Mama in Charge

Do you remember a couple weeks ago I mentioned a very controlling mother that removed all my pins and proceeded to re-pin the daughter’s dress?

Well, let’s start here…the phone call. The mother calls to tell me that she has a second-hand wedding dress that needs sleeves because her daughter is so modest and can I do such a project. Of course, I say, and the mother says that her daughter has hundreds of photos of what she wants on Pinterest….great. She continues describing the dress and what she wants done and the time frame and on and on and we make the appointment. The one thing the mother doesn’t bother to tell me is…the name of her daughter. Why? Because it is all about the mother and her need to control.

The girl, fresh out of high school, arrives with this heavy strapless dress and the mother tells me to get some fabric from my stash and drape sleeves to cover the front and back and her arms. The front of the additional fabric MUST BE a precise 7 inches wide in front and be very gathered. I tuck some loose satin fabric under the top edge and take the photo for them to have an image to think about. Yes, the mother says…that is what we want, the bride says nothing and shows no emotion. The dress weighs a ton and includes some sort of wacky bustle configuration that involves broken buttons, missing loops and 4 sets of huge 1 inch wide plastic snaps.


Here is the basic shape they ordered…the finished dimensions MUST BE 7 inches in front and 5 inches in back (pleated) and be 24 inches long. So to get enough gathers, I cut the front 12 inches wide and line the straps so that it is 1/2 inch narrower to pull the satin to the backside.


I’m supposed to match the gathers of the dress so no one knows the sleeves were added. I use 3 rows of gathering stitches for the front for stability.


Second fitting allows me to pin the sleeves in front and pleat the back attachment. I stand back and ask the bride to decide if this is her idea of what she envisioned. She says nothing and shows no emotion. The mother removes all my pins and starts to make it her way. I don’t know what to do but step back and almost leave the room. After she is done she says she knows how to sew and what looks best. All I can say to her is, “This is usually what I do”. The bride says nothing nor shows any emotion. The mother then decides that the front gathering is enough but the sleeves are too wide and need to be more like wide straps and tells me to make them 5 inches wide at the shoulder and 4 inches wide at the back…essentially re-cut and remake them. More photos on that later…let’s try to pin a new bustle shall we?

Using different points than the original ones it looks like 5 points will be enough to get the 6 foot long, heavy train up off the floor. p1210571At this point the mother grabs my colored safety pins and wants to change what I have done. I step back and tell her, “YOU MUST sit on the sofa and let me do my job”.

She sits down and shakes her leg nervously like a hyperactive teenage boy and tells me that she is OCD and must be involved and cannot sit still. I explain that I have done hundreds of bustles and she will have the final say when I am done pinning. There are 2 huge box pleats in the back skirt which will hide 2 of the 5  buttons and make the fabric lie flat. I turn the bride around in the mirror and show her how nice it is…she says nothing and shows no emotion. You can see the top of the knit tube top that she is planning on wearing under the dress.


End of the second fitting session, the bride has said nothing, showed no emotion nor answered any questions I have asked. Because the mother is so controlling and hints at not believing that I will actually do what SHE wants, I make thread tacks where the pins marked the edges of the new sleeves/now straps and email her the photos for my own protection later.

I also send her the photos of where she placed all the pins for the decreased width of the sleeves/now straps. I tell her that one cannot decrease the width so dramatically to 5 inches and still keep the front gathers at 12 inches. That is when she tells me, “It will be OK, I know how to sew”. (Blood pressure rising)


Her pinning, my thread tracing…keeping it real.


The front coverage is now narrowed to 5.5 inches from 7.


Can you see the weird shape this is taking?

I spread the gathers out to get an idea of the shape. I send more photos to the mother and she says she does not want that shape. Well, she is getting that shape for now until the next fitting. My experience tells me that the very narrow edge of the gathers where it drops off will have to be placed lower inside the dress to sit properly.



