Q. How do I know if the dress is really well made? I don't know much about clothes.
A: You don't have to, because I do. I abide by the Quality Standards of the Association of Sewing and Design Professionals (ASDP). These standards are very high, much higher than most RTW, and that includes luxury RTW.
Q. What if I don't like the dress?
A: Custom clothing is not for the indecisive or the insecure. I make the garment that you ask me to make; I make it well; and I make it fit. You and only you are responsible for your likes and dislikes.
Q. Do you guarantee your work?
A: Yes. you will receive written Business Policies with the Estimate that itemize my Guarantees.
Q. Do you take credit cards?
A: No. If I did, I would have to raise my prices to cover the merchant fees. This means that I would pay the credit card company and you would pay the credit card company.
Q. How do I make payments?
A: Payments are made when you sign the Estimate and at the first fitting. I accept cash, in-state personal checks, bank checks, and money orders.
Q. What if the wedding gets canceled before you complete my gown?
A; It can happen. If it does, please contact me as soon as possible. Since I am semiretired and book at most one job per month, cancellations present a harsh financial hardship for me. I often book six months to a year or more in advance, and my work is very seasonal, so if a contract is breached I can seldom recover my income for the time period involved. As detailed in my Business Policies, at the least, I need to paid the deposit because I have held my time for your work, plus the cost of any materials that I have ordered since they are non-returnable; at the most, I need to be paid for the deposit, materials, and any labor performed to the date of the termination at my usual hourly rate. You will receive any materials that I have ordered or that you have supplied and the partially completed garment, if applicable. I will work up a Termination Agreement that will put everything in writing.
Q. I'm worried about getting measured. I don't like my body.
A: I of all people am not the least bit judgmental. As the late Mr. Rogers used to say, "Everybody's fancy and everybody's fine." The measurement process is fast, private, painless, and professional.
Q. I have lots of "figure flaws." Nothing ever fits. How do you make your garments fit right?
A: There are no figure flaws, only variations from the standard. Real people do not look like dressforms or the fantasized images of models in magazines. There is huge variation among women in their size, shape, proportions, and posture. I can fit any body. I do so by taking a thorough set of measurements and then adjusting a commercial pattern for variations from the standard set of measurements and for figure variations such as a large cup size. Or , I custom draft a pattern to fit. Then I baste the garment together and fit it on your unique body before sewing it permanently.
c o u t u r e
Q. What exactly is involved with having a dress made? Is it going to take a lot of time?
A. It starts with the consultation appointment, which takes about an hour. During this meeting, we will discuss your custom clothing needs, the level of service most appropriate for you, the many options available regarding fabric and trim choices, construction techniques, and so on. You can browse through my portfolio and read many thank you notes from happy customers. Next, I will take a thorough set of measurements over your undergarments.
For customers who have selected a commercial pattern, my consultation fee is $50 in cash; for customers who bring sketches, photos, or verbal descriptions for me to create into a couture design with sketch, my consultation fee is $100 in cash. Both fees are fully refunded with your first garment.
After the consultation I will work up a detailed Estimate and will mail or email it to you. I usually give you 30 days to respond, although for rush jobs or if I am very busy, I might need to ask you to make a decision in one to two weeks. Simply sign one copy of the Estimate and Business Policies and return them with your deposit. At that time I will order your fabric and other materials, or if you are providing them, you can ship them to me or make an appointment to drop them off.
The first fitting: At this stage the main garment pieces will be basted together. Note that what you see will not look at all like the completed garment. I will help you try on the garment with the undergarments and shoes that you will wear with the completed garment and will adjust it to fit you. Your final payment is due at this time.
The final fitting: At this time your garment will be completed except for the hems, which I will turn up and again check the fit.
Picking up the completed garment: I would very much like to take a quick snapshot of you modeling the garment for my portfolio. The garment bag is complimentary for Couture or Custom garments.
For Couturegarments:There is an extra fitting for the muslin trial garment (toile).
The total time involved? A whole lot less than you would spend shopping and having alterations done. The consultation takes about an hour, and fittings take 10-20 minutes each.
Q. Why do you charge a consultation fee?
A. For several reasons. I spend an hour with you for the consultation, and then at least another hour or longer to work up an estimate and to source materials. I often give you valuable advice and ideas that you might use elsewhere, for which I might not otherwise receive compensation.
Then there's overhead; that's the cost of running a business, which is incurred whether or not there are revenues from that business. If we're all snowbound in January and I have no income coming in for the month, Verizon still sends me a bill for my Yellow Pages ad. Even though I work at home, that home is not free, and everything you see in my studio was not free. All my professional sewing and office equipment has to be paid for, maintained, and eventually replaced. I just replaced my gravity feed iron, for example, and it cost $400; it pulls 1000 watts of electrical power, which is like running 10 - 100 watt light bulbs all day. Professional fees, utilities, equipment, telephone, advertising, postage, repairs, and so on all cost money. Also, with all businesses, not all hours are billable hours. For every billable hour that I spend sewing, I also spend at least two more hours running the business: doing paperwork, answering the phone and emails, maintaining my website, shopping for materials, and so on. For me to be available to my customers when they need me, I have to charge for all my time, materials that I supply, and overhead expenses.
