Saturday, May 21, 2016

Bridal specialist or Prom alterationist - this time of year, I'm both!

I often wonder if it’s the universe punishing me for getting too cocky and sure of myself, putting me back in my place with some humbling experience…..


I started writing this post a few weeks ago while going through a rough patch during a heavy alterations work load. Originally it was to be a rant complaining about the kind of work and type or client I was dealing with, but now that I'm out the other side of that tunnel - and prom season is over - I've got a better perspective. I think I need to approach this yearly crazy time differently - because prom isn't going away, it will be back again next year, and since my name is getting out there more and more I will undoubtedly be overwhelmed another time. Here's to having made it through the season, and to being rejuvenated to take on the brides, mothers, christenings and whatever else the universe has in store for me!

14. That's how many prom gowns I've worked on in the past two months. One custom, 13 alterations, and at least 5 area towns represented in the mix. I also regretfully turned away at least 5 more in the past week, because I know my limits. The last proms were last night, and I'm sure I rejoiced as much as those 14 beautiful young girls did!
Ashlyn wanted an Elsa train added to her custom gown, a replica of a Jessica McClintock bridesmaid gown she'd used for dress up and a costume. (I elected not to duplicate the dried blood from a past Halloween.)

Every year about this time I start to succumb to the tension of my busiest season. From February through May I'm inundated with prom alterations layered on top of bridal alterations and my regular load of work. My studio becomes trashed with sequins and glitter, along with random beads and tulle trimmings from all those ornate gowns that I'm pinching here, hemming, removing trains and bustling, adding bra cups and snugging strapless necklines. There's enough girly-girl in me that I love seeing the gowns that girls are choosing for prom, whether they're something I'd have chosen for me or my daughter to wear or something so far out there I'd never have considered it. They're fun! And they're challenging. And I'm always glad to see the light as the end of the season approaches.

On my professional group's discussion list we had a conversation about the challenges this year's crop of prom gowns presented to me, and the feeling I had that the universe was giving me a wake-up call when I got too cocky and sure of myself. That's when it seems a new style with a never-before-seen-by-me alteration challenge shows up on my fitting platform. One of my colleagues responded that it was good that I posted about these challenges, asked for ideas about them - that maybe it was this, instead: "How about the universe rewarding you by giving you fresh challenges to figure out and surmount? And letting us climb on, too?"

This year's gowns gave me a wide assortment of projects: adding a corset-laced back to a flowy georgette gown with beaded bodice; hemming a lace gown by cutting and moving the scalloped border - a surprisingly well made internet purchase; tightening beaded straps of various halter and one-shoulder gowns. Among the crop of jersey and mesh gowns that were extremely popular this season, the one that presented the biggest challenge:
The one I worked on was bubblegum pink, not multicolored like this image. Since this is the way these extra-long gowns are shown in the company's marketing, I've come to the conclusion they expect the girls to wear them pooled on the floor. Even with very high heels, the average hem length I had to take off most gowns this year is 5 inches!
The dress needed more than 4 inches of length removed from the front, and the client requested that I also remove the train rather than bustling the gown. During her fitting, I puzzled over the best way to remove the length while maintaining the tiers in the front skirt, and completely missed the obvious: the problem would only get worse when I tried to shorten the back. Each tier is longer than the one above, and they get gradually deeper from the side seams to the center back, creating the train. Each band is two layers, lined jersey encasing a lined mesh strip above and below. The last band at the hem is the deepest, and is formed as a ruffle, with a lining layer hanging separately - but with a mesh strip layered between.

All this created a nightmare. In order to shorten any of the upper tiers, I had to get at the seam attaching it to the mesh above or below. The only way into those fully encased seams was to open a short area of the lining at the center back, where the lower seam of each band had been hand-stitched closed. Originally I planned to divide the 4 inches to be removed from the front between the bottom two bands - if I'd taken all of it off the bottom ruffle, it would only have been 3 inches or so deep and would have looked silly. When I started to work on it, though, the idea of dealing with any more than one band didn't make any sense from the perspective of what I'd have to charge to do the work. In the end, I decided to completely remove the smallest band at the thigh level and the mesh below it, which reduced the length by just over 4 inches. Then I had to smooth out the side seams of the next band below, to make the circumferences match and keep the angle of the side of the skirt. This process alone took over 3 hours, which was about as much as the client wanted to pay. A single bustle button and loop took care of the train for walking and dancing, and the gown was good to go for prom.


At the top of the schedule are always the bridal alterations, since I have a reputation around here as a specialist in these delicate processes. Part of doing the work is dealing with the requests and demands made by young women who are planning the major event of their lives, and often the stress of that planning has its inevitable pitfalls. It's been a challenge from the start, dealing with the fittings where a bride brings along a friend or relative to observe the process; that extra opinion during and after the fitting can do a lot to sway the bride's choices and feelings - not always a good thing. Lately the ubiquitous use of cell phones to take photos has been presenting a new wrinkle. I've gotten phone calls or emails the day after a fitting, questioning something that the bride sees in the photos that wasn't apparent live and in person in front of the mirror. Often the observation is a valid concern: the shadow of panty lines, the length of an underlayer. Sometimes it's an imperfection that I'd already noticed and planned to correct. Other times it's a miniscule or even imperceptible "problem" that really should be ignored. This is one example - we never did identify the white space that was seen in this photo, and but it definitely wasn't there when the alterations were completed.

The gown, by the way, was real challenge to take in - the lace was very heavily beaded, the foundation beneath boned, so pinning out the amount needed was impossible - hence the clips in the photo. I would have chosen to take it in at center back, but it had such a low back I didn't feel that would have tightened the front bodice enough.

A couple of my brides have had their weddings this month, and I wish them the very best. I am grateful to have been part of the process. I don't think I'll be giving up this kind of work, not yet at least. It still has its rewards.

Later. I'll be out in the fresh air and sunshine for a while.

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