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Help with Remodelling a Dress!

FitnessNut | Posted in General Sewing Info on

I’m hoping that someone out there might have a creative idea for me….I seem fresh out today.

A client brought me in a dress that she would like remodelled. It is full-length, straight skirt with a centre back slit, lined, long-sleeved. The bodice has darts from the side seam and a mock-turtle collar with buttons/loops at the back. No waistline seam, centre back invisible zipper. No design details whatsoever and it looks like this purple velvet blob/sack (the client’s opinion as well).

She would like it to be cut into a skirt and top. As she wants it shortened, I can use fabric from the hemline to make a waistband and insert a centre back zipper in the opening from the invisible one. The centre back seam of the top would be closed up and the collar removed.

It is the top that I’m finding problematic. First, I’m worried that the top will end up being too short once it is separated from the skirt and finished. Also, she wants a centre front rhinestone zipper (14″ separating) and the same zips in the sleeves (5″ ending at the wrist). Naturally, this involves making an opening where there is none. And she would like something stylish at the neckline. All I can seem to come up with is a black organza collar of some sort.

Sorry this is so long. Anybody have any great ideas to pass along???



  1. JudyWilliment | | #1

    Off the top of my head, how about an organza ruffle at the neck?  Very narrow, say about 1cm (I think that's 3/8 inch) wide, and not too gathered.  Quite subtle, but striking too.  As far as the zip in the front goes, you could bind the cut edges with the same organza so the finished size remains the same.  I'd cut the dress so that the top will be long enough, and look at reshaping the top of the skirt with new darts, since it's plenty long enough.  That way the top will definitely have enough length.  If there isn't enough fabric for a waistband you can face the waistline edge with something else.  Sounds like a fun project - good luck with it!


    1. FitnessNut | | #3

      I think you might have something here!!! I really like the ruffle idea (I work in metric--Canadian, eh!). The client would like a v-type neckline, or something more open than the jewel neckline, to add some interest and break up the massive expanse of purple. The ruffle could adapt to whatever shape we decide on and I can finish the inside with a double bias strip, handsewn to the lining.

      As for the zipper, the rhinestone teeth would be exposed, adding 7mm (1/4") to the centre front. If I sew it in with 7 mm seam allowances, I'll lose about 7 mm in width. The dress isn't particularly snug-fitting, so that might be okay. I'll pin it out and have her try it on just to make sure before I cut anything! I'll put a strip of organza or sew-in interfacing in the zipper area to make sure it is stable enough.

      I think you're right to suggest that we cut the top to length and then worry about the skirt, since we have extra length. This makes much more sense. Duh! Sometimes you get so immersed in trying to figure something out that you don't see the obvious staring you in the face ; )

      Thanks. I'll let you know if the client goes for it!


  2. stitchmd | | #2

    Is there enough fabric for a peplum to lengthen the top? The zippers sound problematic as you'd have to have some seam allowances and I'm not sure the organza would be sturdy enough.I'd go for a matching heavy satin binding. A faced waistline under a peplum would eliminate the work and fabric of a waistband for the skirt.

    Other ideas are purchased or your own design appliques or embroidery. Since she seems to like glitz you might try metallic fabric or iron on rhinestone motifs for the embellishments. If this is a type of velvet that will work with the technique you could do those iron over a rubber stamp designs to break up the surface. How about a few motifs cut from heavy, intricate lace.

    What is the client's figure type? This would influence what style and design lines you choose.

    1. FitnessNut | | #4

      Great ideas....thanks so much for the suggestions.

      Although the client likes a bit of glitz, she already vetoed the idea of any other embellishment than the rhinestone zippers. I've also considered the peplum idea, but she wasn't crazy about it.

      The idea of the satin binding is an interesting one and definitely a possibility. With an exposed zipper, you don't lose very much width with the seam allowances, but you don't want to get carried away. I'm not sure how the binding idea could be applied to the opening for the sleeve zippers....or if it should. I can make a faced opening the same width as the zipper teeth and sew the zipper in underneath so the teeth are exposed. (Does that make sense to you?) Then turn the hem up again and finish the lining around it.

      Thanks for all your ideas. I'll let you know how it turns out.


      1. SewTruTerry | | #5

        Sandy why not go with a non bond edge on the skirt. Or you could add a piped edge to it to help introduce another color and tie it all together with the added collar.  I hope that you will post some before and after pics of the dress.

        1. CTI | | #6

          If you go with the ruffled collar, which sounds very nice, you could also do that for the skirt slit. I'm clueless on zippers, but could they be merely decorative on the sleeves rather than functional? Sounds like a fun challenge!

          1. FitnessNut | | #8

            It would be nice if the zippers could be merely decorative, but the only difference would actually be in the finishing of the lining around the opening. You would still have to make an opening to install the zipper behind, since you only want to see that row of rhinestones and the pull (which is also decorated with stones), not the tape itself.

