A Simple Shop-worn Sample Dress Fix

You know when a bride falls in love with a dress…come Hell or high water, she is going to buy it even if every crystal is dangling by a thread or totally missing and it doesn’t fit well enough to flatter her.

This dress was found 3000 miles from here in Washington, DC on a clearance rack in an Apostrophe shop. It is polyester and it shows so much wear with pilling and dangling beads and dirty hems but the bride is thrilled with her choice…it is up to me to make it fit and give it some TLC.

The maker is etoile, Georgia gown. 34991810_011_a

What we have is this:


While the zipper does close, the hips cause the center back seam to buckle up making a ridge in the back and the back straps have no place to go but fan out away from the body. The 2 lining layers have to be shortened 6.5 inches all around and the lace layer as well about 1 inch.P1210205 Shortening the lace layer will eliminate the dirty hem. The original lace edge is raw, just folded under with just a single row of stitching to control it.P1210206P1210207

The last top layer of appliqued tulle will be trimmed with scissors.

There is no fabric to let out so the bride says she will lose some weight before her wedding next year. The best I can do is let out the skimpy side seams in the linings to give her an extra 1.5 inches:


After letting out the tiny side seams it was enough to allow the hip fabric to drop and get rid of the ridge in the center back zipper. Even the straps lie flatter now. Since the wedding is next year, she will return with shoes and we can trim the appliqued tulle layer for the hem then. Sometimes you get lucky with a sweet bride, sweet mother and a good result with minimal effort!


Mother Nature is really putting in maximum effort is providing more veggies to cook and share with neighbors.

A couple garden shots for you: Aug-25August-2016

This week I have tried to post as a “calm before the storm”…so much more is coming up that makes my head hurt!

Happy Labor Day to my US readers and best of luck for the moms doing all the back-to-school shopping for their families!

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Two Many Choices

Six months ago a bride came to me with 2 dresses and expected me to tell her which one to choose for her cowboy wedding complete with old broken-in, dirty farm boots.

The story went like this, “my sisters made me buy the David’s Bridal floral first dress“.


and then “I went online to order a custom made dress from China for $60.”P1210160-2  While the corset back is what she really wanted, you can see this second dress, when it is laced up, the 2 sides came together right at the waist so there was very little lacing showing below that and the side seams would have had to be taken in at least 4 inches to fit her hips…6-8 inches if she wanted the lacing to be open enough to look right. Also you can see the front hem of the lace layer was way too long and would have required the usual expensive cutting off the border and re-attaching it 6 inches higher. But she wanted quotes for both dresses so she could decide.

The main ingredient was the belt…it had to work for both dresses even though one was more country and the other was more blinged-out Las Vegas.

This week she made another 90-minute appointment to stand in front of the mirror and remain indecisive. The first floral dress only needed some side seams taken in and hemming and a bustle but the second dress was going to need about double the time in labor and she went with the floral embellished one.

I did all the required alterations and basted them for her 3rd 90-minute visit and she was pleased…enough. But then she sent an email telling me that she hated her dress because it did not give her enough curves. She wanted the dress to not have even a half inch of ease so that when she stood up you could not pinch any fabric…in other words…fit like a second skin. I tried to reason with her that she would actually have to sit down and be able to walk up steps and get into a car and at the end of the day…be able to pee without taking the dress off…but nothing I said could change her mind. The side seams were taken in again another 2 inches total this time.

Here you have the tightened dress on the mannequin…30 inch bust, 21 inch waist:


Under that top back ruffle is a 3 point bustle:P1210199

I sent her the photos and made the next (4th) appointment for this Friday and she seems pleased until later that day I got this email:

“While the bustle looks neat and clean, can I come by and try my dress on Monday evening or Tuesday evening? I’m afraid it still doesnt fit how I’m hoping, I’m worried and stressed another week down and waiting until Friday is going to make it harder to get something else figured out.”

So she moved the appointment to the beginning of the week instead, insisted on always arriving at 5 pm for her 5th 90-minute visit in front of the mirror and you can hear in her email that she may decide that she needs another dress for her wedding a month from now.

After the try-on she thinks this might just work. At this point after 5 appointments, I am wondering whether I actually made any money on this project. It will be nice to see this dress go out the front door.


The hot weather is ripening all the Fall raspberries early and the squashes are still growing along with red bell peppers:


And what is coming up? How about 13 brides in the next 2 months and here is just the first batch…all tulle…delightful!too-much-tulle

Wishing you all simple end-of-the-summer sewing projects, thanks for dropping by!