Q. Do you make all your things the same way?
A. I offer three levels of service.
Couture: For the connoisseur of fine clothing, couture is the art form of apparel sewing. It is characterized by lively and elegant design; the finest fabrics; extensive interior engineering to assure the life-long shape of the garment; fine, predominantly hand, workmanship; and several fittings, beginning with a custom drafted or draped toile, or muslin trial garment. Select Couture for your most special of occasions, for investment career wear that you can wear for decades, and for the rare luxury of owning finely hand crafted apparel. Couture is tomorrow's collectible. Prices are equivalent to ready-to-wear in the "designer" to "luxury" categories. Allow two to six months for completion. Bring your photos, sketches, or verbal descriptions of designs or design features that you like to the consulation and I will combine them into a cohesive design with sketch.
Custom. Custom clothing is an affordable luxury. Select a commercial pattern, fabric, and trims that express your style and meet your apparel needs. You can expect two fittings and a combination of couture and industrial sewing techniques, resulting in long garment life and flattering fit. Prices are comparable to ready-to-wear in the "bridge" through "designer" price ranges. Allow four to eight weeks for delivery. Please bring a printout from a pattern company's website of all the infomation on the pattern to the consultation, but do not purchase one yet because the sizing is different from ready-to-wear.
Made to Measure. This service is perfect for easy-fitting garments, for women with very regular figures who wear a standard pattern size, for garments or other sewn products that do not require fittings such as wraps or handbags, and for those who are unavailable for fittings. It is also suitable for multiples of garments made out of the same fabrics and ordered at the same time as an initial garment, such as multiples of pants. As for made-to-measure ordered through stores, you should expect that the garment might need alterations at additional cost. After I receive your consultation fee, if you are out of town I will send you instructions on how to take your measurements. You select the pattern, fabrics, and trims, and I construct the garment using industrial techniques in the standard size nearest to your measurements. Prices are similar to ready-to-wear in the "better" to "bridge" categories. Made to Measure is discounted 15%. Payment must be made in advance and in full.
Q. What do your dresses cost?
Much more than a similar-looking garment made in a factory. Custom made goods of all kinds nearly always cost more than similar looking, factory-made, mass-marketed goods. Prices depend on the dress. I have made dresses that ranged in price from about $300 to over $6,000. Prices are based solely on labor and materials. Garments can take 2 - 80 hours of labor or more to make, so there is huge variation in total prices. In general, most of the wedding gowns that I make take any where from 20 to 80 hours or more to make and start at around $1,000 and go UP. Strapless dresses require a boned corselette that takes 6-7 hours to build and start at around $1,000 and go UP. Day and evening dresses, jackets, skirts, pants, and other sportswear start at around $300 and go UP. Tailored jackets can take as much labor as a wedding gown and can be priced accordingly. Remember, the price includes the labor to actually make the garment, plus four to six appointments, plus overhead. In general, the greater the number of pieces of material that make up the garment and the greater the number of construction steps performed on those pieces, the greater the labor. Garments made with commercial patterns save many hours of labor that would be required to custom draft and test a design in muslin. If you tell me "It's just a simple dress." the price does not go down. Your use for the garment, or the color of the thread, does not affect prices. Most consumers do not have the technical expertise to judge whether a garment is "simple" to make or very complex and labor intensive. I'm happy to give out "ballpark" or "guesstimate" figures over the phone, but we need to meet for a consultation before I have all the information that I need to work up a detailed and binding Estimate.
Q. Why is your work so expensive?
A: Because it's worth more.
Unlike cheap factory made apparel, custom clothing is very, very rare and unusual.
I use much finer sewing techniques than seen in even very expensive ready-to-wear (RTW). These techniques are not merely an esoteric exercise. Their use produces a garment that looks better on the outside and wears better and longer on the inside. Most importantly, a custom fitted garment helps you look your best.
Custom made clothing is hand made, one garment at a time, to fit your needs, tastes, and your individual body. Because each garment is totally unique, all the time needed to develop and produce a custom design affects the cost. For mass-produced apparel, the "R&D" required to make a garment is spread out over the total number of units produced, which could be hundreds of thousands of garments. For example, it might cost $1,000 for a manufacturer to design, draft, and sew a sample of a bridesmaid's dress that might retail for $250, since that $1,000 of R&D can be spread among many thousands of cookie-cutter dresses that are subsequently manufactured. Moreover, once a design is developed, factory techniques make construction much less labor intensive than for custom sewn garments. In a factory, it can take as little as 12 minutes to make a pair of jeans that would take me 5-6 hours of labor to custom make for you. So since each custom garment is a true original, it takes more labor and much higher skilled labor to produce it.
