My wedding dress: assembly!

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.

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I clipped v’s all along the curves of the neckline and then graded the seam allowances.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

Nina x

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My wedding dress – creating the skirt!

So remember when I mentioned early on that my wedding dress used around 38 metres of fabric? Well, I’m here to tell you today how about 36 of those went into the skirt. Forget about the rest of the dress, that skirt alone was the biggest thing I’ve ever sewn. It doesn’t actually look that huge in our photos but trust me, if I sat down and spread it out it would comfortably seat the entire Von Trapp family for a hearty picnic.

In essence, it’s a full circle skirt with a train. If you ever want to draft a circle skirt, there are various online calculators that can help you come up with the measurements. By Hand London’s is good but it’s really designed for everyday skirts, not the sort of humungous behemoth I wanted. Mine would be too big to be cut in one piece, or even on the right grain. I figured out I would need to cut the front as a semicircle on the cross-grain (i.e. the side seams would run down the selvedge) and then the back in two halves, with the centre-back running down the selvedge):IMG_2706.jpg

I made a mock-up in calico first, to gauge the shape of my ‘train’ and so I could use the calico pieces as the pattern. I’ll be completely honest with you – I drew the circle straight onto the only roughly-pressed calico with the old ‘pencil pivoting on the end of a string’ method and wasn’t too specific about the accuracy because I knew in the end the skirt would drop out and the hemline need recreating anyway (boy was I right about that).

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The above is the skirt laid on my living room floor. I should explain at this point that J, my then-fiancé (now husband – whoa!), travels regularly for work and so I was able to use his time away to push all the furniture up against the walls and create a space as you can see just about big enough to lay out my skirt.

Before I could tackle cutting the main skirt however I needed to create the underskirts. First up I used the calico pieces to create a base layer from silk habotai, without any train, that would sit against my legs and separate my skin from the tulle petticoats. Next up came the tulle and, my goodness, this was a head-scratcher. I spent ages, really ages, trying to work out what would give the right degree of fullness, allow the skirt to fall softly but with enough angle outwards, and whether I should try and add oomph to the train. What I ended up with was 3 tulle petticoats, made from veiling tulle because a) that stuff is vastly wide, and b) I wanted it to be soft not scratchy.

Each of the three petticoats consists of a circle skirt and then a gathered ruffle reaching to the floor. The first petticoat (i.e. the one closest to my body) has a long circle skirt (to below my knees) and then a (seemingly endless) ruffle about a foot deep all the way around. The second/middle petticoat has a circle skirt that reaches to just above my knees, and then a medium ruffle. The third and outermost petticoat has a short circle skirt, about a foot deep, and then a long ruffle gathered all around that.

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Yes, I bought an exercise bike to ‘get fit’ for the wedding… Another thing I did secretly whilst J was away – the buying of the bike that is, sadly not the getting fit…

Again I’ll be honest – I did not measure the width of the ruffles or make any particular effort to get them perfectly even. I simply cut strips of the desired depth, gathered them using a zigzag over a piece of embroidery thread, then zigzagged them around the bottom edges of the circle skirts, trying to keep the gathers even by eye. (Trust me, if you’re gathering that many lengths of tulle you get your eye in. In fact you’ll start dreaming about the stuff…) I initially thought that the ruffled strips would simply hang and wouldn’t need stitching together at their short ends but in fact these short ends kept kicking out and getting caught up so I did end up going back and rather awkwardly stitching them together.

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Before stitching the 3 petticoats together I cut an 8 inch slit down from the waist on each one and then stay-stitched around it and the waistline. This would be the opening for me to get in and out and I figured it would eventually be sandwiched between the habotai skirt and the outer layers, which it was. I then finally stitched the petticoats together around the waist. I should probably add that I had also tried them on with the corset to make sure the silhouette was what I wanted.

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So, petticoat done I was finally able to move on to the outer skirts. Based on a Caroline Castigliano dress I’d tried on, I wanted a base layer of silk overlaid with both tulle and organza to create a seriously soft and dreamy impression. After endless umm-ing and aah-ing over shades in Pongees I’d picked a pale ballet pink for the silk satin, an ivory tulle and then a silk organza in a shade called ‘eggshell’. Any shade of organza or tulle too warm made the pink simply look grubby so it really did take me ages to choose. I also chose to underline my silk satin with a cotton voile. This was something of a mistake – the voile, light as it was, added quite a lot of weight to the skirt and furthermore dropped out differently than the skirt, making matching the two around the hem pretty tricky. I’m not sure exactly what I would have used instead I was to a degree cost-conscious but I think I would have ultimately preferred to use a silk organza.

