Blog

To search this blog, please see the categories and search feature in the footer of any page or in the sidebar to the right.  This blog does not contain everything I’ve made.  More can be found at my Aria Couture Facebook page.  As time allows, I will move some things from my defunct website here, as well as move creations from my Facebook page here.  I encourage you to follow both this website as well as my page!

 

If you’re here for my Beauty and the Beast costume studies:

To my surprise, tens of thousands of people are, and to make it easier, I’m going to post those here.

Emma’s (“Belle’s) yellow gown from Beauty and the Beast: A Costume Study
Beast’s Ball Ensemble:  Costume Study
Provincial Belle: A Costume Study
Gaston: A Costume Study
Pre-movie costuming thoughts about Beauty and the Beast
Post-Beauty and the Beast costuming thoughts

Why are seamstresses undercutting each other?

More and more, I’m seeing seamstresses undercutting each other in prices to try to get business.  This is really sad, but it’s due to people expecting us to compete with cheap prices out of China.  The reality is we can’t do that.  The costs out of China are often less than the cost of even cheap, poly fabrics that we seamstresses can obtain.  I’d like to go over the expenses of one of my dresses, and that one that I will use is my Tim Burton/Disney Alice in Wonderland dress.

The cost of the French cotton organdie, which I bought in Paris, that I used is 60€, which is about $75, and the child-size took 5 yards.  $375.  The cotton for the layer underneath was a total of 50€ for the full piece, about $60.  I got the striped fabric for the petticoat on sale, and paid just under $50 for it all.  The horsehair braid (not really made from horse hair) was about $80.  The buttons were another $35.  The rest of the notions, such as the cording I used as the core for piping, the embroidery thread, the stabilizer, etc., was about $50.  Stabilizer an embroidery thread are not cheap.  So we’re at about $650.  I very much underestimated it in my Etsy listing, now that I’m adding it up.  In silk organza and silk taffeta instead of the organdie and fabric I used for the petticoat, the differences would be about $$200 total for the organza, and $180 for the taffeta.  This is a savings of only $105.

So let’s use the lower price, $545 in silk instead of $650 for the French fabrics because, frankly, probably no one else happened to be in Paris and to have found that fabric, making that purchase an anomaly.  Right now, I have this gown listed at $1200, which leaves $655.  The child-size took about 60 hours of skilled labor.  Before all taxes and Etsy and payment processing fees, this is a whopping total of $10.92 per hour.  Most Walmarts are now starting at a higher pay.  Self-employed people have to pay the full 12.4% for social security tax alone.  Employers pay half, when your pay check comes from an employer.  Our expenses, such as the fabrics we buy, or the fees we pay, are no longer tax-write-offs.  So we now have to pay tax on the entire total we charge, in this case, $1200, even though the amount we earn after supplies an fees is less than half that.  But let’s just deal with the social security tax.  $148.80 is the tax owed now.  That comes out of that $655.  $506.20.  Payment processing fees are on the entire amount as well, and is about 3.5%.  There’s another $42.  Etsy fees are about the same.  Another $42.  $422.20 is the net, before even considering income taxes.  So, after just a few fees and one tax, this is $7.04 per hour.  Even if you want to try to say, “but everyone’s wage rate is before any taxes come out,” please remember that no one else has to pay taxes on the supplies.

But if you insist, let’s add that $148.80 back in.  At $571 after the payment and etsy fees, this is still $9.52 per hour.  A fair wage would be $25 per hour, especially since we have to absorb all the taxes on even the supplies, and this would put a dress like this at just over $2,000.  The absolute most I’ve seen it listed for is $1,500.  About $16 is better, but still very low when you start knocking out about 7% for etsy and payment fees, which is another $105, and then $186 for the full social security tax.

We also pay processing and etsy fees on the shipping, and we have to pay taxes on that shipping since that is no longer able to be written off on taxes either.  We also have to buy the machinery that is needed (my embroidery machine was $5,000 alone…).  We have to pay for maintenance, and for the extra utilities, and for the studio space in our homes.  $9.52, and we have to pay for so much out of that.

