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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Purple Haze

This week, let’s take a break from all those scary complicated dresses.

This Alfred Angelo dress for around $300 looks pretty nice.

It comes in a dozen colors. But…the big but…can you see how the top edge of the shoulder drops down unto her arm? Nice, sweet coverage…ahh no…what they did to make that armhole cup that shoulder is make the actual armhole waaay too small. Clever? Ahh no…all that does is grab the arm so tight and make it impossible to reach forward or up. What can be done, the whole edge is bound with more lace over tulle with no seams to let out?

Just a little history…the MOB tells me she can sew but is only “letting me do this” as she has no time. She travels for work and only buys her clothes at an exclusive boutique in California. She continues to tell me that she has a gorgeous body for a middle aged woman but then has to admit that her boobs rest somewhere nearer the waistline than the high bustline of boning. The back of the dress offers no support even if I sewed in bust cups, she has to find a strapless bra that lifts those puppies up.

The other issue is after only trying on the dress once, her daughter has pulled the loops so hard to get the back to close, that the tulle around each loop and button is tearing and making small holes.  

To get some ease in the armhole and back the side seams should be released. As the original seam was a perfect straight line, I make the new seam at the top edge more curved. You can see the sleeve band of lace that was sewn as a unit and will be tucked inside for the next seamstress.

Flipped to the inside and pinned before understitching:

Side seams and linings have been let out to the edge to gain 1 inch each side.

The outside before pressing: You can see the lighter lace edging stops at the underarm and has a gap but there is no excess to patch it.

The finished project with 2 layers of satin and one layer of chiffon shortened and seams let out:

Another interesting thing is that even for the final try-on with a new strapless bra, the bust boning was still higher on the chest than the client’s boobs. So, I wadded up more tulle like in the previous blog post and padded on either side of the boning to at least fill the vacancy so there were no vertical drag lines. In the end the MOB says that this dress was made for younger bridesmaids even though the style screams a more matronly customer. At least the zipper went up with the added 2 inches in circumference! I didn’t dare try to button it up and make those holes any larger!







It is time to get back to the brides but before I go I had to share these photos from a woman who wants her very young pageant daughter to wear this in a competition and thought that I would love to recreate this outfit cheaper than the going price. Who knew you could purchase something so cheap and nasty looking for such a high price?

Wait…it gets worse! How about adding a thick metal clasp at the back neck and polyester ribbon straps to hold the whole contraption to the child?

Award winning, no?

Have a great week of sewing everyone!

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Crying Thighs 2

Just over a year ago, I had the challenge to get a volleyball playing bride into her “Crying Thighs” tight-fitting dress. Wedding gown manufactures require salons to measure the bride in the bust and waist and hips but sometimes it is the thighs that can get you into trouble when the dress is dropped waisted.  

So once again, beautiful dress, beautiful bride and a challenge.

I leave the bride and her mother to get her dressed while I step out. All I can hear is groaning and rustling of fabric and grunts and that is when I ask, “Is everything OK?” The poor mother is beside herself and overwhelmed that they cannot get the dress on the bride either by stepping into the dress or pulling it over her head…why? The dress circumference at the thighs is smaller than the girl herself. Finally we manage to get her in, smooth her down and the result is drag lines everywhere and she cannot raise her leg to walk never mind the thought of sitting.

You can see that the tightness of this dress does not flatter her figure and really draws attention to her tummy with drag lines. The back butt curve is so tight that she cannot move her legs. Not a great look!


The front waist wrinkles can be helped with double spaghetti straps on each side which she has asked for although only one strap is shown. The bust cups have had push-up pads pinned on but there is still a need for some extra padding later.

Ready for some real custom work? Open the lining and let out the center back seam. Like with other gowns, once I snip the lining threads, the dress almost sighs with relief as the lining is 1/2 inch smaller on each side of the zipper.


The lining is hand basted to the zipper leaving the lower half open. I explained to the bride and her mother that we may have to leave it open for the final fitting just so the girl can walk.

The lining is opened further down along with the layers of petticoat netting now involved as well. The lining seams vertically over the thighs are already fraying with the strain so all 4 seams are let out 1/2 inch each hoping it is enough.

The dropped waist seam is opened up to access all seams. Can you see the fraying after only one hour of wearing?


Second fitting appointment, even with the extra ease…this will never work! You can see the lace motifs that have been folded back to work on the seams. The solution will come with work done on the last 7 buttons area where the stress is the worst!

One reader asked me last time on how do I figure what shape the new panels have to be….well, I want to add 2 inches to the bodice and the same 2 inches to the skirt. I cut the strips and wedge from the center back skirt train so no one will notice. Then using some white satin and 4 layers of white and blush tulle, they come alive. The lace motif on the lower wedge has to be removed like all the others one stitch at a time…tedious work.