The skirts were of course basically very easy to construct, having only three seams, all of which were on a straight grain.  The silk satin and the voile were sewn as one and I simply pinked these seams (or left the selvedge) and pressed them open. I then attached this layer of skirt to the petticoats (including the habotai) so I could hang them up to drop. The skirt definitely had oomph at this point!

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The tulle was zigzagged and then pinked. I originally planned two layers of tulle for a super-blurring effect but made a stupid error and cut the first layer erroneously, meaning I didn’t have enough left for my second layer. I fretted about my idiocy and really beat myself up over that for a bit, and then remembered this was my WEDDING dress and no one, not even me, was going to notice on the day if there wasn’t a second underlayer of tulle. That’s the thing I found about sewing for my wedding – it seemed such a big deal that it was easy to blow small issues way out of proportion, forgetting that these things will be so negligible, even invisible, on a day ultimately defined by emotional, not sartorial, significance.

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The organza layer was an absolute dream – I French-seamed it on my machine and pressed them and you could hardly see any stitching! I then stitched all the 8 layers of the skirt together around the waist (with 3 separate lines of stitching for strength). I actually think I should have left off the organza and tulle until I’d hemmed the satin but ho-hum, I just wrestled with all those layers instead.

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I obviously needed to correct the length of the skirt layer by layer, so I started with the pink satin, gently pinning the tulle and organza out of the way. At this point I discovered that my silk seemed to be much bigger than my cotton voile and predictably the hems of both had dropped out unevenly (being such a huge circle). It took a lot of careful pinning, re-pinning and easing to make sure I had a front hemline that was not only the right length all around (the back half didn’t matter as it was intended to sit on the floor) but also had no puckers or unevenness between its two layers. Once I had identified the hemline I basted along it whilst the skirt was on the dress stand, to minimise any shifting.

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These were the lengths I went to to try and get a smooth hang between the voile and the satin. At least the exercise bike was proving useful… 

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To hem the satin I made metres of my own bias binding from the leftovers, then used this to hem the skirt by invisibly stitching it to the underlining. The skirt hem is around 9–10 metres long.

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I also took this rather creepy picture of the stage where I initially machined the binding along the hemline.

 

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The tulle was then easily trimmed to be slightly longer than the pink and the organza to be slightly longer again. I didn’t want the dress to have a defined bottom edge so softened it by this gradation. The organza I hand-hemmed one very long evening, kept company until 5 in the morning by a pretty rubbish drama about Troy. That’s another thing about this kind of sewing – you might think you’ll get to finally watch all those dramas you’ve been saving up but you can’t lift your eyes for long enough to keep up. So Trojan nonsense it is.

At this point you might think the skirt was finished (I was certainly wishing it was) but nope, there was more. I had to trim the tulle underlayers so nothing was showing beneath the satin. I hand-stitched the organza and tulle to the satin at the hem-end of the centre-back seam, to stop the skirts from moving apart too much. I hemmed the habotai with horsehair braid, to keep it from getting caught between my legs. I then added horsehair braid to the first petticoat, all along the join between the skirt and the ruffle, to similarly try and keep this from getting tangled in itself. THEN the skirt was finished.

Phew, if you’ve made it this far in this blog post then you’ll know how I felt at the end of all that marathon sewing! Don’t worry, it’s all a lot brisker from now on, as we get to the final assembly!

 

 

My wedding dress – the outer bodice

It’s now been over a month since we were married and the whole affair is starting to take on a distant, dreamlike quality. Sorry that my blog posts have not been as regular or close-together as I’d hoped, but I finally managed to release an expansion pack for the Kew Dress pattern (hurray!) and it took rather longer than planned. This is partly because I’m really struggling to get back into a work routine post-wedding; there’s a huge wedding-shaped hole in my creative outlook and it’s left me restless and unproductive.

Anyway, enough of the bleurgh – today I’m finally talking about the construction of my dress bodice! This is quite a brief post because actually there isn’t that much to say but I thought it was still worthy of a little a post of its own. Here’s a close-up of all that luscious silk and lace to get us started.

