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Repairing and Altering Antique Clothing

It was quite the wedding season this year! At one point I had to stop answering the phone because all I could do was turn down work. I apologize if you were one of those who called me and couldn’t get through. As a one-person business I have to sometimes choose between completing the projects I already have  and getting more work.

One of the projects I enjoy the most as a dressmaker is working with vintage and antique dresses.  Whether it’s a wedding gown or a suit or coat, I do quite a bit of repairing and altering antique clothing.

As I’ve written about before, when dealing with antiques, I like to really take my time and think through the project before I begin. It’s just too easy to go forward too quickly and make a grievous mistake. Even the most cared for garments are fragile and usually have rips or stains.

The dress pictured above was worn by the bride’s mom in the 1980’s. She bought it at an antique shop and best guess is that it is about 100 years old. The bride wanted to carry on the tradition but it needed a lot of work!


You can see the rust colored stain on the very sheer fabric.

You can see the rust colored stain on the very sheer fabric.

The cotton voile was fragile and had some stains. The lace was delicate and had rips and stains.

Here is one of the many rips in the lace I had to deal with.

Here is one of the many rips in the lace I had to deal with.

The waistband of the dress was completely ripped up but fortunately, the bride planned on wearing a sash. I reinforced the band with silk habotai. I lined the whole dress with the habotai to compensate for the sheerness and  use it to reinforce the stress areas of the dress and yet still keep it light and airy.

For instance, the bottom ruffle (which was shortened so her shoes would show) was re-attached to the skirt and the lining so that it wasn’t hanging from the skirt alone.  I also attached the shoulders and sleeves to the habotai to reinforce those areas.

When dealing with the stains, I tried out a spot that I knew was going to be removed when I hemmed the dress. I VERY GENTLY rubbed a small amount of baking soda into the stain and that was all it took to shred the fabric. I then decided to just try soaking the stains with baking soda and it didn’t remove the stains but it lightened them enough so that they got lost in the volume of fabric.

Here are some details of the gorgeous dress:

This is the back of the dress. You can see the embroidery and the crocheted buttons.

This is a close-up view of the back of the dress. You can see the embroidery and the crocheted buttons.

Here's a close-up of the buttons.

Here’s a close-up of the buttons.

Back View of the Dress

Back View of the Dress



Vintage Wedding Gown Restyling

It’s so impossible to keep up with my blogging during wedding season and this one was a doozy! Now that I’ve come up for air, I want to share a vintage wedding gown restyling with you. It was interesting because of all the beadwork and the addition of a train.

If you have ever altered a fully beaded gown, you’ll appreciate the work that went into this dress. (Check out my blog on working with beaded gowns.)

The base was a bias-cut silk chiffon covered with glass beads. They cannot be sewn over and so have to be removed and tied off before the alteration can be performed.

BEFORE the dress was a bias-cut "sack" because the bride didn't fill it out.

BEFORE the dress was a bias-cut “sack” because the bride didn’t fill it out.

Back of the dress before the alterations

Back of the dress before the alterations


In this case, the bride wanted the dress more fitted but since there was no zipper or opening of any kind, we had to make sure she could still get the dress on and off. I took in the side seams from the bust to the upper hip and added front darts. I also lifted the shoulders so that the back neckline of the dress fit a long-line backless bra.

The bride wanted some drama added to the back of the gown so we played with some silk chiffon yardage till we got a beautiful train which coordinated with the beaded cowl. I had to tea dye the natural color silk chiffon so that it matched the gown perfectly. I added a simple line of bugle beads to the edge for a little weight and a little sparkle and was still able to stay within the bride’s budget.

AFTER The added train filled in the bottom of the dress from the front and created some drama in the back

AFTER The added train filled in the bottom of the dress from the front and created some drama in the back

I wish I could have gotten picture of the train when she moved. The train kind of “flew” in back of her making a really gorgeous statement. And when it “landed” it wrapped around her like cloud.

And here’s the bride in her gown!

Brittany in her gown

Brittany in her gown

Back view shows the detachable train

Back view shows the detachable train


Double Cloth Coat Hem

Have you have ever wanted to alter a double cloth coat but weren’t sure where to start? I recently hemmed a coat made from a gorgeous wool double cloth and thought I’d share my experience.

Double cloth is basically two different layers of fabrics intertwined to form one heavier fabric which has a supple yet supportive hand to it.  In other words, it is rarely lined because it handles so well on its own. It is mainly used for coats and jackets.

The fabrics can be different or they can be the same. In this case, the fabric is double-faced and it’s the same fabric on the inside as well as the outside.

