Sunday, September 16, 2012

Modest is Hottest: Making a Strapless Dress Modest

My friend was recently looking for a modest formal gown for the Air Force Ball that she and her husband would soon be attending.  A mutual friend was a bridesmaid in a wedding not too long ago and was willing to rent the beautiful dress to my first friend.  The problem was that the dress was strapless.  The good news was that the dress came with a matching wrap.

But, wrapped around her shoulders, the wrap didn't cover as much as my friend had hoped.  We considered making a bolero type jacket to be worn over the dress but it would cover up the beautiful embroidery and beading on the bodice.

  We then played around with tucking and decided to stitch the wrap to the dress in the strategic places.  However, after a good nights sleep, I just didn't like the idea.  I felt that something needed to be done to make the dress more modest in a permanant way that both women (who were built slightly differently) could comfortably wear the dress without added alterations between uses.

So, with the blessing of the dress owner, I set about to find a way to stragetically cut up the wrap and come up with a modest dress.  I was very nervous about it, though, because I mostly play it safe and sew on cottons only!

The idea of the bolero jacket came back to me, but instead of a jacket worn over the dress, I wanted to make something to fit under the dress.  I decided that the jacket should have a very deep v-neck that tied in the front and under the bust.

I had approximately 2.5 yards of length but only about 20 inches in width.  I put a lot of thought into it and even prayed for inspiration on what I could do to make this work (without completely ruining the wrap because I only had ONE CHANCE to get it right-- again, I am a sewer of cottons!).

Have I told you that I love sheets?

I realized that with a sheet, I could have as many chances that I needed until I could get it right!

I took an old sheet and cut it to the exact size of the wrap.  That helped me visualize how much fabric I could use.

I then found a v-neck shirt that I knew would fit both friends.   

  I folded it in half and traced a basic shape of the shirt onto some tissue paper, adding long strips to the inside sides to make the ties.  I cut 4 pieces (two front and two back pieces).

I took the armscye and traced a sleeve pattern, then cut 2 sleeves.

I placed each front piece with a back piece and stitched across the tops of each shoulder.

I hemmed the bottom of each sleeve and prepared them for a small gather by running a stitch from one end of the arched side to the other.  I pulled the threads to create a gather and moved the gathers toward the center of the arches.

I pressed open the shoulder seams.... 

... and pinned the center of the sleeve arch to the shoulder seams.

After pinning the center I went to the ends and pinned my way back to the center pin, pushing the gathers toward the center.  Once I had the sleeves pinned on I sewed them on.

I was so glad at this point that I had second chances with this project.  I realized that I had pinned and sewed the sleeves on wrong.  If you go back up and look at the picture where I ran the gathering stitch through the sleeves, you'll see that I squared off the fabric at the base of the arches.  I should have rounded it a little more because when I pinned, I started there, instead of pinning across the top of that piece.  I thought I could just get away with trimming the extra little fabric off but it really makes a difference and looked bad.

I went ahead and sewed the side seams so I could at least try the jacket on my friend to see if I was close to getting a good fit.

We tried the jacket on her with the dress only to realize that the v-neck in the back wasn't going to work.  So, I took note-- do the sleeves right, make a regular rounded back neckline and I also discovered that I made the shoulders way too wide.

Making the adjustments noted above, I cut all new pattern pieces (not wanting to change anything about the originals, just in case I needed to fall back on them).  I whipped up another sheet jacket and after checking it with the dress, I took a deep breath, said a prayer and started cutting into the wrap.

I won't give you a whole new tutorial but I wanted to add a lining to the front pieces so I'll share how that was done.

I cut out two identical pieces of the front bodice parts out of black.  I just used a cotton from the remnant bin (cotton is safe :).  I sewed the pieces along the inside neck with the right sides together.

I snipped along the curves to help minimize bunching.... 

...Pressed the seams open, then flipped them right sides out.

Then I pressed again and topstitched.

I didn't want to mess with lining the entire back piece so I just made a small lining.  I placed the back bodice over the lining fabric and cut a matching arch.  I removed the satin and and cut a parallel arch about two inches wide. 

I ironed on some fusible webbing to the back piece and zig zagged the raw edges.  Again, with right sides facing (right side of facing and the lining side), I sewed the back lining to the back bodice piece.  I pressed the seam open then flipped the lining to the inside of the bodice piece.

I pinned the shoulder seams and the back lining in place.

 I sewed the shoulder seams (zig-zagging after) then did a top stitch on the lining piece.

I moved on and did the sleeves (correctly!) and finished the hemming for the bottom of the jacket.

I made sure to zig-zag all the raw edges.

And I zig-zagged the ends of the ties.

Ahh, sweet relief!  It was finished!!!

 The knot fits under the bust, nestled between the "girls" so there were no funny lumps. :D

 So happy together!
 (I didn't tell you, but he returned from deployment a week before the ball.)

  Aww, how sweet!

 Ooh, and with all the careful planning, I had enough fabric left over to make a big flower for her hair.

This was a great project for me.  I was happy to help solve a problem and I gained a lot of experience and confidence in the process.

And guess what!  The second friend might be wearing a beautiful, modest plum dress to the upcoming Navy Ball.  And if she doesn't, I just might. 

I'm linking up with the Crafty Cousins!


  1. Wow! What a fabulous idea! I'll definitely be using this tute if I have to alter another strapless prom dress. I love how it turned out! Good job! :)

  2. I have been worried about my prom dress being strapless since I bought it. It is a beautiful dress that I absolutely love, so I was worried that covering it with a jacket would take away from it. But I love the way this turned out, and it still shows the beauty of the dress, but is completely modest. I am definitely using this tutorial, thanks so much!

  3. I am wishing I had found this sooner. I have to modify my daughter's dress for her dance tomorrow night. I am so much more comfortable sewing cottons, and her dress is chiffon, with a see-through mesh sleeveless top decorated with rhinestones. I've come up with something I can put under the mesh and add a little cap sleeve, but I'm wondering now if this option would look better, even made with the chiffon I am using.