After sewing for other people for 50 years it is time to share some funny stories that have been given to me during fittings. Currently, I live on the West Coast of the US and have for 20 years.

In the past 70 years I have lived in (21 years) Wilmington, Calif, (4 years) Vancouver, BC, Canada, (2 years) Long Beach and (18 years) Fullerton, California, (8 years) Liverpool, England. Even though I have had other jobs and careers, sewing and altering has been the one constant throughout my life and it is still my passion. When I was 38, I went to college to get my degree in Fashion Design and learned so many things about industry sewing and construction that was missing from my home sewing background. Every day I continue to learn through my clients about proper fit and pattern design so the journey never ends!!!

Since my blog may not always portray my clients in their best light, I have changed the names and occupations etc. slightly to protect “the innocent”. My identity will also remain unknown. Please feel free to leave comments and I will respond. You can also sign up to get email notices when a new post has been added.

You can email me directly at: surroundedbywhite@gmail.com

56 Responses to About

  1. Thalia Keple says:

    I love your new blog!

  2. LISA TERRY says:

    LOVE IT !

  3. cacoyote says:

    I thought I was the only other person who lived in Wilmington. I lived near the Chowder Barge in the marina for 7 glorious years…

    Your blog is great! Keep up the good work.

  4. Karen Rethman-Foll says:

    Love your blog. Sandra Betzina seems to design for women without hips so the raincoat would probably look great on a upside down triangle shape. I tried one of her “vest” patterns last year but fortunately I made a muslin first. It looked so bad on my shape that I never made it in the fashion fabric. Four friends who have years of professional sewing experience said it was just a bad pattern.

  5. Jo in TN says:

    Thanks! Enjoyed reading the bag lady story! Also, learned a lot on your jacket story!

  6. Bunny says:

    I just figured it out so no need to answer. I am enjoying your blog. It is great. WordPress, not so much.

  7. Trish says:

    I’ve only just found your site (recommended by another sewing blogger!), and am finding it very interesting indeed. I run an alterations business in Sydney, Australia, and am reassured that we both encounter the same issues with problem clients and badly made dresses. I look forward to reading your posts in the future!

    • mrsmole says:

      Welcome, Trish! Our clients are the same worldwide but with different accents! Hoping you don’t run into too many people like the man who had me replace zippers in his 2 parkas and when he came to pay the bill which ended in something like $19.95 he graciously told me that I could “keep the change) from a $20 dollar bill! A whole 5 cents for my trouble…needless to say the next time he called I said I was busy.

  8. TrishB says:

    Thank you for the welcome.
    Needless to say I have my fair share of difficult clients and also avoid them if they return. My ‘favourites’ are the ones who come to collect finished work, and don’t have the right money (even if they’ve been given a firm quote), so I have to find change for them. I suspect it is a way of subtly implying that they resent paying, as though we should be offering a free service. I sometimes feel like telling them I’m not registered as a charity!

    • mrsmole says:

      I have written to you privately about our businesses…please check your email for a strange address…it is just me in another name.

    • Valentina says:

      I’m also running an alteration shop and had a few customers with bouncing Cheques and not enough cash. Lately I’ve changed my policy to cash or etransfer only. Love. This option

  9. Dana Cetz says:

    Thanks for sharing some of your detailed work. I can’t believe how over priced the dresses are. I found a wedding dress pattern for 3.95. I thought I could practice with craft tulle or organza before buying the real stuff. I also thought of embroidering my own silk organza lace.

    I hate the idea of buying wedding dresses from the cheap china knock of factories who probably employ work camp laborers.
    Any ideas to help support 36GG in a deep V or sweetheart neckline.

    • mrsmole says:

      The most flattering style for large busts is a halter…think Marilyn Monroe. It elongates your neck and supports the bust while giving you a deep “V”. I altered one last year and it was stunning! The hardest style to carry off would be strapless…which are so common and the bride spends the day yanking her bodice up. A halter dress can have a waistline or not and be shorter in front and longer in the back for drama. Practice on cheap fabric close to the same texture and weight and have someone who is honest tell you what looks good. Good luck!

  10. Kate Robson says:

    Fantastic – I love it!!