In the meantime, while I am inside the dress I wad up tulle into a ball and stitch it into the very pointed bust area to eliminate wrinkles on either side of the boning. Push up bust pads help but are too rounded to make a difference this time.

Back to the back…upper panels in and ready for the zipper:

Panels in and waiting for 7 buttons to be re-attached and all the lace motifs to be attached to the tulle layer and the 3rd fitting appointment.





Want to see what is under all this? The first layer (hidden) is satin lining hemmed with 2 inch wide horsehair braid that will have to be shortened 2 inches. Then the next layer is white tulle, then 4 layers of netting, some gathered which will be trimmed by 2 inches.


The next layer is thin satin and then another layer of white tulle the same circumference as the satin (the problem child) and then 3 more layers of blush and white tulle.

The bride and her mother are in love with the train and want all of it bustled up. I start with a 5-point bustle of the tulle and a 1-point bustle of the satin layer.

3rd fitting appointment and the butt and thighs are still very tight and you can see the lining seams are trapped up under the bodice layer so I have taken this picture to have the bride show her helpers where they have to pull down to get all the wrinkles out.

At least on the outside, the zipper works but it is still very tight under her butt. She still cannot sit down or walk up steps…but she says she will not be doing either on her special day. I tell her that she will not even be able to pee without taking the entire dress off and she says she is OK with that. The remainder of the lace motifs will cover all the spaces and seams all hand sewn onto the tulle layer alone while watching TV.

The side view is still exaggerated but the bride calls that her “drama” and doesn’t want to lose it…well, it sure ain’t going anywhere!





The inside tells another story…see the new panels and end of the zipper? See the edges of the lining…yes…you got that right…12 inches of ease has to be left open just to get into this dress.

But, from the outside…it looks fine and the bustle will need 7 points to get it all off the ground. Wait…what is that white stuff hanging? Remember the one white tulle layer the same shape as the satin? Well, it cannot be bustled with the other tulle layers and cannot be bustled with the satin as it is somehow stitched into the lower half of the zipper so it will just have to be trimmed off.


Did you think we were done??? Ha ha…oh no…let’s think about adding a blinged out belt too along with those double spaghetti straps. The bride is off to find ribbons and do-dads and sparkles.






Meanwhile, I have finished 7 bustle buttons/loops and left the 2 extra safety pins in case we go with 9 points. The lace motifs look really nice when spread out:

The bride went crazy in JoAnn’s and bought wide satin ribbon and wide rhinestone trim but even though her mother and I said this belt would not add anything to the dress, she stopped everything and Facetimed her wedding planner to get her opinion. Who does this?

The mom and I stood there while the bride tried on all sorts of other versions of belts and ribbons, glittered and beaded while the bride and her consultant talked back and forth on her phone video chatting. Finally, the professional told her she didn’t need a belt and I could finish the appointment by trimming off the white tulle layer that hung below the bustle.

Now, we have a very neat bustle and they decided that they wanted a 9 point bustle for the tulle layer.








She is ready to dance up a storm and no one will know what is going on under all those ruffles…just you and I.

This week Mr. Mole decided to harvest a fennel from the garden for our dinner. Have a super week of sewing everyone!



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Horrible Horsehair

When you see this Tara Keely dress you might imagine that you will get this exact dress but something happens between the photoshoot and the actual delivery. See how there are 3 layers of horsehair braid hemmed tulle? Three quite elegant layers, nice symmetry and flow…but…

In the real world, you get 4 shortened layers that just look bulky and there is no way to shorten the lower layers from the top as the top layer is only 1.5 inches from the seam.You can see in the next photo how much too long the front ruffles are. The one good thing is that the bustle can be hidden under the top two layers. The bride has chosen a beaded belt with a satin bow and tails and a fingertip veil.


The hidden 3 satin buttons for the bustle:

To shorten the double lower layers, yes, there are two, I will have to remove the horsehair braid 3/4 around of the circumference and raise it up 3.5 inches along with the lining which also has 2 inch wide horsehair braid and the satin layer which has 1/2 inch braid and 3 netting petticoat layers and more tulle layers…let’s say over 7 hours of labor easy. Oh and put in some padded bust cups and take in both hips and one side zipper…anything else…sure…    Have you ever seen a dress with buttons on the shoulder? Me either, but this one has them too. The whole weight of the dress hangs on those buttons and tiny loops so I added 3 hanging snaps to help keep the loops from stretching and breaking. Hanging snaps? Yes, you attach one side as normal and the other side is only attached through one hole as it “hangs” and can keep the two edges flat.  The belt will not have anything to keep it in place so I made thread carriers at the side seams and center back as the bow will be heavy and want to droop:

So here we are…bow tied quickly and badly, sorry, and all bustled up and front now short enough to be safe for walking and dancing…hooray! Ready for the final try-on…


At the final appointment, the bride brings along a non-sewing friend for moral support. It is not a good sign when this happens as these extra women have their own opinions and they suggest to have things changed at the last minute having not seen the dress in its metamorphosis from the beginning/first fitting.

