How To Fix A Wedding Dress That’s Too Small

dresstoosmallKatie is getting married in a few weeks to our youngest son, Mark.  She got a great deal on a wedding dress from David’s Bridal last year, but she’s put on some weight since then; the dress is now a couple sizes too small and no longer zips up in the back.  Rather than getting rid of the dress and spending hundreds of dollars on a new one, I suggested changing the back from a zip-up to a lace-up. This fix is easy enough that anyone can do it.  You don’t need a sewing machine, although that would be helpful.  This is a very inexpensive fix (between $15 and $50).  You just need some basic tools and a yard of bridal loops, plus a square of fabric that matches your gown as closely as possible and some satin ribbon.  This can also be done with other dresses and gowns, so if you wish you could still wear that beautiful dress you bought but it’s now too small– this might be your answer!

Here’s a list of equipment I used:

  • Hand sewing needle
  • Thread that matched the dress as closely as possible.
  • A seam ripper
  • Sewing pins
  • Scissors
  • A yard of Bridal Loops
  • A quarter yard of fabric that matched her dress as closely as possible, for the modesty panel that goes behind the lacing
  • A roll of 1/4 inch wide double sided satin ribbon in a color that matched her dress as closely as possible
  • (Optional) a couple pieces of 175 lb. Duct Cable Tie

loopspinnedStep 1:  Remove the zipper.  Using the seam ripper, gently and carefully cut through the stitches that hold the zipper in place.  This may take some time; go slowly so that you don’t accidentally cut through the fabric.  Once the zipper is free, pull out the zipper and any stray threads.  Save the zipper – you never know when you might need one.  Then take one end of the bridal loops and fold the end down, about 1/4 inch or one loop’s worth.  Place the folded edge against the top of the dress opening as shown in the photo, with the fold facing in.  Be mindful of the direction the loops are going– they should face outward rather than inward.  Pin the bridal loops in place, as straight as possible.  (I readjusted that first pin to straighten it out after I took this photo.)  Repeat with the other side of the bridal loops, on the opposite side of the dress.  No need to cut the bridal loops in half until you’re ready to finish the bottom  That may take a few times of trying on the dress and lacing it down to decide exactly where you want the loops to end, but once you do that you’ll want to leave a little bit of room for tucking the laces under the bridal loops and into the bottom of the dress so they stay hidden.  Finish the bottom of the bridal loops by tucking the ends under and doing a strong seam across the bottom. bridalloops

Beginning at the top of the loops on the first side, hand stitch them in place.  Use very small stitches, so that when you are looking at the outside of the dress, the stitches are barely noticeable.  You want to make sure that the folded area at the base of the loops is stitched down well!  The bridal loops strip is made from elastic cording, and  if the folded area isn’t stitched strongly enough, it can stretch out of shape and cause bunching at the back of the dress.  So I recommend sewing two rows of stitches all the way down the base of the loops– one row close to the large loops where your ribbon will go, and one row close to the bottom edge of the loops. Optional sewing process if you’re going to add boning:  Rather than stitching through all layers of the back of the dress, open out the seam allowance on the dress and stitch the bridal loops only through the seam allowance.  Then stitch the seam allowance closed again.  This creates a pocket – a boning channel – for the cable tie to fit into.  See below for the photos of the dress both with and without boning.  You’ll see why I prefer adding the boning. By the way, this is where a sewing machine is an advantage.  Plus, with making a boning channel you don’t have to be careful about sewing over pearls/rhinestones/beads when you’re attaching the loops to the seam allowance.  And using a machine will give tighter, more even stitches than can be done by hand. beforeboning

Step 2: Once you’ve sewn the bridal loops in place, have the bride put the dress on.  Unroll the entire ribbon from it’s cardboard tube and begin lacing the dress, beginning at the top of the dress and lacing it down as if you were lacing a tennis shoe.  (Please note that the ribbon used in this photo isn’t 1/4 inch wide.  I used what I had on hand at the time, which was only 1/8 inch wide.  But it worked for the trying on of the dress, so I didn’t mind using it for the how-to photos.)  Adjust the lacing as you go; you will probably want to tighten the laces a bit as you’re progressing through the lacing of the dress, and it’s very helpful to have a second pair of hands with this process!  Tie a bow at the bottom of the lacing loops that you’ve sewn in- don’t continue lacing through loops that aren’t attached to the dress.  Adjust the tension on the laces so that it is even and shaped like a V. You’ll notice from the above photo that the dress has some wrinkling at the waistline.  It’s for that reason that I prefer to add boning to the back of the dress, even if there’s no boning elsewhere.  It smooths out any wrinkles and just makes the lacing look nicer.