Then there's the issue of globalization. Did you know that about 95% of the apparel worn in this country is made somewhere else? Overseas garment workers can make as little as 13 cents an hour, under deplorable conditions, or they may be slaves or political prisoners. I have to make a living wage; I have to make enough to stay in business during slow months (dressmaking is very seasonal work), and I am not willing to work for a bowl of rice and have to save up if I want some chicken. Also, low-paid machine operators in a factory may only know how to perform one construction step well, but my skills are much higher and more comprehensive. I have to know how to do everything, I have to know where to source difficult to find, high quality materials, and I have to know how to run a business.
Most importantly, with custom clothing, you get more for your dollar. Did you know that only about 20% of the cost of a RTW garment is for the labor and materials, and the other 80% is for profits, overhead, and other expenses that you don't get to wear? For example, if you buy a RTW wedding gown for $1,000, the labor and materials that you actually drag down the aisle cost about $200. With custom, nearly all of what you pay for is the dress itself. Also, you pay anAmerican craftsman and you stimulate the local economy.
Having a garment custom made is like commissioning a work of art.
Q. Do you do alterations?
A: No. I used to, but it drove me crazy. A good alterationist is worth her weight in gold, and I have great respect for sewing professionals who do alterations, but I hate doing them! I find them frustrating because I can improve the fit of RTW, but I can seldom perfect it.
This is a well kept secret in the ready-to-wear business, where sales people know nothing about fit and even the people who pin garments for alterations may have no technical expertise whatsoever and are not the sewing professionals who actually do the alterations. Retailers are happy to sell you garments that do not fit. They will tell you that they can be altered, but they won't tell you that alterations can't fix what's wrong and they won't tell you the cost of the needed alterations.
Also, there are too many fitting problems that must be corrected before a garment is cut, and that cannot be retrofitted. This is particularly true.for women who are smaller or larger than a B cup, or for women who are petite or tall. Also, most RTW is just not made to be altered; there may be no seam allowances or hem allowances to adjust, for example. If you are an established custom customer and you twist my arm, I will do your alterations for you.
Q. Isn't it cheaper to buy a dress and have it altered?
A: Not necessarily. For example, if you buy a $300 RTW wedding gown and it needs $300 in alterations just to make it wearable, is it worth it? For just a bit more you can have a custom made and fitted all-silk gown. Also, no matter what a bridal shop tells you, not every problem can be fixed with alterations. Moreover, not all alterationists are equally skilled. Some can do simple repairs and alterations like hemming, but much more skill is required for more complicated alterations. At a bridal shop or dry cleaner's, you may never meet the alterationist and you may not be able to know how skilled she is. So is it worth it to pay $20 for pants that need taking in for $20, hemming for $20, then the cheap zipper breaks after a few wearings and needs a $20 repair? That's no bargain.
Q: What are your store hours? Do you have dresses to try on?
This is not a store. This is a custom dressmaking studio. Studio hours are by appointment only. I have to manage my time very carefully. I do the actual sewing M-F, then clean up my messy studio and do fittings and consultations usually on Saturday mornings, by appointment. I do not keep samples, so there are no dresses to try on, and no reason to try them on. I make dresses one at a time, to order, and to fit.
Q. Why bother to have a dress made when I can just buy one?
A: You're right, it's easy to shop. There are plenty of RTW dresses available, but they may not meet your needs. The very nature of the mass market is that it seeks to sell the greatest number of garments to the greatest number of people. That means that if you are Little Miss Average, with average taste, average body shape and size, and average knowledge of garment quality and fit, then shopping may be best for you. However, if you have your own distinct sense of style, if you are shorter, taller, smaller, or larger than average, if you have figure variations, or if you are fussy about quality, then have your garments made. You want a green wedding gown? You won't find one at your local Bridal Barn. Do you want an all silk gown instead of one that is silk on the outside and plastic on the inside? Read the fiber content labels and you'll be hard pressed to find one. Ready to wear garments may not have the original design, the quality materials and high end construction techniques, or the custom fit that you want and need.
Q. How do you draft an original design?
A: It's NOT likeProject Runway. It starts with the sketch or photo. First, I have to interpret what I see to determine where the seam lines, darts, and other fitting devices should go. If the photo is of only the front or back, then I (or I and my customer) have to figure out what the other half of the dress should look like.
