60 Years in the Back of the Closet

The phone call went like this:  “Another seamstress in town told me you were the only one to call to deal with this.” Intriguing? Possible blog post? You bet!

It seems this girl is getting married and her grandfather says he has a surprise for her at the back of the closet. After much rooting around, he produces this gem…her grandmother’s wedding dress from 60 years ago. She tells me that it has been stored “badly” since 1956. Badly meaning never cleaned since the ceremony and it looks like a cat got into the closet and did a little damage to the top layer as the lining is showing through at the waist.

The question I ask first is, “are you attached to this dress?” She says she never even knew it existed but now that she has it, she has to wear it even though her grandfather is unable to attend the wedding in a faraway venue.

So, let’s try it on see what has to be done shall we? Obviously women were way smaller back then and busts were higher too. The side zipper gives us no options to enlarge it.


You can see how there is a huge chunk of top layer missing at the waist and the seams are ripped open. This will not be an easy fix nor cheapy cheapy.


For some reason even the shoulder seams did not survive the past 6 decades.

I will add a 2 inch section here to drop the bodice.


Out comes the famous blue grosgrain ribbon to bridge the gap at the zipper to determine the amount needed to add somewhere. Wonderful…only 4 extra inches!


This dress was not bought in a store, it was made by a loving seamstress. There are no tags. Inside, under the lining, there is a petticoat made from waxed open weave fabric that is attached to the waist with a bias strip of lining. It has snaps to keep it closed.


The top layer is badly stained everywhere and shredded beyond repair.


The lace bust cups are intact and see-through…quite racy Grandma!


At the top of the side zipper, each side is shredded and you can see that the bias binding was just hand tacked here and there. The zipper is thick metal as was the style back then. The added bonus of sweat stains never removed makes me wish this dress could be cleaned without shredding away.


The petticoat suffered some damage being pulled away from the bias strip so that is easily repaired.


Now what? The bride and I discussed removing the top shredded layer and using the lining as the dress. Amazingly the seams on the lining were sewn like the dress with the raw edges on the inside so it works well. I cut away all  of the top fabric to reveal the almost pristine lining and remove the thick zipper which will now allow me to close the side seam and find another way to enlarge this mess. Fusible interfacing to the rescue, which will be applied before any seaming.


Once the top layer is removed, I decide to soak it to see if any stains will come out. Bizarrely, the water turns dark green and after rinsing and hanging we end up with this:


After pressing it looks so nice, even with the shredded sections. The bride tells me that it had been in the basement so the green may have been mold…nice.

I will use this fabric to make loops…why? Can you feel a corset back coming on? We need 12 inches of loops down the back. Of course, there is no center back seam. The dress is opened up where a center back seam would be and I get to work making the loops. Normally, I use rayon or nylon rattail but that would add bulk so I opt for flat fabric loops cut on grain. But the technique is the same using grosgrain ribbon and folding it in half.


Using my Fasturn tool makes the job easy. The 2 looped strips are basted on for the next try-on.


Second visit shows the 2 inch piece added to the shoulder allows the bodice to drop to fit her bust and the lacing up the back works. This opening will be extended another 3 inches to make it easier to get in and out of. That means making 6 more loops.

p1210749 p1210750-2

The bride will purchase a 3 inch wide strip of grosgrain ribbon to attach at the waist. The coolest part of this outfit is the jacket. Other than needing some fabric inserted into the side seams to she can use the buttons, it looks cute.p1210751-2

Just open the side seams about 8 inches.


Cut a double layer of fabric and serge the edges. Hand baste it to the side seams. Flip up a small hem edge. It will blend in with the bias cut border hem of the jacket.

Machine stitched in and new seams pinned to be tacked down. The finished wedge is looking nice in place and gives an extra 3 inches on each side.

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Maybe you would like to see the inside of the dress so far? Both looped strips are lengthened and pinned in place.


Inside the front you can see the fusible patches. Also, you can see that the bias strip that attaches the petticoat to the dress is very uneven with the center being sewn higher. This causes the stiff petticoat to stick out in the front of the skirt. I will re-sew that to be even.


Loops are stitched flat and flipped to the inside and hand basted before the machine stitching.


The finished outfit minus the ribbon lacing and for those of you who like a good story…here is one. I was hand sewing on a 2 inch wide ivory grosgrain ribbon to the waist while the bride waited to carry the dress out and I asked if her own mother had also worn the Grandma’s dress and she said no.

It turns out that her grandmother was just a few weeks pregnant with her mother but no one knew. So the mother decided she had already been “in” the dress once and bought her own. But isn’t a lovely thing that the 3rd generation can wear it with pride?

With the new side wedges, the jacket closes and buttons…hooray!

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Before I leave you, here are some garden harvest photos:nov-2016

Just to get an idea of the length and weighing the smallest butternut squash it weighed 2.4 pounds.

nov-2016-2 nov-2016-3

The largest weighed 5.2 pounds, the same weight as my firstborn child 41 years ago.