Let’s pin and trim and stitch and flip right side out again.


At the first fitting, the mother told me that she did not want me to shorten the separate petticoat 4 inches with a 2 inch horizontal tuck because she knows how to sew and will do it herself. She takes the petticoat home and this is the result:

It would have been nice to let a machine do its job with long, even, secure stitches but Mama knows best and wanted to hand tack here and there and leave gaps.

In the meantime, I send more photos and I get this email back:

“I’m hopeful that next week will bring a smile to my daughter’s  face. For someone who is painfully indecisive, and has trouble sharing verbally, it’s hard for her to know, and be able to say what she wants. I help based on small comments she has made over time, but it’s difficult.”

After the second fitting, I am exhausted and very frustrated and wising I had never answered the phone and agreed to take on this project. Mr. Mole reminds me that since I have not even altered or cut into the dress that I can hand it back to them…it is tempting…but I feel so sorry for the bride and want to do right by her.

Third fitting shows how much of the straps have to be dropped inside the dress to sit well.


See the new rows of gathering? Yes, that will be the new attachment line and new shape for the front straps. Mama was not right this time.


The back straps will also be gathered and not pleated (my decision) and are angled as well to sit better. Mama got this wrong too.


Let’s see inside the bodice:


In the beginning, the mother told me to shorten the front skirt hem and to just fold under the front skirt hem and hand sew it to make it a cheap fix. I agreed, but once I got to that section I realized that the skirt was actually two layers of satin and one layer of lining…3 layers plus the horsehair braid. If I had done it her way there would have been a huge wad of 6 layers of fabric all rolled under. So once it was opened up, I shifted the horsehair braid, pinned it, stitched it and did it more like the last person who altered this dress hem. Now, as you can see in the next photos, that person did not do it the right way as the factory so I just continued in that vein.


The lining will be shortened and attached by hand just at the horsehair stitching but the edge looks like the previous seamstress chewed it away:


As I move along the lining edge I see that the previous seamstress made a 2 inch tuck without trying to ease in the fabric…how clever! This will not be done that way this time! Also the hand stitching will not show.


My hand finished hem with no tucks…it can be done if you take some time to do it right.


The final 4th fitting, the mother mentions that the gathered top looks like it needs some fluffing up so I offer the bride some bust pads to slip in and try. For the first time in a month, her eyes light up…I mean really light up and she SMILES!

Call me crazy, but I sense she realizes that for the first time while wearing this used dress that was way too old and heavy for her, she may just carry it off. I tell her that she can dispense with wearing the knit tube top she has been using for each fitting and I will sew the cups securely into the lining.

Without fail, Mama steps in to tell me, “You had better not sew the cups any lower that the horizontal ruffled section”… like I had never done this before nor had it crossed my mind to position them correctly. I take a deep breath and show her to the front door and imagine them handing me a check next time.                     p1210576

The final project (missing the petticoat) is finished and waiting to be picked up for the wedding this Saturday…ahhhhh.

p1210569      p1210570

At the end of this project you just have to ponder the words from other clients, “your job is so glamorous” and pour a tall rum and diet Pepsi and sit in the patio and thank the Almighty that this has come to an end before the next catastrophe arrives with the Fall/Winter brides.

Thanks to all my readers for visiting and enduring the chaos and stress. It helps to know you are there to share and understand.

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83 Responses to Mama in Charge

  1. The moment the mother says “I can sew”… I would have let her

  2. Graca says:

    You’re a saint! Enjoy the cocktail, you deserved it. Oh, and you did a fabulous job as always, way beyond my skill level.

  3. racurac2 says:

    poor bride… I hope after she’s married she’ll have a happy life, choosing what is right for her and finding her own self. I’ll pray for her.

  4. Tracy says:

    I seriously don’t know how you put up with the mothers. That poor bride.

