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Prom dress hems – need a better way!

Flax | Posted in General Discussion on

I need help.

It’s Prom season and I’m having trouble with getting an accurate hem on the kind of prom dresses that have multiple layers of netting over the lining. I am looking for a more efficient way to do this and am wondering if any of you have successful methods.



  1. Ocrafty1 | | #1

    Hi Flax,

    Are you using netting or tulle? Is this the old 50's style of gown where the 'netting' is/are the top layer(s)?  If so, you'll need to cut the "netting" so that each layer is about 1/4" to 1/2" longer than the layer behind it.  The fullness of the lower layers make the 'higher' layers shorter.  I usually buy tulle/netting when it is on sale..sometimes I can get it for less than $.50/yd....and I buy more than 10 yds at a time.  Try making a 'mock up' by measuring a certain legnth..about the same as the skirt of the dress, then start by basting the bottom edges together, while gathering the 'top' end, see if there's any difference when you meet the two top gathered edges. Does that make sense?  I made 6 bridesmaids gowns in that 50's style and the top layer was an allover lace... That's how I figured it out.  The dresses were a med. peach color...I thought they were ugly, but it was my youngest sister's wedding...and I had to wear one of them...UGH! I donated it to Goodwill. I never wanted to see that thing again. LOL

    Hope this helps...I'm anxious to hear from others about this one.


    1. User avater
      Flax | | #2

      Ocrafty1, Thank you so much for your reply. I guess it is tulle, netting is the courser heavier stuff right? I suppose I should know this. Yes the "netting" is on the top.I do alterations so I can't really do a mock up. Also I have been out of the formal wear loop for a little while but recently I picked it back up. Now the trends are these fluffy things and I am struggling with pinning the darn things. I use a Pin-type skirt marker. Do I pin the lining first separately then pin the tulle?

      1. Ocrafty1 | | #3

        This is the way I was "taught" when I worked in a Bridal Shop, and I still do all my gowns this way.  The client is standing in the dress, knees relaxed, hands at sides, wearing the shoes she plans to wear...or a pair that's the same height.  I crawl around on the floor with a pincushion and a ruler. (this is getting harder as I get older)

        Measure the top layer first. You have to go all the way around...one shoulder might be lower, or they may have a curvature of the spine.  Once you have that even to your satisfaction, then you pin the next layer, and so on.  The lining should be about 3/8" shorter than the tulle.  I hate doing this with tulle...the pins fall out and you have to be very careful removing the dress from the client.  Its best to "drop the dress" and have her step out of it if she can.

        Hope this helps.  I'm going to bed...if you have any more questions, I'll answer them tomorrow.  LOL


        1. User avater
          Flax | | #4

          Wow, you do every layer? YIKES! I pin just like you do except I haven't (so far) done every layer, but I guess I need to. when they tell you that they want it floor length, do you pin it at the floor or do you recommend anything a little above the floor? and then is that the place you pin the top layer?

          1. Ocrafty1 | | #5

            If it is floor legnth, you measure to the top or middle of the instep of the feet.  It is a few inches off of the floor...just before the place where the shoe meets the foot. You shouldn't see any skin, only shoe. This is true for wedding gowns also. If there is a train, of any kind....some gowns are meant to be longer in the back....You taper it to actual floor legnth at the side seams. This makes it so they don't trip or step on the gown when they walk. The tops of the front of the shoes should show. You can make it so the gown comes just short of the actual top of the shoe.  After all, they usually buy pretty shoes and want to show them off, too.

            Good luck!


            Edited 3/13/2008 7:46 am ET by Ocrafty1

      2. sewchris703 | | #6

        I do alterations at a bridal shop.  What we do is steam the skirt and pin the layers evenly together at the hem with small safety pins before the fitting.  When the girls have the gown on, then we pin the floor length (again with safety pins--silver ones to hold the layers together, gold ones to mark the floor).  When cutting, we cut below the floor marking pins as the tulle will fluff up.  Then the girl has another fitting to check the length.  We then go back and recut as needed.  And repeat.  I hate "hemming" tulle. 


