Sewing With Treadle Machines in Africa

My family and I just returned from an amazing, life changing trip to Zambia, Africa!

It is a trip we will never forget.

Our daughter, Michelle, works for an orphan ministry called Every Orphans Hope.

We wanted to go and see her working first hand and help where we could.

There are 11 orphan homes consisting of one mama and eight children.

The mamas are hoping to learn to sew so that they can run a business and make some money.

My part was to teach the mamas how to sew.

Last year, we raised money to buy each mama a machine:

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We had heard that some of the machines were not working correctly.

After looking at several of the machines, we realized that report was accurate.

Each one had different problems.

So, because of this, some were being used as a table:

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Kristin, a teammate of mine, learned how to use a treadle machine before we got to Africa.

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I watched Kristin use the fly wheel and her feet simultaneously.

As she explained, it’s sort of like working the clutch on a car…there’s a point when you know when to start with the feet.

(I watched a You Tube video before I left and thought it looked easy, but it was something I never got the hang of.)

The machine Kristin learned on here in the states was a SInger and she was taught to turn the fly wheel away from you as you start.

We finally figured out that, with these machines, you need to turn the fly wheel toward you as you start.

There were many dissimilarities like this that we needed to work through.

After about three days of trying to get them to work, we realized we needed to visit the sewing machine dealer where they were purchased last year.

The owner assured us that he would fix them all.

What a relief!

He also let us know that these machines can be altered from treadle to hand crank.

Hand crank machines means you crank an added piece on the fly wheel while you sew with your left hand.

The mama in the middle, uses her own hand crank machine:

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She made this bag on my shoulder last year and my daughter bought it as a gift for me!

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The owner at the sewing machine shop also explained that we could buy a kit that would convert the treadle machines to electric for about $15 US dollars!

This would be great for the mamas that live in the city, who have some electric power daily.

At the Every Orphan’s Hope office, we worked with a Zambian volunteer, Agatha, to show her how to make a simple tote bag.

Agatha is a tailor in Zambia, but I’m not sure if she had made a bag before.

Here is the finished product:

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We saw Agatha at one of the homes the next day.

She was hemming a chitenge, which is a 2 yard piece of fabric that the women of Zambia drape around themselves as a skirt.

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As you can see, she is using an electric machine.

It amazed me that these women can sew without a table and while sitting on the floor!

As soon as we left, we saw the mamas moving into this house ready to take a lesson on making tote bags.

What joy to see the ladies taking something they learned and teaching those around them.

It is our hope that they will be able to practice and soon start their own businesses.

The mama who made the tote bag for me is already selling her bags.

You can find them on this page of the Every Orphan website.

Check them out.

You could start your Christmas shopping early and help a mama in Zambia at the same time!

How to Avoid Ruining a Garment

Here’s  another good question from a reader…

Judy wrote:  My question regards mistakes.  I’ve never destroyed anyone’s item (thank goodness!) but I’ve always been afraid of messing something up, especially an expensive item, like a prom or wedding dress.  Have any of you ever made an error like this?  If so, what did you do?

Here’s my answer:

Yes, I’ve made two errors in the last 13 years. First, I ruined a man’s shirt once when I accidentally serged part of the shirt in a seam and it got cut off by the serger blade. There was no way to fix it, so I gave him the money to buy him a new one, along with a huge apology, of course. I simply asked him how much he had spent on his shirt and gave him the money. He was thrilled that I would pay for a new one. By giving him the cash, I didn’t have to go shopping and find him a new one. Win-win. (The second error is explained below).

There are two things I do before I begin working on a garment.

First, I pray before I start each alteration asking that God would help me pay attention and do my best work and keep me from making any irretrievable mistakes. By His grace, that hasn’t happened since.  Now, I realize that that could have happened with a wedding gown or something else that was expensive, but I determined in my mind that if that were to ever happen, I would make it right. In other words, I would pay for a new garment or pay to have it fixed if it was possible.

Second, I always examine each garment well before the customer leaves my presence. That way, I can point out any flaw, defect, stain or problem the article of clothing has and that covers my back so that the customer knows it was not something I had done, while it was in my care.

