DIY wedding-dress alterations

  

It's officially Wedding Season and I am flooded with questions about alterations for the wedding gown as well as dresses for the bridesmaids, mothers of the bride and groom, and even guests. I'll try to answer one or two more of them and then we'll move on to other topics.  

My daughter is getting married in June and we are on a real tight budget. We have her dress and it fits except that it's a strapless gown and it's a bit too big around the bust. I have sewn all my life but never attempted to work on a wedding gown. It's satin with a little bit of beading to accentuate the embroidery. Can you guide me through this project, or is it best left to the professionals? June C., Culver City, Calif..

I will gladly tell you how to do the alteration, but whether or not you will feel comfortable doing it, I can't say. The most difficult part of altering a wedding gown is the sheer weight and volume of fabric to manipulate. I always feel as if I've had my aerobic workout when I'm done. So you need a pretty good-sized, clean workspace. Make sure your hands are clean to the point of being dry. Oils on the skin can accumulate on the satin and attract lint and dust.  

I'll give directions for a simple strapless gown, made with one layer of satin and underlining and one layer of lining and underlining. If there are more layers, each one will have to be altered individually.  

First, let's talk about the exact fit. Is it loose just at the top of the dress (which is called, by the way, the neckline)? How about the waist and hips? First, you must decide how much fabric you are taking out of the dress and make sure the proportions make sense. For instance, are you taking in 4 inches at the neckline but nothing at the waist? If so, you may be over-fitting. There should have no more than one size (2 inches) difference between bust, waist and hips in order for the dress to lie correctly. Otherwise, the dress will look out of balance. For instance, in the above example, if you were to take in 4 inches at the bust and taper to nothing at the waist, the waist may then look too big. And of course, you have to watch the "spill-over" along the top of a strapless dress. If the dress is too tight, that will be emphasized and we don't want that.  

Next, you must remove the beads closest to the new seam. Machines will stitch over sequins but not glass beads. Make a mark where the new seam will be either with chalk or disappearing ink. Removing the beads can be done with a seam ripper if you need to save the beads or a pair of pliers if you don't. If you use pliers, be careful not to break the threads along with the beads because then you will have to re-stitch the loose beads. I carefully grasp each individual bead with the corner of my pliers and gently break them. Most of them break pretty easily. Be sure to wear protective goggles for this job because the glass will fly. 

After removing the beads, you must separate the layers of the neckline seam of the dress. I use a razor blade because that is what I'm used to. You may want to use a seam ripper. Carefully remove the understitching along the inside facing or lining of the dress. Flip the dress inside out and remove the stitching along the top of the dress, past where you are taking it in. You may have to remove boning. Sometimes it's in the side seam and sometimes not.  

Stitch the new seams approximating the stitch length used by the manufacturer. They have already figured the best kind of stitch for the dress, so why guess.  Remove the old seams. If you are taking the dress in more than 1/2 inch, you will have to trim the seam allowance, keeping the original amount. Make sure you re-stitch the underlining or interfacing first. If you are taking in the dress less than 1/2 inch, you can usually leave the seam allowance alone. It's best to leave it if you can in case a bigger person wants to use the dress in the future. Usually the seams are pressed open. 

Time now for the fitting. Have the bride try the dress on again and check the fit. Make adjustments if necessary and continue.  

Stitch the neckline seam, making sure to keep the seam allowances flat and remembering to re-insert the hanging ribbons. There may be a discrepancy where the front and back of the dress meet at the side seam. Sometimes you can blend it at the side seam; sometimes you will have to make the side front of the dress a little lower to meet the back and blend the seam further towards the bust darts. It helps to draw the new seam with disappearing ink to get a nice line.  

Flip the dress right side out and press, using lots of steam and pressure to get a nice flat seam. Pin through all layers at the side seam and turn inside out again. Stitch the seam allowances together back and forth a couple of times just below the top seam to keep the layers in place. Sometimes this has to be done by hand. Flip right side out again. 

OK, the hard part is done. Now for the fun part: the re-beading. Using a beading needle, I usually start the stitching a couple of beads back to lock any loose ones. Then use the extra beads to fill in the pattern. Look at the rest of the dress to get a feel for the beading patterns. But remember this part is under the arm and as long as it sparkles, it'll be fine. 
 
