tulle layer through the dress but the bride is thrilled and she can fly to her destination wedding in Mexico and dance knowing that her red tulle will show and her belt will celebrate the Fall colors. For those of you who want to know what kind of shoes the bride will be wearing…none, as the ceremony will be on the beach.



Maybe some of you have seen this story about the heirloom wedding dress that has been worn by so many brides in one family. Here is a the link from the Daily Mail newspaper in the UK:

Wishing you all a great week of trauma-free sewing!

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51 Responses to Size Doesn’t Matter

  1. Monique says:

    I was just thinking “what a lovely dress, and on a lovely figure too”, when the red burst in. Oh well, can’t have ‘m all, I suppose. Tastes differ, that’s for sure. And no shoes better than cowboy boots? Enjoy your day!

    • mrsmole says:

      Well, Monique, maybe we could all use a little red in our lives to perk things up as summer ends and skies are grey and cloudy? I was just thrilled that this dress did not have to hug her butt!

      • Monique says:

        When my daughter and I went shopping for her dress, there was a tartan/steampunk type. Now that was really something! I love red, but it does depend on the sort of garment 🙂

  2. prttynpnk says:

    Is a knit lining up to the challenge of all those layers?
    Once more you spun straw into gold, Ma’am!

    • mrsmole says:

      Now that every layer is skin tight, it probably makes no difference but is was weird to have boning in it. My spinning wheel was working overtime, Anne! Thank you!

  3. Robin says:

    well, I like that she had a vision and I like that she was so happy with the results. But … oh I don’t want to criticize her choices, so I will stop there!! Your alteration was certainly complex and the end result spectacular. I am astonished at how much you can accomplish in such little time. And yes I saw that incredible restoration of that old gown. I did a project like that once, but not as old or difficult. It was something special to work on a gown that meant something to the family.

    • mrsmole says:

      Working on old gowns is certainly a treat and seeing rows of old cotton thread and labels just makes me smile.I only charge for the time I sew and baste so if ripping out was included, it would be more. If I charged for the “thinking time” I could retire! Thanks, Robin!

      • Robin says:

        I know what you mean! There are so many ways to approach an alteration, and it takes a lot of thinking time. I was really glad to have so much time to alter my daughter’s wedding gown so that I could mull over my options, and change course if necessary.
        Still, even with your explanation, I still think you accomplish A LOT in a very short timeframe.

  4. Janee says:

    I was going to comment that 7 hours seemed very little for the amount of work you did here – then I saw your reply to Robin. I’m mystified – why wouldn’t you charge for ripping time? I had an Alencon lace gown to alter a couple of years back, taking in about as much as you’ve done here – but each outer seam was created by the applique technique, with the lace motifs securely stitched to the net base. Ripping that sucker took hours – as did restitching the side seams after taking in all the layers. Without looking for the details, I’d guess I spent at least 12 hours on that gown. If they only knew, right?

    • mrsmole says:

      Seeing as I was sewing straight seams most of the time and measuring I did not have to get as involved as you did. When I shorten scalloped lace hems, and have to do so much hand sewing and messing with levels and lace, I do kick up the labor. I also weigh up what they paid for the dress if I know where they bought it. Sometimes my heart decides the fee. Thanks for sharing, Janee!

    • Cheryl says:

      I have to AGREE with Janee. I have a LOVELY gown here, $2K purchase. ADORABLE bride 🙂 I am making a size TWENTY into about a TWELVE. Massive seam movement 🙂 And the blankety blank blank…side seams are COVERED with beads/sequins and appliques sewn on with a BILLION stitches onto TULLE 😦 YES, I CHARGE for my time. It has taken me almost THREE HOURS just to remove the embellishments so I can PIN the sides to fit. My time=$$$$ I do this for a living. Actually the re-stitching and beading is EASIER than the RIP APART………She has been advised, her alterations will cost $300-$400. Mrsmole.PLEASE TELL ME you are paying yourself a HIGH WAGE……WE, seamstresses, are RARE GEMS……. It does NOT matter what the item COST. OUR LABOR is VERY VALUABLE 🙂

      • mrsmole says:

