Ever wondered what it’s like to be a... dress fairy godmother?

Rebecca Lombard-Earl, 42, runs alterations service Save the Day, as well as dress-making firm RJ Designs, bridal vintage and contemporary dress agency Bex Brides, and vintage clothing firm Rebecca Jayne’s Secret Attic, from her studio and shop in Hurworth Grange, Hurworth, County Durham.

Tell us a bit about your businesses.

As well as making my own dress designs, making soft furnishings for interiors, and selling vintage and pre-loved clothing for all kinds of special occasions, I run a service called Save The Day, which provides an alteration service for brides and other ladies who have bought dresses for special occasions and need emergency or drastic alterations.

Quite often, they are ones which have been ordered online from overseas locations such as China, which are often cheaper copies of the designer dress shown in the picture advertising the dress. Typically, problems include the clothing manufacturer not bothering with expensive elements like boning, using cheap sequins instead of more costly crystals or missing off major parts of the dress like the train or features on the back.

Other dress disasters which have to be saved include when brides buy a small dress with the intention of dieting into it and then not managing; drop a dress size or three; or get pregnant.

I take the dress and alter it, add things like boning or the diamante or the structural features and make it look really nice. Quite often, brides who’ve bought online will say to me, ‘I wish I’d just come to you in the first place, it would have saved me a lot of time and hassle.’ The other service I provide is update and alter vintage dresses – this is my specialist area. Sometimes these are the bride’s mother’s dress, which the bride wants modernising, or a vintage dress which has been bought in and either needs taking in, altering or modernising.

The service is called Save the Day because when I came home every evening, my eight-year-old daughter used to say to me, ‘Did you save the day again today, mummy?’ and it just stuck.

How quickly can you turn dresses around?

I can turn dresses around in a very short period of time. The quickest was probably a lady whose partner was sadly diagnosed with a terminal illness, so they brought forward the wedding date and I had to make the dress in a day.

She came and stayed with me for a full day and I did all three fittings and made the dress all in one day. I was very happy to have been able to help them, but it was a heart-breaking story.

What’s the most expensive dress you’ve ever worked on?

My custom-made wedding dresses go up to about £800, but I have done alterations on a £6,000 Ellie Saab wedding dress. That was pretty nerve-wracking.

Talk us through your design process.

When people come in, I do a consultation with them to find out what they want. Quite often, they have an idea in mind, either sketched out or inspired by photographs.

I do a few sketches and we look at fabrics and talk about budgets. They will tell me how much they have to spend and I’ll tell them what they can get for that. My wedding dresses usually go up to about £800. Then we have a few fittings over a period of a couple of weeks, I make the dress and make sure they are completely happy with it for their big day. What are the best and worst parts of the job?

The best bit is working with clients and helping them get exactly what they want for their big day. My clients always say what they love is how they never, ever feel rushed and I have all the time in world for them. It was also really lovely to win a bit of recognition for my work – I was recently named North-East Dress Designer of the Year in the Wedding Industry Awards.

To be totally honest, there aren’t any bits of the job I don’t like – I love it all. The hours are long but I enjoy every bit.

How did you get into dress design?

I have been sewing since I was a little girl. My mum used to make a lot of clothes and I used to pick up the cut-offs and make clothes for my Sindy dolls with them when I was eight-years-old.

I went off and did a normal career in retail, selling shoes and jewellery, but I tired of it and started working for myself. Originally, I just did interiors, but I kept getting asked if I knew anyone who did dresses, so that became the main part of the business.

Now I make wedding and prom dresses from January to October and concentrate on interiors between October and December.

I think dress-making and alterations services have had a resurgence because they no longer teach it to all girls in school. It used to be quite usual for people to make clothes at home, but now there are some 20-year-olds who can’t even sew on a button.

What inspires you?

I’m inspired by a lot of vintage design – particularly from the 1940s and 1950s. I specialise in historical costume and I can do Victorian, Edwardian, Baroque or whatever the client wants.

Most popular at the moment are 1950s influenced dresses – they are very en vogue. Lace is very popular right now as well – people think this is because of the Duchess of Cambridge’s dress, but I had a lot of ladies asking for it before she got married.

What’s your favourite dress?

My favourite of my own dress designs was my own wedding dress – it was a medieval princess dress and had beautiful long sleeves, and was covered with dragonflies and butterflies. I also made my husband Chris’s outfit – he had a Victorian frock coat, similar to the seventh Dr Who’s.

My favourite dress design of all time is a beautiful ball gown with lace sleeves, designed by Jane McNeil in 1953. It is very simple, very elegant and you really can’t go wrong with it. It is just beautiful.