Sample Dress Labor

This dress is Mon Cheri Enchanting.

It was bought at a new local salon with no tags whatsoever inside which is bizarre! There were no labels as to fabric content or size or country of origin…all removed for some reason.

With little time to spare with a wedding booked just a month away, the bride bought this dress off the rack and the salesgirl told her that a seamstress would have no trouble making it fit…how nice!

So, we know it has fitting issues. When asked what she planned on doing with the train…she replied, “Oh, I don’t know”. The wedding will be in Las Vegas so dragging that train around all night was not an option so bustling up the satin/lining layer at one point gets it off the floor.


At least the satin layer can be bustled with just one point…whew!

All that lovely lace can be managed with a 5 point bustle and you can see that I need to take in her side seams from armhole to knees 2.5 inches on each side for a total of 5 inches. We avoid messing with all those buttons up the sheer back with loops and lower skirt zipper.

It will mean taking in the embroidered tulle layer and the satin layer and the lining layer all separately. Six seams to baste before the next try-on. Did I mention that the lace hem also need to be shortened by 7 inches too?

The lace is gorgeous and you can see the actual pattern it forms with the huge godet/wedge at center back.

Let’s start with the underarm junction where all the pieces come together with added boning…take a deep breath and release all the stitches…go get a Diet Pepsi.

Partway through you can see all the triangular seaming and layers…what next?

Time to remove the boning to baste the seams tighter:














                                                               Boning released:

Hemming the satin involves opening the side seam in the lining and removing the understitching:

Removing understitching and basting the red thread basting line for the new hem of satin and lining together. Thankfully not all hems are done this way.

                White thread basting of lace layer along the red thread marking:

This top edge of the bodice gets the twill tape trick to snug it up. Here are the steps:

                           Pin the length from side seam to center front:

Move the center pin over one inch and ease everything into the tape, re-pin.

At this point I realized that one problem was the lining was too wide so it needed a minor vertical tuck to flatten out properly and reduce bulk. Can you do that? Yes, as it will not show on the outside.

                  Whip stitch the top edge of the twill tape down:

              Then attach the lower edge, snugging up as you go along:


                           Do the left side the same way as the right:

                                        Center front is flat and smooth:



Checking the basted side seam under the lace shows that this poor dress has been tried on by many people and become fuzzy:

The satin hem is fuzzy too:

Side seams basted by hand in red and basted tighter again with green threads.

Tulle/lace layer taken in and to be trimmed:











The inside of all the side seams and lining all coming together at that same triangular point:

Outside side seams before tacking the lace motifs down:














Once the side seams are done, we have to put that boning back on but it won’t be attached as the original. I covered the boning with seam binding and hand sewed it higher up for support.














On the outside of the left side everything is flat and nice and snug.














The right side looks good and no one will know all what went on to make it fit right.














The front with the shoulders also taken up 2 inches each side. The new lace hem and satin/lining hem finished too. So glad I am not the one to do up all those buttons!

The back with the 5 point bustle for running around casinos. And that is what had to be done to make this sample dress fit properly…how many labor hours? At least 8 hours, so this dress was no bargain in the end.


Before I leave you, here is a photo of hungry winter birds in our yard gathering at the suet feeder. No snow has arrived in the valley yet this winter but these little critters are stocking up their fat reserves.

Happy Sewing Everyone! For those on the East Coast of the US…bundle up or stay inside! Who needs to be out in such freezing weather!



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43 Responses to Sample Dress Labor

  1. That is a gorgeous dress though, and it looks lovely. I bet the Bride will be thrilled with how it fits.

  2. Donna says:

    OMG. you are amazing and have so much patience.

  3. Donnalee says:

    You always do such excellent and detailed work–good for you! I always hope you charge well for all the efforts and knowledge you put into each piece. We live in the eastern US (near Woodstock NY, and indeed our favourite restaurant there is closed today since their pipes froze overnight) and yup it is cold. We don’t hang suet or peanut butter because I don’t want to attract bears or other critters, but I did put a stick of unsalted butter out there that had fallen on the floor, and the woodpeckers especially love it–they sit on it and peck the rockhard thing as if it were a frozen tree. I’m glad they get something good to eat. We put out organic seeds and grains and peanuts and a stainless-steel baking pan which I put hot kettle-water into a few times a day so they will have something to drink, since I read somewhere that it is the most helpful thing you can do for winter birds and animals. I hope we all do well!

