Rockabilly Wedding Dress Upcycle

Introduction: Rockabilly Wedding Dress Upcycle

About: I am a mixed media artist living in the Ozarks with my family. I have been published in many magazines including the cover of Sew Somerset.

My husband and I decided to renew our wedding vows in Las Vegas for our 20th wedding anniversary. Everything was on a strict budget so I had to find an affordable dress without sacrificing the style I wanted. This tutorial will show you how I took a long thrift shop dress that wasn't the style I was looking for and turned in into a short rockabilly style dress that I love! Even if the rockabilly style isn't for you I hope this tutorial will inspire you to alter your thrift shop dress into a creation you will cherish for years to come...

Step 1: Thrift Shop Dress Before...

I found this Wedding dress at a thrift shop for $25. I hadn't planned to buy a dress that day and wasn't even really looking for one yet but I knew I would need one in about a year and the wedding dresses at the thrift shop were on sale 50% off so checked them out and found this full length beaded beauty. It was my size so I tried it on and it couldn't have fit me better if it had been made for me...SOLD! Even though it wasn't the rockabilly style I was looking for the halter top reminded me of the 50's style halter dresses. I took it home knowing full well it was going to need some major alterations, even though I had never altered a dress this drastically. It needed to be cut down, A LOT, since it was a full length gown with a long, non removable, train.

Step 2: Measuring a Straight Line Around a Gown...

To make sure your bottom hem is even put the dress on and make sure you are wearing the undergarments and shoes you plan to wear with the dress, they can alter the fit and hang of the dress and we want our bottom hem to be even. Get a helper to go around the dress with a ruler making marks every few inches or so. Make sure you are standing straight up and looking forward. if you are looking down the dress will tilt down and you will have a lopsided hem. Also be sure that the person marking has pulled the fabric of the dress straight down towards the floor at each point to smooth out any large wrinkles or twist of fabric especially when marking the area of the train. If the fabric is twisted from the waist to the floor your hem may be lopsided. Keep smoothing the fabric and marking till you get all the way around the dress. Now take the dress off and get your sharp scissors...

Step 3: Cut First Layer of Fabric...

The first thing to do is cut the first outside satin layer of fabric all the way around the dress at the hem marks you have made. If you try to cut through all the layers of your dress at once the different layers will be uneven and difficult to hem. Now the bulk of the satin dress fabric is out of your way and you can proceed...

Step 4: Cut the Second Layer of the Dress...

The next layer to cut through is the liner of the dress. Make sure you straighten both layers of fabric as you go to be sure they are hanging straight down and there is no twist to the fabric nor any large wrinkles. Using the line of the first cut layer as a guideline slowly start cutting the liner of the dress all the way around until it's off. Now you will only see the tulle petticoat under layer of the dress...

Step 5: Cut Away the Petticoat...

On this dress the tulle petticoat layer started just below the thigh area. Now I could have trimmed the tulle (pain in the hiney) but the length I wanted would only have left about 4 inches of tulle and it would have stuck out and looked weird at that length. I could also have shortened the area of fabric above the tulle layer but that would have added a lot of extra bulk at my waist. Also the tulle was pretty compressed, scratchy, heavy, and really just awful as I wanted one of those vintage style soft fluffy petticoats in bright blue to wear under my dress. So I cut the stiff tulle petticoat off completely. It was attached to the layer that provides all the shape to the midsection of the dress and I definitely wanted to keep that so I just cut it off above the tulle line and left the rest for support.

Step 6: Finally...

Now we are finally at the length that I needed for my rockabilly style dress. All that trimming seemed like a lot of work but really it wasn't bad. Now before I hem the bottom of the dress I'm going to add some embellishment to the fabric on the front...

Step 7: Embroidery and Hemming...

I really wanted to personalize this dress as it's for my 20th anniversary so I put on some hand embroidery. I found an image of a tattoo-ish looking bird online and sized it with image software then printed it out. I hung the dress in front of a window (effectively using it as a light box) and placed the printed images under the dress and very lightly traced the designs with a pencil. The next step is the hoop the fabric with an embroidery hoop and start some very simple line embroidery. (there are a million tutorials online showing how to do hand embroidery) The entire design took me about 2 weeks only working on it for about an hour at a time after work. I'm sure others are faster than me but I was a newbie and wanted to take my time.

One end of the "ribbon" image had the first year of our marriage 1995 and the other end had the year of our 20th anniversary when we renewed our vows 2015. In between it says " A forever kind of love".


After you have finished adding your embroidery it's time to hem the bottom of the dress. The reason you wait till after you embroider to hem is because you don't want the back side of the embroidery to show on the inside of the dress. You want to "seal" it between the top layer of fabric and the liner.

Fold a half inch hem and iron both the top satin layer and the bottom liner layer of fabrics to crease the fabric. The layers should be folded towards each other so that the raw edges when sewn will be sealed inside the hem. Then pin the two layers together. Now for the hard part, hand sewing a hem stitch. That took me most of a day, because I'm slow, but the end result was worth it. (if you don't know how to hem stitch there are a ton of tutorials online to show you how, it's not a difficult stitch but it does take a little time)

Step 8: A Few Finished Pics...

A few pictures of the finished dress on the day we renewed our wedding vows in Vegas. See the turquoise petticoat? I love that thing. Also the custom wedding shoes I made that I created an Instructable for if you are interested in those. Just check out my profile to find that.

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    1 year ago on Step 8

    Great Idea! I especially love the price and the custom embroidery you put on it. I'm heading for my 30th anniversary, and now i'm determined to find a 10K dress for under $50 and make it mine!


    6 years ago

    Wow! You look so stunning in this dress and the matching shoes. You are my DIY queen! :-*


    6 years ago

    I love the blue trim and those shoes are SO cute!!