Yet I’m seeing this particular ensemble being listed at $1000, even $900, and one listing for $850, and these are all in silk.  Take a look back at how much the supplies in silk cost.  $545.  Before payment fees, taxes, or anything else, that listing at $1000 is going to be $455 after the supplies.  I’m a faster seamstress than many, but let’s still use that 60 hours.   $7.58 per hour.  At $900, that’s $5.92 per hour, and at $850,  that’s $5.08.  Again, this is for skilled labor, and is before payment processing and etsy fees.  My $9.52 per hour seems like good pay compared to $5.08, but it’s still $1.48 below my state’s minimum wage of $11.  I’m in Washington State.  In Oregon, a stone’s throw from me, minimum wage is $10.25.  So not only does Walmart pay more, literally every job pays more.

I’ll be blunt: When prices get low enough, there’s an incentive to start using different fabrics, such as poly organza, and hope that a client doesn’t know the difference.  I wouldn’t dream of doing this, and will even tell my clients how to tell the difference if they want to know, but I personally know someone who does this on occasion, and justifies it as “she’s paying me almost nothing for my time, and I really need to make something out of this to be worth it.”  No, that’s not okay, and she has gotten mad at me when I’ve told her she’s risking the reputation of this industry by making seamstresses appear untrustworthy if one of those clients find out, but it is a risk that you take when you start to look for the lowest price, or when you try to influence a seamstress who is already making so little to keep going down in price.  I’ve literally seen some things listed for less than the cost of the stated fabrics and fiber contents.  Barring someone destashing or using something they’ve had in their stash for a while (as I do on occasion, and I will openly state that as the reason I’m listing something for what it is), I can nearly guarantee you that you aren’t going to get what you’re paying for, and that those are probably seamstresses who are not making enough to get by, but who don’t want to give up on what they love to do, and so are hoping you won’t know the difference between a silk satin and a silky satin that they listed as a silk satin…or it may be possible that they found a cheaper polyester listed as silk (follow that link to see a chilling example of a very-well-known fabric store, one of the world’s largest and best-known, titling a polyester fabric as silk), and are hoping to use that as plausible deniability.

So please, when you’re looking for a deal, please keep in mind that many of us are already working for less than minimum wage, and then have to pay income taxes and social security taxes on not only that wage, but also all the fabrics and supplies we have to buy.  So please, please, do not try to get us to underbid each other.  It’s not fair to us.  We deserve as much of a living wage as anyone else, or at least minimum wage, especially considering that we pay taxes on even the supplies we need to buy.  We do this because we love to do it.  But here’s the catch–even if someone were to not pay taxes as required, this is still less than pre-tax minimum wage.  No one making minimum wage is only going to take home $5.08 per hour, yet that is the pre-tax for at least one seamstress, and that’s before the processing fees that she can’t get out of because, whether she’s using Paypal or Square, that’s taken out automatically.

I have friends making baby tutus for $15 with $5 in supplies.  That’s about $4 after shipping and fees, and even then, they’re being told that someone else will do it for $14, so will they take $13.  (There are a lot of Facebook groups for custom-makers to support each other, and yes, we discuss these things in furious detail.)  I know people making custom die-cut invitations for $3 each, or $2.50 if you buy 50 or more, and are being told that’s too expensive.  Folks, I made my daughter’s birthday invitations this year, using my die-cutter, and it cost me about $2 each, and that is just the card stock I had to buy (the gold–I had the parchment on hand and don’t count that in the cost) and surprisingly-expensive, surprisingly-short-lasting blades.  I made 60.  It literally would have cost me less to have someone else make them and use their labor than I spent on just two of the supplies I needed.  Something’s wrong with that, with them being told $2.50 or $3 is too much.  It’s really too little.  Thos invitations and tutus are almost an act of charity.  Yet $3 an invitation is too much.  $15 for a tutu is too much.  $1200 for a dress is too much.

I implore you, please do not try to get us to undercut each other.  I will not play along.  I, unlike some others, can survive losing a commission.  My husband’s income supports our household necessities, and I’m in a very fortunate position for that.  Some others aren’t so lucky, and would rather take $5.08 than nothing because they can’t afford not to, and they can’t because of how much prices are expected to be dropped when labor prices are often already below minimum wage.

