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.

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