By MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff
Sharon Weinreich alters and refits hundreds of wedding dresses every year, and the brides love them.
Still, the lifelong seamstress who owns Simply Stitches in the Town of Farmington, says, “Weddings are not good for me.”
That’s because she’s a perfectionist. “I’m very OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) about the bust fitting right because so many of them don’t,” she said. “It drives me crazy when I see girls pulling up their dresses.”
Weinreich’s attention to detail comes from her upbringing in Kewaskum.
“I grew up being told if you’re not going to do it right, don’t do it at all,” she said. That’s how Weinreich approaches her business.”
Sewing is a craft Weinreich learned when she was 8, in part from her mother, who made clothes.
“I watched her sew. She taught me some of it, and I learned some of it myself,” Weinreich said.
“Most people who do alterations are self-taught. Nobody really teaches it.”
Weinreich entered sewing projects in 4-H and then took every sewing class Kewaskum High School had to offer — beginner, intermediate, advanced, tailoring and a senior project. She graduated a semester early, and during the first few months of senior year made a king-sized quilt.
Weinreich graduated from high school in 1977 and got married in 1979 — someone else made her wedding dress but she made the bridesmaid’s and mothers’ dresses. She and her husband used that quilt as a bedspread until their house burned down in 1989 due to an electrical short.
It was right after high school that Weinreich started the side business that would eventually become her career. She altered a friend’s wedding dress and made her veil.
“I started this business purely by accident,” Weinreich said.
She started working as a sewer at Amity Leather Products Co. in West Bend, making good money doing piecework.
She later worked for Allen Edmonds in Port Washington as a sewer, then for Joyce Jank at Perfect Fittings inside Amelishan Bridal in Hubertus, where Weinreich and Jank became close friends and Weinreich realized her calling.
When Jank retired, Weinreich realized she didn’t want to work for anybody else and decided to start her own shop out of her house in 2015. Jank had given Weinreich one industrial sewing machine from her shop and sold her the other. The two still talk daily.
Weinreich’s husband remodeled and expanded a garage so Weinreich would have room to work, complete with a fitting room and set of mirrors.
By then, Weinreich had connections in the industry with bridal shops recommending her for alterations.
Now, she can barely make time for all the people who want to make the trip to her shop off the beaten path.
“I work 95 to 100 hours per week or more in the busy season, but it’s not like a job,” she said.
Weinreich loves making a dress come together.
It’s taking things apart and putting them back together. It’s got to go back together the same way it came apart,” she said.
Weinreich said she got some of her “marketable skill” from her father, who worked on cars and remodeled homes.
“I think making alterations is a little bit of engineering because you have to change things to make it work,” she said.
Weinreich doesn’t make dresses from scratch anymore, but she did relish the process.
“To see it come from nothing to a final product is satisfying. And I suppose sheer stubbornness. It’s gotta look good or I won’t do it. It’s somebody’s wedding day. You want them to look perfect.”
Weinreich’s alterations process starts three months before a wedding and usually calls for three fittings.
“The sooner they call, the better,” she said of her packed schedule. She also handles prom dresses, which have a tight timeline.
Last year, she did 648 dresses. In 2021, it was 700, some thanks to pandemic-delayed weddings. She did 500 per year from 2018 to 2020. Her shop could stay open under the shutdown guidelines since it is run out of her house.
Weinreich said she only gets one or two “bridezillas” per year. Some just have that personality, and sometimes it’s the mother or a friend. She tries to put them at ease while she handles “probably the most expensive thing they bought to wear in their life.
“I like to explain stuff, why I’m pinning what so they know,” she said.
Wedding attire styles have run the gamut since the late 1970s, and Weinreich has developed her own preferences.
“The ’80s were awful. The more stuff a designer could slap on a dress….” she said.
Now, the popular style is a more timeless, old Hollywood look, she said. Fabrics are more stretchy and comfortable.
When it comes to color, ivory white is rare while softer whites are popular.
The most difficult dresses to alter are ones with lace. She once spent 22 hours picking off lace just to be able to adjust it.
One of Weinreich’s most famous wedding dresses ended up in Milwaukee Magazine. The bride wanted to look like Liesl from “The Sound of Music.”
Weinreich has one part-time assistant and has added a full-timer — her daughter-in-law Nicole, who lives down the road and brings her young twins along to work. Weinreich likes to see two of her eight grandchildren five days per week.
She is passing on her skills to Nicole, who had already known how to sew and can quickly analyze the fit of bridal gowns.