Because the two layers are treated as one, the hems and seams are handled differently than other fabrics. Many coats and jackets are made reversible because of the construction.

This coat needed to be hemmed about 7 inches, so I first cut off 6 1/4 inches. Then I peeled the two layers apart about 3/4″. You can peel about 1/2″ using your fingers, but then you need a sharp razor blade to cut the fibers to peel more. It’s very easy to peel apart but for your first time, I recommend you practice on the part your scrap first.

Here is the double cloth peeled apart.

Here is the double cloth peeled apart.

After the layers are peeled apart, I stitched some 1/4″ organza ribbon on the outside layer to stay the hem and keep it from stretching. I also stitched the inside layer about 3/8″ from the edge. This helps to keep the fabric from stretching and also gives me a “lip” to fold. I trim about an eighth of an inch from the edge first because in this case, I wanted the inside layer to fold just slightly to the inside of the coat. Some double cloths are folded evenly.

Here you can see the stitching line on the inside layer and the organza ribbon stitched to the outside layer.

Here you can see the stitching line on the inside layer and the organza ribbon stitched to the outside layer.

I pressed the outside layer 3/8 inch to the inside, creating a nice smooth hemline.  I folded the inside layer so that is landed slightly to the inside of the hemline and pinned.

Here are the two layers folded and pinned, awaiting the handstitching

Here are the two layers folded and pinned, awaiting the hand stitching

The entire hem is then hand stitched in place, using 1/4 inch stitches.

Here is the finished hem compared to the original.

Here is the finished hem compared to the original.

Working with double cloth is a lot of work but especially if you like hand work, it’s very satisfying to do.





Wedding Trends 2014

If you have recently gotten engaged, you may be wondering what the current wedding trends are. Fortunately for us here in Northern California, the weather is mild and that makes it a bit easier to shop for a Spring/Summer gown. I hate to think about trying on a strapless dress during blizzard temperatures.

Wedding gowns come in all shapes, sizes, and colors now. So no matter what your figure is like, you can find a dress that suits you. There are many guides in magazines and on-line about what silhouette and color is right for your body type and skin tone but honestly, you won’t really know what works for you until you try on some gowns. I always recommend that a bride makes an appointment with her nearest bridal salon as soon as the engagement is set. Try on the gown that you think you want and then try on several silhouettes to be absolutely certain you have the style you want. Once you order it, it’s yours; most bridal salons have a no return policy.

We’re still seeing strapless gowns, empire waists, ball gowns, Grecian looks but there are a few trends that are really popular this season.

The most obvious one is color. A bride can now get a dress in  champagne, pink, red, and even black! In fact, as I researched this article, I had a hard time finding white and ivory gowns. It’s a good thing because very few people look good in stark white and the ivory has to be just the right shade for your skin tone. Pink looks good on just about everyone and champagne and beige add lots of choices. As for red and black, well, first of all in some cultures, red is the preferred color for brides so I get that. And it might be fun for a Valentine’s Day  wedding. I understand how some women may want to wear a black gown but it would have to be a very formal wedding. And I question whether or not the bride would feel “bride-y” enough. And what about a veil? I haven’t seen any black veils … yet.

The most popular silhouette has got to be the fit-and-flare. “Fit-and-flare” is a term that encompasses anything from a mermaid shape to a more traditional A-line. We mostly think of the va-va-voom look, very close fitting through the bodice, hips and thighs, and flaring out at the bottom. And speaking of “va-va-voom”, old Hollywood glam is very popular this year. That fashion encompasses everything from the 30’s slinky to the Audrey Hepburn tailored look.

Another very popular trend is the “poofy” ball gown. The bodice is generally fitted to the natural waist and the skirt is over-the-top layers of tulle or organza. The trains on these dresses tend to be slight, what is called a “sweep”.  Pockets are also very popular in the huge skirts.

Anna 6-15 011

“Poofy” organza ball gown

The biggest trend this year will be lace. We started to see it last year but I think it will be even more popular this year. Brides like the romance and  the vintage look of it. But lace is a very personal preference so be sure to actually try on a lace gown before you order. It can be price-y, depending on the type of lace. A Chantilly or organza lace will be less expensive than a traditional Alencon and the more beading, the higher the cost. Also, lace will add to the alterations cost.  So if you are on a budget, you may want to go with a plainer lace or stay with satin or chiffon. A wedding gown is one of the most expensive garments a woman will ever buy so make sure you have plenty of time to choose just the right one and do make sure you have allowed enough time to get it altered properly. And no matter what design you choose, remember that they are all beautiful creations and you really can’t go wrong…kinda like the groom!