Once, when I had finished a wedding gown and had my customer try it on, I noticed a pencil mark on the front of the gown. Knowing that I had checked the gown over very well before she left it in my care, I knew it had happened on my watch. So, I pointed it out to her and told her I would get the dress cleaned for her at the cleaner of her choice.

The pencil mark came out of the gown and it cost me $50, but it was a good lesson for me and I’m just so thankful it didn’t cost more than that to fix it.

I think the bottom line is to have confidence when you take a garment in. Have faith in your ability. Take your time (haste makes waste) and be careful. Mistakes happen when you’re tired, distracted, and/or in a hurry. You’re human. You will make mistakes, but the more alterations you do, the more confident you will feel sewing on different fabrics and garments. If you can, go to the fabric store and get a swatch of a fabric that is close to the one you’ll be working on and practice on that first. The more you do, the better you’ll get.

Now, let’s hear from you.

What do you do to minimize costly situations?

How To Make Pillows Fast!

Because we have a wedding in 2 months,

because my outdoor pillows and cushions are completely sunfaded,

and because I had about twenty minutes on my hands,

I decided it was time to recover them.

Heads up: There won’t be any zippers, velcro, snaps, buttons, or anything!

Are you game?

Ok, let’s talk fabric.

I know there are fabrics on the market that claim to be sun resistant, but they are $20 per yard.

So, each year, I choose fabrics that I like that are dirt cheap and on sale.

And each year I have to recover them because the indirect sun bleaches the tar out of them.

So, my advice is: pick what you like, taking into consideration your budget, the location of the pillows, the durability factor and the colors you like.

Here’s a photo of one of the old faded pillow covers..

I’ve folded the front back a little so you can see the difference between the front and back:

Basically, I make what they call envelope pillows.

There are probably a bunch of other names for these as well.

I buy pillow forms (or you can make them) in the sizes I want from Joann Fabrics.

Then, I just create  a pattern that will fit the pillow.

The idea is to make the finished cover a little smaller in dimensions, than the pillow form, all the way around so they fit nicely and not too loosely.

You’ll see later, that because I have been tracing my pillows for about four years, mine have gotten a little too big, but you won’t make the same mistake I did.

I want to start with making the first pillow using a very basic patchwork look.

All you serious quilters out there better not look at this.

It will make you cringe.

But, hey, this will work and time is of the essence, right?

Here’s the beginning of the first cover:

As you can see, I cut out a square of the flowery fabric. Then I sewed borders to the sides and then borders to the top and bottom edges.

(The finished cut dimensions are supposed to be about a half inch less all around than the pillow form.

Then, we will use a half inch seam allowance making the cover about an inch smaller than the form.)

Here’s how the back looks:

I know. I used the selvedge.

Sorry, that is lame, but it was  because I was too lazy (and rushed) to cut it off.

But, if you think anyone you know is going to look inside your pillow to see how you made it, you better cut off the selvedges.

Next, I lay out the fabric I will use for a backing:

See how I cut it even with the front on 3 sides?

That fourth side needs to extend about half of what the length of the pillow is.

SO, if this pillow is 12″, extend it up about 6 more inches.

I just eyeball it. Don’t worry about it. You’ll be close enough.

Pull the front of the pillow away.

Now, cut the backing into two separate pieces, only they should not be equal in size. One should be longer than the other.

Offset it a bit.

The picture below shows that I turned the piece of fabric before I cut it.

Serge or zig zag the edges of each fabric piece, if you like, to keep them from unravelling.

Now, fold back one cut edge of the backing fabric and lay it down over the front of the pillow, right sides facing each other. Be sure to line up the 3 edges:

Next, lay the other backing piece over the top of all of this right sides facing each other:

Pin the edges together and sew all the way around the pillow with a one half inch seam allowance:

Turn the pillow right side out and stick in your pillow form.

That one is finished.

Solid One Piece Pillow:

Let’s make a simpler pillow next.

This one is made with one long continuous piece of fabric going across the width of the fabric.

I lay the original old pillow cover on my new fabric. You can also just use the pillow form if you like.

I fold the new fabric in thirds. Do you see how the selvedges don’t line up? That’s what you want.

Again, you can cut off the selvedges if you want.

You may need to cut them off if you are making a smaller pillow than I am here.