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Soup, Salmon (the color) and Scuba (the knit)

This week we take a little break and post about non-bridal projects!

If you are like me, your squash plants have been producing like crazy with the high temps and while having lots of produce is certainly a blessing, it can also be a curse. Having given away squash to neighbors and clients and service people, the final alternative is to make it into soup for the winter.

Mr Mole bought this little appliance a while back and it has come in handy. Now, before you all go out and buy this gadget, I have to say while it does a good job turning raw veggies into hot soup in 30 minutes, our particular model will only do this trick once a day as the motor and heating element need a whole day to cool down. If you re-fill it and press all the buttons…all you get is an ERROR message. Maybe this is a good thing as I would try to get into production mode otherwise. Here is one recipe that works well. Take 3 medium squash, 1/4 to 1/2 an onion, cut into 1/2 inch diced pieces and toss into the container:


Add fresh or dried herbs (I have tarragon growing) and chicken stock (I boil the carcass from Costco rotisserie chicken) along with a tablespoon of butter or oil and 1/2 teaspoon of ginger paste. Just to be crazy you can add some garlic powder and/or a small chili pepper.


There is a veggie fill line and a stock/water line. Start the program and watch it whizz around and boil. 30 minutes later, the bell rings and 1.2 quart of soup is ready.

There are many products on the market in various sizes and prices here in the US and Europe and blogs with many cool recipes. Now you have one quart of soup to enjoy or freeze in plastic containers.



A long time client dropped off this “bargain” dress for the next wedding she has to attend. It is salmon poly chiffon layered ruffles and she thought for sure this could be repaired…what do you think? Yes, that is a huge hole right next to the zipper and one smaller above it.


First the zipper is released along the one side.


The ruffle is pulled past the area of damage (see excess under my thumb) and basted into place (see white thread).


The zipper is pinned back into place and the lining will be hand sewn.

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Excess ruffle is pinked/trimmed away. Finally the repair is done and no one will know what we started with.

P1210250 P1210258

Scuba knit is really quite something….no fraying and interesting cut-out designs. I was asked to narrow the shoulders of a designer jacket.

  Marie Gray and her husband started St. John Knits in 1962.  This brand is from Marie Gray and her daughter.


After thread tracing the new seam line for the sleeve, I removed the serging from front notch to back notch…OK, there were no notches but you get the idea.


Then the sleeves were re-positioned and hand and machine basted into place. You can see the excess that will be serged off.



What you realize after the basting is done is that there are places where the only thing holding the 2 parts together is a thin row of thread and AIR!

The serging stitches have to be close together enough to form a real tight binding. The final stitching was a 3 step zig-zag. You never know how tough the client will be on seams so it is always wise to use extra secure stitching even when the original garment did not have any. On this occasion, I didn’t want to think that the only thing holding these sleeves on was one row of serging!!!


Wishing all my readers who are experiencing the dog days of summer, some cool shade or chilling A/C and the sound of ice cubes in a tall glass of your favorite drink. Thanks for stopping by!!!

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Outlet Find

By now, you all know my feelings about J.Crew clothing. While they are always in need of alterations thus making good money for us seamstresses, they are also a nightmare for the client as they NEVER fit.

Here is the latest example of what looks so great on the website for $3000 and is sold out, this dress in reality bears little resemblance to the fit on the model. On the outside it is all asymmetrical layers of silk organza folded back on itself trying to look light and breezy. But this dress weighs a ton and is weighted down with extra layers and bindings and double zippers that rarely allow a seamstress to alter in the right sequence without removing so many sections just to get to the real problem.

42942_NA6434_m   42942_NA6434_b

Inside there is a boned knit corset with the smallest bust cups I have ever seen! Also makes me wonder why adding boning to knit makes any sense at all as it is stretching larger than the woven fabric of the dress and linings? The fabric is silk throughout, mostly organza and relies on copious amounts of 2 inch wide horsehair braid in the hems to give this dress some shape. The skirt has HH (horsehair), each of the 2 layers of petticoat layers has HH over a plain flat lining and then another lining under that. Are you guessing that every single hem has to be shortened? Yes, you are correct. The circumference of all the skirts is 5 yards/meters, yes, 15 feet to hem for every layer.

Pulling this dress out of a clear plastic bag, no hanger, no garment bag, I notice that the entire lower half of the dress is covered in black dog hairs. I ask the bride if this dress used and been worn before and she says, “Oh no, I bought it online at an outlet mall and those are MY dog’s sheddings”… how nice.

