The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

Review of 2018

Wow!  What a wonderful year.  Sometimes it’s the year of the formals, sometimes the year of the brides, sometimes the year of the debs – it all depends.  This year was mostly brides, but some other things and most of all a lot of fun!!!

The year started off with a bang when I did a Nutcracker ballerina’s dress.

Isn’t she gorgeous!  Anything would look great on her!  She had this dress, and she had this lace that she had collected – both at different times and wanted me to make her a lace overlay on her shoulders, back and decolletage which I was thrilled to do.  The close up is not so you can see me, but so you can see the detail on the sleeve cuff.

Here’s a better overall view.  We were shooting on a layout that is on a roll.  Photographers use this so that there is no floor/wall/ceiling seam or line and there is a perfectly smooth background.  However, no shoes on the screen.  It’s expensive as hell and one way to make a photographer really mad really fast is to step on their screen

The really fun thing about working with a ballerina is when I asked her to put on her shoes, it was like some sort of plié or something and way more graceful than I had ever thought about being!  It almost made me hurt to watch it, but I do admire beauty in all its forms even if I can’t do it!!!

So this shows what I did a little better – albeit a little confusing, but we took the neckline to the shoulder straps (that were already on the gown, and that meant that I didn’t have to show a sleeve seam.  So I used the straps as a “seam” to attach the sleeves which made it all that more fun.

High Schools don’t do Christmas Dances anymore – it’s a “Winter Dance” after Christmas, around the first or second month of the year.   One of my fun students loves to challenge herselv and her granddaughter thinks that she can do anything (adding to the challenge), so when she asked what  she wanted for her senior prom (excuuuse me – dance), it was this dress.  I’m not sure she had ever heard of Elie Saab, but when we finished she knew exactly who he was.  

This was a blast to do – we found this gorgeous fabric which had one side a scalloped edge and the other side faded into nothing, and the idea was to create a gown that looked like it was nothing on top, but had all this beading on the bottom.  We had to have shoulder/sleeve seams and a back seam, but the rest was see-thru, specifically, it was a skin-tone stretch netting.  This made fitting much easier, but we had to place the patterns on the bottom so that it worked.  That meant laying the pattern widthwise instead of lengthwise, and the hem would be at the scalloped edge which means we had to get a hem before we even cut.  Next time you notice a scalloped edge, notice if it’s cut that way or if the edge was applique’d or sewed on.  If it’s cut, the garment is most likely either couture or at the least very expensive RTW.

She was not a happy camper because she had been up studying like crazy.  Yeah, you got it – this kid is drop-dead gorgeous, a real brain AND a tennis champ!

Here she is all dressed up and ready to go.  What we were aiming for was that you couldn’t tell where the dress netting was or wasn’t.  This is what Elie Saab is known for, and that’s exactly what happened!  Now, the granddaughter is convinced that grandmom can and actually does do anything!!!

So I get all sorts of request…..and problems…..

This sweet bride came to me with a dress that she had purchased, but the company had taken the dress up 2 sizes, and we couldn’t zip the dress up.  It had extensive beading and the company was located out of state so sending it back wasn’t really in the cards.  Additionally, the bride came in for the weekend only.  When she discovered the dress wasn’t going to work, we started talking about alternatives.  Time was really key here cause the bride was moving from the East Coast to the West Coast for work, and there really wasn’t much time we could fit in for fittings.  On Friday,  I asked them to bring mom’s wedding gown the next morning and we would make it work.  The bride wasn’t sure, and I can see that, because she didn’t know me from a chicken, and didn’t know what I could do…..boy, was she in for a surprise.

Here’s mom looking all mom-like in her wedding gown.  I could see an incredible number of possibilities, and started with asking what the bride wanted – not what she thought I could do.

Here she is in the first fitting – Mom has tears at this point and the bride has her own set of tears thinking she will never do better than this.  That day I worked up a mockup, and at lunch we had our first fitting.

