Shortening Shoulder Straps on Your Dress or Top

When your dress or top needs to be taken up at the shoulders, the process is not difficult.

Often, my customers will tell me to just stitch across the strap and cut off the excess.

Yes, you can do a version of that, but it seldom looks professional.

Many times, that procedure won’t work because when you pin it up, the front strap is narrower than the back strap. (We’ll cover what to do about that problem at the end of this post.)

If you want to know how to shorten spaghetti straps, look at this post.

But, if you’re taking up wider shoulder straps, stay right here because this is the place to be.

Here’s an example of a wedding dress that I got in this week where the straps are too long:

The customer tried the dress on and I just pulled up the straps and pinned them where the customer wanted.

This made the dress fit 100 times better.

You can see the closeup of where I put the pin in on one shoulder:

If you turn the strap over, you’ll see that this dress has lining and under stitching:

You could take some of the understitching out now, or you can turn the strap inside out and remove the stitches that way.

It’s up to you.

I reached up into the dress between the dress fabric and the lining and pulled the strap inside out:

You can see the seam in the above photo.

Then I flipped the strap over and you can see the lining seam:

So, we have to take out a portion of the side seams here so that we can take up these two seams.

On the left strap, I needed to take up 1 1/4″.

So, I removed more than the 1 1/4″ needed. I ripped out about 2 1/2″ of stitches on each side of the shoulder seam:

Since I hadn’t removed the understitching before, I will do it now.

You should see two rows of stitching and I am removing both of those rows with my seam ripper.

The understitching is the stitching that is closest to the cut edge, so I take a little more of that out so that I don’t have puckers when I resew the seam later.

I remove the stitches on both sides of that strap.

Once that is finished, you can see inside where the rest of the strap is:

The only reason I am showing you this scene is that you won’t want to catch that inner fabric when we go to sew it up later.

But right now, we are going to take up the 1 1/4″ at the shoulder seam.

To do that, get out your seam gauge if you have one.

Measure the amount you need from the shoulder seam down.

In my case, it’s the 1 1/4″:

Stick a pin at that point.

Now, I want to match up the two layers. My goal here is to make sure the upper layer matches the lower layer.

On most fabrics this is easy because you can see the old pin holes:

Once that pin point is in the right place, I go ahead and finish pinning:

Do that process again on the other side of the strap.

In the photo above, do you see the spot where the pin first went into the fabric?

That is where I’ll begin my stitching. Actually, I begin on the edge of the fabric, but I sew right where the pin entered the fabric.

Some people would rather draw a line from one pin to the other.

I have been doing this so long that I can just “eyeball” the seam I need to make:

See how I am stitching from the entrance of the first pin to the entrance of the second?

Now this seam is parallel to the original seam:

Sometimes that is not the case. It would not be the case if you needed to take up more fabric on the arm side of the strap in comparison to the neck side of the strap, since many people’s shoulders are not straight across.

Once your seam is stitched, trim off the excess.

Since my fabric unravels, just by looking at it, I didn’t trim as closely as the manufacturer did when they constructed the gown.

I trimmed it off at about 5/8″:

Now, you’re going to repeat the process with the lining seam.

Again, take your seam gauge and measure 1 1/4″ down from the lining shoulder seam and stick a pin there:

Then, be sure to match the upper layer to the lower layer at the side seams and pin the fabric accordingly, just like you did with the main fabric.

Next, stitch across the strap being careful not to catch unwanted fabric underneath:

Trim the seam:

Now, you are going to stitch up the side seams following the original seamline.

It may be easier to show you what I mean with this drawing:

Make sure the shoulder seam is open flat.

Then, stitch your side seams like it is shown in red in the drawing.

Here is what it actually looked like as I was sewing:

(Note: you could stitch one side seam and then understitch that side of the strap, but I find it almost impossible to get my machine in that tiny opening and it’s hardly ever needed. A good pressing of the strap usually makes the strap lay down well.)

Now, turn your strap right side out:

Here is what it looks when I flip it over and you see the lining:

Press your straps if needed.

That’s it, unless you have straps that don’t match up when you first pin the dress or top for the alteration.

In that case, if the edges do not line up, follow the instructions above until you get to the part where you sew up the side seams of the strap.

Your straps will probably look like this:

sewing blog 903

You’ll stitch your new side seam along the red lines like this:

Then trim off any excess fabric and turn the straps right side out.

That should take care of the problem and make your straps look great!

In a later post, we’ll cover how to shorten spaghetti straps.

Until then, go shorten those wider straps!

 

 

Adding a Corset Back to Your Wedding Dress

Have you found the perfect dress, but it won’t zip up in back? It looks and fits great everywhere else, but you just can’t zip it up?

Well, here’s an alteration you can do to fix that problem.

It’s called putting in a corset back and it looks like this when you are finished:

I do not do this alteration very often, but my friend Christy, who owns 2 alteration shops in North Carolina does them all the time!

She is the one who has given us the instructions for this alteration.

Thanks, Christy!

Here are some before and after photos.

Before:

After:

She says, “It looks a lot harder than it is and girls are so amazed they think you are a miracle worker. It always fits, too, because it is self adjusting.”

