The Shotgun Wedding…Dress

My cell phone is ringing and its 9:30 on Sunday morning and it’s an unknown number.  But it has my local area code so it’s probably not a telemarketer.  OK, I’ll bite…“Hello? “Becky?” “Yeah?” “Hi, this is Donna.”

(Silence as I process “Donna”)…She says, “Dana’s sister.”

“Oh hi!  How are you?  Is everything alright?”
“I’m sorry but I have a sewing emergency and I need your help.  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 last night and you came to my mind like an epiphany.  Do you think you can you help us?”

This is a woman who sounds like she’s 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.”  And I wonder if it’s a wedding 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 in two weeks.  Fat chance.

Wedding gowns come with an additional 3 inches of seam allowance on each side – that seems to be an industry standard for alterations.  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, but why wouldn’t a seamstress do this?  I’m sure it’s a common occurrence.  Then they arrive and 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 zipper had a 5 inch gap at the top and there was no way it was going to close.  Here is the front of the dress.

And here is the back.

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 Hancock.  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 shade of color was nearly identical when overlayed on top of each other.IMG_0881-1

Now to put the two fabric layers together so they can be sewn.  If you’ve never done it, sewing slippery, shiny fabrics is an absolute nightmare.  So I reached back to my mad quilting skills and hauled out the miracle of all miracles…Quilt Basting Spray.IMG_0877

First to make the tie.  I read somewhere that the tie needed to be 3 yards long and while I hated to buy 3 yards of each fabric for one continuous piece that is only a couple of inches wide, I didn’t want to create a stress point from a seam in the tie on fabric that shreds like crazy like satin does.  The LAST thing the bride needs is to have the tie holding in the girls to give out during the reception!  3 yards it is.
I know you’re supposed to sew sheers on tissue paper, of which I had none, 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, locked the dogs into the house, and rolled it out.IMG_0878

I laid out a 3 3/4” wide strip of satin, sprayed it with quilt basting spray, and then pressed and smoothed a 5” wide piece of organza over it and pinned like crazy.  I cut it out at least an inch away from the edge of any fabric, and stitched a long basting stitch about 1/8 inch from the edge of the satin along both long sides leaving the plastic intact while I sewed.  Pulling the plastic off the back from the basting stitch was a snap.

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.  Then I inverted the tie by pulling on the loose end of the cord and coaxing 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?

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!IMG_0885-1

See how the color matches nearly exactly?  And the outside fabrics are both organza so the texture is the same as well.

Creating the corset loops was tricky.  I found a close match of satin cording and my first attempt to attach the cording into loops on a piece of bias tape was a fail.  The bias tape wouldn’t stay straight when sewn on the dress which I anticipated would cause a wonky tug factor from one side or the other depending on how tight the corset was strung.  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.  I decided on a stiff boning-by-the-yard to make the loop sets and broke out my heavy-duty machine needles.  Again with the quilting skills, the loops were held in place until sewn with quilt binding clips and I attached them with a zipper foot down the center of the boning.  Then I reinforced those babies with additional horizontal zigzag stitching.  Those bad boys were NOT coming loose on my watch!

I was hoping not to have to deconstruct the dress or 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 edge of the dress.

To get the loops to the inside where the zipper should be, I folded the edge inward one turn and hand stitched the folded edge to the inside of the gown using a heavy quilting thread.  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 the 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.  Again I used a spray basting method to adhere the two fabrics together and sew them.

Then I turned them right side out, gave the panel a good press and stitched it by hand to the left side of the gown right next to the left loop set.

The secret to create a perfect serpentine down the center of a corset back gown can be found here.  There’s a lot of videos on how to do this, but this link shows the absolute the best technique (even though the video is amateur and shot sideways).   I had my pillow serve as a model and when I got to the end, I made a bow and tucked the ends down inside the dress. 

And Here Comes the Bride!  (Ignore my messy sewing room – creative genius can be disorderly at times.)The corset back was the perfect choice for this bridal alteration.  The gap at the top of the gown 2 days before the wedding was even farther apart than it was when she brought the dress to me.  She 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.  If I get a wedding photo from Donna, I’ll post an update.

And they lived happily ever after!