    • mrsmole says:

      Good for you helping birds survive!!! Our bears hibernate and never come into town until the fruit is ripe on the trees and then they hang around until the local authorities catch them and release them many miles away in the forests. This time of year the woodpeckers come in pairs and really work away at suet…they can be quite colorful with red heads and flashing spotted wings. We bring the hummingbird feeders in every night so they don’t freeze and put them out as early as we can before the hummers start “tutting” scolding us for being late!

      • Donnalee says:

        We have the biggest fattest bluejays I have ever seen, even having lived in Vermont, all about the size of squirrels, and some others whom I do not know–black on top, pale on bottom, and a pair of very big fat cardinals, and some smaller punky-looking greys with palest apricot or yellow underneath, and some mourning doves, and some little dark birds so tiny that all I often see of them is a rustle in the grass in warmer months. We love them and enjoy watching and helping them.

  4. Laura Jansen says:

    Another magical transformation!

  5. jay says:

    See, the salesperson was right. A seamstress had ‘no trouble’ making it fit. She just waved a sparkly wand, twirled round three times and bang! the dress was transformed into the perfect gown it was meant to be.

  6. Colleen says:

    Question: A current trend in bridal is to add a tulle or sheer addition to a strapless gown. The edges may or may not be finished. The gowns that come like that may not even be cut straight. My store owner learned from another store owner to take a piece of tulle and slip it over the head of a bride to show what the dress would look like. Of course it is not that simple as I worked to educate her but I still need to come up with an option. Any suggestions to get me on the right path. Any fabric a better option on line? I have a little time for trial and error. I have issue with an unfinished edge but it does disappear nicely.

    With the labels cut out they are working around some franchise rules or just hiding info from the bride so they can not look it up on line. Also some brides go crazy seeing a larger size than they “think” they wear!

    • CHERYL DESIGNS says:

      Hi Colleen 🙂 I am CHERYL, not MRS. MOLE 🙂 I think just adding ONE LAYER, even TWO…usually… of tulle to a skirt is POINTLESS 😦 MORE layers is best 🙂 I have altered gowns that had HEMMED tulle layers. THAT is POINTLESS 😦 It actually looks WORSE then leaving the edges with a clean cut. 100% SILK TULLE is HEAVENLY but VERY VERY expensive. MOST brides won’t go for that 🙂 I have also noticed MISSING INFO as far as LABELS was POPULAR in 2016 and 2017 😦 The bridal shops probably don’t realize they are BREAKING THE LAW by REMOVING labels of manufacture and ORIGIN… It’s not like the LABEL police are out there … it ? 😉 I learned DECADES AGO… Tell your clients…THIS IS YOUR SIZE…ONE OF A KIND 🙂 You can TACTFULLY..TRY to FIELD that LAND MINE of SIZING 😦

      • mrsmole says:

        Thanks Cheryl…you are right on with your comments!

      • Colleen says:

        Actually it is adding tulle to the shoulders not the skirt. Brides are attempting more modest style and want to add the illusion to the shoulders where none is present. I will work on something and see how it goes! I worry about the edges raveling.

    • mrsmole says:

      I will send you a private email with photos, Colleen.

  7. Trish says:

    Yet again, a beautiful job, Mrs Mole. I’ve been avoiding wedding dress alterations because of the time they take ( I suspect I have a short attention span😏) but am thinking of taking on selected ones this year. Did you quote for the 8 hours up front, or after the job was completed? I have had a tendency to under quote in the past, and am determined to rectify that this year as well, so the method you use would be very helpful.😊

    It’s fascinating to hear about your icy weather when we are sweltering in a heatwave, with Sydney having a record-breaking 47.1 degrees Celsius (116.78 degrees Fahrenheit) today. It’s probably too cold for you to venture outdoors, as it is too hot here to do so. I think our birds are hiding out in the shade somewhere.

  8. mrsmole says:

    Yes, I did quote 8 hours but you know it took longer once I opened up that darn side seam! Our weather here has been mild, no snow, but it still may happen before April. In our little valley our temps range from 20F to 114F so plants and animals have to be tough as well as the people! Some winters we lose all our rosemary plants and succulents but have a superb season of fruit due to the hard freeze and longer hibernation. Mother nature and climate change are sure messing with all of us!