  11. A.Ash says:

    how do I follow your blog, which I find very interesting and information, and quite entertaining!

  12. kasielaine says:

    Your blog is amazing and full of helpful information! I am in complete peril over a terrible wedding gown and was advised by several people on multiple forums to check out your blog and to seek your Guru status advice!!!! I HATE… repeat HATE the hum drum boring skirt of my gown! My dream dress is the Monique Ihuiller “Molly” Sunday Rose. I have searched far and wide online for a look-a-like pattern, and found NOTHING! Ant suggestions or advise? Please let me know if you have the time to help and point me in the right direction.

  13. Leiflynn Jeffery says:

    Dear MrsMole, I love your blog! I have recently started doing alterations when I retired and really enjoy it. Your tips and tricks are great and I have found them very useful. They gave also been bookmarked for future reference, the one on taking in the zipper back is very good. Do you have or could you do a more indepth tutorial on working on the scalloped lace bridal hem? that has me really scared. I would really like to see step by step on doing that. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and knowledge.

    • mrsmole says:

      If I get another lace edged dress, I can take step by step photos and post them to the Pinterest page other wise just flip back through some the recent posts and see that they are all alike. You determine the motif in the lace that is dominant, decide what the highest point is in that motif…there is always one high point. Pin a horizontal tuck across the hem area like the the photos…measure it, so if it a 1 inch tuck…you need to run a thread 2 inches above the highest point of the motif of lace. That will be your new highest point placement…Get a Dr. Pepper, drink it, and cut your lace edging side seam to side seam and repin that highest point on the new thread line…I always make mine in red thread. Pin all around the edging and then you can baste up and down, up and down with white thread until it is secure…then the try-on…if the edging is just off the floor, hooray…you are in the ballpark…if it is still too low, pin out again and measure and release just the part you want to raise up…repin and re-baste…try on…and Voila’ perfect. Now you get to either machine stitch or hand stitch. Then trim away all the excess behind the edging leaving about 1 inch margin. I have to say it is darn scary the first time. I never severe the lace edging from the skirt…each far edge is just lifted a little and angled to maintain the scallops…even when i have reduced the hem by 6 inches…It is all just slid up and never cut off…but hey…you are the designer…if that works better for you, I am sure it can be done…I am lazy sometimes and a little wary of my own skills so I play it safe.

  14. Heather Mauck says:

    I found your blog via one of your challenge posts. I LOVE it ( yes I’m yelling). I have spent the last week reading it. If you weren’t a 5.5 hr drive I would try to be one of your less memorable clients. If you know a good seamstress in the west/Hillsboro area. I would appreciate a recommendation. I am very thankful for all the time you put into your blog. It’s a lot of work to take all the photos and put a post together. Thank you so much Heather

    • mrsmole says:

      I’m sorry Heather, I really don’t know anyone out of my area. But you know you can ask around and ask at the local ASG chapter
      http://www.nonprofitfacts.com/OR/American-Sewing-Guild-Inc-Portland-Oregon-Chapter.html and they would know who works with garments and who is good. My local ASG knows me and my work. By asking you will also get to know who NOT to visit…check out Yelp and Google and read reviews…good and bad…they tell a good story. Not knowing what you are looking for whether it be alterations or from scratch, you have to narrow it down and ask specific question from the seamstresses…some claim they can do everything from bridal to tents…yeah right….

  15. Judy says:

    I’ve been reading your blog and laughing out loud! You should compile these stories and have them published in a book. They remind me very much of the book series “All Creatures Great and Small” because they are stories written by a country vet about the animals he treats – but mostly their human owners- and are very funny.

  16. So glad someone led me to your blog! Love the info and pics you share and your wicked wit. Out of interest are there any blogs or sites that are your favourites?

    • mrsmole says:

      If you read through the comments you will see some of the most creative women on earth who also blog on their own. There is Anne, Ruth, Bunny, BeaJay, Shams, Carolyn, Kate just to start with…click on a few of their names or icons and enjoy following them too

  17. fabrickated says:

    This makes an entertaining section in its own right. Not read it until today. Didn’t realise you had awards too! You are tremendous Mrs Mole and you have a lot of grateful readers and supporters.