Because it’s one long piece of fabric, all you have to do is fold that fabric in thirds, just like in the photo above and pin it on the sides:

On this pillow cover, you only have to stitch down the two sides (because the other two sides are folded edges).

Use a half inch seam allowance again.

Turn the cover right side out.

Do you see how the one edge covers the other one that is underneath?

Insert the pillow form.

How long did this last one take you?

Six minutes?

Isn’t that awesome?

Make a few more and you’ll be set for the summer!

How To Sew a Button on By Machine

Do you know how to sew a button on with your sewing machine?

For those of you who don’t know how, or feel a little intimidated in trying, here’s my technique.

Find a button for the garment and push the button through the hole to make sure it fits.

Place the button over the original holes.

I use a long strip of Scotch tape to hold it in place:

I used to just hold it in place with my fingers, but I found that I inevitably had to answer the phone at this point (or something else) and it took time to reposition it when I got back to it.

This just saves me from fumbling around.

Next, I carefully drop the needle so that it enters one of the holes in the button.

Once that needle is down, I slide in a toothpick between the holes on the button and then drop the presser foot:

Ok , you’re probably wondering why in the world I am using a toothpick!

I am going to put in a thread shank.

What is a thread shank?

It helps the button sit up higher on the garment.

This is important so that when you button the garment, it has plenty of room to be buttoned. Without a thread shank, a garment may be really difficult to button.

(Note: if you have a thin garment, you probably don’t need a thread shank. But, if you have a thick garment like these shorts, you’ll need one.)

I decided I’d show you one in case you needed to make one on your garment.

If you’re still confused, keep reading and I think you’ll understand as we go along.

Next, I set my sewing machine for the widest zig zag stitch I have.

Then, I tighten up the stitch length to zero.

I don’t want the machine to advance while stitching this button on. I want it to stay right where it is.

Next, I hand turn the fly wheel on the machine to test and make sure the needle will go into the holes without hitting the sides of the holes.

I will only sew two holes at a time….in a horozontal fashion.

I’ll sew back and forth between those two holes maybe ten times or so making sure I keep a good grip on the toothpick so it doesn’t slide out of there.

Once those are sewn, I’ll lift the presser foot to the two unsewn holes and repeat the process.

At the end, do not cut off the threads.

Leave long tails.

When you are finished, it should look like this:

Next, peel off that Scotch tape:

Take the long tail of thread and thread it onto a needle.

Wind the thread (clockwise or counter clockwise) around the underside of the button until you get a thick “shank” underneath:

It should look like this from the side:

See? That extra height will help the two layers lay flat when the garment is buttoned.

Next, take the needle and push it through to the back side:

Tie a strong knot and clip your threads.

There you go.

At first, it may seem like it takes longer to do this than to hand sew a button on, but after you’ve done it a few times, I think you’ll see how fast it goes.

You may never want to hand sew a button on again!

Now, I’d love to hear your techniques on getting the same result…..

How To Fix Boning Issues

I’d like to address how to fix a few problems with the boning in your dress or tops.

Recently, a customer tried on a dress that just didn’t seem like it fit correctly in the bust.

I knew right away that it had an issue with the boning, because one side was fine and the other was dimpled.

So, after I finished marking the hem, she handed the dress over to me and I looked inside.

Can you see what I saw?

On one side, the boning was just fine and the curve was “pushing out” like it should be.

In other words, it followed the natural curve of the body.

The other side, however, was the exact opposite.

Do you see how the left side looks just fine, but the right side is incorrect?

Here’s a side view. You can see that the dress fabric (where my hand is) is sticking out like it should, but the boning (where the lining of the dress is) pokes towards the body:

That meant that the boning was in there backwards.

To fix the problem, I needed to take the dress apart, remove the boning, and put it back in correctly.

Here’s what I found when I turned the dress inside out:

The lining is attached to the dress. That is why it looks all scrunched up.

So, remove the cording that connects the two together:

I usually just cut it in the middle so that when I go to put the two layers back together later, I know exactly the spots on both sides where I need to attach a new cording.

Once that was finished, I noticed that this particular dress had the boning stitched directly onto the lining. It wasn’t enclosed in a casing.

