"Meet Me at the Alter|ations" will be a series dedicated to bridal alterations commissions completed by Syreeta C.
Today's bride is Erica!
Erica first came to me carting her reception gown, which was a strapless sweetheart neckline gown with a vertically ruffled flare beginning at the knee. There was beaded lace that spanned from the neck edge to the knee. She purchased it from a resale site after seeing the style elsewhere and got a great deal on it. (Super smart!) It came with the tags and showed very little signs of wear.
However, as is the case with most mermaid styles, she needed alterations for a more tailored fit. Many women's bodies measure at different sizes from bust to waist to hip, thus styles like mermaids, which need to fit in all 3 areas, often need alterations. If you are ever interested in buying this style from mass production, I encourage ordering a size that fits the largest area on the size chart and plan to have the others taken in as opposed to planning to let sections out. This is the general rule* since most mass-produced gowns don't leave a lot of seam allowance (or extra) for letting out. Plus, garments embellished with lace or beadwork may end with bare areas. Lastly, sometimes you can simply never get rid of that original stitch line if it's visible after let-out. Needle punctures, hard press lines, and dirt can wreak havoc.
*I say general rule because this can be subjective. If measurements are off by smaller amounts, the course of action can change. I also have different suggestions for different style gowns, e.g. A-line or fit-and-flare. If it's possible to consult with a seamstress or trained professional prior to purchase, it may be worth it. Exercise discernment and be careful of salespersons who will suggest off-sizing to force you into spending extra on alterations.
For Erica's reception gown, we decided to size it down through the waist and bust, trim some of the frayed edges of the organza at the bottom, and add a bustle. It was also treated to a thorough steam.
Step 1 was... you guessed it, lifting lace to access the seams. When taking in, I had to remove a strip of boning and decided that the next rows would now be close enough together that it didn't need to be replaced. The gown held up without it. Erica did come in for a fitting during the process to ensure we were on the right track. We also decided to order cups, a very common addition to formalwear gowns. Depending on the application, they can often be tacked in or removed according to the wearer's preference.
As we worked on the reception look, I received an email from Erica about her ceremony gown. The alterations had been done where the gown was purchased and she was unhappy with the results. There seemed to be a gap in communication with the seamstress and salespeople. Remember the above mention about sizing with style in mind? Well, Erica's ceremony look was a ball gown. This is where you ignore the hip measurement and size based on waist and bust. This wasn't taken into account and they ordered a size that was overwhelmingly big, even with the corseted back.
I will take the time here to point out that I find this to happen a lot with my brides of color, especially those who are naturally curvy. This is a realm of work that *has* to take body type into account and there are boutiques that drop the ball. I encourage brides and ANYONE to shop where you're understood. Invest with those who are attentive to you. Even if it means finding the winning look in one place and outsourcing the rest. In-house services can be convenient but that ease may morph into a headache if things aren't done right.
Anywho... back to the story! Luckily, I didn't have to deal with the bodice woes and they handled this heavy job in-house (I mean... it was on them anyway) along with her bustle. That was where things got a little weird. The actual fasteners of the bustle were immaculate. It was a set of button and loops tucked into the back of her skirt. But the additional key to the bustle is that the skirt layers must move in unison when fastened up. This can be tricky if your gown features multiple layers. If fasteners are only added to the superficial layer, it will just be the top layer that hooks u and whatever's beneath will remain full length, which completely defeats the bustle's purpose.
Erica's gown was... I don't remember how many layers... but it was a lot. Lol. Maybe 6-8ish layers of tulle (it's not unheard of for gowns to be 12) before getting to the main fabric, and then the linings. All of these layers must be 'tacked' or attached to one another so they all pick up uniformly when bustled. When the seamstress tacked her layers, she seemingly picked the tulle up and tucked it in. This took Erica's hem from being floaty and dramatic to being bubbled and ballooned "like a quinceañera dress," as Erica called it. And listen... we both respect that cultural occasion, but I was choking on my laugh. I choked on laughs A LOT during my meetings with Erica. She is a lady after my wickedly sarcastic heart, I swear. I love her.
The tucks "had to go" *in my best Erica voice* so away they went. I cut them out and then realized another reason for dismay. The prior seamstress trimmed the tulle *after* tucking it. Thus, when I released the layers from their pinned up purgatory, they were uneven and ragged. Imagine brushing your hair into a ponytail and then trimming the ponytail so that it's perfect and even across......... but then....... when you let your hair back down.......
Yea, it was that.
Cue me trimming. I had to pull out all of the layers to max length and flatten them, making sure that they also matched around the circumference of the hem and were straight. Then there was a lot of pinning to hold and snipping. Because I was now working from a disturbed hem, I couldn't use the edge as a gauge for how much to remove. It was a lot of eyeballing and faith. I needed to not only get the edges straight, but also the sides and hem curve symmetrical.
Then tack it all back down.
Because the tulle had been tucked, the lining was now quite a bit short. I paused at one point to ask Erica what her preference was: folding the tulle to cover a bit of the opaque lining or allowing it to flatten for maximum volume.
(Please excuse my studio. These were the early days. It’s much more lived in now... probably because I do basically live there. 😂)
In the end, we were able to rework the 'quinceañera' edits into the regal bridal look that she was worthy of! I mean... look at these photos!
Many thanks to Erica for trusting me with both outfit changes for her big day! (And we were able to work on a bridal party member’s alterations, too. Y'all know I love crew love.)