It’s disheartening.  And yet we’re still expected to try to undercut each other.  And some do, because they can’t afford not to.  Please, folks, don’t expect us to work for less than you’d accept for your skilled labor, especially considering we have to pay high taxes and payment and etsy fees on even the supplies.  Doing what we do is already an act of love, and a bit of pride, but mostly of love.  Please, in return, love what we do enough to not make us have to undercut each other.

Breaunna’s Arwen-inspired Blood Red gown

Navy and rose-wine velvet, red and gold brocade, and trim so pricy I grit my teeth when cutting it. The sleeves are very long. They will cover her hands when her hands are lowered. The train has a built-in French bustle. This isn’t an easy gown to get into, and will require help. The velvet has some stretch, but is still slightly fitted through the bust. This is a tier 2 costume edition (aka upgraded costume version) that doesn’t use silk. As such, a back zipper, which the original Lord of the Rings film gown had, would have run the risk of puckering unattractively throughout the day. The sleeves have some good weight to them, and will try pulling the off-the-shoulder neckline lower. Body tape is made for this. 🙂 I loved making this gown!

More photos are in this gown’s Facebook album.

Titanic Dinner gown

All silk, crystal, all hand-beaded. 🙂 Seven packs of 3mm crystal beads at 2,400 per pack. I had 142 beads left. Four packs of 4mm crystal beads at 2,400 per pack. I had 67 beads left. One pack of 6mm crystal beads at 600 per pack. I could actually have used a few more, but substituted the 4mm. None left. One pack of sequins at apps. 25,000 per pack, and I wasn’t even about to count how many are left. Maybe a third were left. Add in about 15 yards of various silks, one spool of thread at 1000 meters, most another spool at 500 meters, part of another 1000m-spool… Oh my god, this gown was finally finished. It tops the last Heaven gown I made years ago. That one only had 23,000 beads. Heh. Only.

Of course, more photos are in this gown’s Facebook album.

  

1797 Silk Transition Gown

I made this silk over-gown for Lady Nora of Baronet’s Daughter Designs (she made the white gown beneath) for a 12th Night Soireeé a fe years ago. Very fun event! I had a night to make this gown, including drafting a pattern. It’s based on a fashion plate found on page 44 of Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion. It crosses over in the front, and closes with a pin. Just plain pins that we use to pin pieces of fabric together was a common method of closure in that era! One side is longer in front while the other is shorter and pleated. The biggest change, aside from color and trim, is sleeve length. This gown has a short little train. The party wouldn’t have been a good place for a longer train. The gold trim gives it a regal feel.

More photos are in this Facebook album.

Blue silk regency robe

Sometimes I am sent the most beautiful fabrics and trims to work with, and this is no exception!  Kat sent this gorgeous blue silk and the trim, and asked for a regency robe to wear for a sailing event. Here is the result! I’m not sure that there’s much to say aside from the bodice is lined in cotton, and the skirt is box-pleated. The center back is double-box pleated for more fullness while keeping a slim silhouette. By request, the pleats on the sleeves were moved to the top instead of the period-correct location of toward the back. The gold gown under it is one of mine, and it for the photos only. It looks so much better than just putting the robe on the dress form.

More photos?  Of course.  Here, in this Facebook album.

Cinderella Prom

This princess prom gown was inspired by Carly Rae Jepsen’s Cinderella gown. Inspired-by is key here. As we went along designing, elements changed, up to and including in the last hour!! The corset IS a full corset, despite the lack of seams on the outside. I’ve devised a method of corset-construction that doesn’t lack the integrity of traditional assembly, yet allows for not having those seams. (They’re on the inside lining in a special way.) The rosettes have pink Swarovski crystals in them, and these are special crystals, magic, one might say. See, Haley was in a production of Legally Blonde, and these crystals were left over from that production. I got them from the director and worked them into this gown so that Haley could have a part of Metro with her. She was going to star in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but funding didn’t come together, so I really wanted her to have Metro with her for prom.