We’ll talk about those that are in casings in a few minutes.

To get this boning out, I needed to rip out the topstitching that was holding the boning in place:

I just start by finding a stitch I can rip and then continue pulling out stitches until the boning is out.

Before I take the boning completley off, I mark it so that I know the direction it was in the dress:

I used a black pen on this one because I knew it would never show.

If you are uncertain about the mark showing, use something that won’t show, or stitch some loose stitches in the boning and take them out later.

I mark the boning so that I don’t put it in the same way it was before.

Hey, I’ve done that before! You only do something stupid once, don’t you?!

Now, turn the boning over and lay it in the same spot it was when you took it out.

If you have a bit of fabric or ribbon wrapped around the top of the boning, keep it there:

It is meant to protect the sharp ends so that the boning doesn’t poke through your dress.

If your dress doesn’t have this ribbon or fabric, you can put a piece on if you want.

If it looks like your boning is going to slip around while you are sewing it down, just anchor it to the lining with a few stitches to hold it in place:

Now, stitch the boning in place, from the right side of the lining, being very careful not to catch other parts of the dress underneath.

Make sure everything is out of the way before you begin.

I just sew along the original stitching lines:

Sew down one side (be sure and pull out your pins so you don’t run over them)

Then, sew across the boning to anchor it in.

(Don’t worry, you won’t ruin your machine by stitching over it.)

You might want to go slow, though.

Then, stitch back up to the top again:

Now, you can stitch across the boning at the top, again being careful not to catch the dress itself underneath the presser foot:

That should be all you need to do.

Make sure you replace the cording that holds the lining to the dress (or use ribbon or a strong thread).

Have the customer try the dress on again and you’ll see how it takes care of that bad dimpling problem.

Now, if your boning is enclosed in a casing, just take out the understitching in the dress that is found at the very top:

Turn the dress inside out and take out a few stitches of this top seam:

You only need to take out three or four stitches, the minimum amount needed to pull the boning out, turn it around and put it back into the casing.

Once its back in the casing, just stitch the seam back up.

I don’t generally restitch the understitching, because it really doesn’t need it.

But you could if you wanted to.

Another problem you might have with boning is that it may be cutting into your skin at the top of your dress.

That means the boning is too long.

Just open up the dress as I explained above.

If the boning has a piece of fabric over the end, remove that first.

Then, just use a regular pair of scissors and trim off the end.

I usually take off 1/4″ -1/2″ .

Put the fabric back on the tip of the boning (or if you didn’t have a piece of fabric on there in the first place, you may want to put a piece on now) and stitch it in place so it won’t slip around.

Put the boning back in and restitch the dress closed, if applicable.

That should fit alot better and keep you comfortable.

There may be other configurations with your particular dress but, hopefully, with these tips, you’ll be able to figure yours out.

If not, shoot me an e-mail found in the “Contact” section and I’ll walk you through it.

French Seams

I want to teach you how to alter a garment that has French Seams in it.

But, first, I’d like to talk about what they are and how they are made.

The French Seam is a seam that is encased within itself so that no raw edges can be seen.

You’ve probably seen French Seams on many types of garments including lingerie, bridal and even on fancy pillow cases.

I use them most often when making a “wrap” for a bride or a girl going to prom.

French Seams are often found on fabrics that are sheer like this blouse:

The photo above is taken of the right side of a blouse and the photo below is taken on the inside of the blouse:

The only difference is that you can see some small stitches on the inside.

French Seams are also found on garments where the fabric frays easily.

They are generally sewn on seams that are straight.

It’s very difficult to make them on a curved edge like a sleeve or princess seam.

But they are perfect for side seams and shoulder seams.

Let’s take a look at how they are made.

I found a scrap of sheer fabric:

The main point I want to emphasize here, is that the consruction of a French Seam is different than that of a regular seam.

In this case, to sew the seam, you will put the two pieces of fabric wrong sides together!

Stitch that seam with a 3/8″ seam allowance.

I used a contrasting bright pink thread so that you can see it better:

Trim the seam to a scant 1/4″.

“Scant” means that the seam allowance should be a little less than 1/4″ wide after you trim it off.

You might feel more comfortable trimming with scissors.

Here, I used a rotary cutter and mat to do the job.

