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.



Heather’s Light Box

My oldest daughter-in-law is a genius.

She’d heard that I’d attempted to make a poor man’s light box, using items I had on hand, with very little in the way of success.  Last week she asked me if she could see what I did have, and maybe help me to fix it.  I gathered an assortment of items:

  • clamp-on gooseneck lamps
  • clamp-on spot light
  • an old pressed-board end table with screw-in legs
  • leftover white muslin fabric from sewing Allen’s renfair shirt
  • a clear plastic box
  • scotch tape
  • scissors
  • an extension cord
  • white poster board

With these items, she guided me in setting up the light box correctly.  Now I already owned all the items to create the light box, but if I had to purchase them it still would have cost me less than $50.  I did purchase two new gooseneck lamps so that the light box had it’s own dedicated ones, rather than me stealing one from Mark’s desk and the other from my sewing area.

The main thing I had been doing wrong before was to put the fabric on the outside of the box.  The purpose of the white fabric is to diffuse the light so that harsh shadows soften and shine spots disappear or are greatly reduced.  But by putting the fabric on the outside of the box, the plastic was still picking up and reflecting too much direct light.

She helped me to cut and tape pieces of the white fabric to the inside of the box, thus creating a correct diffuser for the lamps, and it works like a charm.  It’s so great for photographing white-on-white, like these candle holders I just finished for a Memorial Beads customer.

  We put the light box in the closet with the fuse box, so that the ambient light would be greatly reduced and allow for dark photography, like showing the candle holder with a lit tea light inside.  Keeping the light box in the closet also allows me to use it at a moment’s notice; and yet it’s portable enough that I could disassemble everything in less than 5 minutes and put it into a rolling case.

Heather had created a new Memorial Beads design – the Leigh Bracelet – filled with memorial heart charms and crystal cubes.  She’d spent a little time with the new light box and her camera, taking some shots of her bracelet for our catalog.  It’s so nice now having a dedicated and ready place for us to take photos.  Thank you, Heather, for bugging me about this.  🙂


In other news…

I’ve finished my first week taking the Acai Berry capsules.  If you’re curious about how I’m feeling about it, take a look at my post “The Acai Berry Craze” and scroll down to see the update.

I’m almost finished with my friend Peggy’s anniversary dress.  She’s the one who’s wheelchair-bound and wanted something really special to wear to her 40th wedding anniversary party.  I’ll have pics of both the finished outfit, the shawl, and her husband’s tie next week.  It’s an adventure in adaptive sewing for the disabled, where we took a shirt pattern and turned it into a fitted dress with mock princess seams.  If you’d like to see a sneak peek at the dress in progress, head on over to my post on “Sewing Adaptive Patterns“.

Clothes to Dye For

By now you probably know I’m an unrepentant clothesaholic and fabric hoarder.  I cannot pass by a garage sale without stopping to see if there’s something that will fit me.  Thrift stores have this magnetic pull.  I have to fight my car’s steering wheel or it will take me into the parking lot.   Right.  You know the drill.

Before I went on my mission to discover my own personal style, I bought clothes without a clear sense of purpose.  My closet is an overstuffed riot of colors, with no sense of connectivity.  I don’t have a foundation of simple basics.  Much of it doesn’t fit my lifestyle as a home-based business owner.  Or if it fits, it’s the wrong color and doesn’t work with my Autumn skin tones.

Ugh.  It was so much easier getting dressed in the morning when I didn’t know what I was doing!

Short of tossing it all and starting over with a brand new wardrobe (I wish!) — I’m committing myself to doing some pruning, altering, and re-purposing.  It’s a slow, painful process at times, because I don’t have a lot of time to work on it, plus there are pieces that I love and don’t want to give them up.  I remember a cream colored Irish knit vest I bought at Goodwill – adorable on the hanger, and at the time I thought it was really cute on me.  But now I realize it made me look like I’d gained 15 pounds because of the bulk of the fabric around my waist.  I looked like a Lego brick with legs.  It has finally, reluctantly, made it’s way back to Goodwill.

There are other things that I’ll keep because the colors and fabrics work for me but they need altering – the waist nipped in or the shoulders brought in, buttons moved, darts in the shoulders or hem, etc.  Those things are in a huge pile in my sewing area.

And there are things that fit but just aren’t my colors.  Rit Dye to the rescue!!  Or Dylon if you can get it (try JoAnn Fabrics).  It’s a better quality dye than Rit, in some cases.  But I’ve used Rit many times with success.  So let’s talk about that!