  18. mrsmole says:

    Kate, Kate, Kate….I am in awe of your website and the amount of gorgeous and thoughtful projects you can turn out even with a full-time job! And you have such colorful friends and great events in your part of the world!

  19. Rebecca says:

    I just found this blog and I think you are wonderful to share this information. I have learned more in the thirty minutes of reading then going to any class. I am an intermediate sewer and have made most of my own clothes. I stick to simple designs that I can be successful. Thanks so much for all your information!!!!

  20. celeste says:

    Dear Mrs. Mole, I found your website via The Sewing Fanatic and I have been reading it non-stop for 3 days. I am entranced! Your knowledge, your extreme skill, your patience, and your wit are all such an amazing combination. Thank you so very much for writing your blog. I cannot express how much I admire your sewing skills. I think you vastly undercharge for what you are worth. I have been sewing since I was 9 years old and was recently asked to help with a niece’s wedding dress. Some of the exact same problems you describe; it was the dress of her dreams at only $100, it was a sample and “the sales lady said it only needed a little work or for me to lose 5 lbs.” Well, said dress was a sad mess; beads were missing, sequins were hanging, the zipper was shredded and my niece would have had to lose two ribs, not 5 lbs. I replaced the zipper, repaired the sequins and beads, mended the hooks and eyes and rips, but there was no way it was going to fit and I finally had to tell this poor girl there was no way the dress could fit because her rib cage was too large. It wasn’t a matter of weight; it was bone structure and the dress should never have been sold. It was a year in advance, so there was plenty of time to find a new one, but we both learned valuable lessons. Me; wedding dresses are a pain in the tuckus.
    I am so impressed with your careful work and beautiful finishing. You are truly an artist. I also think the comparison to James Herriot is right on, because he also made his customers/patients come alive for us as you do.
    Please don’t stop writing. You cannot imagine how I laughed and sympathized and knew exactly what you were talking about. The “it will be an easy job” comment…I made someone sit down and sew on a button herself after she made that comment to me…you never saw anyone slink away so fast in your life. Thank you so much!!!!

    • mrsmole says:

      Gosh, Celeste, what a lovely comment. I had to laugh at you trying to teach a gals to sew on a button…I have tried this too and they are sweating up a storm just managing to hold the needle…LOL. Thank you for your kind words and feel free to comment on new posts because i think with your experience the other readers will certainly learn from you as well. We are all in this together…it’s sink or swim!

  21. MDy says:

    I’ve just discovered your website and stayed up till the wee hours yesterday reading it, laughing out loud sometimes, and just being amazed at your patience and tact. I don’t know many folks who could maintain your courtesy and kindness. THANK YOU for showing the pictures along with your great descriptions! I love your writing style – it’s almost as if I can hear your talking. I hope you continue to write your ‘blog’ – that’s a kind wish, not a curse. Thanks again.

  22. Elizabeth Harber says:

    I started reading your blog in the last few months. I’m currently a mother-of-the-bride, but I’m also a lifelong home sewer. Your photos and explanations are better than any sewing blog I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if you answer questions, but here goes. My daughter’s dress has an all tulle skirt (plain) with a chapel train. The attachment point for bustling can be made at the waist, but I can’t imagine a hook or button just plopped in the middle of the skirt half way down. What is your solution for a plain tulle skirt? Thanks for your informative blog.

    • mrsmole says:

      I have only bustled one gathered tulle skirt…it had 8 layers and 18 bustle points and was 12 feet long…a freaking nightmare. Normally you just don’t do it, it never looks nice. I cut them off at floor level and that eliminates any trouble. Also, a long tulle train is not very nice, it buckles and never flows nice. If you French (under) bustle tulle, you have to sink the thread through all layers and then you have a “dip” in the middle but that may be OK with her. Trying to figure out the “vision” that they have or something they found on Pinterest is a challenge. Finding a bustled tulle skirt is worth looking for to prove a point.

  23. Chris Hanner says:

    I’ve sewn for many years but just recently (1 year) started doing alterations professionally. So far so great, but I have one question for you. Do you use a dress form to help you position straps or other bodice features after you have pinned them on the bride? If so, what size form do you use? Brides come in so many sizes that I can’t have a form for each size but I think it could be very useful to have a dress on a form rather than always working on it flat.