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So the bodice was created using the same moulage base as I’d used for my corset; the pattern pieces were almost identical except of course the bodice needed to close at the centre-back. I considered making the bodice out of the pink I’d chosen for the dress’s skirt, but felt it would be a little too much (even for me), and I wanted to return to that warm, calico colour I’d originally identified. The main bodice fabric is therefore ivory (that is the named shade) crepe satin from Pongees; this is then overlaid with a Chantilly lace and then finally a Guipure lace is appliquéd over the top.

I cut the satin first, leaving generous seam allowances, and then cut around these pieces in cream domette and then for a third time in the Chantilly (a 0.4m remnant was sufficient!) Domette is a soft, woolly-ish fabric sometimes used as underlining where boning is involved; its padding prevents the lines of the boning showing through and creates nicely rounded seams. As with the coutil I think perhaps I should have chosen a lighter underlining (e.g. silk organza or cotton voile) but the domette did the job. With the Chantilly, I was careful to place the pieces so that maximum motif was included. It was luck finding a suitable remnant in a basket in the Balham Sewing Superstore because, after all, the Chantilly would only be peeking out between the gaps in a larger lace and therefore it hardly merited a big spend!

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Positioning the lace so that ‘maximum motif’ would appear on each panel

The three layers of each piece were then basted together within the seam allowance (domette on the bottom, then the satin, shiny side up, then the lace), and finally I thread traced the stitching lines. I find this sort of task pleasingly soothing and I love thinking of the layers hidden within a couture dress! The bonus of using a crepe satin was that the matte side of the fabric kept it from slipping and sliding against the domette.

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The white basting holds the three layers together; the pink marks the stitching lines.

Then more basting – before I stitched the bodice panels together. As with the corselette, I trimmed, clipped then herringboned the seam allowances.

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I hadn’t figured out what I was doing with the cold-shoulder straps at this point, or with the bodice lining for that matter – there were many such moments along the way when I wasn’t really sure what I was doing! So next up was the very, very big skirt.

Nina x

Sources: 

Crepe silk satin – Pongees Ltd
Chantilly lace remnant – The Crafty Sewer (Balham Sewing Superstore)
Guipure lace – Bridal Fabrics
Domette – MacCulloch and Wallis

My wedding dress – the corselette

Thank you for all the love on my first blog post on my wedding dress! Today I’m going to reveal the inner structure that was crucial to the dress’s success, but that kept me awake at night wondering how on earth it was going to work!

If you look at couture bridal designers, they often mention the inner corset that shapes and supports their more substantial dresses. It takes the weight of the skirt(s), cinches the waist and in some cases this corset also negates the need to wear a bra. The structure of the corset usually sits in-between the outer layer(s) of the dress and the lining; when trying on a dress, the assistant laces or otherwise does you up and THEN does up the buttons or zip or whatever down the centre-back of the outer dress, over said lacing. This Dior dress is a classic example and you can see more on my Pinterest board here.

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My friend Lisa, @tinieststitcher, made her own beautiful wedding dress and included a ‘corselette’ (sometimes spelt corselet) in this manner, which she kindly let me pore over! I also read and reread this post from Sally of Charity Shop Chic, who also made a completely stunning wedding dress and whose series about its creation is well worth reading, whether you’re making one yourself or not!

The corselette is not something you can easily find a pattern for because it has to fit so closely to your body, so I drafted mine from scratch. I used my moulage (a sloper with zero ease, based on Susie Furrer’s Craftsy/Bluprint course on pattern drafting a bodice sloper) as a starting point, drawing in princess seams and a neckline matching that I wanted on the finished dress. The neckline I’d decided on was a sweetheart at the front dipping to a low (but above the waist) back. One of the huge advantages of making your own dress – the personal fitting – came into play for me here: I have scoliosis and was able to draft two different versions of each panel, to reflect my asymmetry (e.g. the left-hand corselette panels each had a wedge taken out of the waist).

I created a calico first toile and took even more ease out at the seams so the finished garment was as tightly fitted as possible, and then I added plastic bones. What was interesting was that the mock-up seemed to show me itself where to put the bones – I could tell where the strain and wrinkles were and therefore added bones along those lines. This included a line from the underarm point towards the middle of my thigh front. Apologies for the rough and slightly intimate nature of these photos but I hope they help show how the calico initial mock-up was already working pretty well (it was very roughly laced up at the back with some punched holes). The middle image shows that when laced tightly the corset gave what I felt was sufficient support and shaping to the bust to negate the need for a bra (which was handy as no ordinary bra would sit under such a neckline. In the third photo you can see where I’d drawn a line because the corselette was too long and I couldn’t sit down in it!

