How To Alter Your Mother's Wedding Gown

Bride wearing wedding gown

Sometimes a mom really wants her daughter to wear the same wedding dress that she wore, except that the fit must be changed.  This can be a challenge, as you do not want to make careless alterations to an item that has so much sentimental value.  However, if the dress can be reused, what a nice way to acknowledge the bond between two generations.  Many people will enjoy comparing the pictures of the daughter and mother in the same dress, especially because the pictures will be from different time periods.  The cost of altering the dress yourself is minimal, compared to the cost of buying a new wedding gown, which typically runs from $1,500 to $9,000, even for moderately-priced dresses.  If you love the elegant fabric of your mother's wedding gown, but it needs some structural changes, below are some tips to help with this process of rebirth.

A.  Changing the length or the waist on a tiered gown:  in order to shorten the length of a wedding gown that has a layered or tiered skirt, plan on keeping the lower tiers and eliminating some of the fabric near the waistline.  The reason for not trimming the bottom layer is that the detailing and patterns are usually more ornamented on the lower layers, and the back of the skirt may include a train.  The seam between the waist and hips will have to be carefully unstitched with small scissors and a needle.  The zipper may also have to be unattached and resewn, if it extends below the waist.

After detaching the skirt, the top inches closest to the waist are then trimmed off carefully, if the daughter is shorter than the mother.  A loose stitch or tacking must be added to the new waistline at the top of the skirt, and pulled so that it bunches or gathers to fit the daughter's waistline before reattaching the skirt.  If the waistline is fitted to hug the hips, darts instead of gathers will need to be sewn into the skirt.  First the seams of the internal lining are reattached, then the external layers of the skirt are sewn back onto the bodice.  If the waistline needs to come in-- or out --to fit the daughter, adjustments can be made before the skirt is reattached.  The darts at the bottom of the bodice may also be adjusted before the skirt is sewn back on, in order to modify the shape of the waistline.

B.  Letting out the bodice:  if the daughter needs a larger bust size than the mother, the bodice of the wedding gown will need the upper seams to be let out.  Sometimes additional fabric needs to be added in the side seams, which is challenging but doable.  Rather than trying to match the previous fabric, consider having visible darts in a different texture with the same color tone.  For example, picture a satin strapless gown where the mother's dress contains layers of draped and folded ivory fabric around the waist and chest.  The daughter wants to use the dress, but needs four inches of extra fabric in order to fit her bust size.

Rather than trying to make the inserts invisible, use a coordinating ivory fabric that will become an accent to the texture of the bodice.  One, two or three panels of thick microfiber will add comfort to a structured bodice on a wedding gown.  An even more daring move would be to add a V-shaped insert at the front and center of the dress.  The inserted panel of microfiber may then be decorated with beading, in order to dress up the plainer piece of fabric.  If you think the front of the dress should be left intact, sometimes the back of the bodice can be completely replaced without much impact on the overall appearance, since a veil may be covering your upper back during the wedding ceremony.

Alternatively, to subtly add vertical strips of microfiber into the side seams of the bodice, the existing side stitching must be manually picked out with a needle and small scissors.  The seams or darts of the bodice are deconstructed from the top downwards, to about two inches from the waistline.  Then the panel of new fabric is pinned into place.  The seams are resewn first by tacking manually, then by sewing machine to create a finished look.  All of the areas where stitching was picked out should be folded inside of the new seams, so that no old seam lines or frayed edges are visible in the tailored result.

If the daughter is smaller in size than the mother, the wedding gown can be taken in at the seams much more easily than the letting out which is described above.  If the daughter is taller than the mother, sometimes an extra tier or two can be added to the skirt, by following most of the steps in part A above.  However, rather than trimming off a layer of the skirt, a coordinating or matching fabric would be added near the waist or hip level of the dress.  If needed, the dress can be widened at the waistline by creating a shorter bodice while the top and bottom of the gown are detached.  The key to success in all of these modifications is a very careful measuring of the bride-to-be.  Keep your tape measure handy and remeasure before reattaching the seams.  When in doubt, do the most detailed sewing by hand.


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