I wrote my last post from sweltering San Jose, and now I write this from a very sunny but distinctly autumnal London. Three family events; speaking at the Sewing Weekender; jetlag and a cold; progress on The Career Girl, my new pattern AND expanding the Nina Lee size range have all been keeping me busy these past couple of weeks since our return and I feel rather like I’ve hurtled into the new season! Our wedding now seems like ages ago – because it was! Soon we will have been married for three whole months!
I gave a talk at the Sewing Weekender about the process of sewing my wedding dress, along with tips and resources for anyone who is facing a similar project. It was so lovely having other ladies come up to me after the talk with stories of sewing for their own weddings, and some who felt newly inspired to do so!
It also made me realise how slow I’ve been at putting together these blog posts – I really do apologise for anyone who’s been following along and wondering why I’m such a snail (I wonder this myself all the time…) So to crack on with things – I’d finished my skirt and I’d finished my bodice – it was time to unite the two!
Before I attached the bodice to the skirt I tried the two on together in a rough mock-up. (Actually I spent quite a lot of time trying on elements of the dress in front of the mirror – this was crucial for keeping me on track, keeping me inspired and for finessing the final design). It was at this point that I had a mild panic that something wasn’t right – the dress wasn’t enough. It looked plain to me, conventional. After some playing around with fabric scraps I went down a sleeve rabbit hole on Pinterest and began to dream of adding hugely dramatic off-the-shoulder sleeves, flamboyant puffs of organza, or a Scarlet O’Hara-esque ruffle. It took me a long time to recognise that, in a dress that hadn’t been designed or drafted to accommodate them, huge sleeves were going to bulk out my upper body and detract from the fitted bodice silhouette I’d always hoped for. I needed clearly defined arms and waist to counter-balance the volume of the skirt. So we pared back the sleeve idea to the lace ‘bands’ I ended up with. I created bias strips from my ivory silk, and used them to encase some lingerie elastic (the sort that trims knickers – it’s softer), before attaching these bands to each side of the outer bodice. The ends of the bands are actually on the right side of the bodice, not in the seam allowance – they would eventually be covered by the Guipure lace appliqué.
I also attached the dress’s straps when the outer bodice was still free. These were rouleau tubes also made from bias strips of the silk; using a needle and thread they turned inside out beautifully! I had my mum help me position the straps on the back so they would look roughly symmetrical (to offset the asymmetry of my spine). The straps were more decorative than functional but they do help the bodice neckline to sit towards my chest.
Attaching the bodice to the skirt was in fact relatively straightforward; it was simply the bulk that proved challenging. After all, there were 8 layers of skirt and 3 layers of outer bodice at this point! (As I mentioned in a previous post my waist ended up feeling quite a lot thicker than I would have wished.) The bodice waistline was straight and the skirt waistline was curved but in spite of the bulk the two were easy enough to ease together. The hardest part was keeping the tulle underskirts from bunching up and getting caught where they shouldn’t; they had no weight to pull them downwards away from the waist. So yes, there was a bit of unpicking involved…
Once I had a single seam joining the outer bodice to the skirt I stitched two more seams just inside it (in the seam allowance) for strength. I attempted to grade the seam a little but with that many layers I was a little paranoid about accidentally snipping something, so I didn’t push it. Nor did I press this seam substantially because again I was too concerned about the iron shrivelling the Chantilly lace or the tulle or the organza – I’d prefer a bulky waist any day to having to redo a substantial part of that dress! And a dress indeed it was, now the two halves were united!
Next up was attaching the corselette along the neckline of the outer bodice. Again, bulk was my biggest challenge here – that and the unwieldy nature of a fully boned corselette. I basted the corselette in place first – it sat right side to the wrong side of the bodice and of course did not reach the centre-back.
To minimise lines of stitching I then basted the bodice lining (made from silk satin and cut to the same pattern as the corselette, but with centre back panels) on the outside of the dress bodice, right side to right side. Another point about the bodice lining is of course it had openings in its side back seams to allow the corselette lacing panels to poke through. Sorry I’ve been a bit vague here!
