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Help w/strapless gown fitting bodice.

HappyHens | Posted in General Sewing Info on

I need help on a strapless dress I’m struggling to complete. The person has a sallow chest, and I’ve taken that into consideration. The problem is “stiffness” of the upper bodice.  The outside fabric is debutante stretch satin, w/silk and organza as lining, underlining.  Boning is in the top.  Any suggestions?  Your advice is much appreciated.  I LOVE Threads and this board.  Thanks.  


  1. User avater
    retasews | | #1

    The best reference for strapless gown fitting for me has been Susan Khalje's book "Bridal Couture".  I have referred to it many, many times when I have custom made or even altered formal wear.  The best tip involved a waistline stay that really makes a difference in keeping a strapless gown in place.  I made a bridal gown for a dear friend several years ago and Khalje's book was by my side during the entire process.  The waistline stay involves grosgrain being tacked to the stay channels at the wearer's actual waistline outside the lining but inside the dress.  It is hooked together much like a bra as a separate attachment then the dress is zipped or however the back comes together.  It may also help to have a strapless bra attached inside especially if the wearer has a large cup size.  They have always worked better for me than inserting the cups between the lining and underlining.  However it works out for you good luck.  Believe me it really made me happy when my friend was hugging and dancing at her wedding and her dress felt so secure!!  I was introduced at her wedding as the bridal party sewer extraordinaire!!

    1. HappyHens | | #2

      Thank you! Yes, I have that book and will refer to it again. I will go back and do the waistline stay.  I had forgotten that one.  I'll let you know.  I hope to be more active on the message board since there are so many great hints and tips!  Thanks for helping me not pull my hair out.  

  2. suesew | | #3

    You said the problem was "stiffness" in the bodice. Too stiff? Not stiff enough/ Silk, organza and satin may together not provide enough stiffness. Many gowns have a muslin underlining and when every thing is put together the bodice will stand alone. I don't like to put a bra into the dress. A good long line bra on the body will help hold the breasts up properly. A dress has to be really supportive, well fitting and snug and secure on the body to do the same thing.

    1. HappyHens | | #4

      It isn't stiff enough. But I think I had too little fabric and not enough boning. The fabric pulled and with stretch satin, wouldn't stay up.  She has a long line bra and if push comes to shove, can the inside of the bodice be tacked to the bra?  Thanks for the note.  I swear, I learn something every other minute on here.  You're good.  

      1. suesew | | #5

        I think you probably need something more structured to attach the boning to. And the waist stay is an absolute necessity. It will be difficult to attach it to a bra. It should be attached in multiple places so the whole thing works as one unit. The stretch satin isn't helping since it will want to go it's own way and you are trying to stabilize it.

      2. Ralphetta | | #8

        Although I wouldn't suggest planning to use it, in a last minute pinch, Velcro will hold the bra to the dress. I had to wear a gown that had very, very, heavy beading on the bodice front and shoulders. When I leaned forward the bodice would gape and you could see straight down my front. I had them sew wide strips of Velcro on the bra cups and the inside of the gown. I would put the dress on and slap my boobs to stick it together and it wouldn't gape when I leaned over. However, during the quiet, intimate moments as I leaned toward the leading man we could both hear, " rrrrrrrrrrrrrr" as the Velcro strained to break free! We didn't dare look at each other for fear of laughing.

        1. HappyHens | | #9

          That's hilarious!  Great idea too.  You should write a short story. When I finish laughing I'll see if that's what I need.  I hope I won't need to do it, but who knows.   Thank you!  If there are other "in a pinch" stories, I would love to hear them. 

          1. Ralphetta | | #10

            I may have told this before, but that same gorgeous dress was worn with an immense hoop. It was the biggest thing I've ever seen. I looked like a boudoir lamp. At the first dress rehearsal when I entered, I was not at all sure that there was enough space for me to cross between a sofa and a dainty little table. I moved regally across the stage secretly terrified that the table was clinging like a barnacle to the edge of my skirt. I VERY carefully sat on a small settee using my hands to gently hold the hoop down so I didn't look like Carol Burnette with the hoop flying up in my face. With a whoosh, in a split second...the entire settee was hidden from view as the hoop shot backward and out and encompassed the entire piece of furniture. This was not supposed to be a comedy.I heard the designer at the back of the theater, "Strike the hoop, get petticoats."

          2. HappyHens | | #11

            I love it!  I remember my first hoop, a thousand years ago.  I can picture you now on that settee.  LOL.  I'm sure the petticoats worked much better!  

