How to Get The Best From Your Dressmaker

(Especially if you have never had anything made for you before!)
By Kate Dicey

There’s a special occasion looming…  Your dream dress isn’t in any store or catalogue, your figure is unique, and you know that dream dress isn’t going to appear magically…  You might like to consider the next best thing to a Fairy Godmother: a skilled custom dressmaker.

Choosing a good dressmaker takes skill...  There’s more involved than running a finger through the phone directory, choosing a name, and calling to ask, “How much does it cost to have My Dream Gown made?”  That’s like asking someone “How long is string?”  The answer is “How much do you want to pay?”  So much depends on design, cut, and fabric.  It also depends on whether you want something exclusive or to use a commercial pattern.  Better to say, “I'm thinking of having my wedding dress made.  Please may I book a consultation?"  Most dressmakers do this at no charge, though some may charge for the consultation and then discount that charge from your final account.

Make your first consultation valuable by remembering this advice:

One of the first questions the dressmaker will ask is “When is the event?”  Big projects like weddings and proms are seasonal, and planning and design takes months.  Good dressmakers are booked a year or more in advance.  Some dressmakers will do a project in a shorter time for a higher fee, but many will not.   Book well in advance of the wedding or other event!  Plan to spend more than you would at a retail store; after all, this is something created uniquely for you.

· Trust that your dressmaker is a dedicated professional and will work with you to create the gown of your dreams.  Get a referral, and ask to see samples.  A completed project will give you a good idea of work quality, and a good selection of pictures will let you see the range of work the dressmaker does. Be wary of dressmaker with no prior work to show, and only a few fuzzy photographs of completed projects.  Don't worry if you don't get to see in the workroom and fittings are done elsewhere: workrooms may not be suitable for fittings.  I do most fittings in my workroom, but those with larger premises prefer to keep sewing rooms and fitting area separate.

· Be ready to discuss budget. Have an idea of your budget, and be honest about it.  When you present your ideas to your dressmaker, she will let you know immediately the parameters and reality of your budget.  The design, fabric, and any special considerations such as unique fitting issues will all be a factor in the final price of your gown.

· Be prepared to spend at least an hour with the dressmaker, discussing your ideas, looking at patterns, and discussing how many of what you would like.

· Take pictures along if you have ideas that you would like considered.  These may be cut from wedding magazines, movie stills, or your own 'concept' sketches.  They will help the dressmaker to find or draft a suitable pattern.

· Do not buy a pattern before consulting with your dressmaker.  Pattern sizes and Ready To Wear sizes are very different!

· Do not buy fabric without consulting your dressmaker.  She is an expert in textiles and designs; if you have fabric swatches or colours, please bring them, but be prepared to follow her advice for the exact fabric, colour, and amounts needed to make your Dream Gown a reality.  She will suggest the ideal fabric for your gown and can help you find the right suppliers.  If you insist on a fabric that your dressmaker deems inappropriate, there can be no guarantee of a satisfactory final result.

· Expect a contract. The dressmaker, detailing exactly what you have asked for, will draw this up.  It may include pictures drawn by the dressmaker to suit your ideas.  It will state the number and type of garments ordered, the fabrics to be used, and the timescale.

· Expect to pay a deposit. The deposit should be sent with the signed contract.  No work will start without it.  Expect to pay between 30% and 50% of the construction fee.

· Read the contract all the way through before signing and returning the dressmaker's copy.  Make sure you understand all the terms and conditions of the contract.  It is a legally binding document, and once signed, you have agreed to its terms.  If there is anything in it you don't understand, ask.

· Expect to pay the dressmaker for fabrics sourced at the time of ordering.  She will have to pay for them then, and so will you.

After signing the contract:

Once the contract is signed there are more things consider.  Fittings rules are especially important. I am very firm about mine!

· Ask about undies!  Custom garments require more than a sports bra and thong!  Your dressmaker will know the best style of foundation garments for your gown, and where to find them.  If you don't wear the correct underwear, the fitting cannot be accurate.  Expect the fitting to be re-scheduled, and an extra charge to be made for wasting the dressmaker's time.

· You must also have the correct shoes for the fittings. They affect the hang of the dress, and the hem.  Fittings will not be done without the intended footwear.  If you do not bring your shoes, you will be charged for rescheduling your appointment.

· Weight changes (gains and losses) will affect the fitting.  Weight changing programs stop when fittings start.  If you continue to drop or gain weight, your fitting needs change - and you may find yourself paying for a second garment.

· Come to your fittings alone! Do not bring children, husbands or other non-essential party members.  Extra persons will be asked to wait elsewhere as they cannot be accommodated.  Babies and small children cannot be accommodated during fittings unless the fitting is for them.  Only one parent or guardian should accompany the child.  If there is more than one child to be fitted, arrange supervision for those waiting.

· Remember to come clean! That means freshly washed, without perfumes, makeup, sticky hair products, body glaze, etc.  Sweat and these substances can spoil your fabric permanently if they mark it during construction.  If you normally perspire copiously, discuss it openly with your dressmaker; she can take precautions to protect the garment during fittings, as well as during wear.  She might suggest discussing the issue with a doctor, as there are medical solutions as well as practical solutions.

· Children must also be CLEAN for fittings.  Dressmakers do not provide washing facilities.

· Expect several fittings.  Your dream gown will take time and skill and patience to get right, especially if this is an exclusive creation.

· DO NOT TOUCH any work in progress!  Even the most casual handling can mark a garment.  Treat other's projects as you would like yours to be treated.  If you mark another's garment through handling it without permission, you will be billed for cleaning and/or remaking that item.

· You should give at least two full working days notice if you have to cancel or change an appointment.  Late cancellations will be charged at cost.  If you are delayed, let the dressmaker know ASAP.  They may have other commitments that make rescheduling necessary.  If the dressmaker has to reschedule an appointment, no charge will be made.

· If you change your mind about more than a few small details once the project has started, expect to renegotiate the contract, time schedule, and price for these changes.  Do speak up!  You’re not expected to stand silently by while the dressmaker does what she wants. She needs to hear your thoughts and concerns, and will work with you to get the best possible results.  But don't keep changing you mind or the dressmaker may cancel the contract, charge you for work and materials used so far, and you will have only yourself to blame.  Your contract will state how many changes are allowed before additional fees are incurred.

· If you have concerns about fit, quality of work, or anything else during the process, raise them as soon as possible.  Once the garment is finished and you have paid for it, it is deemed that it fulfils the contract and you have accepted it as it is.  If you then change your mind and cancel the cheque or credit card payment, that constitutes a fraud on your part and is a crime.  This is so even if the garments do not fit, are badly made and really horrible!  Once you have accepted them, the contract is complete and you have no comeback.  If, when you try them on again at home, a seam comes undone or the hem falls down, you can expect the dressmaker to put this right, but there will be no further fittings.

· Expect to pay the balance of the account on collection. Make sure you are satisfied with all garments at this time, as custom garments cannot be returned.

Your dressmaker is your professional partner in creating that Dream Gown.  When you go into the project knowing what to expect, and how best to work with a skilled professional, the process can be a lot of fun… and the results can be amazing!  


Parts of this article also appear on the Sewing and Couture Forums hosted by LAM Design.  My thanks for additional ideas, editing, and general help putting this together go to the members of that forum and Sewbiz.

If you are a professional dressmaker and would like to use this article or any part of it. please contact Kate.

Click here for a sample contract

Click here for a sample Certificate of Acceptance

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