  9. upsew says:

    wow – well done, I can only guess the sales assistant reads your blog as you really do such fine work (although the ‘no problem’…… not a job for the faint hearted for sure). I am a bit suspicious on the label removal, I know shops in the 80s did it here when a garment was considered a ‘second’ but generally fabric content one would be left (hanging in half if the maker name was there!). Freezing in Galway Ireland this morning too!

    • mrsmole says:

      With most gowns being made in China and the trend to ship unloved/unsold sample dresses all around the country and promoted as designer collections in “bridal shows” in the Spring and Fall, the poor brides have no idea what they are getting. One salon in San Francisco sells these shop-worn gowns as designer over runs but they have little chance of the original labels and I have seen small labels replaced with larger ones to cover over stains inside on the linings. I have taken photos and sent them my discoveries of their secrets but not surprisingly they have never replied to my queries. I was in Galway over 30 years ago…feels like it is time to visit again…in the summer!

      • upsew says:

        summer or winter in Galway – hard to tell the difference sometimes! lols.
        I was showing my niece your blog over the Christmas – it was mainly a post you did where a dress was bought on order and the photo of the model wearing it and the one of the actual dress was rather different (they had different amount of frill fishtails, and I am convinced the model is standing on a milking stool in the promotional photo). My niece was very impressed with your work and how lovely you make the fit…..she was less impressed with the misrepresentation from the manufacturers – (she is 15 years and now a bit savvy to online shopipng trickery)

      • Trish says:

        One of our Australian designers is able to charge $1000 for polyester evening dresses by labelling the fabric ‘taffeta’ instead of ‘silk taffeta’ or ‘polyester taffeta’. She would be aware of the law, but is able to get away with it, unfortunately. The polyester she uses is horrible to sew and I hate being asked to alter her ‘designs’ because she doesn’t understand how to design sleeves in jackets so that you can raise your arms!
        Because she’s so successful, unfortunately most people think their body is the problem.😏

  10. wedreamaloud says:

    This dress look lovely! Beautiful post and great job!

  11. Luigina says:

    Mrs. Mole,
    Your recent post is the alteration I get ALL the time and I work in a Bridal Salon. The bride’s are as clue-less as many of the sales personnel when it comes to alterations. So often the brides tell me “the sales person said that it would be NO problem for the seamstress to do whatever was needed to make my gown fit, by- the- way, the wedding is in a month”. Quoted prices for alterations/time spent on alterations…..most times I feel I am giving away the work. What to do with un-educated people?

  12. mrsmole says:

    Welcome Luigina, so nice to know that there are others out there doing this work for clueless brides. I try to explain what has to be done in simple but firm terms like “I will have to open up all these seams and remove boning to start with” or “this is not an easy hem as the lining is attached with understitching etc or with scalloped lace…will take 2-3 hours”. Sometimes I just spit it out, “Too bad your salesperson did not tell you that a lace scalloped hem is very expensive to shorten.” I also say that there is no cheap or easy way to do their alterations because some dresses are not designed to be messed with especially those with skimpy seam allowances. There are days when you cannot get across that you are doing them a huge favor just opening up the seams and starting on such a monster of a project never mind they give you a short time frame. In the end, I may ask politely, “Didn’t they have this in your size?”
    The fun days are when they say that they took the dress to another seamstress and she refused to touch it thus opening the door for you to charge full whack for your labor and warn them that there will be extra fees once you get inside the dress and encounter problems…that is one reason why I take so many darn photos of my work and give them to the bride…to prove this was not a simple fix. But we are always so optimistic that the next bride will be easier!!!

  13. Tia Dia says:

    What a beautiful dress with such gorgeous lace! Thanks for posting all those detailed photos and explaining the process that goes into an ‘easy’ fix!

    • mrsmole says:

      An easy fix with 8 hours of sewing and a few extra things thrown in costs you $500. But considering what bridal hair, professional make-up, gel nails, pedicure and fake lashes cost combined…it is a small price. One day you will be witnessing this transformation for your girls, Tia!

  14. Kim says:

    Well done again Moley. I like this dress, and I’m pleased to hear that the bride is a nice one.
    The comments on your blog are almost as much of an education as your post. I do hope that anyone even considering offering themselves as a dressmaker reads them and takes the information on board.
    I’m considering a ‘ so you want to be a dressmaker’ post now I’m retired. What do you think?

  15. mrsmole says:

    Please do it, Kim….with all your experience with the public…it would be a hoot! I have a friend who used to be a policeman and the stories he can tell about stupidity make me laugh until I cry! You know that I can’t really tell the whole story as I’m still in business but you can certainly share some doozies!

