Starts with a Surprise

Another vintage dress was going to be arriving with the bride and her mother. I was sent the original wedding photo from 1984…remember poofy sleeves and fishing line ruffles? Oh yes, this had them all.Of course, the bride wants to make this her own dress and make it modern.

The appointment is set and as she is driving 3 hours south while her mother and father are driving 3 hours north, they will meet in the middle at my house. In the meantime, her sister writes to me about coming early to surprise her sister as she lives in the Midwest, 4 hours away by plane. Without thinking, I agree to this scheme.

The sister arrives on time and I settle her in the kitchen to wait for the rest of the crew. She shows me a champagne bottle and asks if it is OK to present this to her sister. Without thinking again, I agree.

The father and mother arrive with the bride and huge gold box concealing the dress. I settle them down in the room and tell them I have to leave to get my camera and then call the sister to sneak in to surprise them. She bursts into the room with her cell phone on video setting to record the excitement and the mother bursts out crying, the sister is shouting and the father just wants someone to hug.

The dad leaves the room while I start trying to button up all those back buttons and the mother starts asking about when are we going to get her husband back in the room and why hasn’t the champagne been opened already and her husband been brought back in for the party. I realize that I have lost control of this appointment and calmly tell her, “this is not my party, for me this is my work and you have to let me get this girl in the dress”.

As soon as the bride is dressed, I grab the bottle and open it while the sister is shouting, “Get the champagne glasses”. Once they are all holding their filled glasses, I can get to work asking the bride about the main reason why they are all here…”what do you want me to do with this dress?”

The bride says she wants the sleeves to be removed, the train to be removed and the whole hem to be tea length. The mother almost faints and begs the daughter to reconsider as she loves the double ruffled train.

The bride asks if I can remove all the fancy lace motif edging and use it on the new tea length hem. Sure, let’s remove the basketball-sized sleeves and lace edging:




Another issue she asks about is the lace trim on the back and hips…how did it get so yellow after being cleaned 33 years ago? The answer is…I don’t know but I will see if I can do something about it. I remove one side and experiment.

Below you can see the results…back in the 80’s we were still using cotton edgings and with a little soak in a weak bleach solution…voila’, we have white lace. So all the rest will be done that way and re-attached. Lots of hand work here and tedious fitting back into position! See the puckered zipper lap?

The bodice front has only one issue…can you see the wrinkles at the armhole? either that extra fabric will be taken out just above the lace edging or at the shoulders. We can’t have that gap there before the extra lace edging is applied to make a small cap sleeve.

Skirt is shortened and hem folded under and stitched with invisible thread in the needle and white thread in the bobbin. There are many lace motifs that will have to be removed before I add the lace edging otherwise we will have soft and hard sections.

All the flowers have been stitched flat after being bleached.


Adding the lace edging to the armhole front and back and making a tuck in the princess seam:


Can you see how tight the buttons and loops will be when fastened? Something will have to be let out. So many horizontal drag lines as well…what to do? Even with her separate corset tied as tight as humanly possible it is not a good look. But then take a look at the original photo of her mother…holy cow…those are the same wrinkles!


Pinned out front princess seam satin layer: 

Taking in the lining of the princess seam lining at the armhole:

 What would happen if I restored the dress to its original seams at the zipper? Would the drag lines relax and disappear? The first seamstress took in the center back zipper and left all that fabric wadded up. Have to be grateful that she didn’t trim it all away!

So let’s move the zipper back and gain 2 inches in circumference. Does this seem like a pattern with all these wedding dresses??? Add 2 inches to make things fit correctly…2 inches…the difference between two RTW sizes.

The previous seamstress gathered all the extra fabric and double stitched it into the seam. The rest of the skirt was pleated.

In her haste to finish the dress, she caught a fold into the seam to add more bulk.

Once released, you can see there was 1/2 inch caught.

I removed the gathers and now the skirt can resume its original place at the edge of the bodice thus gaining an inch on either side of the zipper.

All the edges now match up, the gathers have disappeared and with a small repair to the organza layer where the pins are, we are ready to insert the zipper again.

A close up of the first step on the hem after all the random lace motifs have been removed from that area.

First, the hem is folded under and sewn and the edges pinked to blend in better.

Then with the lace edging sewn by machine with invisible thread on top and poly thread in the bobbin like the hem:







Right side:

Underarm edges are bound with bias strips and hand tacked. Lace hem is done and cap sleeve treatment hand sewn on.