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This part was very exciting – I’d never created a proper corset before and I was already thrilled with the waist shaping the calico mock-up alone was giving me! I sourced the supplies for the final version from MacCulloch and Wallis – as per traditional corsets I used a tightly woven herringbone fabric called coutil that has so little give it feels like paper, and I decided to go with spiral steel boning because I read that this is more flexible (perfect for someone with back problems) and doesn’t warm up like plastic. Because I knew the coutil part would never be visible in the finished dress I comfortably marked all the seamlines with pencil.

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To keep the seam allowances in place I used herringbone stitch to secure them flat.

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You’ll notice from the above photos that the corselette at this point was missing the centre-back panels. This is because these are the panels that would contain the eyelets and lacing, and would therefore be visible on the inside of the dress, popping out through a seam in the lining. Thus I made these separately and covered them completely with silk satin, so for strength and comfort they comprised 2 outer layers of silk and 2 inner layers of coutil each. They were actually drafted to be quite a lot shorter than the neighbouring panels because I knew I didn’t want (or need) the lacing to go very far below the waist.

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I inserted one length of boning along the outside edge of each panel, knowing I would also have a piece of boning at the seam where the panel met the rest of the corselette, so the eyelets would be supported on both sides. You can see here the handy boning tape I also purchased from MacCulloch’s.

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**A note on boning: spiral steel boning (well at least as I bought it) comes in pre-cut lengths. You need proper wire-cutters to cut it – scissors etc won’t even come close. I found this blog post helpful when it came to cutting and ‘tipping’ the bones. Don’t be intimidated by spiral steel though – I think I want to use it in all my boning from now on!**

I then hammered eyelets into each panel – man, that’s a therapeutic activity if you ever need to let off some stress!

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Before stitching these panels to the main corselette I went along adding the rest of the boning. First I’d stitch down a strip of the casing and then insert the bones, trimming them to fit and back-stitching both ends of the casing. At this point trying it on I realised that the corselette was still too long – cue unpicking the bottom ends of each casing, shortening the boning further and then re-stitching the casings and chopping a couple of inches off the bottom as a whole!

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Ok, here’s some truth talk – at this point the corselette began to feel pretty weighty and substantial. One of the dresses I’d tried on and loved had used powernet instead of coutil for the corselette and if I was doing this again I would do the same. The coutil made for a wonderful base but what with all the other layers that ended up bulking up the dress bodice I could’ve done with a lighter layer here. But I didn’t realise that at this stage and was just excited to discover how shaping and also comfortable my corselette was. The shape over the bust wasn’t as defined as it would be with a bra or a corselette with cups but I was (and am) happy with it as is.

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The view from the back shows how tight-fitting garments accentuate my scoliosis (the fold in my flesh marks the line and angle of my spine…) but amazingly the corselette made my back feel supported and encouraged better posture. (I once wore a Wonderbra long-line strapless bra with bones in when I was a bridesmaid and it dug into my side so badly that I bled and was left with a short-term scar down my side, so you can imagine my joy at this level of comfort!)

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You can just about see in the above photo that I bound the bottom edge of the corselette with a strip of self-made bias binding, from my main bodice silk satin. I just used a straight running stitch because again this would never be seen.

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So now the corselette was ready to become part of the dress… But the problem is – its insertion will have to wait for another blog post because at this point I had to construct the bodice and the skirt! So my next post will be about the construction of the outer bodice and its lining…

Nina x

P.S. If you’re reading this and have any questions about creating and putting a corselette into a dress please don’t hesitate to ask – it absorbed so much of my mental energy figuring it out I would love to help anyone else get there faster!

 

 

 

 

Our wedding – designing my handmade wedding dress!

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Dear reader, I’m married!

Yes, two weeks’ ago I married the love of my life, the man of my dreams, my dear friend of 14 years and the unofficial co-partner of Nina Lee Patterns… It was the most wonderful, wonderful wedding weekend and I have never felt so loved and happy in all my life. And now I have so much to share with you, for as well as a witty vicar, top-notch food, hours of mojito-fuelled dancing followed by an all-night campfire, our wedding of course featured a lot of sewn stuff, paper-craft, cake-craft, calligraphy, illustration and a fabulous pair of customised shoes!

