Sewing a Waist Stay in a Full-Skirted Dress

Today, I’m adding a waist stay to the Picnic Dress! A lot of you asked me how I did the grosgrain ribbon stay on the Twin Spruce Dress so I hope this post answers your questions!

The last time I made this pattern, I followed the directions on the instruction sheet exactly which resulted in a sort-of waist stay. Adding grosgrain ribbon definitely helped to stabilize the waist seam and keep it from stretching out, but it doesn’t do anything to support the weight of the skirt.

So this time, I wanted to sew a proper waist stay, one that hooks up around the waistline and helps to support this wonderfully full skirt.

A waist stay also reduces strain on the zipper, which is great on any fitted dress! Add a waist stay to any dress with a waistline seam following the steps below.

How to add a waist stay:

First, buy a piece of grosgrain ribbon that’s about 10-15″ longer than the waistline of the dress. (If you’re in the fabric store, loop the ribbon around your waist and then add the 10-15″ to that measurement. That’s what I did!) You don’t need quite that much, but it’s better to have extra than to be short.

I used 5/8″ grosgrain ribbon but a lot of books use 1″, either will do the trick! I also liked to use slightly contrasting ribbon so it looks pretty. For this dress I chose a pale pink – it won’t show when the dress is on, but it’s cute when the dress is hanging up.

Then, construct your dress to the point where the skirt is attached to the bodice.

For my dress, it’s basically finished at this point. I have the bodice finished, facings attached and catchstitched to the underlining, and zipper opening edges pressed under. The skirt is sewn together, and attached to the bodice, seam allowances have been serged and pressed up towards the bodice.

Now, take your grosgrain ribbon. Fold in half, and mark the halfway point with a pin.

Find the centre of your dress – if you have a back zipper, it’s going to be in the centre of centre front – and mark it as well. Now pin the grosgrain ribbon to the seam allowances, matching the centres. (This seam allowance is probably very thick so pin carefully!)

Leave the ribbon loose at each end. This is what I didn’t do last time. You need to keep the ends loose, so they can hook around your waist!

Leave the ribbon unpinned, about 2″ from the zipper opening on each side:

Stitch very close to the lower edge of the grosgrain ribbon, making sure not to catch any of the skirt fabric underneath. Backstitch at both ends.

Here’s what the stitching looks like along the edge, in a close-up shot:

What the dress looks like once the ribbon has been attached to the waistline:

Now, add hooks to the ends of your ribbon. You can use the large metal hooks that often go on waistbands, or you can use two little hook-and-eyes. I used a big hook I had in my stash, the kind you see on bathing-suit tops.

I’ll keep going with directions for my kind of hook. Loop the hook end through the grosgrain ribbon and pin. (If you’re using sew-on hooks, sew the hook to the grosgrain ribbon end.)

Make a loop in the other end of the ribbon and pin.

Try on the dress and adjust the loop to fit snugly around the waist. (If using sew-on hooks, pull the hook end towards the other end of the ribbon and mark where to place the eye.)

This is much easier with a helper! But if you don’t have a helper, that’s OK too. Simply turn the dress around backwards so that the waist stay closes in the front, and adjust the waist stay to fit. That’s what I did, and it worked fine. You could also measure your waist exactly, and transfer that measurement to the waist stay.

Trim the extra ribbon, fold the ends under 1/4″ and stitch the ends. I’d recommend stitching up and down a few times to make it extra-strong!

Voila – your waist stay is complete!

Here it is, on the dress form. You might find it hard to do up on the dress form because her waist doesn’t ‘squish’ the same way it will on a real body. I can suck in to do up the hook, but Diana’s waistline is rock-solid.

Next up: the hand-picked zipper!

Oh and I just noticed I am at 201 followers – thanks everyone! Which means it’s time for another giveaway. Stay tuned for the 200 follower giveaway details and how to enter!

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38 Responses to Sewing a Waist Stay in a Full-Skirted Dress

  1. Casey November 2, 2010 at 6:28 am #

    I really love your idea for using the hook for closing the waist stay! I’ve always used snaps or traditional hooks and eyes, but this looks like it would lay so much flatter against the body. Going to have to keep this in mind next time I make a dress that requires a waist stay! :)

    ‚ô• Casey | blog

  2. Karin November 2, 2010 at 6:33 am #

    This is one cupcake of a dress! Frothy and pink, and feminine and flirty! Love it! Thanks for showing us how you did a waist stay. I think you now have the best waist stay tutorial on the web.

  3. Farah November 2, 2010 at 6:56 am #

    Thank you for this post – It is timely! I have a dress in my UFO (unfinished objects) pile because i realized that it would need a waist stay and I didn’t know how to make one.

  4. TM November 2, 2010 at 7:11 am #

    Yes, thanks for the post. I also have a UFO – the peacock dress – waiting for some attention. Waist stay and hand picked zipper, that is what’s left to do!

  5. Angela November 2, 2010 at 7:41 am #

    I haven’t been able to read my blogs the last week or so I’ve started to catch up… how awesome are your tutorials!! Thanks for posting and your dress looks so lovely so far!

  6. Claire (aka Seemane) November 2, 2010 at 7:58 am #

    Tasia – thank you for the clear instructions & lovely photos for this tutorial!
    I’ve booked marked this for when I make a dress with a full/gathered skirt :)

    Just a thought – if on the “loop” end of the grosgrain you were to use an inch or two longer to the ribbon and make 2 loops then you could slip the hook into whichever one felt more comfortable! (Here’s a link to a picture I drew to explain what I mean a bit better). The loop on the “end” would be the looser-fitting one, and the one furthest away from the hook could be your “regular” fitting one – but you could fiddle around with the fit using pins/safety-pins to try it out before stitching (as per your directions above).