She starts by telling me that the top of bust cups hit her right on her nipples as they are designed for a Barbie doll and not a human being…no surprises there…thanks J.Crew.


Her mother who does not know anything about sewing wants every single hemmed edge to be professionally sewn as to have no raw edges or anything to catch on twigs during the ceremony. So, I am thinking that this will be some grand wedding in a garden setting with formal attire and trays of champagne flutes and harp music… more about that later.

The bride also mentions that her groom has a closet full of J. Crew clothes and they fit him well so why does this dress fit so badly? My answer is always the same…women have boobs and these clothes don’t address that.

Let’s get started:P1200739 You know you are in trouble when the label has been swiped with a black marker…why? Because it means it has been tried on by many girls and no one wanted to buy it off the rack. To start with the bride is probably a size 0 with a 30 inch bust. So translated, that means that the circumference in the bodice is 4 inches too large for her. The back princess seams will each be taken in 2 inches and the knit corset as well and linings. The waist stay ribbon will also be shortened by 4 inches all around. P1200740

The knit corset has an edge binding top and bottom that has to be removed to start. There is also a corset zipper that has to left in place. Boning will have to be removed just to take in the 2 inches each side. The top edge of the corset will also be removed from the lining.

P1200750 P1200754P1200755P1210149

After the tuck is made, the binding is re-attached by hand to the top and bottom edges before being hand sewn back to the lining.



Thread tracing shows the back princess seams with the new seam lines.



Even thought the inside bust cups are tiny, the outside bodice needs to be taken in to eliminate one inch of excess each side.


So with bodice sections all taken in 4 inches…of course we have to take in the skirts as well and the linings. The waistline seams are opened up first to manipulate the others. The top skirt involves 5 layers of ruffles which will be again folded back in themselves and most definitely adding to the immense bulk/rooster tail in back. The under skirt will be taken in as well as the lining.P1200746P1200747P1200749

With the new 2 inch tuck in the skirt layers, you can see the waistline seam pinned with everything together…lots of bulk!


With that mess basted, we move unto the hems. All hems had 2 inch wide HH Horsehair braid. The skirt hem was shortened 5 inches and the double ruffled petticoats had their HH turned under twice for a total of 4.5 inches shorter and now nice and thick and stiff.P1210162

With top and bottom basting done, the zipper has to be re-attached for the try-on. Let’s not forget the grosgrain ribbon guard as well.


Then attach the corset to the lining.P1210177

But don’t forget the French tacks that hold the lower edge of the corset to the lining and skirt.P1210178

The second try-on shows that some of the ruffles hang below the new HH hem length and have to be altered. Wouldn’t you know it…to shorten them you have to remove the 1/2 inch wide strip of bias binding.P1210055

Trim off the excess fabric and re-attach the strips by machine…shortening it also as needed…can you spell tedious?


Lordie…are we done yet? Of course not…every bride need a bustle and this dress gets two points, one on either side of the zipper to pull up the remaining train ruffles.P1210216

The final try-onP1210212-2P1210213-2 and the steamed dress is finished and ready for transport to the wedding venue.


Can you get an inkling of where the venue will be? Does the thick leather belt give you a hint? Under the dress the bride will be wearing knee-high leather hiking boots…come on…guess…a barn? a backyard, a winery, some gorgeous outdoor scene with those white gloved waiters with trays? NOPE!

Give up?

This steamed silk dress after all the extensive alterations will be stuffed into a rucksack and backpacked into the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range to the most inaccessible spot on the West Coast where the happy couple will be saying their vows on a remote cliff in the forest. To complete this scene, the bride will be wearing knee high hiking boots that are required for this monumental backpacking excursion as the terrain includes snakes and bears and cougars along with enough twigs and pine needles to start a bonfire to signal any search  and rescue teams.

I’ve asked the bride for photos of the wedding…if she remembers, that should be quite something!

This weekend our temps will be heading to 107 F or 41 C so I won’t be spending too much time in the garden picking veggies but here are a couple photos of recent gatherings:Aug-12P1210179

Have a super sewing week!!!

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Grandma Mole Improvises

When your 12 year old granddaughter (who was 2000 miles away) asks for a favor that involves sewing…how can you resist?