OK – so things maybe aren’t so bad, and I’m finally getting the bride into the spirit of things.  What I’m really after is what she wants, cause what I know is that I can do anything with this dress and need her to really tell me what she wants.  I can do a lot but defy gravity (I am an Einstein devotee) and read minds aren’t in my purview.  She finally tells me that what she has always wanted was a dress that looked like it had lace glued to her shoulders and back.  At last – finally.  I can do that, but not by the time she flies out the next day.  We sit down and schedule another weekend – yep, that’s right, I have to finish this dress in a weekend. but with her here and with her complete undivided attention, I can deliver a dress.

I think she’s getting the hang of what I can do, and I’m seeing a smile on her face……Yep, – looking good.  What I do on this is prioritize what I need her for in fittings – her opinion, her likes and dislikes about fit (of course another dream figure so there’s nothing to worry about there), and what she wants.  We discuss this in detail, with me being very honest that it’s imperative that she not hold back.  She doesn’t.  And this is what she ended up with:










Actually, I LOVE doing this sort of thing.  I always feel as though the mom’s gown has already been blessed, and that wearing the mother’s dress is like being initiated into a very exclusive family club that receives the blessing of the dress that has gone down the aisle before the bride!  And to be selfish, it shows that I really can do just about anything with mom’s wedding gown.

Some of my brides overlap each other.  And while my “weekend” bride was away moving from one coast to another, another came to me with a specific request – like the ballerina – she wanted medallions placed on her gown over her shoulders and arms.  For many conservative churches, this is more of something the brides want to do rather than the churches dictating what can and cannot be done.  This is how the dress came to me:

It was a strapless gown, with NO BONING in the front bodice.  I was shocked, but there it is!  On the side is the muslin I did for the netting covering the arms, shoulders, decolletage, and back of the dress to keep it modest enough for her church wedding.

Yeah – I think she’s getting happier.  Once we stabilized the bodice so that it stayed where it was supposed to, she felt like a dream in the dress.  I did have to take up the back zipper – a lot, and as the original dress did not match, that meant taking up one side more than another so that the zipper matched all the way down center back.  This makes the dress look so couture.  This also brings up another part about making and altering major gowns like this.  Details such as matching center back are things that you don’t notice they are right, till they are wrong.  Sometimes people don’t notice it at all.  What I tell my clients and my students is that if you know, then do it what you know to be the best.  Someone else will notice and it will make your client or student look all that much better.

That said, there are exceptions.  And in this case a very important one.  My client had 22 medallions.  Unbeknownst to her (how was she supposed to know) there were 12 left sides and 10 right sides – yep, that’s right…. they weren’t symmetrical.  So what you do is prioritize locations on the body 1. decolletage, 2. shoulders, 3. back, 4. lower back and if you look on the lower back right above where the gown stops and the netting starts you will notice it’s not symmetrical.  This is unavoidable but what I try to do is make it as symmetrical looking as possible and then work with that.  In this case, we turned one of the swirls the opposite direction and it filled in nicely.

She was thrilled.  I was thrilled and she had the day of her dreams.


While doing my medallion bride, her grandmother was in a real pickle about what to wear, so she could see what I was doing for her granddaughter and asked if she could bring her dress by.  So she did.  What she had done was purchase a dress, but it was way too small. so the store owner gave her another dress to take and if someone could “add” do the dress, they could use parts of the other dress to make one that would fit the grandmother.  I unfortunately didn’t get photos of the before, cause to be honest, we could barely get the original dress on her, and after we fixed it – well, so much for the before photos.

You can’t tell it, which is the way I like it but there is a 4″ panel on each side under the arm and in the undersleeve of each sleeve that gives her the perfect amount of ease and makes her look graceful and well, simply terrific.  She felt like a million bucks in the dress and it was comfy and yet elegant.

So one important note here. You’re always hearing me talk about nipping in at the upper waist or under the bust. Well here is the perfect example for the figure that does NOT have a svelte waist – and who among us does at this age?  So where do you do the “nipping”.  Notice how the nipped part is gently nipped right under the bust.  I’m not talking about an empire silhouette.  That would come into the rib cage – we do not want to go in that far.  This is about a very subtle and gentle silhouette.  Here’s a dress I helped one of my students with….before and after.

