Creating a Corset-back Wedding Dress
One Sunday morning in 2013, my cell phone rang…
“Hi, this is Donna.”
“Oh hi! How are you?”
“I’m sorry but I have an emergency and I need your help.”
“Sure. What’s up?”
“My daughter is getting married in less than two weeks, she’s 5 1/2 months pregnant and the dress doesn’t fit anymore! This is an $850 wedding gown that we bought back in May of 12 and it fit up until a week ago! I’ve been to 3 seamstresses and none of them will touch it. I’m so desperate, I nearly broke down and purchased another wedding dress last weekend but the ones on the rack that fit were horrible and it would take too long to order another. This one took 6 weeks to come in and we don’t have that long! Then I woke up in the middle of the night and I thought of you. Do you think you can you help?”
Now this is a woman in sheer desperation! How can I say no? “Well, I can try. We’re in Houston right now but we should be home in a couple of hours.” “That’s OK. Her shower is today from 2-4 so we’ll be by after that.” “OK. See you then.” As I hang up, I wonder if it’s a bridal shower or a baby shower… 🙂
Funny thing about the pregnant body. One day you’re one size, and the next you’re two sizes larger like someone took a bicycle pump to the girls overnight. Which is fine, unless you’re hoping to fit into your pre-preggo size 4 wedding gown.
I know that wedding gowns come with an additional 3 inches in seam allowance on each side – that seems to be an industry standard. I did some online homework before they arrived and found the perfect solution – the corset back wedding gown. That would solve the problem of her possibly getting bigger before the wedding after the alteration. When they arrived, I see why no seamstress will touch it. This strapless dress is covered top to bottom in a layer of silk organza folds and ruffles. Oh boy. Fortunately, the bride wasn’t fussy and when I asked her about converting the back of the dress, she was good with it. I mean really, what choice did she have? When she put the dress on, the top of the zipper had a 5 inch gap and there was no way it was going to close. Here is the front of the dress.
The first step was to match the fabric and no single fabric would work because of the organza overlay on the gown. I had to haul this monster dress to the store to find fabrics that would work and I found them at #HancockFabrics. While lighting can be a challenge with store fluorescents and incandescent lighting at home, I ended up choosing the wrong side of a candlelight organza (or the less-shiny side…it’s hard to tell) over the wrong side of white satin. The effect was nearly identical.
Now to put them together. If you’ve never done it, sewing slippery, shiny fabrics is an absolute nightmare. So I reached into my Mad Quilting Skills part of my brain and hauled out the miracle of all miracles…Sullivan’s Quilt Basting Spray.
First to make the tie. I read somewhere that the tie needed to be 3 yards long and I didn’t want a mid-seam which would create a stress point on satin fabric that shreds like crazy. The LAST thing the bride needs is to have the tie holding in the girls to give out during the reception! So I purchased a full 3 yards of both the satin and organza even though I didn’t need that much. I know you’re supposed to sew sheers on tissue paper, and I didn’t have any, but I did have a huge roll of white plastic table cover left over from a company Christmas party. (It’s always good to be on the decorating committee in case of any leftovers). I’ve experienced pulling paper off the back of quilt pieces when paper piecing, so I thought, well – why not plastic too? I swept off the screened-in back patio to get rid of the dog fur, locked the dogs into the house, and rolled it out.
I folded the fabric and cut the strip with a rotary cutter on my cutting mat. It’s one, 3-yard long piece – not pieced together like custom bias binding. I laid out a 3 3/4” wide strip of satin onto the plastic, sprayed it with quilt basting spray, and pressed and smoothed a 5” wide piece of organza over it using my Pampered Chef Baker’s Roller. (Adapt and overcome amiright?)
The image below is the plastic (with CRAZY static cling [ugh! Major PITA], then satin, then organza.
I pinned like crazy, cut it out with scissors at least an inch away from the edge of any fabric, and sewed a long basting stitch about 1/8 inch from the edge of the satin along both long sides.
To make the tie, I sewed the end of a piece of cording into the end of the tie for a tugging rope, and then right sides together using a tiny 1.8” stitch length, I sewed the cord within the length of the tie inside the basting stitch. Then I inverted the tie by pulling on the loose end of the cord and coaxed the fabric to turn right side out as I tugged, and tugged, and stuffed, and tugged the opposite end through itself. It was a total and complete pain and took me 45 minutes! Check the shredding on the seam. See why there cannot be a stress point via a center seam? I know I could have simply folded the fabric WST and top stitched one side but…tacky. I wanted this to look factory with no visible seams. I mean, it’s a wedding gown and everyone will be staring at her back as she walks down the aisle.