Then, I draft. There are several ways to do this. Sometimes I can adapt a commercial pattern by using most of the pieces as is and drafting only some extra ones. Usually, however, I start from scratch, using an auto-CAD based pattern drafting software to generate a torso sloper, which is like a roadmap of your body shape. I enter your measurements, design the garment on the computer screen from the torso sloper, and the program prints out the pattern pieces. Then I tape together up to 90 pieces of paper. I cut out the pattern pieces and true them (check that they fit together and that basic widths and lengths are correct). Sometimes I draft by hand using paper, pencil, protractor, rulers, and other drafting tools. Then I cut out all the pattern pieces (there can be up to 40 or more for a wedding gown or jacket, or only 3-5 for a simple top) in muslin, an inexpensive cotton fabric. Next, I transfer all the construction marks such as grain lines and dart lines from the paper pattern to the muslin, and I stay stitch along all the seamlines of each garment piece to prevent stretching and distortion during the fitting process. These pieces are then basted together, fitted on a dressform that has been adjusted to the customer's measurements, then fitted on the customer during a fitting. Then corrections are marked and the muslin is deconstructed, pressed, and it is ready to use as a pattern to cut the actual garment.
Alternately, some designs lend themselves to draping. With this technique, pieces of muslin are placed over a dressform that has been marked with tape to indicate the desired style lines of the intended design. While keeping the grain (the direction of the weave) of the muslin carefully oriented, the fabricis placed on the dressform, pinned in place, and trimmed as needed to comprise the intended design. The resulting pieces are then basted and fitted as described above.
Drafting and draping are very time consuming, require a very high level of skill, and there is always trial and error involved. It can take 5-15 hours of labor to draft a wedding gown, and that labor is expensive. This is why it is much more economical to use a commercial pattern that costs $5-25. Many of us who sew for a living use commercial patterns for our own clothing to save time.
Note that a commercial pattern is not "a dress kit." I sometimes use commercial patterns as a labor and money saving springboard for the drafting process, but I completely disregard the instructions, which are written for the hobby sewing market. I use much finer construction techniques than most hobby sewers.
Also note that there is no such thing as "patternless dressmaking," except for basic geometric shapes, for example, for a poncho or wrap. Either a dressmaker buys a commercial pattern; she drafts one by hand or computer, or she drapes muslin on a dressform to make a pattern.
There is no such thing as "whipping up a simple dress."
Q. How do you keep strapless dresses up?
A: With my strapless gowns, luck and gluing your arms to your sides has nothing to do with it. They are built to stay up comfortably and securely with a very special inner garment called a boned corselet.With this inner foundation, a two-year-old could "hang ten" on the front of your dress, and it would not come down. The corselet is built, and I do mean built, before the dress itself is constructed. It consists of four layers of fabric, spiral steel boning (not cheap, flimsy, plastic boning), hooks and eyes, a waist stay, and garment hangers. It is attached securely by hand to the top edge of the dress. You put the dress on, hook the waist stay, then do up the hooks and eyes (you will need a ladies' maid or equivalent to help you), then do up the hook and eye on the dress, then zip up the dress. The corselet holds up the dress and takes all the strain off the zipper and the dress itself. It feels comfortable and secure to wear. It provides a very smooth line for your torso, with no wrinkles or collapsing under the bust.It takes 6-7 hours of labor plus materials just to draft, build and fit the corselet. To avoid this expense, you can choose a design with straps or sleeves.
Right side of corselet.
Wrong side of corselet. .
Some of the materials used in a corselette
Q: How far ahead do I need to start having a dress made?
A: That depends on the garment and how busy I am when you call. I like to have 2-6 months for bridal gowns, and 1-2 months for all other garments. If you are a bride, one year in advance is way too early; you may change your mind about what you want or your figure may change. On the other hand, I am happy to meet with you a year in advance if you wish to book my time early; during the consultation we will discuss the timing of the actual construction of the gown to fit your schedule and mine.
If you need something done very quickly, just call or email and ask if I am available; I have made some incredibly elaborate gowns in as little as 3 weeks.
During the fall and spring I often have to turn away work because I am too busy, so please contact me as soon as you know you will need me.
Q: I am interested in a "green" wedding gown, meaning one that is good for the environment. Can you do that?
A: Absolutely.We only have one Earth to live on, and we'd better take care of it. I have been eco-minded all my life. I do what I can: I compost, grow veggies in my garden, recycle, only drive my car about once a week, hang my laundry out to dry; and I am re-foresting my back yard! In terms of sewing, I prefer working with natural, sustainable, and compostable fibers such as silks, linens, cottons, and woolens. I have resources for these top quality materials and can source "green" materials such as Peace silks and organic cottons and bamboo. Also, when I use a natural fiber for a garment, I make sure to use natural, breathable fibers throughout the garment, not just on the outside layer. When possible, I will pre-shrink your materials so that you can hand launder garments instead of dry-cleaning; in fact, I haven't used a dry cleaner for my own clothes for well over ten years! With a custom, green gown, there's no need to fill up our landfills with mountains of plastic, polyester clothing shipped here via the use of even more petrochemicals from the far side of the planet. Go green in your own neighborhood by having your dress made right here with green, environmentally conscious materials and labor. See the "Get a Green Gown" page on this site for more information.
Q: I want a picture of Elvis embroidered on my train. If I give you a picture, can you do it?