    • mrsmole says:

      It is entertainment and also has blog potential…you all want a sneak peek into the sewing room don’t you? It also gives me a chance to see into the pathology that exists between mothers and daughters. some are so so supportive and cannot stop telling their daughters, “You are beautiful, sweetie” and others cannot stop picking them apart.

  5. Kate says:

    I would have show her the freaking door.

    • mrsmole says:

      Kate, I will have to remember that it can be my “Get Out” card in the future. It is like when I have dinner with my mother, as long as I have the car keys in my purse, I know I can leave at any time and escape her verbal abuse. We call it insurance.

  6. LIsa says:

    You (I have said this before) are a SAINT! And I hope you charged her extra for the unsolicited advice….

  7. Michele Hill says:

    I had a similar situation the other day in the flower shop where I work…..mother and daughter come in to order a boutonneire for a dance and the mother was all over the place talking a mile a minute while the young girl barely made eye contact. I can only hope this young girl acts differently when her mother is not around! Beautiful job on the dress!

    • mrsmole says:

      Thanks Michele, it sounds like you get your share of drama too and from what I hear from flower growers, insane requests for flowers always our of season. Again…that darn Pinterest causes so many problems!!!!

  8. Nakisha says:

    Ugh. Seriously…what is wrong with people?! I don’t know how you do it. I would have zero customers because I just could not put up with folks like that.

    • mrsmole says:

      Nakisha…they somehow manage to sneak in past the front door…I have threatened to add a sign to my “Please remove your shoes” which says “and leave you attitude outside too”…but that would be a little too direct…ha ha.

  9. Miriam Knox says:

    You have the patience of a saint! I hope the bride and groom get to move far away from that controlling mother.

    Love reading your blog, thanks for taking the time to write it when you have to deal with situations like this!!!

    • mrsmole says:

      Writing this blog helps me clear the air and share…very good therapy for a solo seamstress, Miriam. I hope the bride and her husband can find some digs far away too but your never know if the apron strings are long and strong?

  10. maryglenn says:

    You win the prize for self control again. It’s no wonder this girl wants to get away from her mother.

  11. laura says:

    I fear her daughter’s marriage. Mama’s got some big issues and she’ll try and run that marriage, probably right into the ground. You, my friend, are a saint!

    • mrsmole says:

      We all know mothers like this don’t we, Laura? Our own families are a breeding ground for such behavior but you do hope that you have not been such a shrew to your own kids!

  12. jay says:

    My sympathies. Also to the bridegroom, does he have a plan to put some distance between MIL and themselves I wonder?

  13. Kim says:

    I do hope that poor girl is moving a long way from her mother after her wedding. Well done, and I hope that rum and coke was a very large one!

  14. Mary says:

    I sew, but when it was time for my son’s wedding I bought my dress and had it altered as I knew that kind of sewing was beyond me. I kept my mouth shut and tried to learn from what she had to do to scale down the top of a dress that fit my hips. Folks like her and you are like gold, and it is a shame when others don’t realize it. Hopefully this young woman will be able to put some distance between them and her mom, geographically or otherwise. Love reading your blog and picking up techniques.

    • mrsmole says:

      Leaving the professional to work her/his magic is the best policy I have found. Can’t imagine telling all the people who work so hard to make me look and feel young that I could do their job. I offer no suggestions or comments other than to say I like my bangs/fringe short, period. My techniques are just made up as there are no books to show the best way to do anything bridal. They may not be the best but they work for me. if they work for you in the future…fabulous! If all i do is give you permission to try them, then I have done my job…ha ha!

  15. symondezyn says:

    Wow, what a save – once again, you managed to make something so beautiful despite the interference of a controlling mother! 🙂 You 100% earned that rum & coke! LOL ^_^

    • mrsmole says:

      Had to bite my tongue with every fitting visit, Amanda! I just discovered there is a new rum distillery coming to our valley…this sounds like I may have a new place to visit!

