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Guest Post: How To Redesign A Wedding Dress – Part 1

Today the family takeover continues with a guest post by my Mom! If you've been following the blog for a while, you might remember I've written about her before in my spring cleaning supplies post and on my about page. She's an amazing seamstress and I wish I had paid more attention when I was younger to all the techniques she tried to teach me. But, it's never too late to learn and she's kindly agreed to pass along some of her know-how to all of us! I'm really excited about the topic she decided to write about because it's both a challenge to those who already know how to sew, and a great example of repurposing something not only for sentimental reasons, but also for sustainable ones. And the great thing is this concept is applicable to so many different things - you don't have to start with a complicated wedding dress to think about repurposing something you already own. Her posts in this series really inspire me to re-examine my wardrobe to see if there is anything I can redesign to make it more trendy and wearable. I'm sure you'll come away from her posts feeling the same!


It all began when I was in fourth grade when my mother taught me how to sew my first dress. It was a simple A-line dress, with princess seams. I made it from a soft lavender fabric, and set thin lace into the vertical seams on the front. It had set in sleeves and a zipper. I was so proud of that dress!

My first pattern

As the years rolled by, I tried new techniques, fabrics, and designs, each time wanting to learn something new that I’d never tried before. My mother was sure I was messing up the settings on her sewing machine as I tried this and that. Yes, I had my share of time with a seam ripper, but I was always learning. When high school came around, I jumped at the chance to take every home economics class that was offered. Yes, there was more to it than just sewing, but that was always my favorite part. My teacher, Miss Jones, continued what my mother had begun and encouraged me, making a life changing, lasting impression.

So much so that in college I got both undergraduate and graduate degrees in Home Ecomonics Education. I wanted to teach Home Ec when I grew up! I learned advanced techniques, like tailoring, draping and flat pattern design. But all that didn’t completely prepare me for one of the most challenging, special sewing projects I’ve ever done which I’ll talk about in my next post. But today, I want to show you the first repurposing project I did that prepared me for the one I’ll talk about next time.

Sewing in my cramped apartment in college. That’s my “concentrating” look!

A friend at work was planning a 25th Anniversary wedding ceremony for she and her husband. She and I are both Project Runway fans, and one of the episodes featured wedding dresses being changed into a new look. Kathy had the idea that the same could be done with her dress. I said I’d look at the dress and talk to her about what she wanted to do to it. Here’s the dress…

Wow! She tried on the dress and we talked about the changes she’d like made.

She wanted it cut to below the knee, falling from the waist without the gathers and with flare at the hem, and cap sleeves. She decided to keep the neckline of the original. Oh my!! How to do that?! And the thought of cutting up someone’s wedding dress was daunting. Where to begin? Luckily there was a lot of dress to work with.

To create the flowing hem that she wanted, the first thing I did was to head to my local fabric store to find a pattern with a separate bodice and skirt that had the same flow at the hem that she was wanting. I even found one that came with cap sleeves so I wouldn’t have to create the patterns from scratch. I chose the pattern with measurements closest to hers and bought it home. First step – done.

Next came taking the dress apart. I started by removing the sleeves and the skirt from the bodice. Since the bodice would remain the same front and back, the zipper could stay attached down to the waist. The front of the bodice had a lot of lace, some of which had to be removed as it passed over the waist seam. The sides of the bodice needing letting out, which I did next on both the bodice and its lining.

Then the real challenge began – deciding which part of the hem of the skirt had the right curve for the flow at the bottom. I folded it in half vertically at the back center and found that both sides of the fold were very close to correct at the hemline. After making sure the pattern waist measurement of the pattern matched the dress bodice back, I laid the back skirt pattern piece over the folded train and cut it out.

The front didn’t work as easily and when I did the fold on the front center and checked the hemlines, I could see that half was ok and half wasn’t. I spent quite a bit of time removing the lace around the hem so I could reattach it on the correct curve on the second side. Once that was done, I measured the front waists of both the bodice and skirt pattern to make sure they matched, then cut out the front skirt.

I then needed to make a new lining for the skirt, which I made from the lining of the original dress. At least I didn’t need to take off lace for that! I then sewed the skirt together at the side seams and center back, leaving the back open for the zipper. I attached it at the waist to the bodice, sewed the zipper into the skirt back, and attached the lining.

The last thing to do was make the cap sleeves and attach them to the armholes. I used the purchased pattern to cut both the sleeve and lining from the original skirt, then sewed them onto the dress.

The bride was delighted with the outcome. And I knew I could do it if I was ever asked to again. And I was. In my next post I’ll tell you about that, and who it was for.


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