The back view after all the 27 buttons and loops have been removed and re-attached and the tulle released to gain almost 2 inches there too. The zipper stitching has tiny puckering but it is 2 layers of satin with the lining also in that seam. I think originally the lining must have been separate and laid nicer but I can’t change everything about this dress and labor costs are mounting up.









This week our temps have gone from the 70’s (great for gardening) to the high 90’s…not so nice for gardening!

Our birds like the new fountain and have discovered the best way to drink without getting their feet wet. They perch between the frog’s eyes and bend forward.

Mr. Mole has harvested a couple beauties too:

As always, my photos reflect a desire to share possible solutions to real challenges that you readers may encounter in your sewing adventures. If I can help you in any way, then I have achieved my goal.

Happy Cool sewing everyone!

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38 Responses to Starts with a Surprise

  1. Fabrickated says:

    What an interesting tale – almost like a detective story. I am so glad you got the yellow out of the lace and that you adjusted the dress so it fits better than its first incarnation. It now looks Edwardian rather than 1980s – a pretty outcome.

    • mrsmole says:

      When I see the bride do a twirl for the first time and her eyes light up…that is a fabulous sight and a real reward in itself! I feel honored to be able to be a real detective inside these dresses to discover what went wrong and make it better. Thank you, Kate.

    • racurac2 says:

      Yes! Totally Edwardian!

  2. Laura Jansen says:

    Mrs Mole – you need to take this blog and make a book out of it for wedding folks to read!!! Brilliant sewing as usual.

  3. mrsmole says:

    Oh Laura, the blog is for sewers to find the courage to tackle crazy projects! What brides really need is their local seamstress to go to the salon to determine if the dress is fixable instead of flipping through hundreds of Pinterest photos and wanting it all!

    • Pauline Wright says:

      I don’t do bridal gowns as a rule, but I do have customers who have the sense to bring things with the labels still attached and the receipt in their hand saying ‘can you do xyz with this or shall I take it back?’ Saves a whole lot of trouble!

      • mrsmole says:

        Well Pauline, you are truly blessed to have clients like that!!! Sensible ones are so rare! I do tell my brides that if their friends need a seamstress to give her opinion on alterations in the salon, I can be rented out…ha ha. I have done that 3 times and it really does help both of us to narrow down what can and cannot be done safely and cheaply.

      • Cheryl Designs says:

        I have FANTASTIC customers 🙂 They e-mail me pics (I don’t have a ‘fancy phone’ and have ZERO intention of getting one 🙂 ) I ADVISE THEM. I receive a few phone calls here and there asking….. CHERYL-THEY (bridal shop) are telling us this and that…is this true? I usually TELL them-KEEP SHOPPING… Whatever the BRIDAL STORE is telling you is NOT EASY and IS EXPENSIVE to alter 🙂 I am very proud that my customers and future customers TRUST ME 🙂

  4. Vanessa says:

    Hi Mrs Mole, as usual fantastic work. The final dress looks great and I’m sure the bride loved it. But I’d have to side with the Mom. Taking off the sleeves was a must but that one pic of the back after removing the sleeves, is very dramatic. It would need more editing, but I feel she lost a lot of drama by making it tea length. she could have removed more of the appliqués and edging, etc but still had a fantastic train.

    • mrsmole says:

      Yes, Vanessa, the drama was lost but the good thing is, the train was removed all in one piece and can be attached for a future bride by adding some of the lace motifs over the seams. Even the basketball sleeves were saved and can be returned. The lower front hem can be restored to floor length to make it back to the 80’s. I think because the bride was being married in a horse field, her decision to go tea length made sense while her mother had an inside church service.

      • erniek3 says:

        You mean to say that there’s a bride getting married in a field who is NOT dragging her hemmed dress through the manure? Praise be, a miracle!

  5. What a wonderful remake of a very 80’s dress! Love the way you trimmed the armholes with the lace – that just makes it so much softer and prettier. Well done, and I know Mom and bride were very happy. What a fun appointment – and a lot of work 🙂

    • mrsmole says:

      I’m hoping for photos later! It was fun working and discovering secrets inside this dress like the wadded up zipper area. I have more vintage gowns like that to share where things were revealed in the altering. The dad was actually and interesting person and we had some nice chats in the other room while the bride was getting dressed.

  6. Bunny says:

    I think the bride’s vision was spot on. I love the tea length and the removals. Once again, a great job, Mrs. M.