  16. You are amazing! That poor bride…! Had to smile as I scanned through the comments that were saying what I thought…that we all hope that girl is moving far away from Mama and her controlling! Hope this young girl has the chance to come into her own once she’s married and away from that iron fist. Job well done on this project – you deserved that cocktail…and a BIG check!

    PS…Are those BARE FEET on that Mama? Sitting on your sofa in YOUR studio? O.M.G. No words.

  17. Tanya Maile says:

    I wonder if the bride even picked this dress out. I don’t know how you handle people like this. I certainly couldn’t!!

    • mrsmole says:

      I can’t imagine an 18 yr old wanting a dress like this can you? But as they shopped in a second-hand store it may have been the best on offer? At least it fit her in the bodice so just straps and hemming was added along with a better bustle. You have to be slightly crazy to do this day after day,Tanya. I wish I could just sew for myself like you do and make gorgeous dresses both modern and vintage. Your clothes really inspire!

  18. sewruth says:

    You really do have lovely nails. As for The Mother and the day job…………!

    • mrsmole says:

      What would a blog post be without your keen eye and wit, Ruth? BORING! The nails grow on their own as long as I take a B-complex tablet and file the rough edges off every night. I can’t risk snagging any tulle now can I? The day job is here to stay after the Brexit vote caused the pound to drop so low against the dollar! The exchange rate is horrible for us getting paid in pounds in the US. May have to up my rates next year to compensate.

  19. Tee says:

    You my dear have the patience of Job~~~God bless you!!!! 🙂

    • mrsmole says:

      Blessings flow in the front door to my sewing room every day to help me get through all this, Tee. This week I have also had some really nice clients with small jobs who hugged me and said they were delighted with the work so the rewards are few but so appreciated!

  20. MIchaelC says:

    you earn your money for sure!!

  21. If the daughter is painfully undecisive, the proposal would have gone something like this: ”Will you marry me?” Silence. Maybe a small shake of the head. ”I will take that as a Yes, shall I?”

  22. ceci says:

    So sad…..poor girl. And poor mother, really, to go thru life like that. I really enjoy the technical problem solving, however…..I try to think like that when I look at some of my own sewing screw ups.


    • mrsmole says:

      Some days the fabric really talks to you, some days it just keeps quiet and snaps back like organza or horsehair…it is the learning curve to discover who is boss in the fabric and the fitting, Ceci.

  23. I hope she has a lovely wedding and new life… because she has a really scary mom! As usual, you survived, was it 4 fittings?, as a professional!

  24. mrsmole says:

    Yes, Linda, 4 long fittings and when the mom came to get the dress today without the daughter, she did not even allow me to bag it up. She grabbed the dress and stuffed it into the garment bag and flew out the door. Can you spell R-E-L-I-E-F?

  25. Julie says:

    All I could think of was that poor girl! I hope she’s not marrying someone as controlling as her mother.

    • mrsmole says:

      You know that happens when the girl does not know any different…and it goes the same way for young men raised with a controlling parent. Children learn from behaviors in the home and try to repeat or replace it later.

  26. Cheryl says:

    I actually think the gown is cute. Straps should have been made YOUR WAY 😦 STRAPS, NOT half-sleeves or whatever. I would have recommended a nice softly gathered strap..maybe 2 1/2″, 2 3/4″ FINISHED width. MY customers are GREAT 🙂 They would have LISTENED to MY opinion 🙂 I appreciate my customers MORE with every post I read 🙂 They APPRECIATE me 🙂 They TRUST me 🙂 I am sure that you, like me, have been doing this long enough to GAUGE when EXTRA COST will be added for EXTRA FITTINGS 🙂 I can usually tell when I see 5 or 6 in my future. I adjust my pricing accordingly. TIME EQUALS MONEY 🙂 My estimates of costs are based on 3 fittings for a bridal. Unless I am basically re-making the darn thing 🙂 THAT happens 😦 YEP 🙂 I have a PITA fee 😦 I don’t list it on the invoice but I have charged an extra $20 here and there for MULTIPLE phone calls/e-mails and ‘helicoptering’ mothers 😦 What’s FUNNY is, those have been PROM GOWNS 😦 I WILL remember the NAMES if they come back as BRIDES. The girls have been GREAT 🙂 Moms..not so much 😦 I see THOSE PITA fees nearing the $100 mark 😉 😉