This chick stood over me the whole time and got real close to check out my stitching and every time I explained to the bride about what I had done and the reason why I had done it, the friend said, “Yes, I would agree or I concur”.

WHAT? After 7 hours of labor and lots of brain power and planning and some swearing…this friend thinks she might have a better idea but for the moment will just play along and give me her benediction? Finally, I told her politely that if she sat on the sofa she could see everything well enough (and stop breathing down my neck!)

Before I go I wanted to share a couple bird feeders, an upside down suet feeder on the left for woodpeckers and chickadees and the hummingbird feeder on the right filled with sugar water and in the middle is a new grass that was supposed to go into the ground. I couldn’t decide where it should go so I hung it up and now we call it “Boris”. My UK followers will recognize the resemblance!

The coming week will be in the high 80’s to 90’s so now the battle is on to keep all the baby plants wet and healthy. Happy sewing and gardening everyone! Thank you for all your kind comments last week for the vintage gown…it was fun for me too!

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Great Grandma Would Be Proud

Back in 1953, brides wore gloves and covered their shoulders with bolero jackets and gave little thought to who would wear their dresses again.

This dress was tossed into a dress-up box for the grandchildren to use when they played. Sadly the jacket went missing.

Sixty-three years later the great-granddaughter has an idea to wear the dress for her wedding and great grandma approves. Repairs have to be made like replacing a broken zipper, tears in the tulle layers, tears to the center front pleating and evening up the satin hem. Oh, and figuring out how to find more ease in the bodice and what can be done to keep it from falling down.








With push-up bust cups pinned in, we try out different strap options.

Tulle sleeve/straps solve two problems in front and back and still look feminine.

Then we try out a halter style which makes the bride very happy to know that the grosgrain ribbon can be covered with tulle to match her dress and she will feel secure while dancing. The designs on the front are little velvet, yes, velvet appliques with tan beads. The halter angles compliment the front tulle collar “V” section.

Let’s remove the broken zipper:




Even though this was a RTW gown, the previous seamstress took in the side seams unequally and the boning was covered and stitched on by hand. Luckily, I was able to take the side seams back to the original position. The grandmother admitted that this dress was played in and even was worn to climb trees by all the grandchildren through the years never thinking that it would be ever worn again for a wedding. After all, it was not her dress…it was her mother’s.


The fact that all the boning was covered, pinked and stitched into place with long hand stitches really makes sense for alterations! How practical…snip threads, remove, alter a seam and tack it back into place! Now I wish all boning was done this way!!!

When the previous seamstress took in the side seams, she stacked them, flipped them and tacked them both forward leaving a huge ridge inside.

I will take the stitching back to the original line and open the seams and press them flat but not trim them for the next seamstress.

Another victim of the dressing up days is the hem…the original horsehair braid had a drawstring at the top to make it curve but a lot of it has been caught and stretched out and the hem itself is so uneven and droops below the tulle layers. The hem will be leveled to the level of the tulle and netting.

There are also spaces where the braid is frayed away:

One of the holes in the tulle top layer was jagged. Instead of just trying to get both edges together and hope for the best, I used the technique that plastic surgeons use on skin. The top and bottom edges are elongated to make sharp points that will lie flatter after stitching. How do I know this? Well, last July I had a large skin cancer removed from my face and this is how it was done to minimize a scar.

I use invisible poly thread to sew the edges back together by hand. Now the hole is just a line that will blend in with the rest of the skirt…it’s not great but it works.

The other place that needed fixing is the front…it had a 45 degree tear inside and out and I used the same clear thread to repair it.

You can also see the velvet applique pieces up close here:

We add some bust cups and she is ready to walk down the aisle. So far no one has shown the photos of the alterations to great grandma as they are afraid she might cry…they are waiting for the day of the wedding when the bride reveals the dress in person. OH MY…get the tissues ready!

  A final look inside reveals something not quite right…can you see it?

Yes, under all the tulle at center front, it goes unnoticed…the front top of the center satin skirt seam has been caught and makes a pleat/pucker. Who knows how long it has been there…since day one? I will release it so it lays flat.

New center back zipper:


Just before the final day, the bride drops off a darling matching flower girl dress to be hemmed that has buttons down the back and I suggest that we add buttons on her dress too:


Modern additions done and just in time for a change in the weather…from the 50’s a week ago to the 90’s this week…happy squash and tomatoes!




