How to Refashion a Dress to a Corset Back

If you follow me on instagram I hinted at doing this tutorial a little while back and well… here it is! One of my many side gigs is doing alterations for the locals in our small town. Recently I had a rush of bridesmaid clients and this is the second time I’ve had to do this particular alteration so I figured it would make a nice tutorial.

This particular alteration is helpful when you need to let out a dress in the bust/torso area but there is no room in the seam allowance to do so. One solution would be to find a matching fabric and add panels on the sides. But rarely is it possible to find a perfect match and this solution does not always look great. If the wearer is up for it, I’ve found a great solution is to add a corseted back in place of the zipper. This gives the wearer adjustable breathing room and doesn’t look like an awkward addition to the dress.

Want to see how its done? Keep reading!

MATERIALS:

  • Rigiline Boning (available  here, or at your local fabric store)
  • Seam Ripper or Razor Blade (see why I prefer a razor blade in  this post)
  • Matching Ribbon or Fabric
  • Fabric Chalk or marker
  • Iron
  • Sewing Machine, matching thread, and basic sewing supplies.

For this dress, I was lucky enough to also need to do a substantial hem, which left me with enough perfectly matching chiffon to make the ribbon, and lining for the loops. If this is not the case with your dress, you can find a matching ribbon (or make it fun and do a contrast color!) at your local fabric store.

NOTE: This tutorial pictures an unlined dress. If your dress has a lining, you will need to remove the lining at the center back seam down to the point of your new zipper stopping point (read below). Lining will need to be re-attatched either by hand or machine after all loops are installed.

First, Try the dress on and mark the point at which the zipper stops wanting to zip all the way up. This will be the new zipper stop point. Measure the distance from this mark to the top of the dress. Use this measurement to determine how many loops you want and how far apart they will be. Keep in mind you will need your first and last set of loops to be at the top edge of the dress and right above the mark you made respectively. For this dress I did 10 loops (5 on each side). Except for the top and bottom loops, I just eyed the loop placement.


FOR THE LOOPS:

– If you are using fabric scraps, cut several long 1″ wide strips. Length will every based on how many loops you want to make. Each loop will be about 1 1/2″ long, I had 10 loops for my dress (5 on each side) so I needed about a 15″ long strip or multiple strips that added up to that length. Fold the long ends of your strips in 1/4″ on each side so they meet in the middle. Press. Fold strips in half lengthwise so folded edges meet. Press again. Top stitch along the edge to secure loops. Cut into 1 1/2″ long pieces (or desired length).

– If you are using ribbon, I recommend 5/8″ ribbon for the loops. Fold a long strip (about 15″ depending on how many loops you plan on making) of ribbon in half lengthwise and press. Top stitch along the open edge to make one long narrow strip. Cut into 1 1/2″ pieces (I used 10 but the amount you want may vary based on how much room you are adding to the dress.

Using your seam ripper or razor blade, remove the zipper down to 1/2″ BELOW the stop mark you made. Cut off the top half of the zipper at about 1/2″ ABOVE the stop mark you made (make sure your zipper is all the way open before doing this or you won’t be able to get your zipper pull back on). Fold back the raw edge of the zipper so the fold meets the stop mark. Stitch into place. If your dress has a hook and eye, remove it and set aside to be added later.

Attaching the loops: Mark your loop placement on both open sides of the dress. Fold each loop in half. Place at marks with the edge just meeting the folded edge of dress and fold of loop facing out. Stitch in place as seen below.

Fold the loop over on itself covering the raw edge so loop is facing the body of the dress. Stitch in place 1/4-1/8″ away from newest fold as seen below.

Repeat with all the loops until each is sewn in place.

Cut a piece of boning the length of the center back seam from top edge of dress to top of zipper. If the boning is wider than the center back seam allowance, you may want to bind either end of the boning with scrap fabric to keep it from scratching you.

On the wrong side, match up boning with center back seam line (there will be a fold here where the zipper used to be attached. Stitch down the inside edge of boning with an edge stitch.

Fold over the seam allowance, Stitch down the edge of the seam allowance catching the edge of the fabric and center of the boning, about 1/4″ away from folded edge, stopping when you reach the end of the boning.

This is what it will look like from the outside:

Thread your extra fabric or ribbon through the loops & Voila! A corset-back dress that actually fits and does not pucker. Length of the ribbon will vary depending on how long of a bow you like. I tend to go overboard because I like super long ribbons and its always easy to make shorter rather than having to add on a piece or cut a whole new ribbon. You will also want to re-attach the hook and eye at the new stop point of the zipper. If your dress did not originally have a hook and eye its a good idea to find a spare set from your stash (those things are always lying around) and attach them.


I hope you find this tutorial helpful! I love doing jobs like this one because when people bring their dresses in that don’t zip all the way they seem so disheartened and frustrated. Then they pick them up and we tie up those loops and they feel beautiful again!

Happy Sewing!

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Amy Nicole Studio
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