          3. Stillsewing | | #12

            The story of the hoop reminds of the many near misses I had (or rather the cast on stage had) when I did wardrobe mistress for an amateur light opera society. For example one year I used Velcro to fasten the skirt bands for all the ladies. However the leading lady had a long skirt. It was fine in the dress rehearsal but it needed an extra frill for length reasons. I burned the midnight oil, - I had a real day job at the time - and next night, opening night my leading lady out on stage, complete with a much heavier skirt, took a deep breath, as they do before singing, and lo and behold there was the skirt on the ground. Luckily she had a reasonable petticoat on! For the rest of the run she had triple safety pins in her waist band as back up!!!

  3. sewchris703 | | #6

    You might want to line the stretch satin with fusible tricot lining to stablize the fabric so it will act more like a woven but still with some give to it.  Do a test sample first, of course.


    1. HappyHens | | #7

      I'll try that. Everything else is in order now, and if the stretch just had a little more body, I think it will work. Thanks.

  4. dressed2atee | | #13

    I too use Susan's book when making strapless gowns. I make what I call a foundation out of muslin.  I attach the boning to this along with a grossgrain ribbon that fastens at the waist.  I sew the dress and lining wrong sides together and then sew the foundation wrong side to right side of the lining.  I then sew a facing around the top of the dress.  I don't use that plastic boning either...I use RIGILENE.  You can sew right through it with a size 14 or 16 needle.  

    Another tip I got from Susan is to sew horsehair braid to the front bodice top edge.  I also read tips that say to insert elastic into a casing formed in the top edge of the lining to secure the bodice.

    Hope this helps you out some!

    Happy sewing 



    1. blondielou | | #14

      I wonder if information could be found from a Hollywood source as many of the dresses for the red carpet are a structural wonderment of how they manage to stay up......  Perhaps articles or a book has been written on the topic.....   I am a ballroom dancer who likes to wear low cut, front and/or back, bodices as I have gorgeous skin to show off so I need to find this out for myself as well and as I am a 32D I need the "control" of the "girls"....


      If I happen to find out anything in my hunt, I'll report back!



      1. Ocrafty1 | | #15

        I'm altering a wedding gown and making a new bodice for the gown.  The bride has a 59" DD (at least) bust and has not worn a regular bra for over 10 yrs. She wears a sports bra and refuses to buy/wear one for the wedding. She says she won't ever wear it again and its too big of an expense.  I'm building a bustier inside the bodice, using Kenneth King's directions. The "girls" won't stay in the bra cups I've built into the  gown... Surprise.... I've purchased 'body tape' that they now carry in our local Jo Anne.  I'm hoping that this will work to keep them in place...the next fitting will tell.   Maybe the tape will work for you


        1. Ralphetta | | #16

          I hope you are charging as much, additionally for building the bustier as she would have paid for the bra. Does she think buying a bridal gown includes matching underpants also?

          1. Ocrafty1 | | #17

            I wrote about this bride earlier.  I am only charging her $150 for the alterations for the gown.  I am also making her a crinoline for $50.  This gal is very large (over 300 lbs) and is only 5'1.  She tried several different seamstresses, and all told her that her gown could not be saved.  She doesn't have a lot of $$ and takes care of her invalid grandmother, so she can't have a "real" job.  Every bride deserves to feel beautiful on her wedding day, and this is a way I can use my talents to "pay it forward."  I'd probably have done it for nothing if I could have afforded to buy the fabric and notions. I'm not making much, as I have had to create a pattern, and have made a muslin already.  I'm having trouble getting the front of the gown to fit, as "the girls" just don't want to stay put. 

            I've had to put off the next fitting for a couple of weeks.  My kitchen 'died' on 4/13.  It was remodeled in 1960 and the oven quit. DH decided that we should get a new built in oven, cooktop and micro/convection oven.  WhooHooo!   I ordered the appliances within a week, and it took 3 more to get them in. He spent the last 3 weeks retrofitting everything into our 1913 house.  Not fun for any of us.  Although he is a union carpenter, the person who did the remodeling in 1960 was not...what a disaster!  He finally got everything hooked up and running last Sat evening.  We had to hook up the elect. ourselves as the electrician had emergency angioplasty on last Fri and then was scheduled for open heart surgery this past Mon....Then I either broke or badly sprained my right hand 'pinky' finger on Tues.   DH's tranny went out in his truck and its either rained or been too cold for him to take his Harley to work....so he's taken my car. Which meant I couldn't go for materials that I needed til he got home.  Then our computer died.....just got it working last night.  I just hope things are gonna settle down so I can get this done.  I want it out of here so I can work on my other clients projects. 

            I got a call last week from a lady who is a Loretta Lynn impersonator...she wants to talk to me about making/altering gowns for her....could be fun!


          2. Ralphetta | | #18

            I didn't realize it was the same bride. The Loretta Lynn gowns do sound like fun. You have my sympathy about remodeling problems. My house is old and I'm trying to get some things done... but I haven't broken any fingers....yet, ( the day is still young!)

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