    • mrsmole says:

      Welcome Chris, I just pin the straps etc on the bride when they are here. Then if I have to take them off to sew them, I thread mark all the edges and levels so they can go right back where they came from. I do have 4 adjustable mannequins from tiny tiny…30 inch bust to about 48 inch bust. I have bought most of them from Wawak but also keep my eyes peeled for deals on Craigslist. some gals want to sell a hardly used one for $25…yippee. I replaced one of my older smaller ones recently and gave mine away to the teen group of our local ASG so they could have their own mannequin for their projects. You could start out with a medium sized one and see how it goes. One year I must have had 6 brides that were size 24+ and then another year you get 6 brides that have starved themselves down to a size 0…you never know what is coming.

  24. After years of reading your blog (I’m the person who posted a few years ago about Delusional Dress Disorder, Grandiose Type) I wanted to write and thank you for everything I have learned from you. I don’t expect to be altering any wedding dresses, but I recently ordered a not-inexpensive tailored blazer from an online retailer, anticipating that it wouldn’t be right at all. To my surprise, when the item arrived it actually fit very well in the shoulders and hips and the sleeves were the proper length. But the bust shaping was way off–both too big and too low for me. So within an hour of the arrival of the package, and with your “voice” in my head saying “let’s just open this up and see what’s going on,” I had the courage to unpick part of the hem of the lining to investigate. I pinned out about an inch in each of the vertical darts and princess seams of the front tapering toward the correct bust point and created a new dart in the front facing to remove a similar amount of the fullness on the inside. I don’t have much tailoring experience, but after watching you fix so many complicated dresses I felt confident that I could make this work. I am not quite done yet, but it’s all gone well so far and I couldn’t have done it without your inspiration and instruction. Thank you so much for all the time it takes to keep up this blog. It’s a huge resource and I am very grateful! Elizabeth in Massachusetts

  25. mrsmole says:

    Well Elizabeth…I am so proud of you! You never know what is lurking in the inside of a garment until you bite the bullet and go digging! Once you know that you can “back out” at any time whether you can fix the problem of not…it is always worth the trouble! Thank you so much fro writing!!!!

  26. Dear Mrs. Mole, I’ve just recently found your blog, and it is a breath of fresh air to me! I’m the Peru, Indiana version of you and can relate to your bride stories. I love the humor you infuse in your posts on what could be a rather dry topic for most people.

    Your story of going to college at age 38 for Fashion Design is inspiring to me. I’m 37 right now with a degree in the architectural field (I did use that for awhile), but now I’m a SAHM with two children(6 & 7 y.o.) and an alterations business of 5+ years. Maybe once my children are older and have their own college funds loaded, I’ll go. 🙂

    By the way, your garden is beautiful!

  27. mrsmole says:

    Thank you Rebekah…it’s not easy being a full time mom and at the service of clients who are pushy and cannot wait. When I went to college it was mainly at night as my kids were 7, 9 and 12. Lordie, now they are 36, 38 and 41. Wishing you lots of luck!

  28. Vicki says:

    Mrs. Mole, I so wish that I could be a little mole in your sewing room and soak up your knowledge. Barring that, I wish you’d write a book with all the technical details of your work, but until then, do you have any texts that you recommend for learning these formal alterations?

    • mrsmole says:

      Hi Vicki, I don’t know of any books that are about wedding alterations, and as each dress has it’s own issues and solutions, I just make them up as I go along. Some gals tell me that they learned everything by working in a real backroom at a bridal salon to pick up knowledge. Not all of my solutions are completely acceptable but they do work and I try to make them affordable and less labor-intensive. Not surprisingly, some folks write to me to tell me I am doing things wrong so I am loathe to recommend any of my techniques. Readers write to me privately for help all the time and I do try to help them long-distance.

      • Vicki says:

        Thank you so much for your reply!! I’ll be satisfied then with pouring over your posts and pictures. 🙂 (I can hardly believe anyone would write to tell you’re doing something wrong!)

  29. Cheryl Gerrish says:

    Dear Mrs. Mole,

    I love your blogging style and comments based upon your years of experience. I want to follow your blog but cannot figure out how to sign up. Please help me out. Thanks.