Here is the pattern that she liked: simplicity-dresses-pattern-1687-envelope-front

Now, normally you all know my delight is in finding flaws with current patterns but this was not the case this time. I was given suggestions of fabrics she loved at JoAnn’s online but of course none of these were available at my local store:


What’s the next best thing? The pattern was designed for a woven and those fabrics were knits so I found this colorful Nicole Miller slight stretch twill:


The pattern had many pieces with pockets and bodice linings and princess panels and pleats…OK, it had just about everything except buttonholes. But…the big BUT…all the pieces were well marked and fit together very well and the directions were pretty good. So many patterns tell us to put the center back zipper in last…and this one showed how to do an invisible zipper BUT to do it after the whole dress is put together…yeah right…

How hard is it to do the side seams last AFTER inserting the zipper??? Get with the program pattern makers….none of us want to wrestle a zipper into the last back opening. For those of us who fit as we go along, having the last seams be the side seams allows us to make the garment fit even nicer. Just my opinion…..

The other thing I did different was to skip the facings…just use bias tape for the openings like Anne does…clean and very RTW! Also skipped the zipper at the top of the pockets…who needs those?

My smallest mannequin can be scaled down to a 30 inch bust and small waist so the dress can be seen like it had a real pre-teen body in it:P1210134P1210135 

Can you see the curved lines and pockets with the grey fabric sections? P1210144

The opened-out princess seams needed some taming so I topstitched each seam allowance down. Other seams were pressed to one side to lay flat.P1210145

I wanted the grey sections to be nearest the hem and on the front I also like the way the blue sections drop off at an angle.

So, instead of ragging and raging about how bad this pattern could be…it actually is one I would make again and maybe use piping in the seams like it shows and line the bodice. Now the dress is on it’s way through the postal service to my granddaughter. School starts on the 10th of August.

Here is the photo of the dress, on the girl, just sent after it arrived in the mail:IMG_1074-small We are both smiling! Grandma is grateful for the photo and for the way it fits after sewing long distance.

So what’s up in the garden this week? How about tarragon and eggplants and plums and beans for a change?P1210136P1210147 I have been giving away a lot of the veggies and making soup to freeze for the future. Maybe next time I will show you. Stay cool sewing sisters!!!! Thanks for dropping by…have a seat in the shade for a while and let’s swap some stories about sewing…OK?



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Such a Bargain

What if you could buy a $1500 beaded wedding gown for $200? What if it didn’t fit but you thought a seamstress could make it fit? What if you were told that it had never been worn?

This improbable story was told to me by my next bride. Here is the model from the website wearing her correct sized dress:353709ea1ad2e5e53f26df3f64a5dbc1

Stunning isn’t it? Now let’s see it in real life:


This eBay find/dream dress stated that it was new and never worn but the beads and sequins tell another story. After quoting the price for the alterations I asked the bride if she wanted me to snug-up all the dangling beads as that is what I always do before sending the finished dress out the door and her answer was, “Suit yourself”. WHAT? I told her that I was certainly not looking to make work for myself and I did it as a gift/favor to the bride for free.

  Not quite the same…back buttons missing, beads dangling, threads showing and a 6 inch gap in the zipper…just a small problem. Why is it always a 6 inch gap?

What shall we do? You know the answer don’t you? The familiar corset back will make this wearable and even though is will cost almost as much as the dress itself, the bride will be covered and can walk down the aisle safely.

Here are the loops basted on. Under the loops’ edge is an inside corset with hooks and eyes so the machine stitching has to be very close to the edge. I have asked the bride to wear underpants for the wedding as a thong is just NOT going to cut it.

No matter how tight I pull the lacing, (the ever-present blue grosgrain ribbon), the front is still flaring away from the bust. Pinning out the side seams did not take care of this weird area and it has to be taken in between the side seam and princess seam. Now this is what happens when the dress is much too small to start with.


You can also see that the length is too long but the bride likes it dragging.

I make the new front darts by following the shape and angle of the pins on the outside and on the inside. Beaded motifs are removed before any sewing.


Even after making the darts there is something strange about the bust…let’s look inside the lining and structure…ahhhh someone has been there before me…that eBay claim was bogus. I notice right away that the excess fabric over the bust cup is over 1 inch too much so I pin out 1/2 inch each side to conform with the boning on the right side (lace).


Looking further we can see that the original stitching (holes) have already been taken in once before and seams trimmed away.


So, what needs to happen is the felt underlayer needs to be taken in and the dart added on the right side of the photo. But first we have to release the stitching that holds the inner bust pad just so the the presser foot will fit into that small space. This is turning out to be more work.