    More than one loop on your waist stay

  7. Jane November 2, 2010 at 8:02 am #

    Just a quick (& silly) clarification … you are sewing the wait stay to the seam allowance only correct? You did fold under the bodice before sewing, right?

    Thank you for the great tutorial. I can’t wait for the more detailed zipper one.

  8. Liz November 2, 2010 at 8:30 am #

    I love it! I’ve actually been wondering about how to sew one of these in.

    You’ve whipped up this pink dress so quick, too. I’m so jealous. heh

  9. The Cupcake Goddess November 2, 2010 at 11:07 am #

    This is great! Fabulous tutorial which I’ve bookmarked for future use. I’m very excited to see how this dress is coming along. Looks positively gorgeous.

  10. Misty November 2, 2010 at 12:49 pm #

    Thanks for posting this tutorial. It just helps so much seeing it happen pic by pic. I just found your blog and its really inspiring me. Keep up the great work.

  11. Tasia November 2, 2010 at 2:25 pm #

    Thanks everyone for the great feedback! So glad it’s been helpful and interesting, I always think everything makes more sense when you can see step-by-step photographs.
    @Jane: You’re right, the grosgrain is sewed JUST to the seam allowance, the bodice is folded out of the way.
    @Claire (aka Seemane): Ok, this is a FANTASTIC idea! I wish I’d done this on mine.. although I could go back and add extra to the end. I was planning to leave the waist stay unhooked and free-floating when I didn’t feel like wearing it, but leaving some wiggle room would have been smart. Thanks! I should start talking about what I’m doing before I do it next time :)
    @Misty: Thanks for the lovely comments, I’m flattered that you find my blog inspirational!

  12. ruby slippers November 2, 2010 at 2:45 pm #

    great tutorial, I like the idea of the hook and loop, will give this a try in future :-)

    Ruby Slippers

  13. Lakaribane November 2, 2010 at 3:05 pm #

    I think I’m goign to use this on a Butterick pattern I have with a gathered skirt. Love the hook idea. (Oh and I was so sure I was a follower already but seems I’m not. I’m correcting this because I love your blog. You even fuel pattern purchases!)

  14. Homebake Queen November 2, 2010 at 3:24 pm #

    What a great idea… I’ve never seen that done before! I’m really enjoying your posts, I’ve already learnt so much. Can’t wait to read your next post on zips. Seems no matter how many zips I sew, they just never look quite right, so I’m definitely hoping to pick up some tips and improve my technique!! Thanks Tasia :-)

  15. Alice November 2, 2010 at 6:56 pm #

    Your tutorial is so clear! Thank You!!!Sometimes I think I’m not so smart when I try to follow sewing directions. I have seen this made with a bra back (each side on elastic and two hooks and eyes) instead of the swimsuit hook. Now I know how to get the grograin on with some free play ends to situate the bra back replacement. Thanks!

  16. Renay November 3, 2010 at 2:33 am #

    Awesome!! Can’t wait to see this all finished!

  17. SueC November 25, 2010 at 1:22 am #

    Thank you so much for an excellent tutorial with nice clear photos and instructions. It’s just what I needed as I’m making a vintage dress with a very full skirt. I LOVE the fabric you used, I’m a sucker for big pink girly roses.

  18. Faye Lewis December 7, 2010 at 8:35 pm #

    /Such a beautiful dress and a wonderful color. Glad you made your deadline.

    I received my pattern in the mail yesterday. Bu the way, how did you come upon the name of the pattern?

  19. Tiffany April 22, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    Thank you SOOOOOOOOOOO much for the pictures!!! I’m working on a honey of a dress made out of embroidered Thai silk – and it occurred to me about an hour ago that the skirt of this dress weighs more than the bodice…and that started me down the path of finding out what to do about the problem from my sewing library.. but the pictures were TERRIBLE!!

    Yours totally saved my dress, Khap Khun Ka! (Thank you in Thai)


  20. Susan Stanley April 24, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    This was wonderful!!!!! I have purchased many sewing and coutoure sewing books and could not see what they were discribing. I had no idea the grograin need to hoot separately from the dress. LOVE IT!!!!! YOU ARE TERRIFIC!!!

  21. Chica Andaluza April 1, 2012 at 2:56 am #

    This is a great tutorial, hope you don´t mind me linking to it!

  22. Amanda March 19, 2013 at 4:35 am #

    I just found this after searching the internet and all my sewing books for something similar! Tasia, you really amaze me. :) You’re such a great teacher, I’d love to take an entire class from you someday!!!

    I have bookmarked this page, and also the page with the handpicked zipper. I plan on using both techniques on a dress that’s in the works now!!

    Take care. :)
    xo ~ Amanda

  23. Margaret March 22, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    I did a waist stay for a strapless dress on a young lady with little bust to help hold her dress in place. I attached it to boning. It worked very well and she felt very confident that the dress would stay up. However, she did say that the waist turned and she had to pull it back a number of times while dancing. I blamed it on the grosgrain ribbon. Have you ever had this problem? Did I make it too snug? It has a couple of inches of elastic sewn on the ends so it could be snug but still expandable.


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