        1. MaryinColorado | | #8

          Thanks for sharing these tips.  I like the idea of small silver safety pins for one purpose and gold for the other, consistently.  Now I'll have a "treasure hunt" with my grand daughter to see who can find them in a shop first!  (She's my secret weapon on these excursions, I "browse" while she "searches").

           I like the new safety pins with the bend in them that makes them easier to open for those of us with arthritis.  (I make sure they are good ones that won't rust after steaming as so many of my projects take a year to finish.)


  2. Teaf5 | | #7

    Tulle is so sheer, and multiple layers are so floaty that it's not incredible important to have the layers precisely even at the bottom edge. However, keeping a smooth line along the bottom of each layer is important. I like to use chalk instead of pins, marking where each layer (starting with the underneath ones) hits the floor. Then I cut each layer separately, tucking the others up inside the bodice and making sure that the cutting line is as smooth as possible.Cutting tulle is always easier on a large, dark, flat surface, so I use our office conference table or our hardwood floor for this task.

    1. MaryinColorado | | #9

      I have used painters tape to mark it, then let the serger trim it off for me.  (anything to simplify and keep me off my knees for this lazy gal)

  3. Ocrafty1 | | #10

    I just posted this but thought it might help you here too.


    When I worked at the bridal shop we had a hook, like you hang flower pots on, hanging from the ceiling, about a foot left of the sewing machine needle.  We hooked a legnth of chain (like they use on hanging lamps) from the hook. We hung all of our gowns on that chain in order to keep the gowns off of the floor. I've had that set up in my sewing room for so long I'd forgotten about it, til I saw it on the other site.  I also have one hanging above my pressing area. Just be sure you use a toggle in the ceiling to attach the hook to, or it will all fall on your head at an inopportune moment.  Yep, I had that happen...didn't want to wait for DH to put it in, and I didn't have the power tools to drill the correct size hole in the plaster...LOL, Live and learn!


    1. User avater
      Flax | | #11

      I just wanted to thank all of you for your responses so far. A friend of mine who also runs an alteration shop says she marks the lining hem first. Then for the tulle, she examines the four points of the dress, (the front, back, and two sides) and compares the amount to be shortened. And if the amount that needs to come off is mostly even all around the dress, she simply cuts off the shortened amount off according to the existing hem. She says she can hem the majority of the fluffy dresses that come into her shop this way. I thought that I might try the different methods and see how it goes for me.Just curious, What is the going rate for hems like this in your neck of the woods?

      1. sewchris703 | | #12

        Here are our prices for bridal hems in the north county of San Diego:  plain wedding gown hem starts at  $150 for a straight skirt (2 layers) up to about $220 for a full ball gown with many layers; a pick up skirt is  $10 per pick up (plus $50 if the linings needs hemming); a hem with lace/beadwork/tulle $225-$275.  Special occasion, bridesmaids, prom, etc. runs $35-45 to wedding gown prices for Quinceria and debutant gowns.


      2. Ocrafty1 | | #13

        This was a timely question, as I had just phoned several bridal/alterations shops to get their pricing. I live in Indiana, about 70 mi. north of Indianapolis.

        Wedding Gowns:

        Simple wedding gown- 1 layer $125.  Full Skirt with lace and underskirt - $150 and up.  Replace Zip - $30; Alter bodice -$30, if beaded, add $20. Alter Sleeve- $20, if beaded, add $10.


        Simple, 1 layer- $80-120, depending on fabric. 2 or more layers- $100 and up.

        I charge about 20% less than the shops do. I don't have their overhead. Mine is purely profit.