    • mrsmole says:

      There should be a little box either at the top or bottom of the home page that says “Follow”. Or you can add me if you use either one of the 2 blog readers Bloglovin.com or blogger.com for weekly updates. Sorry I cannot do that for you on my side. Thanks for joining!

  30. Denise says:

    I just found your blog and love it. The stories are amazing, though some are infuriating. I have been sewing and teaching for many years and I try to pass the idea that sewing is not that trivial. But I could not do what you do. I have friends who do ask me to make alterations from time to time. I tell to find a tailor or they may loose a good friend. I have, on occasion, made dresses, shirts and even a wedding dress, but I always note that I expect praises otherwise they will fall into the “not sewing worthy” category and never, never again get even a suggestion from me. Maybe I am too rude, but I am also too old for these unpaid shenanigans… Anyway, you have my full respect!

    • mrsmole says:

      Thank you, Denise, I know we all feel the same way about friends who want you to sew for them. It makes me wonder whether other women who have a skill like hairdressing or nail techs are asked by friends to do work for free? How about a tax preparer or caregivers…are they asked to do their job as a favor? It seems that seamstresses are expected to work long hours for little pay and little praise because it is seen as a “hobby”. Well the sooner they realize that I don’t have a hobby, it is my wage earning business and after doing this for almost 50 years, I just want respect and a check at the end of the service. Suggesting they find a tailor is a wise idea, good for you!

  31. tracywright4789 says:

    Thrilled to have found this blog! I have a bridal and formal alterations business and love seeing how others handle certain tasks. And crazy clients. 😉

  32. Peggy says:

    Dear Mrs Mole, I am a new fan of yours. I found your blog recently and it is now bookmarked so I can keep hopefully clicking to see what’s new. I haven’t quite exhausted your blog archive yet but at the rate I’m reading, that will happen soon! I am in awe of your expertise and adventurousness but also love your droll and perceptive wit. I’ve been a lifelong sewist and spend about as much time sewing clothes for myself and the grandkids as I do just making stuff out of silk scraps, mainly vintage kimono. I’ve also lost a fair amount of weight recently and am trying not to face up to dealing with the big task of taking in my favourite clothes. It’s a nice problem to have but it’s vexing. I’ll be looking to you via your blog for ideas about how to do that! Thank you for doing what you do — not just the alterations but the generous impulse to share your knowledge, insights and experience with more hapless and less experienced sewists/seamstresses/tailors like me. PS, I’m also very interested in Mr Mole’s gardening adventures as I have what we Aussies call a veggie garden, ie what Americans call a garden. Please keep writing and yes, I’d buy the book too!

  33. Peggy says:

    NOT FOR PUBLICATION. Oops. I didn’t mean to leave my first and last name. If you could remove my last name from the comment, I would be very grateful. Thanks.

  34. Elizabeth Harber says:

    Hello Mrs. Mole,
    I’m helping with costumes for my school’s play including a wedding dress! I’m modifying one from a thrift store, and feeling confident thanks to you😉. Resetting zipper and adjusting the bust like a boss.

  35. mrsmole says:

    I’m so happy you managed to get your projects done with my blog posts! Best wishes for future garments, Elizabeth.

  36. Sue says:

    I enjoying your blog very much. I was involved in alterations and custom dressmaking many years ago and can relate to your blog very much.

    I found a source for wife wale corduroy from the U.S. The source is Style Maker Fabrics. It is a stretch wide wake corduroy; product SKU is 13078; it is available in four colors.

  37. srra says:

    I have been reading your blog for a while and am always so impressed. I just pointed my future daughter-in-law here, prior to her going wedding dress shopping. Have you ever done a post where you summarized do’s and don’t ‘s for choosing a wedding dress in order to avoid some of the horror stories (I mean extreme challenges) you see here? I think I may be invited along for the shopping so I may be able to make some points at least. She says her shape tends to fluctuate frequently with 10 lbs up and down, and it always makes her clothes fit differently, so she is concerned about that. I told her it was better to err on the side of too large (although not too large) vs. too small so at least there would be fabric to work with.

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