Next, press the seam open.

Be careful not to scorch the fabric.

Some fabrics are not to come in contact with an iron.

They might melt.

In that case, just “finger press” the item by pushing it down with your fingers and running your fingernail on the seam to help it lay flat.

Next, fold the fabric so that the seam allowance is on the inside and press close to that edge.

You want the stitches to be on the very edge, not going toward one side or the other:

Make sure you trim off any frayed edges along the seam allowance.

This is a very important step. If you don’t do it, you’ll risk having lots of wispy “whiskers” sticking out after you sew the seam.

Now, stitch using a 1/4″ seam allowance.

Pull the two pieces of fabric apart and fold them so that the stitched seam is on the inside and the right sides are to the outside (just like the garment will be when you are finished with it).

Press the seam to one side or the other.

Ok, now to alter a garment that has French Seams.

Whatever amount you need to take in, is the amount you’ll need to trim off the raw edge of the fabric.

For example, let’s say you need to take in 1/2″ all the way down the side seam of a blouse.

I would open up the French Seam all the way (From armpit through the hem) and press the seam flat.

Then, trim off the 1/2″ off the raw edge of the seam.

Then, referring to the instructions above, put the seam back together wrong sides together first.

Follow the rest of the instructions above.

What if you don’t need to take in that much all the way down the seam?

Let’s say you need to take in 1/2″ under the arm and then taper it to nothing, seven inches below the underarm.

Then, just rip out about 9 inches (or whatever you need to have room to work) of the seam, press it flat and trim off the amount you need to take in.

Then put the seam back together again.

It’s the same procedure for any French Seam.

My next post will cover how to turn a French Seam into a serged one.

The post will also talk about how to alter a top that has binding around the armholes and neck.

Just be careful to do the math and check it twice before you begin!

Adding a Corset Back to Your Dress…Option #2

You may have already read my post on Adding a Corset Back To Your Wedding Dress.

Today I am going to show you another way to add a corset back to your dress.

A customer brought me  her prom dress this week:

It didn’t zip all the way up in back, so she opted for the corset back addition.

Only, instead of loops, she wanted to use satin ribbon for the loops and ties.

I took this roll of satin ribbon and cut it into 2 inch lengths:

For this dress, I needed 10 of them. I like to use and odd number when possible. It just looks better to me.

I folded each of these 2 inch pieces in half and stitched close to the cut edges:

Then, I took out the zipper as far down the back as neccessary.

In this case, I took the zipper out to the waist area.

I trimmed the zipper leaving an extra inch or two.

Make sure you add thread bar tacks across the top of both sides of the zipper.

That way, when you zip up, the zipper tab won’t come off of the zipper tape:

In the photo above, you see that the lining is separate from the dress fabric.

I like to open up only what I need to to get the job done.

That way, when I’m finished, I don’t have to sew up alot.

On this dress, I also needed to make a new center back line. I couldn’t use the original center back line or you wouldn’t be able to see the ribbons and the corset back.

So, I drew a line from the waist diagonally up near the princess seam under the spaghetti strap and folded it back. I couldn’t fold it back all the way to the princess seam because of the boning in the dress.

On this dress, I couldn’t press the fabric on that line with an iron due to the sequins that were on it.

So, I topstitched that fold in place.

But my preference would have been to just press it in place.

Be sure and turn back the lining the same amount and press it.

Don’t forget to check the content of the lining fabric. It may need a cooler iron than the main dress fabric.

Now, sandwich those ribbon tabs that you made earlier, between the lining and the dress fabric. Make sure that each one sticks out the same amount (in this case, I thought 1/2 inch would look best):

Stitch these into place:

You’ll notice that I ended up using only four on each side. I realized that if I used five, the bottom two tabs would be smooshed together and the dress wouldn’t lay flat along the back, so I took the bottom ones out.

Now take the rest of your ribbon and “thread” it through the loops.

That’s all there is to it!

(I didn’t thread the ribbon through this dress because I didn’t want to wrinkle the ribbon for the customer, but you get the idea.)

You can thread the ribbon from bottom to top or from top to bottom.

Either way, it gives you a whole new way to solve the problem with a dress that doesn’t fit through the bust or back.