boninginserted1boninginserted2Step 3 (optional) Here’s a couple photos of the lacing with the boning put into the channels to check their placement and length.  Mark the boning with a Sharpie where it comes out of the top of the gown, then pull the bones out.  Place another mark 1/2 inch below the first mark, as that will be your actual cutting line.  You want enough room at the ends of the boning so that they can fit into the channels but not stress the ends once they are sewn up.  Use heavy duty wire cutters or a sharp pocket knife to cut the cable ties, then round the ends by trimming the corners and passing the ends over a candle flame.  That will melt the plastic enough to allow the sharp edges to become rounded so it won’t poke through the fabric.

tryon1bonedcloseupHere’s Katie being very shy but happy that we were able to save her beautiful dress.  The back still needs the modesty panel and the correct size of lacing. The dress isn’t laced up too tight, just enough to hold the bodice up without depending on the straps for support.  She was able to bend and wiggle and dance just fine, without any shortness of breath aside from her excitement!  Getting out of the dress was a bit of a chore because you have to loosen the laces completely, but in reality it takes less than 30 seconds.  And if the bride gets winded during the wedding, you can always loosen the laces for her.

10003912_10152369812830337_564257538_nKatie decided we really didn’t need the straps of the dress so we removed them.  But after a few minutes we noticed some creasing under the bustline of the dress.  Katie’s fairly well endowed and the weight redistribution by cutting off the straps created a problem.  My answer was to hand-sew a couple of boning channels onto the lining of the front of the dress, to give the bustline support and smoothness.  I was in a hurry and didn’t take photos, but here’s how I did the boning channels:  Take some 1/4 inch wide double-fold bias tape and open it up down the middle, keeping the two outside edges folded under.  Press the bias tape to flatten the center fold line, then pin it down the front of the bodice of the dress on the inside.  Then using very careful hand stitches, stitch through ONLY the lining of the dress, not through the front.  Cut and tip your cable tie bones like you did for the back, then slide the boning into the channels.  Use careful hand stitches again to close the ends of the channels.  This will hold up the front of the dress even under the stress of a heavy bosom.

That lace collar she’s wearing probably caught your eye, didn’t it. You can find a post about it here.

The last thing we needed to do was to make the modesty panel for the back of the dress, to go underneath the laces and cover up whatever undergarments the bride would be wearing.  This can be done two ways:  the quick way and the long way!  With the quick way, you just measure the opening in the back of the dress at it’s widest point and longest point, add 2 inches to each measurement, then hem the edges all the way around and tack the modesty panel to the back of the dress on one side so that the top hem is even with the top edge of the dress.  This works if you’re in a hurry and up against a deadline.  The only drawback to doing it this way is that as the bride moves and wiggles and dances, she’s likely to work the modesty panel partially open and potentially have an embarrassing moment.  But if you’re keeping an eye on the bride’s dress, you can just do a quick tug and adjustment to stave off any unwanted shifting of the panel.

1896914_10152369812870337_972573470_nHowever, if you have more time the right way to do this is to stiffen the modesty panel by using two pieces of modesty panel fabric and fusing them together with some Heat N’ Bond.  Cut the Heat N’ Bond to the same size as the modesty panels, then fuse it to the back of one of the panels with your iron.  Peel off the backing after it’s cooled and place the other modesty panel on top, right side facing out.  Fuse again, then allow the panel to cool before zigzag sewing the sides and bottom edge.  Fold the top edge over and do a nice straight hem.  Then tack the panel with hand stitches to the lining of the dress, making sure the top edge of the panel lines up on both sides with the top edge of the back of the dress.  If you want to make the modesty panel uber secure, put a pair of grommets about the middle of the panel and run your lacing through those grommets halfway down the back of the dress.



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  1. Trackback: Bejeweled Lace Collar | Fimo Fanatic: Charlene's Blog

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