One of my sisters was saying that she’d wanted to try dyeing things but was too afraid to do it out of fear of ruining it.  And that’s a legitimate fear!  Some fabrics take dye better than others.  And people worry that they will stain their washer or otherwise ruin it.  If you follow the instructions on the dye bottle, you will be just fine.  I’ve dyed lots of things in my washer and we’ve had it for 12 years (go Kenmore).  My washer is still nice and white inside.  If you’re still unsure and want some advice before diving into the dye, the Rit website has a great section on what you can dye, and how best to do it.  It also has a fun blog to read.  If you’re crafty, you’ll like their site.

So armed with my two bottles of dark brown Rit Dye and a container of salt, I headed to my top-loading washer.  (Top loaders are better than side loaders because you need to add wet fabric to an already agitating washer.  But if you have a side loader, don’t worry.  There are other methods of dyeing, and they are all on the Rit website.)

I set my washer to large load, because there were a bunch of things I wanted to dye:  a silk skirt, a denim wrap skirt, a pair of pants, and that length of corduroy fabric.  I set the temperature to hot wash and cold rinse, delicate cycle so it wouldn’t splash but would agitate, then put it on the longest wash cycle.  As water started filling the washer, I poured the dye into the hot water, being careful not to splash.  After that, I measured two cups of salt (one cup per dye bottle) and poured that in, too.

While the washer was filling, I put my fabrics in the sink and got them thoroughly wet.  If you put dry fabrics into a dye bath, they will dye unevenly.  So making sure the fabric is thoroughly wet is important.  Once that was done and the washer was full and agitating, I carefully slid the fabrics into the washer.  It’s important to be nearby, because the washer will need to be reset on it’s wash cycle at least once to keep the clothes in the dye bath for a minimum of 30 minutes.  I put Allen’s laptop on the kitchen table and started working on this blog post.

When the time was up, I allowed my washer to finish it’s cycle naturally.  Then I left the dyed clothes in the washer and reset the wash cycle, let it fill full of water, and added clothes soap.  My silk skirt is a hang-to-dry type, so I added fabric softener to the final rinse.  After the washer was done, I pulled the clothes onto the edge of the washer.  Look at how each different fabric took the dye differently.

After all the clothes were out of it, I reset my washer to a hot wash and large load, putting clothes soap and a cup of bleach into it.  The bleach cleans my washer beautifully, removing any residue of dye that would get on other clothes.  I’m confident that the washer doesn’t retain any residue from the dye, so I washed a load of white clothes right after I cleaned the washer.

Ready to see how the dye did on the clothes and fabric?  I had some mixed results.

My denim wrap skirt, which used to be a traditional denim blue, has darkened a couple of shades to an indigo.  I was expecting brown!  But I hadn’t checked the fabric content first, just assuming that it was 100% cotton.  My mistake.  The skirt is actually 65% Tencel, which is considered a subcategory of rayon made from wood pulp.  It has a rayon-like consistency – no wonder I liked the skirt.  Rayon is my all-time favorite fabric, hands down.  However, Tencel doesn’t dye easily, so my skirt is retaining most of it’s blue color.  No matter; it’s a darker blue and will flatter my figure better than the lighter blue did.

The cream pants that I dyed were an unknown manmade blend – the tag had been bleached so that I didn’t know what the material actually was.  So I was happy when it took the dye at all, coming out a dark tan color.  Problem is, I found a stain that I didn’t know was on the pants.  I could use a color remover and remove the dye, then try to remove the stain… but chances are, that won’t work.  So I’ll toss the pants.  I could keep it an try to make a gored skirt, but I have so much fabric and clothing already that I really don’t need it that much.  Out it goes!  Since the pants only cost me $4.99 at Goodwill, it’s not like I’m losing an investment piece.

The silk skirt took the dye beautifully!  It’s a rich, deep chocolate brown and I absolutely love the color.  Only problem is, I also found a few small stains on that skirt.  In this case, however, I’m going to cut the skirt apart to remake it, into a skirt that is slightly less full but which doesn’t have the stain spots on it.  Silk is expensive, and a skirt easy to make.  So it’s a keeper in spite of not being able to wear it right away.

The brown corduroy is a grand success, I’m happy to say.  It’s a wide-wale cord with a beautiful braided style to the wales.  I’m going to be making a sporty riding jacket with it, with a suede collar and elbow patches, something like these.  This will be my g0-to fall jacket when it’s done.  (By the way… yes, that blue marble is my kitchen table.  Ooooh that’s a subject for another post!)

Oh, and those white clothes I washed right after I cleaned the washer?… See, Ma?  No dye!

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