  

Barbara Stone is the owner of Barbara Stone Designs, a full-service tailoring and dressmaking business at 5200 Churn Creek Rd. Suite P, Redding, CA, 96002. She can be reached at (530) 222-1340 or bstonedesigns@sbcglobal.net
 

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25 Responses »

  1. That was a wonderful description! I hope that you can help me as well. The dress my cousin purchased needs to be let out 3 (yes, she purchased it WAY too small), and the dress has 4 inches of extra material on each side. What would you do? I just want to tell her she wasted her money and maybe finding one that fits better would reduce her stress that is mounting over this wedding. However, I can't do that. ANY suggestions that you might be willing to share will be greatly appreciated.

  2. Dear B ~ sorry it's taken me so long to answer your question! I'm just getting used to where everything is on this website.

    Let me see if I understand you ~ the dress needs another 3 inches around in order to fit properly and there are 4 inches on each side to let out? Piece o' cake! That should be easy to let out but if your cousin doesn't feel confident to do it herself, have her find a wedding alterationist to help her with it. Having a competent professional work on her dress should ease her stress.

  3. I bought a wedding dress online and they sent me the wrong siz they will not take it back because it was custom made with colour on it? There is lots of bead work on the front and the sides i think it will have to go in about 2inches on both sides hey sent me a 28 when i needed a 22 or 24 i'm so scared that i willnot have my wedding dress done for my wedding i can't not find anyone to alter it for me. i'm getting married this sept i hope it will work out

    • Hi, Amanda ~ I will be glad to have a look at the dress for you. I don't understand why you can't find an alterationist because it sounds like it's a pretty basic alteration.

      I'm just getting back to work after the holidays and remodeling, etc, so you can email me at bstonedesigns@sbcglobal.net or call me at 530-222-1340.

  4. i have a dress that is too long and the bust area is too big. how do i fix this? i am on a budget right now. i dont want it to hang out. i am wondering if i should extend the halter top into an X connection to the bra line in the back. would that be a good idea? also my fushia dress has a slit on the left side and i am short so the slit looks weird on me so i was thinking that i should cut the slit more just about 2 inches below the bust area and add in glittering fabric under this revealed slit extending before the knees. what should i do if i want a do it myself?

    • Making the halter cross in back may raise the hem a bit but it won't help with the looseness of the bust area. Generally, that is dealt with on the side seams and although there are many exceptions to that rule, without seeing the dress on you, I can't say what will work.

      As for raising the slit, that is easy enough to do ~ just reinforce the stitching at the place where you want the slit to end and remove the stitching below it. I'm not sure what you mean about placing the glittery fabric in the slit but I will be glad to talk to you about it if you would like to call me at 530-222-1340.

  5. i appreciate ur advice. thanks.. but i made the X on the halter top and it seems to suppport the looseness of the bust alot. it looks very good now.. it is also less revealing around the chest area, which i like.

    how do i know if the bust area is too big? i seems ok but when i bend over to put my shoes on , it seems to go out of place.

    the dress around the stomach down seems too big also, so should i pull the fabric together and gather the looseness to the back, which is a V shaped. and make it into a gathered tail?

  6. Hi Barbara, I just wanted your opinion. I'm considering altering my daughter's wedding dress. It's a size 10 and she's a size 4.

    I've sewn all my life, including making a prom dress that actually looked great.

    I'm worried about all the boning in the bodice. Seems to be about every two to four inches all around. Can I eliminate a couple of pieces of the boning when I take the dress in?

    Thanks so much for any help you can give me, Carolyn

  7. hi Barbara i am having a compleat dress nightmare.

    i have brought a dress on eBay that once i have put on fits perfectly in all the right places but the promblem with the dress is getting it off as i have big breasts and the dress is size 4 it gets stuck.

    i was wondering weather u had any tips on sewing a zip into the seam of the dress to help get the dress easily on and off.

    plase help i have looked through tons of websites so far that just advise to buy another dress that bigger and have it taken in and i have kind of set my heart on this dress to wear

    • Margaret, you should probably call or email Barbara if you want an answer soon. Not sure that she's checking the comments to this article frequently (it was originally written over a year ago). She can be reached at (530) 222-1340 or bstonedesigns@sbcglobal.net

  8. hi im just wondering if you can help i have i lovely prom dress that i want to turn it into a wedding dress so i need to add more fabric on to it im just wondering if it can be done and how. thank you. Caroline

  9. Hi Barbara

    I purchased my dress and wedding was postponed for a later date. A year later it seems that I have lost weight about 2 inches from my breast. My dress is halter top and has no bead work I figered I can definatly pull the sewing to tighten the sides but what about the chest area won't it look weird because the cup size is smaller? What do you suggest? Thank You