As I mentioned in the first post, you can put a modesty panel behind this area to cover the back if you don’t want the skin to show there.

Just add that piece when you sew in the ribbon tabs, leaving one side of it open so you can get into the dress.

See my first post on corset backs, for more details on that.

If you feel that a corset back isn’t for you, you can put in gussets instead.

To learn that technique, read this post on How to Put in Gussets.

How To Shorten Spaghetti Straps

Let me show you how easy it is to shorten the spaghetti straps on your dress.

This is a prom dress whose straps were too long for the customer:

On this dress, there are four straps on each side.

But, the technique is the same whether you have one strap or several.

Not only did this dress need the straps shoretened, but they are spread too far apart, so we’ll fix that problem too:

I almost always shorten the straps from the back of the dress.

This is the first time I’ve shortened from the front in a long time.

I like to shorten from the back because it just seems easier to get into that part of the dress.

Ok, now let’s get started.

First, turn the dress over and look at the lining side where the straps are sewn in:

Do you see the stitches that are to the left of the point of the seam ripper?

You don’t need to take these out.

But if you had some of those stitches where the straps go into the dress (to the right of the seam ripper point in the photo), you’d need to remove them first.

Take out about two or three inches of stitches.

On this dress, the manufacturer, stitched a few stitches in the dress to anchor the front to the back:

If you have some like these, take them out

Next, turn the dress inside out:

This is the lining side of the inside of the dress.

Flip it and you’ll see the facing side.

Yours may or may not have facing.

This facing feels alot like paper.

Facing is a narrow strip sewn to the top of many dresses to add stability to the dress.

In the photo above, do you see the white areas near my finger?

These are the ends of the straps sticking up.

I only take out enough stitches so that I can easily pull the straps up.

Sometimes, the straps will be sewn a second time to just the dress fabric:

Use your seam ripper or a small pair of scissors to take out just enough stitches.

Gently pull those straps up until you have taken up the full amount of what you need to shorten the straps.

In this case, the customer needed the straps to be 3 1/4″ shorter than they were.

So, I measured the 3 1/4″ from the original seam line on the strap, to the original seamline on the dress.

Do you see how I did that in the photo below?

The spot where the blue guide is, is where the seam allowance is on the dress.

You may want to pin the strap down in place so it doesn’t slide around while you’re putting the whole thing under your presser foot.

This is the time to move all the straps close together (if you have more than one strap) and make sure there is no gap between them.

Now just stitch over the original seamline, backstitching at the beginning and end of the seam:

Double check your work by turning the dress right side out and making sure the straps are not caught in the seamline or twisted.

If you have a problem, just take a few stitches out again and adjust the straps and resew the seam.

Once the straps look good, turn the dress inside out again and stitch another row of stitches 1/8″ away from the first stitching line.

This will anchor those straps in well.

Trim the straps if you need to.

See how the straps are much closer together now?

You’re finished!

Wasn’t that a piece of cake?

Be sure to use the sewn in ties on the inside of your dress to hang your dress with. (This dress has lacy ties)

If you hang your dress from the spaghetti straps only, they can easily stretch out over time, especially if the straps were made from the bias of the fabric.

Enjoy the party!

Alterations With a Challenge Attached

I’d like to walk you through how to address an alteration that has a challenge to it.

Most alterations are straight forward. You have a correction to make and there is an answer that suits it best.

Along the way to getting that alteration done, many people have come up with solutions that offer efficiency in the process.

But, sometimes, you run into a challenge that doesn’t fit the “textbook” solution to the problem.

This is one such dress.

For this particular alteration, I needed to take in the side seams at the bust area.

Here is the dress.

Black on one side:

Red on the other:

The fact that it is reversible was not the challenge.

(Although, I will show you how I worked on a totally reversible garment as part of this post.)

The challenge was that the construction of the garment was different than I thought it would be.

To begin,  first look at the garment from top to bottom, looking for an easy way to get in.

This dress had some topstitching along the center back seam:

Because the fabric is tightly woven (it feels like a cotton chintz) and the black and red sections were sewn together here, I quickly realized that I would never be able to get these two sections back together again perfectly.

