Sewing Tutorial

Add Straps to a Strapless Dress

Do you love off the shoulder tops? Ya know the cute banded kind or the types with drawstring ties or elastics that are expected to stay in place all day while you’re moving around? I love them too….but that (and the fact that I hate strapless bras AND going braless makes me uncomfortable) oftentimes makes them pieces that I sew up out of excitement of a particular fabric, then never wear again because I spend more time adjusting them throughout the day than actually looking cute wearing ’em.

Recently one of my sewing peeps made a super duper adorbs Hibiscus from Petite Stitchery for their super duper adorbs little, and I fell so in love with the dress, I knew I wanted to make one too. I’m in full on Spring sewing mode & since I already own the pattern from making the top version before, I knew the bodice fit well & , I decided to go for it. I chose to use this beautiful floral double brushed poly I got from The Material Girls* (sans the adorable ruffle they added, though I’m really itching to do that same exact thing one day). Since I already knew the top shifted a lot during wear, I absolutely knew the dress would. It’s a full circle skirt which = heavy. Even stabilizing the waist and shoulders with elastic, I knew, undoubtedly, the skirt would continually pull the dress down and I’d still end up in my adjustment cycle. Adding straps was a necessity and it was sooooo easy to do, you can too!

For starters, cut 2.5″ wide strips of fabric. Using a 1/4″ seam allowance, this width was enough to make the finished straps 1″ wide, which is what I wanted. You may choose to cut wider, depending on how wide your bra straps are or how much support you’d like. I didn’t know what length to cut yet so these were about 14″ long which was more than enough. (Don’t cut yours yet if you’re worried about length…I’ll tell you later how I measured.) Since I was using double brushed polyester, I also figured it would be wise to add elastic inside the straps to help them be more stable, especially since DBP is such a stretchy fabric. I used 1″ elastic, but didn’t cut it yet.

Let’s get to the sewing process now. To make the straps, fold them right sides together and sew the long edge of each. Turn each strap right side out and press them with the seam in the center.

Next, time to customize the length. I tried on the dress with one of my favorite bras and placed clips on the band, directly in front of the place my bra straps rest so I could mark where the dress straps would attach. I had my husband do the same on the back. I then placed the strap directly in front of this clip right at the bottom of the band and had my husband pull tight over my shoulder to the back mark to make sure they fit pretty snug. He then put a clip to mark where the strap met the band in the same manner as the front.

To insert the elastic, cut a piece of 1″ elastic that is 1/2″ longer than your strap. I did this because I wanted to make sure there was overhang for attachment. I always find it easier to cut elastic a tiny bit longer because you can always trim it. Can’t add to it once it’s cut. Using a bodkin, thread the elastic into the strap and pin it on each side, making sure the seam is still centered (this seam will mark the back/wrong side of the strap). I used my serger to finish the straps and secure the elastic to the strap and threaded my tails back in so there wouldn’t be stray threads. You can also finish this raw edge and secure them with a zigzag stitch. Do the same steps for the other strap.

Open the dress so it’s wrong side out to see the clips marked for the strap placement. Place one of the straps on the front of the dress with the seam facing up so that the bottom finished edge aligns with the seam from where you attached the band. Pin or clip it in place. If you are using a directional fabric, make sure you attach the correct side of the strap to the front and back of the dress. Next, wrap the strap over the shoulder and repeat on the back. Both straps will be in place. To double check that I hadn’t shifted anything, I measured the front and back from the armscye to make sure they were evenly spaced. Make sure they are equally distanced, and make any adjustments, if needed.

This step is one that I typically skip but I regret every time. Don’t skip this step! Baste the straps to the seam allowance of the dress. Baste. Don’t sew with your serger. Baste. Did you hear me? I’m serious. Now, go try on your dress and make sure the straps are placed in the correct position and tight enough to your liking. Do you know how annoying it is to go through the process of making a garment like this only to have it be too loose or for the straps to not be in the right place when you’re done? This is why you should baste and not be hard headed like me. If you need to make them tighter, mark your position again, then remove the basting stitches. Shorten in 1/4″ increments (on both straps) and baste in place again until they fit well. If they simply weren’t placed right, remove the basting stitches and shift to correct position. Once you’re okay with the placement and length, you can attach it to the seam with a serger or zigzag stitch (I used a zigzag bc the seam was already bulky enough between the band seam allowance and the serged strap seam).

You may notice that there is a sort of buckle near the straps from where they’re pulling up while the dress is pulling down. I haven’t discovered a way to make this 100% disappear but you can give the straps a little assist by positioning them so that they are flat with the band and tacking them across the top. Additionally, you can topstitch the band seam down to the bodice so that the seam doesn’t pull up. I opted not to because my coverstitch hates bulk and would have inevitably made it look like I topstitched with my eyes closed, but also the buckling doesn’t bother me enough. If it ever does, I can always do that step later.

Tadahhhhhh! This strapless dress now has straps and it’s love! I can wear a bra and have my straps covered and I don’t have to worry about the weight of the dress pulling down all day. It was sew easy to add these and I’m looking forward to experimenting with different strap styles and shapes to add to all my strapless tops and dresses now. What pattern will you try this on? Use the hashtag #HeyShantelle on IG if you use this tutorial. I’d love to see what you come up with!

*Any links containing asterisks within this post are affiliate links. The product price doesn’t change for you, but I do earn a small commission for your purchase. Thank you for supporting my love of sewing and sharing!

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