She tells me that your dress must fit well between the two bust points in front in order for this to work.

So, if your dress fits well there, let’s proceed.

First thing you need to do is remove the zipper starting at the top, using a seam ripper. Just remove it as far as you need to, maybe down to the waist, maybe farther, if you need to.

As you take out the zipper and cut off the excess zipper tape, leave enough zipper tape to fold down just like you do when you put in a zipper. It will be covered by the lining later. (Don’t have lining in the dress? We’ll cover that situation later in this post.)

You are going to be making three items for this alteration: a modesty panel, ties and loops for the ties. None of them are difficult, so don’t be intimidated.

First, look at the back of the dress when it is on.

There will be the gap where the dress didn’t zip up. If that gap is only about 2 inches wide and only needs a few loops, make the loops smaller and the tie narrow so you can see that it does Criss-cross. You just have to decide what will look the best and what will be in proportion to how much gap you need to fill. If the dress has three or four inches in the gap, make the tie a little wider because it has more back to cover.

To make the tie, you can follow my post on How To Make Spaghetti Straps.

Christy makes the finished tie about 1/2 inch wide and about three yards long. That means you need to make sure you cut the strap double the width plus the seam allowance before you cut and sew it.

Once it is made, set it aside for now.

Next, we’ll make the loops.

Christy uses spaghetti straps to make the loops. “All the dresses come with them and most of the girls don’t want them, so I keep them to use for this purpose.”

If you don’t have the pre-made spaghetti straps, you will just make them like you would make spaghetti straps. “I just cut bias strips about one inch wide and join them together. I make one long tube and sew at about the 1/4 inch mark, trim the seam and turn.

Christy suggests making one long spaghetti strap about 1/4 inch wide and then cut it in 1 and 1/4 inch long segments.

“I cut the loops about one and a quarter inch long. That is longer than you really need, but it has to be covered by the lining and I like the ends to be close to the seam allowance. You will be pulling the tie through them and you don’t want them to break because of the stress. They need to be strong!

I draw a pattern on paper, using a corset that I took out of a dress I found at Goodwill.


You want your loops to be exactly the same width and distance apart for both sides so they match up. If you don’t use a pattern, you may get some loops too fat and it won’t look good. I sew the loops on the paper straight down the middle and then peel it away from the paper.

Starting at the top, pin the first loop in. Don’t leave a large opening. You don’t want the loops to pull. Just leave enough opening for the tie to fit through and fit snug. When you insert the next one it should overlap the first one and make an X on the underside. They look like they are one beside the other, but they are really overlapping.

Pin them all in leaving the lining free. Sew close to the edge with tight stitches just like you do when you put in a zipper. If the dress has beading, I walk the needle over them. Do the same to the other side and make sure the loops match up. They must be identical! If the dress has lining, sew it back down just like you would when putting in a zipper.

If the dress doesn’t have lining, I use satin ribbon to cover the raw edges of the loops:

Here’s a view from the right side:

(You can make the loops and stitch them in, in one continuous step without cutting them, but I think it looks better when they cross over each other. I don’t like the loops to stick out away from the dress that much. I don’t even want to notice the loops.)

Here are some pictures I found on the internet. Some of them look good and some look bad. If the loops are too far from the fabric and the tie is pulling it looks bad. You will see what I mean.

Here is a good one:

corset-back-5.jpg

Here is one that isn’t good. See how far out the loops are when it is tied?:

Here are a few photos of a modesty panel:

To make the modesty panel, I just make a wide wedge V-shape from the main fabric. Fold fabric right sides together with the top of the wedge on the fold line and then cut in a wide V shape wider and a little longer than the width and length of the dress opening. It is just like a gusset but the top and bottom is straight across, not pointed. The top is wide and it gets narrower as it gets to the bottom.

The basic shape that you would cut out of your fabric looks like this:

When you fold it along the foldline, your modesty panel will be a double thickness and that foldline will be at the top and the narrower end at the bottom.

Before I sew the sides and bottom closed, and before I turn it, I add covered boning to one side (the lining side of the panel) or I add a heavy interfacing for stability. As you can see, the boning is straight across starting at the top and added about every two inches. You don’t have to go down too far. It’s just for stability.

The red modesty panel (first of the two red ones above) photo is easier to see how the boning is on the lining side, but not on the outside. I sew it on the wrong side of the lining before I sew the fabric and lining together. When you turn it right side out, the boning is encased. Some do have the boning on the side facing out, as you can see from the picture of the ivory one:

I attach it on the left side (just tack it on) and leave the right side loose.

I usually hand sew the lining down after I put the loops on because I only want to sew down the dress one time so it is really neat. I find it hard to sew the loops, the modesty panel and catch the lining all at the same time.

Some even snap on so they can take it out if they don’t want it.

Another additional point: “I have taken some dresses in at the sides, even if it fits, so that I could make a corset back and it would show off the laces. This works well if the dress fits in the waist but won’t zip all the way up.”

Well, there you go. Now you have the step by step instructions to go and make your dress fit perfectly.

Another option, if you don’t want to put in a corset back, is to put in gussets on each side of the dress under the arm.

To learn how to do this option, click on How to Put in Gussets.