    • mrsmole says:

      Three visits is what normally happens but you do know ahead of time when things will drag on or they insist on more “mirror time”. They even expect to bring a grocery bag full of different necklaces and earrings and veils to try on while you just stand around. I should have on my posted fees sign, “mirror time” will be billed at the normal hourly rate. It might make them think. Every bride is recorded into a book with all her alterations and fees and all her photos are in a folder in the computer but I also write down all the brides who never made it to their appointment and never bothered to call me, in case they ever try to sneak back in at a later date. Bad manners do not equal a second chance. PITA fees at $100…wow, that would be nice! Just the price of a 90 minute sports massage which is sorely needed after some of these projects!

  27. Sarah says:

    one wonders if Mama choose the groom as well

  28. fabrickated says:

    What a beautifully written piece. I think this could be in a newspaper or magazine as it contains some universal truths. Of course us seamstresses love all the details about the previous alterations, the pleating, the shape of the sleeves etc. But everyone would find the story of the mother, and her derogatory remarks about her daughter, hilarious (if it were not so sad). I think the girl looks like Snow White in her dress.

    • mrsmole says:

      Yes, Kate, Snow White…of course, it’s a fairy tale dress with bodice ruching. The sad truth is more seamstresses have tales like this…the mother daughter conflicts and issues always crop up in the fittings if they are just below the surface. I want to say, but don’t, “Take that negative crap outside as my sewing room is a happy place with positive energy, candles burning and spa music in the background, thank you”.

  29. Laura says:

    Have you ever had a check payment bounce? I don’t know how to protect myself from that, and it just happened to me. We are working it out, as the bride’s mother is making two payments, but all you want is to be DONE after all that work! You do beautiful work, and I am well aware of the time and expertise that is involved. Good job!

    • mrsmole says:

      In over 45 years of sewing for folks, only once did that happen and it was this year. The bride left town and didn’t plan ahead so when she got back lots of her last minute checks had bounced. She wrote another one and it cleared. I don’t take credit cards and tell brides that one day one. I don’t take deposits, they pay me at the end as I have the dress held in ransom…ha ha.

    • Cheryl says:

      I re-opened my business in 2006. I haven’t had a check bounce 🙂 If you think it’s going to be a problem, just accept CASH ONLY at pick-up. It depends on your area and how you get your customers. I run about 80% referrals and the rest from an online presence. I live in a smallish county in Ohio. EVERYONE knows everyone at some point 🙂 I don’t accept debit or credit cards. I am not getting into the paperwork or potential ‘charge-backs’ 😦 I don’t need deposits on alterations because I have their clothing 🙂 BE STRONG….. When/If a check bounces, call them and demand CASH and a service fee..because YOUR bank will charge YOU one 😦 If it was an HONEST mistake they will take care of it IMMEDIATELY 🙂 If you are operating your business as a PROFESSIONAL.ACT PROFESSIONALLY. Have a printed price list and a POSTED sign stating your payment requirements. POST your business license and any other legal paperwork 🙂

      • Lisa Emery says:

        Cheryl, you said something about credit cards and paperwork, and I just wanted to mention the Square system. It works on your smart phone(even a cheap android) and there is never ANY paperwork. You scan the card with a little thing that sticks in your phone and the money goes to your bank. That is all. No charge backs (I don’t even know what that is). The rate is very low, and always the same, no matter the card. People are so much happier to pay with a card!

