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creating with alterations in mind

carobanano | Posted in General Sewing Info on

So, I’m designing a prom gown that’s going to be consigned at a formalwear shop. (Or rather, I have designed it and am about to cut it out and get started sewing.) How should I finish the seam allowances? I don’t want to trim them too close, considering seams may need to be let out. Any other ways I can construct the gown so that it’s easier to alter?


  1. ShannonG4d | | #1

    In the past, I made custom wedding and formalwear.  Also, I made many costumes for theatre, particularly a local dinner theatre.  Since the costumes were reused, alterations had to be taken into consideration for every piece made.  Here are some of the solutions we found successful:

    1.  In the bodice of an embellished piece (such as a wedding gown), alterations are very rarely made on the front of the piece.  This is due to the generally elaborate decoration on the front of the bodice.  Therefore, I lined the front completely and bound the edges of the seam allowances.  The back was done the same way.  Large, 1 1/2 inch seam allowances were used at the side seams. 

    2.  Length was another issue for alterations.  For pants, if we knew an actor was shorter than average, we would cuff the pants.  This gives about 4 inches to add to the length for a taller actor.  For a wedding gown, again, there may be decoration at the hem.  If I knew it would need to be altered, I would make a center piece decoration that could be removed from the center of the front hem.  In most cases, the center panel of the seven-panel skirt traditionally used in wedding gowns is the only one that needs to be hemmed.  The other six panels are at the sides and back of the gown.  I could remove the center decoration (usually a lace motif), adjust the hem, and then reapply the decoration easily.  Thinking ahead really helps with this; complete the decoration on a separate piece of tulle or organdy so you only have to remove the outer stitching to do the alteration. 

    3.  Bodice length is another issue.  If the second user is longer in the waist length than the first user, you may have a problem.  Keep a piece of the original fabric in a bag, stored with the dress.  You can then make a pleated or flat cummerbund style inset to be embellished at will.  If there is embellished lace on the bodice, save some of the lace as well.  The lace can be very nearly invisibly added over any piecing seams to hide them.

    Aside from these, the traditional alterations tricks are very good: gussets for sleeves that are too tight, additional panels of fabric or ruffles for sleeves or hems that are too short, that kind of thing.  Just remember that special occasion fabric is not happy when you handle it too much, and you'll do fine.


    1. Teaf | | #2

      In addition to these excellent suggestions, I would suggest finishing all the seam allowances separately so that wear and tear doesn't degrade them and so that you can add extensions and gussets without having to take out the seam finish first.
      Also, if you reconsider the sequence of seams (say, joining bodice and skirt before front and back) you can make easy changes in size by just dealing with the side seams. Then, for each seam, if you parallel the original seamline with another one right at the outer edge, it'll already be in place as soon as the original seam is removed.
      If you have a choice of fabrics, bridal satin holds up to multiple fittings extremely well; it's very easy to work with. I once tore out a seam eight times without a single needle hole or snagged thread. This amazing fabric feels as beautiful as it looks and doesn't ravel or require special treatment so that beginning sewers could even use it to gain confidence on new techniques. It even looks great with the "wrong" side used outside and after machine washing!

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