How to Add Decorative Trim to a Dress

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How to Add Decorative Trim to a Dress

A bit of trim can turn an old dress new, and add a special touch that makes the dress completely unique. Adding trim is simple, but when attempting to add trim to a dress for the first time, beginners need to know two basic things. The first is how to choose the right kind of decorative trim for a dress. While this is based on personal taste, there are some basic guidelines that can help someone choose a kind of trim if he or she doesn't already know what trim would suit the dress best.

For example, elastic trim does not have the same effect on stiff fabric as it does on thinner and softer fabrics. Secondly, one has to know exactly how to attach it. The majority of trim types require basic sewing skills, but there are also decorations that are ironed on, or stick on with special adhesives. Trim can be found at fabric stores, craft stores, and online at eBay as well. By learning how to shop for trim online, updating one's wardrobe is easier and more affordable than ever before.

Choosing the Right Trim

The right trim for the dress, of course, depends on the dress itself. The fabric and design of the dress have to be taken into account when choosing trim. Trim is any ornamentation that embellishes the dress. As such, it works best to add trim to dresses that are very simple in design. If trim is added to an ornate dress, it should be very subtle, so as not to distract the eye too much. There are a few more valuable tips to keep in mind when choosing trim. As in any art, the rules are made to be broken. However, keep in mind that there is a difference between breaking the rules intentionally, and doing it unintentionally.

Keep the Same Style

In general, the trim should keep to the same style as the dress. This means frilly lace probably does not belong on an Art Deco-style dress that has bold colours and geometric shapes. The trim should not stand out on the dress; the goal is to achieve a unified look in all the parts of the dress. Along these lines, it is also usually a bad idea to add the same kind of trim that is already on the dress unless it is exactly the same. For example, adding a brown braid to a dress that already has a white braid, generally calls attention to the brown braid and does not create a unified appearance to the whole dress. There are instances where it can be done, but care must be taken to keep it subtle.

Choose a Matching or Complementary Colour

Trim is often most striking in a contrasting colour. Brown and off-white, red and green, blue and orange are all colours that look striking side-by-side. As with trim types, keep to the same kind of colour: neon with neon, pastel with pastel, and bright colours with other bright colours. If the type of colour is changed, the colour itself could be the same to create unity. For example, a pastel blue dress might just need a dark blue ribbon to make it stand out and still look unified as a whole.

Consider the Entire Outfit

It is a good idea to consider all the accessories that are usually worn with a dress. By choosing a trim that matches some of the accessories, one can create an outfit that goes well together. In contrast, when each accessory is different, the look of the outfit as a whole is disjointed. One example is a dress that is often worn with a necklace, or hair accessory that has real or imitation pearls. By adding a line of acrylic pearls to the dress as trim, one can create an outfit that is pulled together by the pearls.

Attaching Trim to a Dress

There are at least 13 main kinds of trim that are used for dresses. Many more are possible, and in fact, decorative trim for dresses is only limited by one's imagination. Anything that embellishes a dress and can be attached in some way is considered to be trim. By learning to attach the basic kinds of trim, one can enjoy greater freedom in choosing and employing different variations of trim.

Bias Binding and Piping

Bias binding is used to cover raw edges, and can be made from the same fabric as the dress. However, a contrasting colour is often used to make the hems 'pop' visually. Piping is similar but has a cord inside the binding that gives the binding a three-dimensional aspect. Piping is most often found on upholstery, western wear, and children's clothing, but it can also be used on women's dresses with great effect.

While bias binding is used on areas that would normally be hemmed, piping can be used on the bodice, on pockets, or other seams. Both bias binding and piping must be sewn on, and require basic to intermediate sewing skills. If piping is to be attached between two parts of the dress, the garment has to be taken apart so that the piping can be sewn in.


Buttons can be used decoratively on casual dresses for a fun and simple look. Large wooden buttons can be sewn along the border, or small buttons can be placed on the bodice and sleeves. There are many options when placing the buttons, but one should consider if the fabric is heavy enough to hold the buttons properly. For example, large buttons make a lightweight fabric sag. Buttons are best used as trim on a dress when the dress itself has no buttons. Mismatched buttons can look odd unless done properly.


Lace trim can be added just to borders of the dress, or larger pieces of lace fabric can be added to the dress. For example, a lace bodice piece on a dress with thin straps can change the look completely. There are many styles of lace, like needle lace, bobbin lace, and machine-made lace to name just a few. Lace for trimming purposes can be bought by the metre.


Ribbon is simply a strip of fabric with finished edges. One can make the ribbon from other pieces of fabric, or buy ready-made ribbon in various widths, designs, textures, and materials. Ribbon is best sewn in place for garments, although it can be glued in other applications. Be aware that it can be difficult to make the ribbon lie flat if the ribbon and the fabric stretch differently.