        1. User avater
          Flax | | #15

          Ocrafty1,Where you live, is it somewhat rural or do you live in a suburb? I ask because it sounds like your situation is similar to mine. I am near Minneapolis and I have been frustrated with pricing. Most bridal/alteration shops will not give out specific pricing, just general guidelines and so I find it difficult to "spy" out my competition. Flax

          Edited 3/31/2008 1:41 pm ET by Flax

          1. Ocrafty1 | | #16

            Hi Flax,

            I live in a rural area. There is a small town 6 mi. from here; groc. stores, lots of fast food, and a K-Mart, but not much else. The nearest city, Kokomo, IN, is 26 mi. away...although there is another smaller city 20 mi away. Indianapolis is 80 miles from here, and with gas prices, I don't go there often. No suburb here...we have almost 7 acres, with the Wabash River across the road on the N, 180 acres of woods behind us (S), no neighbor to the W (county rd. is 1/4 mi W) and the nearest neighbor is 1/8 mi to the E.  I love it and wouldn't trade it for anything, but it would be nice to be a little closer to Kokomo.

            It is hard to get good pricing ideas. Our town has only 1 small factory and wages are purposely kept low...the city fathers have evenrefused to allow a company to build,who wanted to have wages at $15/hr. In Kokomo, there are both Delphi and Chrysler factories...which means the COL is much higher and people are a little more willing to pay for services....but not much when it comes to professional sewing. It seems that no matter where you are, unless it is a big metropolitin city, people don't appreciate what is involved is sewing/alterations and they'd rather do without than pay a decent price.

            Good luck to you and let me know what you end up charging.


          2. MaryinColorado | | #17

            What a blessing to live in such a beautiful place, surrounded by nature!  I'd love to if there was a choice.  hmmm daydreamin'  You lucky gal!  Mary

          3. Ocrafty1 | | #18

            Hi Mary,

            Yes, I am lucky!  The sun is shining for the first time in 3 wks, and it is almost 50 degrees...There are flocks of robins, the squirrels are running everywhere, and I saw 3 red tailed hawks this morning. What a glorious day!  I wouldn't trade this place for anything...even though the house is old, and needs to be remodeled.  We've lived here over 20 yrs, so I guess I can put up with the house for a while longer. 

            Still working on organizing/cleaning my sewing room...I'm getting closer...Didn't realize that I had so much junk in there!  Went through all my 'fancy' scraps today...put them all in plastic baggies...still filled a large Rubbermaid tote LOL. Couple of more days should do it...I hope!



          4. MaryinColorado | | #19

            Wow!  I admire you for reorganizing your studio all at once!  Mine is always a "work in progress" it seems, always with the goal of that perfect set up.  Mary

          5. durf | | #21

            Hi Ocrafty1, I am new at this discussion but I also do alterations in Ohio, small town not far from indiana about 2 1/2 hours from Richmond In. I was really interested in your discussion about pricing. Mine is very low compared to what you gals are saying. I just charge what I think since God gave me this talent and I also have no overhead.  I am curious about how you are  going about getting your scraps in order. I have scraps everywhere in large plastice tubs and I was going to organize them to day but when I looked at the amount  I decided It is  too MUCH WORK. I have scraps in tubs in the garage and in my sewing room. I plan on making a quilt but I am waiting for a book that I sent away for since I am new at quilting. I really want to iron the pieces and quater them so I can see what I have and sort them out in color and types of fabric. Any one have any suggestions.


          6. Ocrafty1 | | #22

            Hi Jan, Welcome to the groups!  I'm pretty new myself; but I'm addicted to them now.

            I had my scraps in big totes, too.  I couldn't believe how many formals and weddings I've done, til I decided to sort that mess out.  I had shoved scraps in there for over 12 yrs!  I spent nearly 4 hrs. yesterday working on that 1 tote. I put every single piece into quart, gallon, or those new 2.5 gallon baggies. I put small scraps of lame/sequin fabric into small baggies 'cause I only had a few of those, but the rest depended on how much of each type of fabric. I put all of my black satin scraps into 1 gallon bag, white satin in another one, etc. I pushed all the air out of the baggies. I was so proud of how that tote looked when I was done!  It will be much easier to get those pieces out when I need them. The larger pieces, (over 1 yd) I put on cardboard bolts; I get them from the fabric stores...ya gotta beg hard for those. Satin, I put on rolls.