I stitched all along the bodice neckline to attach both the corselette and the bodice lining in one go, securing the straps in place as well.
I clipped v’s all along the curves of the neckline and then graded the seam allowances.
Then it was time to flip the lining to the inside! To keep it in place, I ran a line of basting along the neckline, through all layers. The outer dress could hang loose from the neckline at this point and so to ensure it adhered as closely to my body as possible I also ran a line of invisible stitches along the waistline to secure the waistline seam to the corselette.
The lining was designed to line the corselette only – I had originally considered having it attach to the habotai base skirt but the logistics of starting the skirt at the high hip, where the corselette ended, was simply too much for my wedding-addled brain. (The lining could not finish at the waist and be attached to the habotai skirt there because the corselette would then compress the skirt between the waist and the hip.) So once it was on the inside and the lacing panels of the corselette were pulled through the side back seam openings, I turned its bottom edge under and hand-stitched it in place along the lower edge of the corselette, and also around the lacing panels. The lining was still free at the centre back. (I think I was rather exhausted and a little bit panicky by this stage as my photo chronicling clearly fell by the wayside…)
The dress was now in essence a finished garment with the exception of the centre-back closure. I wanted a line of buttons down the back and I’ll admit now that the line I ended up with wasn’t quite as perfect as I’d hoped… I had my buttons covered with ivory silk and chantilly lace at DM Buttons in Soho (it’s great – you take them a small piece of your fabric(s) and they do it all for you). I couldn’t find a ready-made button loop ribbon to accommodate the size of button I’d chosen so I made my own using rouleau loops and a strip of boning casing. They’re not the most professional looking loops but I did rather enjoy making them!
I inserted the button loop strip in-between the outer bodice and the bodice lining at the centre-back. I again needed some help identifying the exact position of the centre-back (I’d cut the bodice panels deliberately wider); I basted a line down each side of the outer bodice and skirt to mark it. The bodice and skirts were then folded back along these lines and the button loop attached so the loops peeked out from behind the left-hand fold. Eventually, the centre-back was secured with hand-stitching attaching the folded under lining to the folded-under outer bodice and skirts. It was fiddly to say the least.
I didn’t want to attach the buttons until I had completed the Guipure appliqué which would adorn the bodice so that was up next. I’d chosen a lace from Bridal Fabrics UK that was almost (if not actually) identical to one used by Caroline Castigliano; I love its unusual and almost slightly exotic floral motifs. I really enjoy lace appliqué and this process was one of the more soothing of the entire creation!
The lace is secured with tiny stitches into the outer bodice and down into the pink layer of the skirt. The lace disguises the raw ends of the arm ‘bands’ and softens the edge of the neckline. I then appliquéd some individual elements along the arm ‘bands’, securing them with minimal stitching to allow the bands to stretch slightly.
I also played around with the possibility of having individual lace elements scattered down the skirt but in the end abandoned the idea.
Finally – FINALLY! – the dress was ready for its buttons. I don’t really know how/why my line of buttons ended up a little higgeldy piggeldy – and I suspect to a casual glance it’s the most ‘homemade’ element of the dress. But to be honest – I reached a point where I just needed it done – partly because we were running out of time but also partly because I had had enough! (And in the end I kept my veil on the entire time so that helped matters.) You can see from the picture below however that there were some tiny gaps showing between the button loops down the centre-back – I went back and unpicked the left-hand bodice centre-back and inserted a sliver of modesty – a sort of button guard. Then I really was done with it!
The huge bundle that had been living on our floor for weeks, swathed in morbid grey sheets to conceal it from my fiancé, was now a finished garment – and whisked off to my mum’s house in Suffolk to await its big day!
Did I feel a huge sense of relief? Not really – the dress was gone but I had plenty more to sew! Next up on the blog I’ll be talking about how I went about making my two bridesmaids’ dresses, my mum’s two dresses and my own evening dress and stole, plus how I jazzed up some M&S shoes – and ultimately how we had a wedding weekend of dreams!