The whole process of prepping, laying, spraying, laying, pinning, cutting, sewing, and turning took 2.5 hours. But it turned out absolutely perfect. I had a little happy dance!
See how the color matches nearly exactly? And the outside fabrics are both organza so the texture is the same as well and there’s no seam on the tie. Gorgeous.
Creating the corset loops was tricky. I know you can order these online but I had little time and didn’t want to chance not matching the color correctly. At Hancock Fabrics I found a close match of satin cording and my first attempt by sewing the cording to twill tape was a fail. The twill tape wouldn’t stay straight which I anticipated would cause a wonky tug factor from one side or the other as the corset was pulled together. The beauty of a corset back gown is the perfect serpentine that is created when the tie is run through the loops. To get this effect, the loops must be the same distance apart on either side of the bodice and evenly spaced. I decided on a stiff boning-by-the-yard to make the loop sets and broke out my heavy-duty machine needles. The boning was perfect and stabilized the loop sets. Again with my quilting skills, the loops were held in place until sewn with Clover Wonder Clips (‘cuz you CAN’T pin the cording into the boning evenly) and I attached the loops with a zipper foot straight stitch down the center of the boning. Then I reinforced those babies with additional horizontal zigzag stitch on each loop end. Those bad boys were NOT coming loose on my watch!
I was hoping not to have to deconstruct the dress to remove the zipper. So I sewed the boning by machine to the outside of the dress with the loops facing toward the side seam. I left the top loop about 1/2 “ below the top edge of the dress.
Once the loops were turned toward the inside of the dress, I stitched the folded portion by hand to the inside of the gown using a heavy upholstery thread and curved upholstery needle. The top layer of the skirt’s organza ruffle came up over the bottom of the zipper. It looked like I wouldn’t have to deconstruct the dress. Yay!
Once both loop sets were installed, I had to make the modesty panel. I read online somewhere the modesty panel had to be 10 inches wider than the final gap in the gown so the top of the panel needed to be 15 inches across. (I’ve noticed in wedding gowns since this event that you barely get an inch on each side of the panel – cheapo manufacturers!) Again I used a spray basting method to adhere the organza to the satin and sew them. I drew my sewing line with a Frixion pen and left a small opening in the bottom so I could turn it right side out.
I trimmed up the panel, turned it, poked out the corners with a chop stick, gave the panel a good press and top stitched the opening closed. Then I hand stitched it, using a strong polyester thread, to the left side of the gown right next to the left loop set.
Here’s the secret to a perfectly centered serpentine down the corset back gown. Run the tie through the top two loops, then standing way back, hold the ends of the ties like reigns on a horse, to get them even and straight. Then drop them, and run the right tie through the 2nd left loop on the left side so both ends hang on the left making sure there are NO twists in the tie as it goes through the loop. Then take the tie in the top left loop and run it across from right and back to left inserting it into the 3rd left loop. You always start with the top tie on the left side, over and back. Don’t run the ties like a tennis shoe. Continue this process down the dress, left to right to left, until it is completely tied. When you get to the last right loop at the bottom, create a bow with the ends and tuck them down inside the dress. Here is a pillow modeling the final effect.
And Here Comes the Bride! (Not really. This is a final fitting in my LR, not the actual ceremony!) ha Seeing that I could have made the modesty panel a little longer, I advised the bride to ensure her undergarments were white for the ceremony.
The corset back was the perfect choice for this bridal alteration. Her mom told me the gap at the top of the gown the day of the wedding was even farther apart than it was when she brought the dress to me. The bride was thrilled with the outcome and really, so was I. I hear she was absolutely gorgeous at the wedding and the dress got rave reviews….And they lived happily ever after!
In case you are wondering, because I didn’t know what I was doing when I started, I was a sucker and did this for a case of beer + the cost of fabric ($75). Mom offered more and I said no. I know, I know… but I felt good about the outcome and told her to consider it my wedding gift to them. Besides, her sister Dana and her hubs have done so much for us and that’s what friends are for, right? 🙂
Great post! wow, wonderful job! They must have been thrilled.
Wow that looks like hundreds of dollars worth of work. The corset back looks gorgeous!!
Brilliant post and has been helping me out converting a vintage dress into a corset back for my friends wedding – who is also 5 1/2 months pregnant! Thanks a lot!