Let’s stitch the thread basted line:


Completed new seam, flatter, and the excess will be trimmed away and the bust pad resewn.


Final try-on shows the bodice fits right up against her bust. She does not mind the darts  and says she has lost some weight so the lacing is narrower. She will use ivory grosgrain ribbon. You can see red-tipped pins on the center of the bodice where I will tack the lining to the satin layer under the lace to keep it flat.

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To celebrate the ending of this week, Mr Mole has made a lo-carb cheesecake,cheesecake-1 so we cut up a ripe peach and poured sugar free syrup over it and enjoyed every bit. The rest will be cut up and frozen for other Fridays.


Our temperature went up to 104 today so staying in the shade is mandatory!

So, the squash plants have been pumping out fruit like crazy!squashes

Stay cool everyone!



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Bad Backroom Alterations

This morning, the phone rings and the voice says, “Hi, I’m Lydia and I need some advice if you have the time”. So, I say, “what do you need?”

It seems that a group of 5 bridesmaids just received their dresses for a wedding and 2 girls need some help. The caller says her dress needs to be taken in 1 inch on each of the side seams and her girlfriend needs something added to hers. She wants to know if it is possible to use the 2 one inch strips from her dress to add to her friend’s dress. I tell her that even if they are used, by the time you make a 1/4 inch seam on either edge, you will end up with just two 1/2 inch strips and that does not seem like much. She says that they have shown the dress of her friend to other seamstresses in town and no one will touch it. What does this tell us?

I tell her that the best bet will be to go to JoAnn’s and find some material close to the color and ask the seamstress to add it on. I never asked when the wedding was as I was not going to be involved other than to give advice.

2 hours later there is a girl standing at the front door with this dark teal dress d2ef916cadba3a4110ba5265e81401d6

and some bright lime green polyester in a JoAnn’s bag. I know immediately that this is the friend of the earlier caller. My first question as always: “When is the wedding?” Her answer: “In 4 days”.

It seems that the bride bought her own corset back dress at David’s but went to every bridal salon in the state to order this particular color of teal/peacock and ended up buying them from a high end salon 5 hours away in Portland. Once I look inside the dress it screams “someone has been here before you!” And here is why:P1210069P1210071 You all know that you would never see home sewing hem tape in a RTW gown…never! Obviously, someone at the salon let this zipper out to make it larger and then did not manage to sell it. With more inspection we find lots of ugly in the lining and the chiffon. I will post all the photos on my Pinterest page but here are just a few boo-boos: Left side inside top of bodice.P1210062

Right side inside


Want to see more? Let’s see the real nasty stuff…take a deep breath!P1210083P1210081P1210082

So besides letting out the lining with the badly replaced boning strips, they only used an 1/8 seam which has already broken open. They also did the same with the chiffon layer:P1210072

OK…but beyond all this releasing of seams, did the dress fit the bridesmaid? You be the judge:P1210059

With a 6 inch gap in the zipper…you know what is coming don’t you? Let’s make some loops for a corset back. Like my East Coast sewing sister, Sharon, I tell the girl that I will use her removable straps to make the loops. I make the loops like bridal ones, basing them on some grosgrain ribbon folded in half. I don’t have enough strap length to make curved loops so I opt for just flipped over pointed ones.


With both sides finished all she has to do is try it on and see if we still need the zipper or can I sew up the lower opening.

After the fitting she does still need the zipper which will be only 4 inches long and I offer to add a panel/flap of the material to cover where her underpants would go. Two rows of stitching is also added at the top edge to hold the lining inside and that weird pleat thing is released and everything is now flat.



Even with the zipper zipped up, the whole center back seam is straining so I cut off 2 inches from the second layer of lining and made 4 oval shapes to add to the side seams of the2  layers of lining so she can actually sit down.


Am I charging for any of this extra work? Nah…I believe in karma and the power of the universe to bring me people who need my help in an emergency. The fact that this poor single girl had to buy her own dress for $200 and pay for the alterations is enough stress. She did tell me the name of the boutique where the girls ordered and bought their dresses and just 2 days before the wedding she finds out that 3 other dresses all have similar problems and had been pre-altered like hers. It is definitely a place to stay away from!!!! If anyone wants to know the name of the bridal salon, please email me privately to save yourself a lot of grief!

So let’s close on a happy note shall we?


Mr Mole bought this bag of frozen Pacific tuna caught with a rod and reel:fish-bottom-2

Best tuna we have ever tasted! And from Walmart.

Hope you all have a stress-free week of sewing!!!!


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