    I fixed a wedding gown for someone once and her request was for me to take in the waist and make it tighter. It was a princess seamed basque, much like this one. It was loaded with horizontal wrinkles and she was a difficult person who wanted to tell me how to do this. I told her, “sure. I’ll take the waist in.” I then proceeded to fit the gown by letting the waist out and eliminating those wrinkles. She thought it looked great and to this day thinks she has this waist so tiny that we had to take it in a lot. I told her I did an inch and a half alteration, nothing more than that ans she was thrilled. There is a lot sales involved, isn’t there?

    • mrsmole says:

      You are so clever, Bunny!!! Some days i explain that i want to “try something” while I am inside their dress after they leave to suggest that I may find a different solution. But truly, I know what you mean…as they are grabbing the side seams and insisting that I pin out more fabric. Princess seams give us the most options and as women can store fat tissue almost anywhere, the more seams the better!

  7. Colleen says:

    I hope you had some champagne after this project! Question: I have learned many tidbits from your willingness to share. Do you have a favorite invisible thread you use in the machine. I need a little guidance with that one. Thanks!

  8. Laura says:

    Another stellar job. Your talents never cease to amaze me. And it was so kind (and patient of you) to facilitate this family memory in your workroom. I bet they will never forget it (and you). Kudos on that!

    • mrsmole says:

      Ha ha…I will never forget them either! Some clients suggest I install a margarita machine at the front door to make their visits more fun. Now imagine me sipping in between brides!

  9. jay says:

    Fantastic work as usual mrsmole. I enjoyed Bunny’s tale of self delusion above as well.

    • mrsmole says:

      Ha ha…you got that right, Jay. Hardly ever do you encounter a bride or mother that really knows how to sew or fit a garment so they really put all their hopes in your hands. Since I document every alteration step with photos and give them to the bride, they assume that I do everything I say I will…which I do even when it is stupid like making it too darn tight to sit down. The one issue I have with not doing what they ask is if they later take the dress to another seamstress and she discovers that a seam was NOT taken in or let out as promised…then my name would be ruined.

  10. Mem says:

    Oh goodness the 80 s were soooooo. Bad design wise . I am just glad she didn’t carry a parasol and have a veil coming out of a jaunty little hat,remember that look? . You did a great job as usual!

  11. mrsmole says:

    Oh Mem, maybe some of our readers have photos like that to share? Thankfully back in ’71 with my first marriage, it was a very low-key civil ceremony and again in ’94 with Mr. Mole. What did all those bridesmaids do with their parasols?

  12. Tee says:

    My hero!!!! Stunning!!!!

  13. Girl in the Stix says:

    You are a true miracle worker! I really enjoy learning how you creatively solve so many issues to give your customers what they envision.

    • mrsmole says:

      Thank you, but all I can do is make up stuff along the way. I’m sure there is a better way to work these things out but with the volume and complexity and pending dates, they get my best.

  14. upsew says:

    your talent and patience in the sewing is amazing….. and added to extraordinary hosting skills – what can I say!

  15. msrosejhony says:

    You amaze me

    • mrsmole says:

      There are days that I am amazed myself when the dress fits better than I imagined after I did some a little wacky and took a gamble. Maybe there really are sewing fairies who help when I am sleeping?

  16. pdxknitter says:

    I just love reading your posts. I sew, and enjoy the alterations, and mostly marvel at the feats of hand-sewing. I love handwork, but even I am daunted by some of the endless tasks of a few of those dresses. Endless lace cut off and reattached. Holy moly.

    I have to admit to a little giggle. After having read so many of your posts where the bride buys a way-too-small dress online and then needs it altered and you have to use the corset back to cover a 6-9″ gap, I went to a wedding last weekend AND THERE IT WAS RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!!! I knew she’d bought the dress online too. Really made me laugh. Inside. To myself. 🙂

    • mrsmole says:

      How funny! Yes, the corsets are out there helping brides who made mistakes cover their backsides for the most special day! Removing lace edgings…mindless and saved for TV viewing time with the dread of re-attaching it later whether by machine or by hand. If only salons would tell the truth about the labor costs to hem a new scalloped lace dress…wait…that would put me out of business!

  17. That was some dress… quite big with the details and the lace and ruffles. I was quite surprised that you could whiten the lace. I learn something new everyday!

  18. mrsmole says:

    Some days we get lucky…cotton lace can be bleached, not sure rayon or nylon would have performed as well. The front had so much ruching and pearls and was so thick but with no boning. The girl wore a real corset underneath like what is worn under costumes…loads of boning and long strings that cinch in every little bit with no room for taking a breath!

  19. You are a miracle worker! I am always amazed at your transformations.

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