            The ruffles could go on the skirt slit, but that will depend on the client....and I'm hesitant to add more work to the pile. After all, I don't have to touch that slit at the moment, except to resew the lining after shortening the skirt.

            Sometimes I think restyling something can be more work than making it from scratch. I don't think my client wants to hear that....especially when it comes to the bill!


            Edited 11/4/2003 4:58:27 PM ET by Sandy

          2. CTI | | #9

            Sure don't blame you for wanting to keep the work to a minimum, and I agree remodelling is often more work than from scratch. A sketch would be wonderful. Good luck!

        2. FitnessNut | | #7

          What is a "non bond edge"?

          I'd love to post before and after pics, however, I lack the hardware necessary....as in, maybe Santa will bring me a digital camera ; ) If I figure out how (and have some "spare" time), I may post a sketch instead.


          1. SewTruTerry | | #10

            Instead of the usual waist band on the skirt or on the pants you can add a piped edge or just finish it off with a little understitching.  I will try later to send you a pic of what I am refering to.  But it really makes it very classy feeling and actually I have found that they are much more comfortable to wear.  I also think they are also easier to do. Well better run have 70 more shirts to embroider by Friday.  And yes they will get done or I don't get a paid.

          2. FitnessNut | | #11

            I know that feeling!!! LOL!!!

            By a piped edge, do you mean piping in the classic sense or a narrow bias bound waist edge? In "Sewing Secrets from the Fashion Industry", there is a waistline treatment that is essentially a bias bound edge and is referred to as a piped waistband. I've never done it, but it looks nice and would certainly work on this project. Although I don't think I would do it in the velvet ; )

            Another option might be to face the waistline with grosgrain ribbon. After thinking about it, I can't really see making a waistband from the velvet we cut off at the hem. It would be bulky and would, of necessity, be seamed to achieve enough length. Then there is the interfacing issue...and pressing. I would just be smarter to consider an alternative.

            So please, do send a pic if possible. I'm very interested.

          3. FitnessNut | | #12

            Everybody.....thank you so much for all your suggestions. The project is now finished and it turned out quite well. The client is thrilled!!!!

            We went with a double layer organza ruffle (we found matching organza!) on a slightly curved v-neckline. The ruffle is 3 cm (1 1/8") wide along the back, but narrows to nothing at centre front. There is a separating rhinestone zipper at centre front, with a matching coloured peau de soie fly underneath to protect the skin. 5" long rhinestone zippers decorate the centre of the sleeves, beginning at the hemline. The opening was made using a facing from the same peau de soie, hand-picking the zipper into the opening. The lining was slashed to finish around the zipper on the inside. The finished length of the top is about 3" below the client's waist. The skirt portion was darted to fit, a centre back invisible zipper inserted, and finished with a 2 cm (3/4") peau de soie waistband. The slit had to be shortened, but the hemline was left untouched.

            This was a big job, more work in fact than making the same garments from scratch. It took just over 20 hours altogther, many of which were spent basting since the fabric was very slippery. (I can make an average evening gown in 15-20 hours, including drafting the pattern and making a muslin.) One difficulty that I encountered was that after cutting the two pieces apart (nerve-wracking!) and sewing the centre back seam of the top (formerly an invisible zipper), the centre back seemed to pull up and get significantly shorter. It happened again after picking out, so I had to shorten the top to compensate. It was also difficult to get the lining to fit inside the altered top....I must have cut a bit too much out at the neckline and inadvertently shortened it at the hem. I pieced with some matching lining and it is barely visible.

            Thanks again for all your brilliant ideas. It is so wonderful to have a forum such as this to brainstorm with others. I just wish I had a digital camera to show you all the finished product!


            Edited 11/27/2003 10:33:10 PM ET by Sandy

          4. JudyWilliment | | #13

            I'm glad to hear it turned out so well.  I can just picture it .  I can well understand your client being thrilled.  I find that people who don't sew are usually very impressd by people who do - they can't imagine how you could take a plain dress and turn it into a dressier two piece, so they think you're a genius because you do! 


          5. SewTruTerry | | #14

            Anyone that can sew is a genius and why not toot our own horn once in awhile.  I am currently making a dress for a young client that originally thought she would make it herself but could not find a pattern for what she wanted.  Of course I come to the rescue and am making the pattern and have already made the muslin and just have to cut it out and sew it today. She wants it by the weekend.  I have had the fabric for a couple of weeks but had other projects to finish before this one got started.

            Glad to hear the client was happy and that all turned out well.

          6. FitnessNut | | #15

            Thanks, Terry and Judy. I don't think of myself as a genius, but I have produced some pretty incredible garments over the years. I just consider myself to be skilled at what I do and fortunate to have creative inspirations on a regular basis. You're right, we don't toot our own horns very often. And we tend to undervalue all our hard work.

            It sounds like you, Terry, are going to have a busy week. Good luck with the project...I hope it turns out very well and that your client is thrilled with the results.


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