Perfect fit, durability, too

Elkridge woman says her custom-made pieces typically last decades

Business Profile Barbara Deckert Couture

November 01, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the Sun

Tiffany Webb of Alexandria, Va., needed a special kind of hunting jacket called a shadbelly, but she was having trouble finding one that fit well. "I'm bigger in the shoulders," she said.

So she turned to Barbara Deckert for a custom-made garment.

Deckert, owner of Barbara Deckert Couture in Elkridge, made the shadbelly by hand, which took about 24 hours and required three visits from Webb, Deckert said. Yet the price was comparable to a high-end, off-the-rack coat, Webb said.

Deckert, who learned to sew as a child, started her business about 18 years ago. Most of her customers are brides and mothers of brides, but she takes on other assignments, such as the hunting jacket. She does some career clothing, but she said, "Nowadays, people don't spend as much as they used to on career wear."

Many of Deckert's customers are plus-size or otherwise hard to fit, she said. She has also created gowns for her share of pregnant brides, she said, relying on empire waists and other design elements to make sure the dress fits well on the day of the wedding.

She likes to begin creating bridal gowns about six months before the big day, she said. And she does not like it when brides vow they're going to lose 10 pounds.

Many of her customers learn of her business through word of mouth or through her Web site, she said. Webb said she learned of Deckert through her mother.

Relationships with customers always start with a phone call, and Deckert is careful to make sure potential clients understand what she can and cannot do.

"I may ask them, `Why do you want it custom-made?'" she said. If the answer is to save money, Deckert will explain that they probably won't.

Custom clothes are generally more expensive than off-the-rack items, but they fit perfectly and they are created to last, she said. "Hand construction makes things very durable," she said.

If the customer still is interested, Deckert sets up a consultation, which can take 45 minutes to an hour. At this point, the fabric and pattern are selected, and questions are answered.

Deckert can work with patterns or photographs from magazines, but her customers have to know what they want, she said.

"If they have no clue, then I can't help them," said Deckert. "You don't go in and go shopping. You have to have an idea of what you want."

A piece generally requires a consultation and two fittings, she said. In Webb's case, she knew what she wanted, but Deckert helped her find a pattern and select a medium-weight wool.

Webb visited the shop recently to pick up the coat. She tried it on with full riding gear, including jodhpurs and boots. The coat is long in the back, with canary accents indicating Webb's status in the Howard County-Iron Bridge Hunt Club.

Webb was happy with the finished product, but Deckert noticed that she had forgotten to sew on two decorative buttons in the back. She took the piece to her sewing room, which has two sewing machines, and stitched on the buttons by hand.

Deckert said that she does some work by hand and some using a sewing machine, always with the goal of producing the best and most durable garment. Her pieces typically last decades - much longer than off-the-rack items, she said.

Deckert grew up in Washington state and learned to sew at age 11, while she was in 4H, she said. "Back in those days, in the late '60s, most girls were expected to sew," she said.

She began sewing items for herself and her family. She started her business when her two children, now 23 and 25, were young. She works from a studio in her home and has a sewing room upstairs.

Deckert has also written two books, Sewing for Plus Sizes: Design, Fit and Construction for Ample Apparel, published by Taunton Press in 1999, and Sewing 911: Practical and Creative Rescues for Sewing Emergencies, published by Taunton in 2001. She also writes a monthly column for Sew News on plus-size sewing, as well as other sewing articles, she said.

Creating plus-size clothes requires more than increasing the size of an existing pattern, she said. And with Deckert, the goal is always to create a high-quality garment that fits perfectly and is built to last.

Barbara Deckert Couture can be reached at 443-413-2034. The Web site is www.barbaradeckert couture.com.

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