        You are earning your good money, Cheryl. Thankfully I rarely have to do that sort of alteration of removing more stuff before I can actually get started. The closest I get to that is cutting off scalloped lace hems and raising them and sewing on by hand which can get pricey. When I see side seams with a load of embellishment, I am praying that I can take in the whole mess with a zipper out-zipper back-in alteration for snugging up the whole shebang. I tell each bride that every dress has it’s own “issues” and once we discover them and decide how to deal with it, that is the direction we will go in. Next year I will become more accurate as to rip out time and sewing time as I am past the retirement age and need to slow down a bit. Just this week a mother called about having her daughter’s homecoming dress hemmed. It was the type like bridesmaids…2-3 layers of chiffon over a satin lining. She was quoted $60 by one sewing center and was outraged and said she wanted to know what I would charge and I laughed and said “$54” because chiffon requires a rolled hem and it is time consuming. Then I gave her the name of another seamstress that she might call. By the time you spend 30-45 minutes pinning up layers of chiffon and satin, add in the sewing time, you can actually lose money, and who needs that? Thanks for sharing your thoughts and my blessings to you in all the ripping !!!

  5. CarmencitaB says:

    Wow! You deliver everytime… but I’m siding with Robin here, why?

    • mrsmole says:

      Well Carmencita, even on a complex gown, I have a plan to get in and out as fast as I can so most times all seams are opened at night or during the night when I don’t/can’t use my sewing machines. If I am watching a recorded TV show, I don’t keep track of time but daytime sewing is recorded and maybe because I have so many gowns that I can take small “bites” from each one without stopping during the day. So far I have worked on 72 gowns in 7 months so I have to keep up with the volume and phone calls. Next year I hope to cut back on the gowns and raise my prices so I can have a day off once in a while.

      • SJ Kurtz says:

        It’s too easy to undercharge for alterations, I’m doing it now (well, right now I’m taking a break) because I like the organization, the staff is very gracious and I want to support some old pals.
        That said, the ripping is the part that takes the most time and care. It’s a good thinking time, both for what is going to happen next with what’s in your hands and that vegetable garden of yours. You can’t write if off forever; we’ve only got so many years we can do this stuff with our hands. Already I have had to quit knitting, curtail my nonwork computer time, and spend some time in a sling.
        I vote you raise your prices so you can get paid for what you really do, which is deliver a miracle.

      • mrsmole says:

        Thank you SJ, you are right, careful ripping out is important and should be included in the pricing. So far the hands have been doing OK, the knees not so much even with surgery so things have to change for the good…more gardening, less sewing is the goal!

  6. Tia Dia says:

    Fascinating story of the 100+ year old wedding gown. Amazing. I really like the dress you altered, and it seems to suit the bride. The touch of red/orange is whimsical, and, imho, nothing wrong with a little something to make the dress 100% ‘yours’. Love all pictures of the inside finishing details – thanks for posting them, Mrs. Mole!

  7. mrsmole says:

    Yes, Tia, the dress does suit her, she is light and girly and not pushy or demanding, in fact, after the first fitting, she went home and cried thinking that her dress would never look like she imagined. Now with everything done she is one happy bunny. It was fun making the belt with red ribbons instead of the ivory satin one it came with. Just sorry she will not be wearing some ruby slippers but they would be filled with sand after a walk down the aisle.

  8. Susie says:

    Another shocker! As I neared the end of your tale I was reminded of a saying I heard from an old car salesman, who could sell any car: “There’s an ass for every seat.” I guess we all do have different tastes. It fit her beautifully, and you probably do need to raise your prices.

    • mrsmole says:

      Ha ha, Susie, it could be the same for dresses…eventually all dresses are sold for a cheaper and cheaper price or go into a “trunk show” that criss-crosses the nation under the guise of “designer sample dresses”. Last time I raised my prices, my volume rose 33%, so that might happen again and I am trying to cut back….hmmmm.

  9. Karen Lyon says:

    Mrs.M with that much altering, I would think it would take more time than sewing the dress from scratch. Am I right? Have a great week. (I missed your produce update)

    • mrsmole says:

      It would probably take at least 20-30 hours to make such a dress from scratch and I’m just glad I don’t have the time or space to do that! Next time, more produce…I thought maybe folks were tired of seeing it?

  10. jay says:

    You did a brilliant job again! Definitely raise those prices or include the ripping hours or both! I’m ok with the red, it’s her dress, and her day.
    The hand me down gown is lovely too, the sleeves very special.

    • mrsmole says:

      In one of the side stories it mentioned that the dress had only been dry cleaned once in the 120 years…so I am wondering what is actually smells like? Is that bad to think about it?