A: No. Embroidery is one of the few things that I do not do. However, there are plenty of pre-embroidered fabrics available. Maybe one of them has Elvis.
Q. Do I have to wear a bra with my dress? Can't you just sew in those cups?
A: If you are small busted (an A cup) you can get away without wearing a bra if you want to. Most of my gowns have at least three layers of fabric between you and the world, so show-through is not an issue. If you want padding, it looks best to put it in a bra, so the padding moves with you and looks natural. Bridal shops often stick pads in a dress that does not fit properly because it is cheap and easy, not because it works best. If you are large busted, you need a bra for support. With a strapless dress, the purpose of the corselet is to keep the dress up; it does not function to keep you up.
You also need the right kind of bra for the dress. This might mean a halter bra, a strapless, strapless-backless, or adhesive cups. Note that for dresses with straps, I can sew in lingerie guards to keep straps in place so that they do not show.
If you are a bride, you will spend much of your wedding day in your underwear while you get ready. Lots of people will want to help you, including hairdressers, makeup artists, bridesmaids, assorted moms, grandma's, elderly aunts, and the photographer. Nice undies and a robe will keep you decent and emotionally comfortable.
You must wear the same undergarments for each and every fitting. I cannot fit a moving object.
Q: Is is OK for me to bring my mom, my future mother-in-law, my 10 bridesmaids, both of my grandmothers, plus my three small children to all the fittings? I want them to see the dress, and it sounds like so much fun!
A: Please come alone for all your appointments. My studio space is small and the fitting room is small. Most importantly, however, I must focus all of my attention completely and intensely on you and your dress during fittings. Guests are a distraction. If you want to share the experience, bring a camera and I will be happy to take some snaps of you in the muslin or basted dress so that you can share them with friends. Please note: I do not allow fiances to see wedding gowns in the studio before the wedding: the Gods would strike me dead.
Q. Why is fiber content so important?
A: Why is having an engagement ring with a diamond instead of a CZ important?
Fiber is the actual material from which fabric is made. Every type of fiber has unique characteristics that determine the success of every garment. Some fibers will make you hot and sticky, such as polyester and nylon. Some fibers are luxurious and very comfortable to wear, such as silk and linen. When I make a silk gown, it is silk throughout, not just the outside layer. It makes no sense to me to use a breathable fiber on the outside and then put cheap plastic next to the skin. During the consultation, I will give you written material that will give you more information on fiber content and its importance. Or, read this excerpt from my first book.
Note that I prefer working with natural fibers because they are the most comfortable to wear and produce the finest results. However, I try not to be a natural fiber snob, and I will work with synthetics.
Q. Is it legal to copy other designers?
A: In this country, yes. It's a time honored tradition. There are a finite number of ways that relatively two dimensional fabric can be draped over a three dimensional figure. Any truly original design would be so bizarre as to be unwearable. It has all been done before. Besides, when we use different fabrics and trims, the design really becomes "after the fashion of." You can't run a dress through a Xerox machine. Language can be copyrighted; inventions can be patented, but dress designs are not proprietary. Don't try this in France.
See the question on "knockoffs," below.
Q. Are you going to design a dress for me?
A: Actually, we are going to design a dress for you. I think it is rather presumptuous to meet with a complete stranger for a few minutes, look her over and chat, and then presume to dictate her style in clothing.
That's why I ask you to show me a sketch or photo of what you like, or to show me many images of design details that you like. If you bring me photos or sketches of parts of different dresses that you find attractive, such as a neckline shape, sleeve style, skirt shape, or embellishment features that appeal to you, I can often combine them into your dream design. Then we'll work together to figure out all the details that will make up your dress. This is a creative, fulfilling process. It's fun.
I will help by suggesting design details and I will also advise you regarding design details that may be most flattering for your figure.
Q. How can I find ideas for designs?
A: If you are a bride, please throw away all those horrible bridal magazines. We're not in the mass marketplace anymore. You are not restricted to the lowest common denominator of the most available, average, boring RTW designs.
Try looking at commercial pattern catalogues, look at evening, day dress, and costume designs that when made in bridal fabrics will look bridal. Look at books on fashion, fashion photography, and historical costume for ideas on vintage and couture designs. Try "seeing" the basic lines of the design, as if it were a line drawing.
You don't need to know any fashion terminology, so don't worry if you don't know all the right names for design details. I just need to "get a visual" on what your want.
Q. I don't know anything about fabrics. How do I choose fabrics and other materials? Which one of us supplies the materials, anyway?
A: I am going to help you. Either I can supply the materials or you may purchase them yourself. I have beautiful silks in all colors to order from swatches here in the studio, of a quality that you would be hard pressed to find locally. Laces need to be purchased locally or through Internet resources because of limited yardages and the uniqueness of many designs. If you are looking for a very specific textile, I am happy to source it for you once we are under contract. If you prefer to shop locally for materials, the Estimate will include a "shopping list" of what you need to select and how much to get. I will give you printed information on local and on-line resources, and I will point you in the right direction. Note that I prefer to supply materials that concern the inner structure of a garment, such as interfacing, thread, zippers, boning,and the like according to my 40 years of sewing experience.