  16. Sharon P says:

    Underarm junctions – a true engineering of infrastructure.
    Yes, prepare to release those seams, and then the task of reconnecting all the puzzle pieces.
    Those of us on east coast, spending time today doing handwork, may want to add a wee bit of something to our Diet Pepsi, purely for medicinal reasons of course !!! Can’t operate a seam ripper with frozen fingers.
    Beautiful job as always Mrs. Mole, along with an excellent explanation of your process.

    • mrsmole says:

      Ha ha, now that you are retired, I feel it is my duty to include more photos than ever to snap you back to those crazy days when you owned your own shop…you are welcome as they say, Sharon!

  17. Celeste Yanisch says:

    Your work is incredibly clever and it really makes the dress, Mrs. Mole. I am glad this bride appreciated it all because this was a boat load of hard work. I usually cannot follow what you are doing (it is so complex) and I have been sewing for 50 years!

    I have found that I can get through really awful situations by imagining how I will write about them. That technique has saved the lives of my children several times (kidding, but not much), and I am so glad you do the same thing. Thank you for writing!

    • mrsmole says:

      Thank you for following along, Celeste. Lots of these photos cannot possibly show all the ins and outs of this messy work…even with wording added and red arrows!

  18. Sarah says:

    I read your blog like a voyeur. I love seeing how you solve the problems of fit and construction, although it confirms my decision long ago to not be a professional seamstress. One question, you use an expandable dress form, but how do you keep it stable with all the weight of a gown on it? Did Mr. Mole jimmy-rig something for you? I looked at purchasing a dress form like this a couple years ago but was dissatisfied with the quality of the ones sold at JoAnns. Advice?

    • mrsmole says:

      Hi Sarah, I have 4 mannequins from size 0 to 24. They are all the type from JoAnn’s or Wawak…they have dials to expand or contract. I place them on my platform, toss the dress over the top, pull the skirt down and zip it up…the 3 legs just hold it fine without any problems. Check out Wawak’s brands…free shipping over $100. I find that old blue one that you see the most in the photos the most popular for my brides…it goes from 33-26-36 to 39-32-41 in the medium size of Twin-Fit by Dritz or Small in “My Double” by Dritz. Most run $144 but you can score these on Craigslist too as I did for the blue one for $25…woo hoo!

  19. ceci says:

    This is such an educational service…..even though I will never do anything so complicated, I WAS brave enough to shorten the sleeves on daughter in law’s lovely new coat, based on thinking through what Mrs. Mole would do. Start with baby steps, you know. It turned out beautifully, helped along by high quality fabrics in the lining, interfacing and exterior…..


  20. mrsmole says:

    Sometimes it takes a leap of faith and a good seam ripper. Mr Mole is always amazed when I rip open seams to expose a whole lot of ugly…I get to be a detective…it is entertaining and if I get it right…I get Paid! If you follow the sewing sequence of the original, write it down or take photos…you can get in and out pretty well and there is no shame in doing things by hand when the areas are too tight for the machine…remember back before sewing machines…all clothes, especially for royalty was stitched by hand…we have a long history of precision and great results. So happy you can be brave, ceci!

  21. Mary says:

    Just heard an old song and thought maybe you’d enjoy it.
    “I Knew the Bride when she used to rock and roll”
    Nick Lowe
    (looking good in her mama’s gown, she wore 27 years before)

  22. Miss Celie says:

    What a stunning dress

  23. Susan Hart says:

    So satisfying to hear that you too silently chuckle about brides who think they’ve “scored big time” with a cheap dress only to discover the alterations will add to the overall cost. On the one hand you kind of are proud that they are somewhat cautious and frugal but then some of them also are just downright cheap and don’t even want to pay the seamstress what she’s worth either!!
    We too have those cute little bush tits at our house. I put out roasted unsalted peanuts in a hardware cloth cage and sometimes we get as many as 30 in a rotating flock! They’re also fun to watch in the summer playing in our sprinkler like it’s their own private ‘waterpark’!
    Good job as always milady!

    • mrsmole says:

      We do get a chuckle from time to time…cheap dresses can have expensive alterations for sure! Bush tits don’t come around in the summer with temps over 100 most days and all of our sprinklers are drip one so no fun waterparks…ha ha!

  24. Pingback: Shiny Objects | fit for a queen

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