See the difference in the left and right – very subtle – but guess what?  Doesn’t she look way spiffier on the right side than the left?  Also, her shoulders are on her shoulders, so my student did two alterations here – on the shoulders and at the waist, and something as simple as this makes all the difference in the world.


I had this collar/placket in my head for a long, long time and this MOB (mother of bride) loves collars and necklines just like me and couldn’t wait to make this up in a terrific silk tafetta.  I would have loved to make this up without a zip in back, but actually it didn’t look that bad.

The skirt was a gorgeous watercolor twill in bright pinks, blues, and greens, and the over fabric was a gorgeous gold/white burnout (that means that parts of it are see-thru) in a silk taffeta – not too shiny, but just enough shine.  The twill was very shiny and the burnout dulled that to make this a most interesting skirt.

The skirt was longer in back but not a train which gave it that patrician/queenly look just perfect for a MOB!


This was her debutante dress and she wanted the lace bodice off and something more stable for her wedding.  The dress was a strapless dress but didn’t have an inside waistband.  For anyone doing strapless, the inside waistband is always critical.  It takes the weight off the skirt off the bodice so that all the bodice has to hold up is the bodice and not that heavy skirt.  Here’s the fitting where we are determining where and how low she wants the back part with her new straps.  Adding straps is going to make this garment imminently more comfortable and she’ll show it in how easy it will be to move around.


Here’s the finished gown and how it came out.  Notice the slightly raised waist?  This was so that the line from her waist to her hip was really smooth and didn’t appear to stick out too much.

This is a new bustle I’m doing for a lot of my brides.  It makes the dress look like a ball gown and completely does away with the heavy English back-end bustle or the bunchy French bustle.  At the same time, it performs the function of a bustle by being out of the way during dancing and the reception, cause there’s always an errant uncle hanging around to step on that pesky train!

While I was doing this bride, she had a dream dress in mind for her rehearsal dinner dress but couldn’t find it.  Well, that’s not exactly true – she found it but it was stratospherically priced.  I’m not cheap and never have been, never will be, but this was more like New York City prices, which is fine for NYC, but I’m not in the NYC market and can’t and won’t price like that.  I price for my market.  Now when I travel to Dallas for clients, I charge Dallas pricing because I have overhead, travel and other expenses that covers that.  At the same time, I adore a challenge.  She did her best to describe what she wanted – we had a little confusing over circle skirts and gathered skirts, but once I saw the style of dress, we had it nailed – a picture and a thousand words work every time!

If a picture is worth a thousand words an animated gif is worth a thousand pictures – well, almost!  Watch carefully, there’s a lag before the animation starts.

Here’s a closer look.

This was the style, the fabric, the look, the fashion, the thickness, the feel, the fit, and the comfort that she wanted and never could find elsewhere.

This bride brought me a most interesting dress.  This first photo is to show how the train was when she brought it.  It was a very unique inverted tulip with very intersting flowing layers at different levels.  I loved it at first sight, and we both wanted to keep the design of it in tact for the bustle.

These were graduated layers of the dress that were stacked one on top of the other at different levels.  It really was an incredibly beautiful design and it looks spectacular on the bride.  I wish I could say exactly how I did this, but the truth is that we played with it for a while till it looked right and then after I pinned it in place, I sat down to figure out how was the best way to make it stay that way for the whole reception.  Sometimes I used hooks, sometimes I used ties.  The bottom hem had to be enough up off the ground so that she can turn around 180° without having to worry about stepping (or tripping) on the train and she can dance in it without having to look clumsy!  She and I were both pleased how this came out so gorgeously.  It actually looked like it was made this way and didn’t even have a train!!!  


Monograms, ciphers and alphabetic designs are a lot of fun for me, so doing these can be a blast

Often a bride will ask me to do a monogram or cipher on the inside of her dress, and nothing’s better than the traditional “blue” .  This is a cipher.  What’s the difference between monogram and ciper?  A monogram is usually a group of letters that are apart and distinct from each other.  The above is a ciper where the KCKR are all intertwined with each other.