Q. Why do I have to have the exact undergarments by the time of the first fitting?
A; Because I cannot fit a moving object. Underwear can change your shape considerably. Also, we want to make sure that the bra does not show with your dress, so you need to have the right undergarments before we start.
Q. What am I supposed to wear underneath my wedding dress?
A: In addition to the right bra, you might want to wear a full cut panty (not bikini cut, but the "granny panty" style), a Lycra panty girdle, or control top pantyhose for a smooth look under thin or clingy fabrics.Select skin toned, smooth garments rather than contrasting or textured materials.
Full skirts require crinolines or hoop skirts to support them. I can build them into couture gowns; you can provide one yourself; or I can order one for you. Hoops are wonderful, especially in our climate, since you have air around your legs instead of 20 yards of nylon net. They also take up much less space for storage.
Q. I'm planning to lose weight before the wedding. Can you work with that?
A: The best thing to do is to lose all the weight that you want before we start the dressmaking process. With some styles, letting out or taking in at the last minute is possible, but alterations past the date of the first fitting are at additional expense. For some gown styles, particularly for Couture gowns, this might not be practical. Your fiancee, friends, and family love you exactly as you are. Custom fit will help you look your best no matter what your shape and size.
Q. Your work looks vintage. How come?
A: Because I'm vintage. Seriously, I have been sewing for over 40 years. Most of the techniques that I use are the same as those that were used on vintage apparel. Sewing is a very traditional craft. There are new materials and techniques that are developed occasionally, but not many that are worth much, in my humble opinion.
The RTW industry, however, has gotten cheaper and cheaper in the way that they make clothing; with RTW, the bottom line is always the bottom line. Consumers aren't as fussy about quality as they were decades ago, either. It used to be that when you watched people shopping, you would see them turning garments inside out to see how they were made, and checking hang tags for fiber content and country of origin. Nowadays, all most consumers care about is brand name and price. It's no wonder than the RTW industry increases profits by using cheap materials and cheap construction techniques. Also, many if not most design schools do not teach sewing and fit anymore. Since everything is mass produced overseas, most apparel is computer designed, the file emailed to an overseas factory, the garments manufactured, and then sold to unsuspecting consumers without ever having been fit on a human being. Most of the clothing worn nowadays is "McClothing." Like fast food, it is plentiful, cheap, and tasteless.
There is a reason that movie stars and other celebrities prize vintage apparel. It's made better and it looks better than modern RTW.
Q. How do I know if the dress really fits right?
A: You don't. Most consumers know less than nothing about fit. I know a lot about fit, so I hope you will allow me to advise you.
Here's a quick tip: Good fit is exemplified by the absence of visual lines that are not an intended part of the design.
This means that when you are standing up with normal posture, there shouldn't be any unwanted horizontal lines (wrinkles or folds) that usually indicate that the garment is too tight in that area, or vertical sag lines that indicate it is too loose, or diagonal lines that indicate a problem with both length and width.
Garments move constantly with the body, and some draping lines are normal. I will explain what I am looking for and doing during the fittings.
Copyright 2010 by Barbara Deckert. May not be reproduced or reprinted without written permission.
Q. I emailed you a sketch of the dress I want. Why won't you quote me a price? Other people did.
A: There are many reasons that we must meet for a consultation before I can quote you a firm and fair price.
Most consumer's sketches are not "specs," that is, they do not contain any of the technical information that I need to figure out how long it will take to make the desired garment. Photos from magazines are the same, in that it's usually hard to see all the details (only half the garment is shown!); the insides of the garments are not shown; so I have to extrapolate. We need to figure out what kind of fabrics and other materials will be used, where all the seamlines, closures, and fitting devices such as darts will be, what kind of construction techniques should be used, and so on.
For any sketched design, there are cheap, tatty ways to make a garment that sort of looks like your sketch, and there are better ways to make it stunning, wearable, and durable.
Don't choose a dressmaker by price alone!
You might be comparing apples and oranges!
You need to understand clearly and exactly what you are contracting for in terms of materials, construction techniques, and the skill and integrity of the dressmaker you are hiring before you compare one bid with another.
This is why no competent and experienced sewing professional would quote a firm price via email or over the phone. If anyone does this, you need to ask yourself why. After a consultation, I quote my prices in writing, in great detail, and with written business policies.
If you have a set budget for your dress, just tell me! If there are ways to achieve the look you want within your price range without compromising the professional standards that I abide by, I'll suggest those methods. If it isn't possible, I'll let you know and I'll explain why.
Here's another little dirty secret to consider when looking for a sewing professional: Anyone can call herself or himself a dressmaker or "designer." You don't have to have a license to play at this. However, not all of us are equally skilled, equally trained, equally talented, or equally reliable. Even if we all had equal capabilities, which is not the case, we all choose to perform our work at different levels of quality, and we have different approaches to running our businesses. Some people might value profits over quality and reliability, for example.