The skirt has 200 yards of tulle in pink and blush over a cotton lining. Cotton isn’t as reflective as most satins, and so had the desired effect with flash. All of the fluff is tulle, no other supporting layer. The top layer is split, and draped back. The skirt is what was changed in the last hour. The flowers on the skirt weren’t there, but I was staring at the gown on my dress form, and something just seemed off. Then it hit me. So I grabbed chiffon rosettes and the rest of the crystals I had, and had at it. 🙂

As almost always, more photos are in a Facebook album dedicated to the gown.

Dotted Linen Regency Gown

Sheer, gauzy dotten linen, light and flowy.  The tucks on the skirt have pastel 1″ ribbon running through them, as do the sleeves and waist, and a narrower white ribbon closes the neckline. The yellow can be switched out for a different color. This was a a very narrow fabric, and took some tricksy work to avoid vertical seams all over the skirt. 🙂 Because the fabric is so delicate, all seams but one are French seams, and all are reinforced with extra rows of stitching. This is a NorAria Designs gown, bodice pieces cut by Lady Jersey, the sleeves and skirt and all sewing by yours truly.

More photos are in this Facebook album.

 

 

  

Miss Plus Northwest for Miss Plus USA 2014

This gown was top-secret for the longest time! In pageants, you don’t share what you’re wearing. Can’t let the competition know. 🙂 Nora Fosberg Azevedo approached me about a gown for Miss Plus Northwest Brittany Hudson, and it was a no-brainer. YES!! This gown is a collaborative design between me, Nora, and Brittany, and a joint creation between me and Nora. Months of tweaking and fittings, a dozen yards of charmeuse and silk dupioni, several hundred Swarovski rhinestones, and many, many hours later, and this is the result! Brittany made it to the two 10 (Nora and I screamed so loud that the emcee teased us), but did not place. She did, however, with the WeCare scholarship.

More photos are in this Facebook album.

Rashelle’s Princess and the Frog wedding gown

When I found out my daughter’s Teacher Rashelle was getting married, I had to make the dress for her, as a gift to her for all she has done for Charlotte. My family supports our educators wholeheartedly, and Rashelle is such a sweetheart and we all love her dearly! I was so thrilled when she said yes!! She wanted something that isn’t the typical poofy princess dress, but still beautiful princess and elegant. I suggested something based on Tiana’s wedding gown (not the green lily pad dress, but the one she wore for her church wedding), and Rashelle loved it! Instead of cream, in white satin, and on the cowl neckline, a rainbow of jewels. And a rainbow veil!! The film version has a higher hemline in the front, and was lower in the back. I left this one a bit longer than the film version, and raised the back a bit, but otherwise kept pretty faithful to the film. This dress closes on the left side with an invisible set zipper. The veil is a seven-colored rainbow. 🙂

She’s still a part of our lives, and we are so lucky for that.  She is the type of educator we really need more of.  Support you educators!

And see more photos in this gown’s Facebook album.

Sale to raise medical funds

In the US, it’s possible to have medical coverage that doesn’t cover doctors.  Literally.  This leaves people needing to see a doctor in the lurch.  Without getting into too much detail, there’s a situation going on where someone in my household has a medical issue easily correctable early on, almost always with surgery, but that becomes progressively more difficult, and with the medical history involved and only 25% of a set of involved organs remaining, waiting until it’s an emergency that an ER can’t turn away is too late and comes with a substantially elevated risk of death as it involves cutting off blood flow to part of that last 25%.  All options to get more coverage have been exhausted at this point, and an appeal on the one chance is going to still take time.  We’d rather not put off going in for a few months.  So we’ve got to jump-start medical care and pay out of pocket.  And the way I’m helping with this is through a sale.  It’s really all I can do.

I will be posting several things in my Square shop, viewable here: Aria Couture at Square.  Some ready-to-wear gowns, custom corsetry and stays, etc.  More will be added over the day.  Please take a look, and please share this, and check back again later.  No one should have to worry about how to access medical care, especially with an active health situation going on, but this is the hand we’ve been dealt, and, though it sucks, we’ve got to deal with it however we can instead of waiting, if there’s any way at all to make that happen.