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Halter Girl

This dress by Tadashi Shoji comes with a list of descriptions and one of them is this:

Can be shortened; using an experienced bridal tailor is recommended.

You will notice that the model has a perfect figure for this body-hugging creation and is the perfect height.  The lace edging is all along the bodice top edges and along the hem. The thin drawstring holds the top to the neckline.

Here is what it looks like on a real bride:


The front neckline is very high and a bit choker-like leaving no room for jewelry. The back neckline is darling with little crystal beads at the end of the ties.


But…the hem…always a little too long for average height brides. The edging will be removed and restitched about 4 inches higher up along with 2 layers of…yes…you got it…KNIT lining with coverstitch finish. So every bit of thread is removed to release the scalloped lace edging.

We are leaving the small train which will be bustled up.

To shorten/drop down the neckline, I fold over more fabric to the inside…about one inch.

Now unto the hem: You can see by the red thread basting, the new hem line for the lace edging. The top red thread line is just holding the excess up and out of the way for the try-on. It will be trimmed away later.

Satin layer and 2 lining layers hand basted and later cover-stitched and trimmed.

Both knit layers are coverstitched:

Here is the dainty one-point bustle with the knit lining layers hanging free. Finally, something relatively simple that does not require the magic wand…it is being recharged anyway!

The view from my sewing room window this morning:

Marigolds, poppies, pear trees, irises and lots of veggies surround the new frog fountain. The squash plants are in and mulched by Mr. Mole.

This year I am recycling an older fountain into a succulent tower:

I’m still plowing my way through all the vintage gowns and fingers crossed, I will have the final photos for you soon!

Happy sewing everyone!

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Lumpy Lace

Some brides troll through the racks at David’s Bridal, some troll through racks at Outlet bridal stores or boutiques and try on dresses until they find one that fits close to what they want and need.

Then there are brides that wander into the murky world of eBay and fall in love with a photograph. This is where I got involved…bride tries on the bargain $140 dress and we start pinning out all she wants tighter and shorter.

To start with, this dress needs to be a petite, so the shoulders will be shortened to bring the waist up and the princess seams will have more taken in at the armhole and the zipper will have to be removed and moved in 2 inches…but wait…back up, girl, FIRST, all the lace has to be removed from those areas or we will have a huge thick mess.


Let’s pin out 3/4 inch on the shoulders to start while the rest of the dress is pinned and tucked. The whole length of the zipper is pinned out as well.

As the dress warms up and starts to droop, the shoulder tuck is increased to 1 inch for a total of 2 inches each side…and yes, there is sheer lining as well to take up separately…where is my Diet Pepsi? Can you see the bust cups? Yes, I can too as they are not nude colored, they are rock hard white puppies…where did the seamstress get these? They will be replaced with nude colored soft push-up ones from Wawak. Yes, this dress is not a RTW dress…it was homemade.

Remove the zipper and a pile of lace:

Red thread trace the new seam lines and clean up the area.

Red thread trace the extra amount to be taken in the top of the princess seam like a dart…and yes, there is a separate lining too to deal with…it is just more labor.

Red thread trace the new zipper seams:

Measuring the shoulder liningg to be taken in before being attached back into the fabric with lace.

Let’s do the other side…I think I will leave that little sliver of lace edge in the seam…at this point I am fed up making everything perfect.

Measure the dart intake…1.5 inches:

The length will be 3.5 inches and taper off into the original seam.

Lace is removed and flipped back to make the seam and then flipped back into place and overlap.

Since the rest of the dress has overlapped thick lace…why not just do more of it?

Don’t forget the lining under the princess seam dart!

With all the bodice alterations done, the bride wants a belt attached. Let’s sew a rhinestone chunky thing onto the pre-crinkled ribbon and tack the whole thing around at the top edge.

No ribbon bow for this girl so the ends are tucked under and stitched down at the zipper.

The satin hem and lining have been shortened and then the tulle skirt will also be shortened by trimming with scissors. The satin layer/lining has a 1-point bustle and the tulle has a 3-point bustle.

The final photo shows the great fit in the bust area along with the almost invisible bust cups.

Maybe you’ve notice that I use a nice ruler in my photos and work.

For 40 years I have been using the same C-thru brand of rulers.

The markings are embedded inside the plastic and do not wear off but recently I lost one of the 6 inch ones and went crazy trying to find it. In the end, I resorted to buying one online and the new one is a cheap imitation with the marking just painted on the surface and rough. It seems the original company folded and were bought out and this is the crappy substitute we are being sold. I wrote a review to the drafting company selling these and asked them not to claim they were the same quality. They thanked me…we shall see. Even Amazon is selling these cheap versions so beware!

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