Note also that "designers" are people who draw pretty little pictures, and who may not have any ability at all to draft, sew and fit a garment well.
Q: I''m a wanna-be designer. I have no idea how the ready-to-wear industry works, and I can't sew a stitch, but I have lots of enthusiasm and plenty of ideas and sketches. I really like your work. By the way, I don't have much money to spend on this. Can you help me get started?
A: Probably not. I am a custom dressmaker. I am not a business consultant, a ready-to-wear industry patternmaker, an industry sample maker, or a production sewing contractor. I wish you all the best.
On rare occasions, I will make samples for entrepeneurs who know exactly what they want and are willing to pay for my expertise.
Q: Help! I met with you about nine months ago to get a quote on my wedding gown. My wedding is now a month away. I'm in big trouble! Instead of booking with you, I:
(pick one of the following true stories)
1. Asked my best friend to sew it for me, but the boning is sticking out through a hole ripped in the front of the bodice, the train is on the front of the dress instead of the back, and the whole dress smells like pot.
2. Bought a cheap dress off the Internet and got it altered, but the alterations got botched, the dress is ugly, and it doesn't fit.
3. Went with another seamstress who was cheaper and the dress turned out hideous and I can't wear it.
4. Ordered a dress through a bridal shop but they sent the wrong dress and it doesn't look like the one I ordered and they won't give me my money back.
Can you still make my dress in time for my wedding?
A: That depends. The Estimate that you received is valid for a maximum of 30 days; sometimes it is good for only a week or two, if indicated, for deadlines close at hand.
Only a signed Estimate plus deposit holds my time.
I am semi-retired and accept only one major commission per month, and I book up quickly, sometimes many months in advance. My skill set is rare and my time is limited. I cannot hold my time for you until you sign the Estimate and send your deposit. Just emailing me, seeing me for a consultation, and receiving an Estimate does not hold my time.
That said, if I am available when you find that you need me, I would be happy to make the dress. Just ask. If I am too busy, I will say so.
Q: Do you make "knockoffs?" I'm in love with a $8,000 wedding gown, but my budget is under $2,000.
A: Yes, and no.
No: The word "knockoff" usually refers to a cheap, poorly made copy of a dress. for example, if you Google a particular designer gown by style number you can easily find Chinese websites that steal the designer's runway and website photos of very expensive dresses in order to market "copies" that cost about $300. On these numerous sites, there are no images of their actual products, which I am sure would look like white plastic trash bags. They would probably not even vaguely resemble the original, would be made with cheap materials and shoddy construction, and would not fit. You get what you pay for. Also, it is a dirty little industry secret that even brick and mortar bridal shops in this country often show brides a designer sample, the bride orders the dress, and then they hire a workroom overseas to knock off a cheaper copy. The dress is sold with no labels or fake labels, the shop enhances its profits, and the bride doesn't know any different. This is not what I do!
Yes: I often make copies of garments, but they are "after the fashion of," and I never pretend that the resulting garment is of someone else's making. My labels go on all my work. I always ask that customers bring me visuals of what they like, as a way of communicating clearly. Even when a customer requests a line for line copy, I explain that when we use different fabrics and trims, different colors, and different construction techniques, the resulting garment will look similar to but not exacltly the same as the picture. This is completely legal, since garment designs are not proprietary, that is, they are not protected by copyrights or patent laws. Really, there are no new designs under the sun: it has all been done before. Also, I frequently suggest design variations to enhance the look of the garment and make it truly yours. Some design changes are mandatory. For example, I don't embroider, but lace or embroidered sheer overlays give a similar visual effect as embroidered fabrics, and that substitution changes the design. Or, an unusual looking lace on an original may not be available, but another lace would be just as beautiful and would make the design uniquely yours.
So, will copying an expensive dress design "save you money?" Not always, but it will get you a better dress. A custom made dress does cut out the middlemen who all get a slice of the profit pie, but remember, I use very high quality materials and techniques, and you get custom fit. So for dresses that are already cheap, I probably can't save you money. As an extreme and very unusual example, I once copied a photo of a $300 catalogue wedding dress that didn't come in the bride's size that came to $6,000 for three pieces, but remember, this is using top drawer materials, custom drafting, and high end construction techniques, so you can bet that the result did not look like an inexpensive catalogue dress; it looked couture. The photo that the bride brought me was just a way for her to show me what design features she liked. Normally, however, I can make a copy of an expensive dress for far less than the designer price. Until we meet for a consultation and work out all the details, I can't really know for sure, so let's meet and I will plug in the numbers and then you can make an informed decision.
Q. How does your work differ from factory made apparel?
A: The same way a Rolls Royce differs from a Kia.
