Starting Over: A Dress Gets Rebuilt

Those that know me will not be surprised that I get out of the ordinary requests pretty frequently. I’m the seamstress/prop maker/logistics co-ordinator that takes on things others might run from. This was fairly easy comparatively but still required some careful thinking to pull off.

A good friend of my sister was getting married. She thought that she’d try to get a deal on the dress of her dreams by making a trip to the States, and shopping local bridal stores. She purchased a dress, but it turned out not to be “the one”. Here’s where I come in. There was a consultation. We tried on the gown she’d bought and loved at the time. The rushed fabric on the bodice wasn’t very flattering, and the skirt did not drape or swish nicely. It was also two sizes too big. Here’s what it looked like then (Image from the internet because I wasted no time ripping hers apart to see what could be done with it).

Before: The starting dress had a waistline that hit in the wrong place and ruffles that were tacked down.


The bride sent me lots of inspiration images that were much more 1970s boho in feel. She wanted a strapless lace bodice and a flowing sheer skirt with lots of volume at the hem. The starting dress was stripped down to the boning (so to speak). In the end, the only part of the original gown used was the bodice underlay. It had a sturdy base of lining and interlining, and some boning. However, since the dress it came from was a halter neck style, less support was needed to keep it in place. My main challenge in reconstructing the garment was to add enough support to keep the top up and support the bust, and my bride is well endowed in that area. My background in historical underpinnings came in handy, and I was able to add boning, plus some bra cups to the existing lining to make it work as a strapless dress.

Underlayers in progress. Bodice with added structural support and a draped underskirt.


The other important factor in keeping everything in place and hugging the body is a waist stay. Since we were aiming not to have any additional undergarments, the stay was double banded with one sitting under the bust and acting almost like a bra band to keep the top from slipping down and hold the centre firmly to the chest without the need for underwires. I have seen similar rigging inside couture gowns from the 1950s and 60s, and it really makes a difference!

Sneak peek inside the bodice. Dress engineering to keep things in the right place!


The Bodice was finished with a lace overlay and small scalloped lace along the top and bottom edges. Draped pieces over the arms are removable with lingerie hooks in case she wanted to take them off later in the day.

Bodice detail. Lace overlay hand picked to under layers. Removable sheer sleeve drapes.

Inside tags. I always do a special one with the couples’ names. (photo: Charmaine Mallari)


The bride also commissioned a longer tulle veil that a friend later added some lace appliqués to. It attached to a flower crown on the day for the ceremony and photos.

Dress with tulle veil.


The sleeve drapes and skirt overlayer were made from a creamy sheer fabric with a little bit of body. The original inspiration dresses had pooling sheer all the way around the hem, but it’s the sort of thing that looks good in photos, and is really not that fun to wear in real life, so we went with a front hem kissing the floor that draped back into a train. Much easier to manage and still gave lots of fun skirt to wear.

After: The Dress she wanted all along. (photo: Charmaine Mallari)

Flowy Skirt: Check! (photo: Charmaine Mallari)

The happy couple. Dress Front view. The bride added a sparkly belt on the day. (photo: Charmaine Mallari)

A good amount of train, with the front cut higher for romantic strolls and dancing. (photo: Charmaine Mallari)


Bonus: Jade wanted to surprise Tristan with photos of their kitties in formal attire, so she commissioned a special cat tuxedo collar. The fur babies were represented in framed pictures at the reception.

Cat tux by HLB. (photo by Jade S.)

Cat tux by HLB. (photo: Charmaine Mallari)

Another garment makeover challenge done! It can be tricky, but it’s always worth it when the finished product makes someone happy.

Until the next adventure… ~ Heather

2 Responses to Starting Over: A Dress Gets Rebuilt

  1. Penny says:

    Lovely work as ever, great transformation. The bride looked gorgeous! X

    • Heather Lee Bea says:

      Thanks! One of many projects that have been keeping me too busy to post lately, but hoping to do more soon!

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