            Today I went through my tote with cotton/poly scraps, and my box of quilting supplies and did the same thing with them....all sorted into baggies.  It took a little less time, but not much...and my bum and knees are sore from sitting on the floor when I sorted them...I was really stiff...but it was worth it.  I have a short cabinet that has 4 drawers..just the right size for patterns, but I have too many to fit in the drawers...so I store purchased legnths of fabric in those.  One for fabric for the granddaughters, one for flannel plaid for DH's shirts, one for knits, and the last for lingerie/pretty things.

            I've been keeping my patterns in big totes, sorted by categories: wedding/formal, children, men's, women's, craft, etc. but am really frustrated with not being able to find the right size tote. They are either too deep, too shallow, or not big enough to hold that 'group' of patterns. I've tried the cardboard boxes...they fall apart as soon as I have to move them. I have well over 200 patterns dating back to the '40's and will not part with any of them.  I'd thought about getting rid of everything past the 80's, but I'm glad I didn't 'cause the 60's and 40's formal patterns are back in style again. My problem is that I have soooo many and have to stack the boxes in a small closet in another room. There just isn't space in my sewing/craft room to store them.

            Per sewing prices....I phoned several bridal shops and cleaners to find out what they were charging for alterations. I made my charges accordingly. I'm sure they charge more in larger cities, but you have to go with what the going rate is in your area. I don't have much overhead either, since I'm doing it from my home (still have to pay for elect for the sewing maching/iron/lights,but it is nominal) but they need to pay for my time and expertise.  If they could do it themselves, they would....and as I've said before, "I don't do home sewing, I'm a professional."  I (have and do) spend a lot of time learning new techniques and perfecting the ones I know. It makes me a better seamstress and there are always new ways to do something...some are better, some aren't, ya just gotta try 'em out.

            Best Wishes!


          7. durf | | #23

            Thanks for the info on scraps. Tomorrow I will start that job. I never thought about the gallon bags or the 2 1/2 gallon bags I have been using the shirt-tail bags that you get from the stores but you can't see through them. Gallon bags are great idea. On patterns, I have purchased at Wal-Mart the plastic containers that are on wheels. I get the ones that have the deep drawers about the size of a pattern when on its side and they fit perfect, laying on their side. I use one drawer just for my grandkids and the others for what ever patterns I have. I also have to get one more though because I am putting my patterns in places that I would not normally put them and being older I have to put things back where they were orginally or I won;t find them again. I walk around my sewing room sometimes and wonder where I have put something or where would I absent-mindly have  put something. I spend more time looking for somethings because I did not put what ever  back where it belongs.

            On measuring gowns from the floor What I have found is that if you turn up the front and I go the the top of the big toe with shoes on and pin just the front to where it turns to the sides and then measure the back the same way and usuallythe back has a taper down, the sides will take care of them selves as you pin to the back I usually go according to the manufactures hem and then measure the amount all around including the taper in the back with my ruler.  I also have  large hooks on the celing of my sewing room where I hang the gowns and garments that I am sewing on . It is so much easier to see what and if something isn't going well. I am going to have one above my ironboard. GOOD IDEA. I usually won't have a final fitting untill the customer has their undergarments and shoes on and ready to try on, then I know what is what.

            My sewing room is calling me. Everyone have a wonderful day today.


          8. User avater
            Flax | | #20

            you got robins already!!!I live in an area like yours except I need to drive 40 miles to the nearest walmart. I have woods all around me and I am thankful too for its beauty. I figured a price on those fluffy gowns. $30 base price for a hem. $10 each additional layer, except the underskirt petticoat thing if I can hem those from the top I just charge another $10 as long as I don't have to hem everyone of its layers from the bottom. So a gown like this runs around $70 for a hem of course depending on the layers. What do you think about that price for a Bridal shop 60 minutes from Minneapolis?

    2. MaryinColorado | | #14

      What an excellent tip!!!  Thank You, I feel a "honeydo" coming on.....Mary

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