  11. June says:

    When I saw the side pinning, I thought OK, not bad, but then I scrolled down to the back, oh my! And then I saw all the internal alterations (gulp!) and I lost it at the tulle and belt – oh no! That’s amazing that you could do it in 7 hours.

  12. mrsmole says:

    Yes, June, I am fueled by diet Pepsi and Dr. Pepper and the urge to get these out the door before the next batch comes in. People tell me they would like to come and visit and help me, but it would not work so smoothly. When you have a rhythm and game plan every day, you know what can and can’t be done and if the gown will be in a blog, it just makes it more fun to take photos and write the story. When I tell a bride it takes one hour to remove and re-attach a zipper, they say, “it would take me all day”, but I have timed myself and it can be done and I hold myself to that. If you are self employed, your boss can be a bitch at times! Ha ha!

  13. symondezyn says:

    amazing job! she’s going to look so pretty ^_^ no shoes is a way better option than cowboy boots, IMO – especially if nice shoes would just get all sandy anyway! 🙂

  14. I actually like the addition of colour in this dress. I know we would be out of a job if the following was true but aren’t shops supposed to sell clothing that fits (or near to) rather than THAT far off. Well done again Mrs Mole.

  15. Sharon says:

    I have the same sort of boss as you do Mrs. Mole, and what a pain in my ass she can be ! When I get a gown with such extensive down sizing to be done, and it’s hanging next to another bride’s gown that needs to be made larger, I sometimes wish the 2 gals would just swap dresses and make my life easier !
    I vote to raise your prices !!! Who else is going to alter their dream dress with such dazzling results? All of your time spent wrestling these white alligators is of value and you should be rewarded accordingly. The last time I raised my prices, there were only a few customers that even batted an eye. Go for it !! Cha-Ching.

  16. Dara says:

    Thank God for people like you!!

  17. Lovely work again. So the shop sold her a dress too big? I guess they were happy for the sale and the rest wasn’t their problem. The bride is lucky she had you work on it. Very pretty!

  18. maryfunt says:

    Nice work and I do like this dress. The red touches aren’t bad and make it unique. I would have preferred an opaque lining so the red tulle didn’t show through the dress. I’m guessing it was intended to peek out as she walked.
    I definitely charge for ripping time. Sometimes it takes longer to deconstruct than put back together and opening seams without destroying the garment takes skill.

    • mrsmole says:

      Thank you, Mary…intricate removal of lace motifs and seams is so time consuming and I will figure out a way to include them next year. This year I raised my prices for attaching bust pads and bustle points by 50% and no one batted an eye.

  19. Girl in the Stix says:

    Whew! When I read your blog I think a federal law should be enacted so that bridal salons cannot sell a dress that isn’t the right size. You are a miracle worker!

  20. mrsmole says:

    Oh Dear, Valerie, that would almost put me out of business…ha ha!

  21. Sarah says:

    At least you were making it smaller. Imagine if you had needed to FIND that 9 inches instead.

  22. fabrickated says:

    Another interesting story. You make so many dresses bigger it is nice to see it the other way. It might be easier to just swap the brides around. I go past a bridal wear shop on my way to work and they want a Saturday girl, and I am so tempted to go in and offer to work there! Not really, but just for the stories. I love your blog so much. My daughter jazzed up her dress with a bit of orange and yellow trimming – I think a bit of individuality can be rather nice.

  23. mrsmole says:

    Your comment about getting a Saturday job at a bridal salon makes me smile. So many of my clients tell me that I have a glamorous job and they envy me. Other than working on clean new clothes, the glamour goes out the window when you spend 75% of the time INSIDE the dress wrestling with boning and lining and bustle buttons and loops. So glad I take photos and keep computer files on every bride or I would never remember or be able to go back and find one I had worked on when the next bride comes in and says her best friend Jennifer had her dress done here. I like seeing pops of color other than the orange that most brides get with their spray tans… so dark that they look like pumpkins!

  24. Rosemary Coole says:

    You’re brilliant. Tulle on grosgrain ribbon, just brilliant. Your explanation of the hang tags has made my day, thanks. Could you please explain your french tacks? I think I know but clarification would be a kindness. What can I say, I was taught to sew by my Hungarian mother, I’ve used many of her tricks, just don’t know the name of them.

  25. Linda Craig says:

    Hi Mrs Mole,
    Speaking of ripping. What type of seam rippers do you like the best?

  26. mrsmole says:

    I use the cheapest plastic ones from Wawak…like 39 cents each and a surgical scalpel handle with removable blades.

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