Wishing you all a peaceful weekend in the aftermath of the US elections. With only half of the population voting, the outcome was decided by only 25% of the people…sad.


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60 Responses to 60 Years in the Back of the Closet

  1. Girl in the Stix says:

    Wow! that was an impressive save! You did a beautiful job.

  2. mrsmole says:

    Thank you, Valerie, it is nice to work on a vintage dress once in a while.

  3. Lee says:

    Wow! This is well documented – thank you.

  4. Wow! Your are gifted and talented.

  5. Linders says:

    You are amazing! I have seen some of the challenges you have had and can’t believe the patience it must take to fix (remake) some of the dresses brought to you. Some of these are like a puzzle and I follow you to see how you resolve the issues. Thank goodness for your service to the brides-to-be, or should I say their mothers? You have incredible skills!

  6. What a beautiful dress, I am so in awe of your talent, I learn something new with every post! Thank you!!

  7. Sandy in MO says:

    What did you use to soak the fabric? I have my husband’s grandmother’s wedding dress from 1929. It too was badly cared for. It was found wadded up in a drawer and is very badly stained. I would love to restore it as it is a beautiful dress.

    • mrsmole says:

      I used warm water and a little liquid detergent in a bucket/plastic tub. We were never going to use it so I thought I had nothing to lose if it just disintegrated. But when the water turned dark green…wow…I rinsed and rinsed until the water went clear. There are products that heirloom sewers use for delicate old fabrics and I think Martha Pullen used non-chlorine bleach in a bucket overnight for badly stained vintage things she bought at market stalls.

  8. mary anne says:

    again i am so in awe of your talent! my niece recently got engaged and wanted to think about wearing her grandmother’s dress (my mother’s, WW2 era). my sister wore it in 1978, with a couple of minor alterations, but when i looked at it again, i didn’t want anything to do with it! pretty sure it’s acetate, and altho the color/staining isn’t bad, the stitching (some very visible) was very gold, very little seams to work with, and i had no idea how to work on it without causing more damage. thanks for all your tutorials!

  9. LindaC says:

    What an amazing fix. Nice job. Can I ask what type of pins you use? I imagine that they must be very fine since you work with so much delicate fabric. Glass head? The red-headed pins looks nice and long. Would love to know. Thanks.

  10. So happy you could save the dress for her. It sure was transformed into something beautiful! My husband would be jealous of your garden. Everything we plant is eaten by raccoons and such so we have to limit ourselves to the greenhouse. So sorry that 25% of your people decided the fate of your country. I always say, after an election, if someone complains about government policy… you had your chance to be heard – did you vote? Most times they didn’t. 25% is just sad (although it’s not much better turnout here)

  11. sewmanju says:

    Followed your blog for some time: first time commenting. Wow! What an amazing transformation. I don’t know how you do it but this is just fantastic. Completely in awe.

  12. mrsmole says:

    We have whole families of raccoons that wander in but they don’t mess with 5 pound squashes…ha ha. They dig for grubs and move big rocks to dig under them and then go back to where they live in the sewer drains. If you don’t vote you don’t get to complain. If things get ugly, and they will, 1/4 of your friends and family and neighbors are to blame. When they realize that the new guy will be taking away parts of their cozy way of life, they will deny even knowing the final outcome…hard lessons will be learned.

    • I blame the 25% who voted for the president elect, but I also blame the 50% who elected him by staying home. Beautiful work on the dress! Your skills should be in the Guinness Book of World Records under some category – most saves of butt-ugly dresses? Greatest Patience demonstrated by a human being? Yeah, one of those!

  13. jay says:

    Wonderful save again! With the jacket it’s so pretty.

  14. Colleen says:

    I throughly enjoyed watching each step. Thank you for taking the time to share!

  15. Connie Turner says:

    You made a miracle happen. I would have said the dress was not salvageable but you did it and beautifully too.

    • mrsmole says:

      If the lining seams had been sewn the other way around, we would not had many options but they were the saving part. Also, the top layer was like loose woven silk dupionni and it just frayed away from the seams so i did not have to open all the seams and cut it away.

  16. symondezyn says:

    WOW, Mrs M!! This may be your most miraculous save yet! Unbelievable how the correctly fitting dress is SO flattering on the bride – I had my doubts it would be, but you are indeed a fairy godmother ^_^

    • mrsmole says:

      The real challenge for me was getting the bust right. In the first photo you can see where I had drawn red lines where her boobs fell and since she did not want cups sewn in and could not wear a strapless bra, adding to the shoulder seams gave us just enough “drop” so she could rest her boobs in each section. Working on dresses that old and in such bad shape makes you just amazed at what can and cannot be done, Amanda.

  17. Andie W. says:

    Amazing save on a family heirloom. I’m so impressed!

  18. Tia Dia says:

    What a pity that dress wasn’t cared for properly. You did one amazing job making this dress wearable and pretty. I do hope the bride takes better care of it when she’s done with it!