Braid and Cord

Braid and cord care also used on hems or borders. Ric-rac is a kind of flat braid, and comes in many different colours. Like ribbon, braid and cord can be glued, but are more secure when sewn together. They can also be used to create patterns that run across the dress vertically or horizontally.


Embroidery requires considerable skill whether it is done by hand or with a machine. However, there are an unlimited number of designs that can be created on a fabric with just embroidery. Even the simplest kinds of embroidery can add an elegant touch to any dress.

Crochet Trim

Crochet trim is basically crocheted lace. It can be made and then sewn to a dress or crocheted into the dress itself with a sharp crochet hook. The second method is best used with fabrics that have a coarse weave, such as some kinds of linen.

Ruffles and Frills

Ruffles and frills are essentially two types of gathered fabric that add a three-dimensional feel. The key to adding ruffles as trim on a dress, is making the ruffles out of a fabric that matches the dress properly. Remember to change just one aspect of the trim in order to keep a unified look. That is, if adding elaborate ruffles, use the same colour and fabric as the dress. If using a different colour, keep the ruffle simpler and use the same material.

Fringes and Tassels

Fringes and tassels work perfectly with just a few dress types. They are most commonly used for western wear. Fringes have to be sewn on, while tassels can be tied or sewn, depending on the type of trim bought.

Sequins, Rhinestones, and Beads

Sequins, rhinestones, and beads all easily jazz up a dull outfit. Sequins and beads generally have to be stitched in place by hand, which is quite time-consuming. Sequins can sometimes be attached by machine, but metal sequins can break the needle if not sewn with care. They can also be attached with glue, but this is not a very secure method for clothing like dresses. Rhinestones are perhaps the easiest glitzy trim type. Hot-fix rhinestones come with a special adhesive backing and can simply be ironed in place. However, placing rhinestones is also a time-consuming job, since they are tiny and hard to handle. Larger rhinestones and jewels can be placed more easily but are harder to secure with just adhesives alone.

Appliqué and Patches

Appliqué and patches are very easy to apply and generally can be just ironed on. Make sure the patch is of the iron-on variety, since there are also patches and appliqué without adhesive that must be sewn on.

Fabric Flowers

Flowers can be fashioned from scraps of fabric easily and then secured with glue, a few stitches, or both. They can then be sewn onto the dress for a unique and chic look. Fabric flowers can be made by cutting various circular shapes and putting them together as 'petals', or by making a spiral with strips of fabric that are ruffled or gathered. By making a matching headband, one can easily create a complete outfit with this kind of trim. Fabric flowers can also be bought ready-made and attached to a dress with just a few stitches.

The table below gives each kind of trim, the method used to attach it, and the level of difficulty involved.

Trim Type



Binding and piping

Basic sewing







Easy to Intermediate


Sewing or glue


Braid and cord

Sewing or glue






Crochet, sewing

Intermediate to Expert

Ruffles and frills


Easy to Intermediate

Fringes and tassels

Sewing, tying


Sequins, beads, and rhinestones

Gluing, sewing


Appliqué and patches



Fabric flowers

Sewing, gluing

Easy to Intermediate

Many of these trim types are art forms in themselves, and creating or adding trim can become an enjoyable hobby. For example, embroidery and lace-making are highly complex crafts. On the other hand, those looking for easy embellishments can find almost any kind of trim ready-made. The tradeoff is that ready-made items come in a limited number of colours and designs.

How to Buy Decorative Trim on eBay

Buying trim is easy on eBay, and by learning to shop online you can be sure to take advantage of a huge selection of trim not found anywhere else. You can find hand-crafted trim on eBay that is completely unique, and made by skilled artisans. To find decorative trim on eBay, enter the kind of trim you want in the search box found on any eBay page. If you are not sure what kind of trim you want, just enter 'decorative trim'. You can then browse through the offerings, and refine the search by colour, or type of trim.

When you have found something that you can envision on the dress you have in mind, check the seller's feedback score. This eBay feature makes it easy to find reputable sellers who have been doing business for a long time online. By choosing one of eBay's Top-rated sellers, who have award icons next to their names, you can rest assured knowing that the seller is known to provide fast and professional services.


Adding trim to a dress is an inexpensive way to completely change the look of an old dress. There are so many options when choosing decorative trim that a beginner might not know where to start. There are some basic rules that can help a first-time seamstress decide on how to go about embellishing a dress. Keeping in mind that the dress should have a unified look at the end of the process is key to choosing the right trim.

There are dozens of different kinds of trim, and dozens of ways to use each kind of trim to create a beautiful and unique outfit. The main kinds of decorative trim include: bias bindings, buttons, ribbons, lace, sequins, and ruffles. While the majority of trim types need to be sewn onto a dress, there are some kinds that can be glued or ironed on, like rhinestones. Anyone can learn basic skills to embellish a dress with decorative trim, and may even discover a new hobby in the process. Decorative trim of all types can be found on eBay.

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