  10. Hi Donna

    My daughter is a bridesmaid and the dresses they ordered all have boning in the top bust area. The problem is her dress came in and it has buckling in a few spots. The dress owner told her she checked with their seamtress and was advised that when it was taken in it would be fine. There is only an inch to take in on each side, so my daughter asked them to pin it and show her the effect. It still had the same buckling??? She found the sample dress in their store that they had originally ordered from (Black) and it had no buckling in the top. When they looked at this dress they tried to tell her it was because it was a lighter colour and the boning shows up differently in lighter coloured dresses then dark coloured dresses. I am not buying this explanation are you? The problem now is that the seamtress expects to charge all the bridesmaids for fixing this, the bride is a mess with this additional stress and isn't at all confident that the dresses will in fact be corrected to their satisfaction. The dresses have all been paid for in full. Your advice in this matter would be greatly appreciated.

    Many Thanks

    Sandie

  11. i had a wedding dress given to me and it has a wedding band collar, i don't like the collar so i would like to lower it .so could u tell me how to do it. i would like it to cover my shoulder's u know like a shirt. it has point sleeves and i like them thank you very much donna

    • Donna ~ I'm afraid I would have to see the dress before I could tell you how to do it. It is possible to lower a neckline but it's a pretty advanced tailoring skill, usually requiring at least one fitting. It's just too easy to make the neckline too big and then you are stuck! I'll be glad to make a consultation appt for you if you'd like to call me at 530-222-1340, Tues thru Fri from 10 -6 and Saturday from 10-4.

  12. I have a dress that fits perfectly except for the top part is there a way I can add material to the dress to make it a little bigger?

  13. My daughter has a bridesmaid's dress that is way too long?

    Do I take it up by pulling it up and stitching to the waist or do I just cut off the excess from the bottom. We are going to use the excess to make sashes for the flower girls' dresses. Thanks and God bless.

  14. I found my dress in the sample which is a size 10 and $2000 less than the original. I fall into a size 12. The dress is organza with beading with a mermaid/sheath style (james clifford 1825). The back is zipper over inside hook and eye corset. How bad would it be to let it out? I would mind if i had to be switched to a corset back to fit.

  15. Hi,

    I have a wedding dress that is "semi-sweetheart" and I want it more defined. Any idea how I should go about doing this? Thanks.

    Liz

  16. Hi,

    I just bought Mori Lee Blu style number 4816 and I do love the dress, but it's a bit too poofy. I was wondering how hard it is to take out layers of crinelon? The dress has a layered effect and I'm worried that will be lost if I take out the layers. I've also read that it can't be altered because of the layering...is this true?

    Thanks,

    Brittney

  17. Barbara,

    Hello!!!

    First let me tell you what a life saver this web site is and how wonderful you are to help

    all of us out! We (my Daughter (the Bride) and I (the proud Mom) dont have much money

    and we bought a used dress $3,000.+ and we got it for $200.00. She just Love's this dress and so do I. However, we did not notice that the sweetheart neckline she wanted is not there and there are several stains we hope the dry cleaner can get out, and my job, is to hand sew on the beads that are missing and tighten down the ones that are loose. I also need to tack down the boning as it is popping up above the neckline and i want to know if you have any suggestions for me as to how to do this correctly so it will look right.

    I am also going to attempt to turn it into a sweetheart neckline by pinching it in the center and tacking the dress down..........i think.....or does this sound like a disaster waiting to happen?

    thank you so much for considering my lengthy question. I, We, appreciate it! :)

    Judith (proud Mom) and Angela (happy Bride to be)

    530-303-3216 = Judy's home phone

  18. I have a bridesmaid dress which is alittle loose in the bust area, is there a way to alter this

    • Kim, yes, the dress can be altered. Sometimes it can be as simple as taking in the side seams, sometimes the darts have to be altered. There are many ways of approaching the alteration, depending on the reason for the fit and the design of the dress.

      Sorry I can't be more specific but if you want to email me a picture of you in the dress, maybe I can talk you through the alteration.

  19. Barbara,

    My wedding is in almost less than three days away and my dress which finally arrived this past weekend is too big! I ordered a size 0 but in our new American Vanity sizing a 0 is really 4 or 6 (according to European sizes), when the people in the store measured me they almost wanted to order a 2, hah! is there a fast way to make the dress work by Satuday? it's just a little large all around... I have some inserts for my bust.

  20. my daughter has a halter top prom dress with beading on the entire top to waist, the bust is a little big. can this be altered without cutting and removing beads so my other daughter who is slightly larger will be able to wear the dress too?

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