      • mrsmole says:

        Lisa, I tried the Paypal little attachment to use with my iPad as I don’t have a cell phone but they charge almost 3% for the pleasure of using it and it took so many times to swipe the card just to get it to record once. Guess it depends on your internet connection as well and last week I went to a workshop here in the valley and the teacher had to swipe her square card attachment numerous times to get it to read and record and then ended up deleting extra charges for each of her students. Maybe if you live in a big city and have great connections, it works better.

  30. dediydiva says:

    Poor bride and poor Mrs. Mole… What a story…

  31. mrsmole says:

    Mr. Mole says people read my posts to go on a journey, and not especially to see sewing techniques. I don’t know if that is true but this one has been a bumpy ride!

  32. ParisGrrl says:

    Wow, looks like you got a zombie and a witch, just in time for Halloween. Hope you get equally appropriate clients for Thanksgiving!

  33. Celeste says:

    Mrs. Mole, could you perhaps hang a sign that says “I have 27 years of professional experience. I am a trained professional who is respected by sewists worldwide. I will not tell you how to raise your children, plan your wedding, or paint your house. Please show me equal respect and allow me to do my job planning and executing the fitting of your garment. Anyone who says ‘I know how to sew’ will be handed a needle and asked to gather 400 yards of tulle.”

    Unfortunately, this poor child will probably end up with a controlling husband who may or may not abuse her as well. She has no idea of what healthy self-sufficiency, competence, and assertiveness can look like. If she develops OCD herself it will likely be in the form of hand washing until her hands bleed. My heart aches for her, and I am so glad she had one delighted moment with you, Mrs. Mole.

    • mrsmole says:

      You are so right, Celeste…behavior is learned while watching your parents and experiencing good or bad. Maybe my sign could be short and to the point, “I have been doing this for 45 years and I get cranky if you mention that you can sew…be warned that it may cause me to hand your dress back to you and show you the door”…ha ha

    • Monique says:

      Hahahahaha! for the first paragraph.
      So sorry for the bride, with hopes for her eventual emancipation.

  34. Karen Lyon says:

    You can always dream about handing the dress back (sans satin from Your stash) and saying to Mom “You don’t need me for these alterations, since you know how to sew”. You have a kind heart for that poor henpecked child. With any luck, she and her new husband will be moving far outside Mom’s sphere of influence, or it will be a short marriage.



  35. Bernadette says:

    Your kindness to that poor bride will always be remembered, Saint Mrs. Mole. I hope that her marriage is not arranged, her husband will cherish her and that she is marrying into a wonderful, warm family that will help her blossom into the woman that she is meant to be.

  36. mrsmole says:

    Her wedding is in 2 days and I will certainly be thinking of her and wishing her a good future! The mother promised to send photos…we shall see.

  37. Lynn says:

    OMG! I could never do your job. I would have thrown Mama out and not politely.

  38. Rena Pearson says:

    Hahaha! Another lovely job despite the mama drama. I read your blog as a constant reminder of why I do not do bridal. I have enough excitement with prom, homecoming, and bridesmaids!

    • mrsmole says:

      Being so busy with brides allows me to send those smaller dresses to another seamstress but I still get stuck with many mothers and their dresses. I don’t envy you. Rena, dealing with short and tight dresses and groups of bridesmaids all the same color but none of them fitting!

  39. maryfunt says:

    You certainly have encountered the strangest people. I would have told the mother since she was such an expert it would be best if she did the job herself. You had pity on the poor bride who allowed herself to be controlled. Hopefully her marriage will allow her to become her own person.

  40. mrsmole says:

    Just seeing the type of hand sewing that mother produced made me glad I was the one to alter the dress properly! If young girls only could know what potential they have, maybe getting married at 18 with no further education would not be the path they choose?

  41. I don’t know what you charge, but you did not get paid enough for all that!

    • mrsmole says:

      That thought did cross my mind but also the thought that the faster I sewed, the quicker they would be out the door. You don’t have to like every client and sometimes the troublesome ones make all the rest seem nice.

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