If I didn’t sew on the exact same stitching lines, the original needle holes would show and the garment would look like it had been altered. And the chance of sewing on the exact same lines on both the red and black simultaneously, were slim to none.

So, I found an easier “in”:

I began opening up the side seam on the red side of the dress. I chose the red side because I figure she will most likely wear the black side more often.

Once I opened up a few stitches, I took a look inside:

This was interesting to me.

The left side shows that the manufacturer used the selvage (or finished edge of the fabric). Usually that is trimmed off.

The right side shows a raw edge. You can see the slight ravelling going on.

This is a perfect place to go into the dress because it will be easy to close this area up with hand stitching when I am finished with the alteration.

Next, I reached my hand up the side seam to grab the underarm area and turn it inside out.

But in this case, I was stopped at the waist seam:

Most dresses are sewn so that the outer dress is like one dress and the lining (or in this case, the reversible side) is sewn separately.

In this case, they sewed the bodice together and then joined it to the skirt.

Ok, so all I needed to do was take out that waist seam and then proceed to the underarm area:

You can see how all 4 layers were sewn together in that waist seam.

Once I opened that seam up, I noticed I had a challenge:

The bodice area was not sewn in a conventional way either.

Do you see how the seam allowances are all going toward the right?

That means that the side seams were sewn last on this bodice, instead of first.

That also means that the red front of the dress was sewn to the black front.

Then, the red back was sewn to the black back piece.

Then, the side seams were sewn.

This is not a problem unless you have to alter it.

And it’s still not a huge problem. It’s just that I had to make an adjustment in how I altered it.

Follow me as I show you how I figured out what to do, which is what you sometimes have to do when you see something out of the ordinary.

When I turned the underarm area inside out, this is what I saw:

I was hoping I could just sew vertically, from where my thumb is down to meet the side seam at the wasit.

So, I put a pin in the desired area and turned it right side out to see what it would look like after I sewed it.

As you can see, it isn’t lying flat.

So, I can’t just stitch it down like I thought I could.

I needed to take it apart.

Know why?

It’s because the armscye seam (the seam that follows the underarm) has a curve. It isn’t straight across. The front of the dress is higher than the back.

So, that means I had to take this apart and put it back together using the conventional construction method of sewing the side seams first and then the armscye seam.

So, I took it apart down the side seam:

Once I opened that up, I took out a few stitches going along the armscye seam (take out some stitches going toward the front of the dress and some toward the back of the dress):

Next, my goal was to sew the red front to the red back and the black front to the black back. (Remember, the manufacturer sewed the red front to the black front.) That is what made this process a little more challenging.

First, I pinned the black seams along the original seamlines:

Then I stitched a new seamline based on the measurements that needed to be taken in.

To see how I transfer measurements to make the new seam (or to see how I do this alteration in general), look at this post.

Once that new seam is sewn, I trim off the excess seam allowance. I don’t need all that bulk later on.

Here is the new black seam. You can see the original below the new one if you look closely.

Here is the new red seam (the one on the left):

Next, I matched the side seams together at the top because I wanted to stitch the armscye (top of the underarm) closed.

When I got them matched up properly, I noticed that the red seam didn’t lie flat to the black one.

So, I stitched in an additional 1/8″ so they would match:

Then, I ripped out those extra stitches (to the right) because I wanted the seam to lie flat when I stitched them.

Next, I matched the side seams up again and put pins in:

You can see that the stitching lines that run basically horozontal do not match up.

No problem.

Just stitch a new line gradually tapering it to meet both ends of stitching like this:

Pull out the pins and trim the seam allowance:

Go back to the waist seam:

Pull all those layers together and stitch them closed again:

Pull the dress right side out and hand stitch that side seam shut.

Press the dress at the armscye seam:

There you go!

What I wanted to communicate in this post is that you may come across unusual circumstances once in awhile (or maybe several in a week.)

If the conventional approach doesn’t work, try something else.

As long as you don’t cut any material, you can always go back to where you started and start over. The reason I trimmed the seam in one of the steps above, is that I knew I had to take the dress in, no matter what process I used, so that was a given. But you may want to be a little more careful with your particular alteration until you are sure your method will work.

If you are still confused, shoot me an e-mail and I’ll give it my best shot.

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.