    • mrsmole says:

      She promises to send me photos from the wedding, so that is really something to look forward to! This year has been a whole season of head scratchers…it would be nice to get a simple fix once in a while…ha ha!

  19. Shams says:

    Seriously, you continue to do what I would believe was impossible!

    • mrsmole says:

      Really, Shams? The garments you make could be classified as impossible too but you construct them with lots of thinking and love and wear them so well! Love your photos from Paris with the Tilton sisters!

  20. One of the best things here is the fact that this was one bride who didn’t have to agonise over appalling choices. This is the dress – you wear it. Should be compulsory for all brides. One choice – take it or leave it.

  21. John Yingling says:

    Two things-
    Did you consider inserting an invisible center back zipper? Nothing wrong with the laced back, very dramatic and pretty, but it does take more time to accomplish.

    The fact that the antique (?) fabric washed out so well is a testament to how well made those fabrics were. Nothing better than to recycle heirloom linens, Pendleton wools, and silk kimonos.

  22. John Yingling says:

    One more thing, wonderful work on the dress. Your solutions for reviving it were creative, clever, and only added to the beauty of the finished look. I’m sure there were some joyful tears when the bride saw the finished dress in all its restored glory!

  23. Mem says:

    You are amazing . What a lovely thing to do for that family . I bet you made grandpas day . Good on you !

    • mrsmole says:

      I’m sure grandpa had tears in his eyes just for the fact he probably never thought to see that dress and jacket ever worn again. We never know how many lives we touch through our craft. Thanks Mem!

  24. La Vonda C says:

    You have golden hands, this is truly lovely work. Thank you so much for sharing the detail with us, it encourages me and helps me hope that someday I might be able to do half as good a job as you do.

  25. Susan says:

    Wonderful work! I do have a question, though: Since the bride is essentially wearing just the lining, it’s pretty see-through now. Was there talk of adding a new lining, or did she decide to just wear a full slip underneath?

  26. Great save! I think a lesser seamstress would’ve fashioned something else out of it as a “tribute” and encouraged the bride to get something new.

    Did you hear J. Crew is discontinuing it’s bridal line? I remember you mentioning that you were not a fan of altering that brand’s wedding dresses

    • mrsmole says:

      Fabulous news, Beth! Thank you for sharing that! J Crew never did make dresses fit in the bust and their construction sequences were nuts for those of us who had to go in and alter the mess.

  27. Sharon says:

    Great save. Glad you had the Fasturn Tool to save time so you didn’t end up going ‘loopy’ !

    • mrsmole says:

      Wish I could have made the loops on the bias but I was saving all that fabric in case she wanted to use the skirt as an apron type addition or use some of it as a wide sash. Making loops on grain is harder to get through the Fasturn tool…some swear words were used and some spit on my fingers to ease that little tube of fabric through to the handle end!

  28. Another silk purse from the proverbial sows ear. Well done again.

  29. An incredible save. It was nice the bride wanted to honor her Grandmother that way.

    • mrsmole says:

      Some brides honor their deceased relatives with a scrap of cloth sewn into the lining of their dress, this bride was able to wear the exact dress…quite a tribute! Thanks, Shelley.

  30. Leanna says:

    Your fixes never cease to amaze me. You are wonderfully talented and I thank you for sharing your expertise!

  31. Lin says:

    Great save on a family heirloom.thank you so much for showing all the details

    • mrsmole says:

      Sharing my work helps others to learn and think of even more ways to change garments. We all learn from the blogs of other sewers…it is a great sisterhood…sharing without asking for money.

  32. sewruth says:

    It’s not really sewing that you do so well but problem solving.

  33. mrsmole says:

    In high school, I wanted to study to be an architect but the nuns said only boys could take mechanical drawing in their half of the school, so in the end, sewing became my engineering career along with being an x-ray tech in angiography still engineering films and patients to get the best outcome. Do you know that famous line from a movie with Bruce Willis, The Sixth Sense, and the little boy says, “I see dead people”? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0167404/
    Well, Ruth, I see lines in everything, all the time and want to make them straight. Some days it is a curse.

  34. maryfunt says:

    I’ve done my share of remaking vintage gowns so I sympathize with your task of dealing with shredded fabric, sweat stains, different proportions, etc. This is a wonderful remake and the jacket makes the dress look so much better.

    • mrsmole says:

      I think more strapless wedding dresses could use a bolero jacket! Not everyone, including the minister wants to see the bunnies out on display. Working on vintage clothes is really a nice history lesson, don’t you think, Mary?

  35. celeste says:

    This is my favorite post yet; what an awesome way to preserve a dress that was all but a forgotten closet bundle. I love how simple the lines are and how elegant the entire dress is; a true tribute to work incredibly well-done. Bravo, Mrs. Mole! Other people see dead dresses, you see possibilities!

  36. prttynpnk says:

    Aw…I love that second dress and the butternut squash, too.

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