Factory made clothing is manufactured for only one purpose: profits! At all price levels, corners are cut to reduce costs and increase those profits. My motives are different. I need to make money, but my goal is to produce a beautifully crafted garment. My purpose is quality.
Fabrics make a huge difference. Most RTW is made of synthetics. I prefer natural fibers, and I have resources for top drawer materials that are seldom available in RTW. More importantly, I use fitting, sewing, and pressing techniques that are not used in ready-to-wear because they require too much high-skilled labor to be profitible. Check your closet or the stores for any of the following and you will probably come up empty. Here are just a few differences in construction:
Seams are single needle stitched, the edges finished to prevent raveling, and pressed open with 5/8" seam allowances, not chainstitched or serged with 1/4" seam allowances; this makes garments less bulky at the seams, more durable, and they drape more gracefully and are alterable. Inside seams are graded (trimmed in graduated widths to reduce bulk) and clipped to release the curves and allow the garment conform to the shape of the body. Hem allowances on dresses are usually 2", not narrow hems that cannot be let down; hems on formal gowns are supported with hair braid. All hems are sewn; I never merely fuse or bag linings. French tacks secure hang-loose linings to the outside garment. Strapless dresses are supported with spiral steel boning, not plastic, and an inner garment called a corselette. Handwork abounds, such as waistbands sewn inside by hand, linings sewn in by hand, most hems are sewn by hand (all handwork is rare and valuable), lace applique and beadwork is sewn by hand, all buttons, snaps, and hooks are sewn by hand and eyes are embroidered with matching thread. Waist stays hold up the weight of full or heavy skirts so they do not droop. Silk organza underlinings support the shape of garments. Crinolines for ballgowns are custom drafted and sewn to enhance the design of the dress, and are not all-purpose RTW crinolines sewn in as an afterthought. Careful pressing with tools such as hams and sleeve rolls puts permanent shape into garments to fit the curves of the body. Jacket linings have jump pleats to allow the body to move inside the jacket without distorting the outside fabric.
Q: I am a man who is emailing you on behalf of my, pick one: girlfriend, fiancee, wife, the woman chained to a cot in my basement. I want you to make her a dress, but I also want to screen all of your contacts with her. I want to be the person you contract with since I control the money; I want to tell you exactly what kind of dress she wants; and I want to make all the decisions for her. I want to be present for all meetings and watch the fittings. I want to watch while you take her measurements. I think that I am protecting her, and I have managed to convince her that she is helpless and it's all for the best.You will respect my wishes, right?
A: No. Please have the lady in question contact me directly. If your girlfriend, fiancee, wife, or the woman you have chained to a cot in the basement is over 18, then it is my policy to contract with her, since it is for her that I would make the custom garment. What you, your girlfriend, fiancee, wife, or the woman you have chained to a cot in the basement might regard as your protectiveness is more likely a control issue. I am neither professionally qualified nor licensed to help you with that. I choose not to participate in your interpersonal dynamics, or pathology, as the case may be.
Q: Why do you only see customers on Saturday mornings? I would like to drop by when it suits my schedule. You're home all the time, anyway, so it's no big deal if I am hours late or if I cancel via email five minutes before my appointment time, right? I'm a very busy person. My business comes first, so I want you to be flexible and see me whenever. And what's with those fines if I'm late or miss an appointment without 24 hours notice? Stores don't treat me like that.
A: Oh, my. My business comes first, too. I see customers only on Saturday mornings for a laundry list of reasons. It is most efficient for me to do the sewing work during the week, then clean myself and my studio up for appointments back to back, once per week. I don't ever want anyone dropping by without an appointment when I am mowing my lawn, in bed nursing a migraine, or out doing my shopping. I have a life, such as it is, and I am semi-retired, so I want to live it.
An appointment is a promise to show up at a particular place and time.
People who don't show up are breaking that promise. Everyone, including me, is going on rare occasion to have a family emergency or some other perfectly valid reason to be significantly late or to completely miss an appointment. In my experience, however, customers are either nearly always punctual and reliable regarding appointments or they are nearly always late or no-shows. This is a character issue. If you are late or don't show, you are wasting my time and reducing my profits by increasing the number of hours I have to work for you. I price my work according to sewing hours, not waiting hours. Store clerks get paid to wait for customers; I do not. The fines are to encourage you to be responsible. If you have an emergency, just say so: of course I will be understanding. If you do not have a life or death emergency, kindly give 24 hours notice if you need to cancel or change an appointment. This is common courtesy. Let's all treat each other with kindness and respect.
Q: I am a 16 year old prom girl. I want you to make me the prom dress of my dreams. I emailed you but you just asked about my age. Don't you sew for proms?
A: Of course I make prom dresses. However, if you are under 18, you are not able to enter into a legal contract. Unlike buying a dress from a store, this is a service, and it starts with a legally binding contract. That is why if you are under 18, I need to talk or email first with your legally responsible parent, and she or he needs to come with you to the initial consultation.