This one was really hard because this bride brought me an heirloom christening gown and told me to cut it up and monogram on it.  The lace was from the mother’s bridal gown.  I was like – NO!  I can’t cut up a perfectly good heirloom anything.  But she was adament.  So I took the under gown part and cut that out and did the monogram on that.  The bride love it.  I was a wreck.  But the undergown was hemmed and the christening gown could be used again!!!!


This client had come across a great gently used fur that was at a very reasonable price, but as most furs, it was monogrammed on the inside lining.  I took that monogram out and on a beautiful piece of ribbon monogram the new owner’s initials.  These were also ciphers.  Her grandkids call her Susu, so that’s what she wanted on the inside of her fur.

This was for a bride who wanted this on the blusher part of her veil so that when she walked down the aisle it would show against the chest of her dress.  This was the test version, as I never got a photo of the real one.  My clients take those back after they’ve paid for them and if I don’t get a photo – I’m out of luck.  Fortunately, I had this test run that I could photograph.

And there’s nothing like a college bridal contest to break the season between brides, ciphers and the Christmas season.  So off to the local university which has this killer design college and they are having a bridal contest.  They are given dresses that are outdated, old or simply been in the demo rotation too long, and by taking the dress apart, they design a new dress.  They have to come up with the market for their dress, design for that market and accomplish the design in a way that reflects something that someone would purchase – IOW, more up-to-date.  It’s really a very smart contest because this is the penultimate in upcycling…instead of throwing or giving away that old bridal dress – how about retailers remake the dress – what a concept.  And now you see why I love this college so much (aside from the fact that they have students that are really learning the business).

Here were the three contestants?  Which one do you think won?

These are the models wearing the dresses, not the designers.  Yeah – pants – it’s hot and I see it in a lot of avant guard styles.    It’s hard to judge and I’m probably waaaaay too sensitive, because I never want to push down in any way on creative ideas – NEVER!  However, sometimes in the translation of those creative ideas, the message either gets lost or it’s not quite as clear cut as it sometimes might appeal…..that’s the magic of art – the design AND the execution have to be equally as good.


Next is one of my really creative students who wanted to do something really fun for her granddaughter but didn’t have a lot of fabric.  With a little pattern redrafting and voilá the perfect cutie for a cutie.  

Little ones are the perfect testing grounds for any of your drafting ambitions.  Their clothes are usually easy, quick and since they grow so fast, you really don’t need to worry about them being in them too long!

I even get to enjoy this with my own little ones.  These are my nephew’s two kids and when asked if I can do Christmas aprons for the whole group, it’s a fund chance to get all that cutesy stuff out of my system.  Not only do the aprons match, but their tops match the aprons, and of course there’s always sugar something in the pockets of the aprons!

Nothing like making your own gingerbread house where you can put all the candy just the way you want it – or eat it – whatever!!!The aprons were a huge hit and the little ones had pockets embroidered with “My List” and “Candy” which had candy in them, while mom’s pockets had “Recipes” on one and “Wine List” on the other because as we all know, candy is dandy but liquor is quicker!!!You can tell this mom has a handful with one on constant overdrive all the time, and the other is still check out the candy! So it was a fairly fruitful year this 2018!  I’ve got lots of weddings, a very artistic client who has some very cool thoughts and a family wedding, with an heirloom veil repair – so more goodies coming up!  It looks like I need a nap, but the problem is that I’m so pumped for another year, I can’t wait – thank heavens it’s here!!!

  1. I so enjoyed reading your post!
    So many beautiful ideas and creations you create,
    I can’t help but close my laptop with a lot of
    exquisite inspiration!
    Wishing you a very Happy 2019 New Year!

  2. Very interesting read and I do those gently nipped in waists, they do give the allusion of being a little slimmer.

    • It’s all about proportion and essentially what looks right, and it’s amazing what this little nip can do for a figure – any figure!

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