My wedding dress was months in the making but I spent almost as much time trawling through blogs and tutorials online to plan the thing as I did actually constructing it. I found other people’s blogs about their wedding sewing hugely helpful, so I knew I would want to record my own creation in as much detail as possible – in case it helps others but also because of course I want this record of my biggest project to date for myself as well! So be prepared for an onslaught of wedding chatter over the next few weeks. I’ve made a plan for the content along these lines:

  1. Planning and inspiration (below)
  2. Creating the inner corselette (my dress had an inner corset that laced up – this was one of the most challenging aspects of the entire construction)
  3. Creating the skirt (it has 8 layers!)
  4. Assembling the dress (this was great fun (NOT) in a one-bed flat)
  5. The lace appliqué and finishing
  6. The dress and the day!

Plus I want to add a little here and there about other aspects of the wedding, especially my creations:

  • The bridesmaid’s and flower girl’s dresses
  • The two Mayfair dresses sewn for my mother
  • My evening party dress
  • The hand-embroidered veil
  • The fur stole for the after party campfire
  • How to create fabulous DIY wedding shoes for just £40!
  • My DIY stationery and decorations
  • Where I sourced everything
  • Our amazing suppliers

Planning my dress:

I’ve always known I would sew my own wedding dress. I don’t believe any dressmaker should feel pressure to do so, but at the same time I want to tell you that if you want to, you can – no matter how ambitious your dream might seem!

Having said the above, I nearly wavered very early on. I visited the Wedding Gallery to try on some dresses and get a feel for the style I wanted (in my mind was big and dramatic, fairly traditional, but nothing much beyond that) and nearly lost my head over a Sassi Holford gown with a floral embroidered bodice and a matching embroidered veil. Fortunately, this beautiful affair came in at a cool £7,000 and therefore was so safely out of my intended budget that creating my own version seemed a better option than ever. I spent months planning an embroidered bodice, locked into this vision, until I realised that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t quite fix the picture in my mind. So I went back to the drawing board and tried on more dresses. Some of the pieces I tried on were like works of art; I wish I could have worn them all! But trying on dresses also helped me realise that an ideal dress should be in keeping with its surroundings – some of the ones I loved would have looked incredible in a sleek city venue, or on a bright beach, but out of place in the medieval church and English country garden we would be in.

But anyway, with the vision somewhat recalibrated, I started afresh; at this point I decided that I wanted a fitted lace-covered bodice and a soft, organza-overlaid voluminous skirt. Embroidery hadn’t been abandoned; I still wanted to incorporate colour in some way, and I spent way more time than was healthy looking at this:

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(Lots of women today say they don’t want to go all Disney princess for their wedding; I really did. Apparently my cousin’s two-year-old daughter simply said ‘Disney!’ the moment I walked into the church and boy does that make me proud!)

Anyway, what you don’t perhaps realise at the beginning of wedding dress shopping/planning is that you have to choose a colour. There’s fifty shades of white just for starters, then ivory (and no one seems to agree quite what that is), cream, champagne, oyster… Ironically it was simply a basic mock-up in calico that revealed to me that I needed a warm, almost vintage shade of creamy ivory (basically the colour of calico!).

It was then purely by chance that a piece of pale pink lining I had lying around was picked up by my mum and pinned beneath a layer of organza on my dress form. We both saw it at the same moment – the skirt HAD to be pink! Suddenly I was seeing pink wedding dresses everywhere and was pleased to feel that in spite of the traditional outline of my dress it had a nod to current trends. The on-trend cold-shoulder sleeves were a very late addition to the design.

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Colour and silhouette largely sorted, fabrication and drafting came next. I’ll go into the details of what fabrics I used and where I sourced them when I write about each specific section of the dress, but suffice to say at this point that I reckon the dress used around 40 metres of cloth, and it features 8 distinct types of fabric. And believe me when I tell you that I spent many many nights lying awake thinking through every which way of incorporating a corselette and how many layers the skirt would need to create just the impression I wanted…

More on all that (and lots of behind-the-scenes and inside-the-dress pics!) in my next posts! While we’re here, do comment and let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to go into about making my dress, any of the other created elements, or planning our crafty wedding in general… x

 

 

 

 

 

Sewing, sustainability and my business

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Choose carefully: look good

Wear wisely: feel good

Recycle: be generous

These words were on the introductory label of the recent V&A exhibition, Fashioned from Nature, and they’ve stuck with me since I saw it a few weeks’ ago. If you didn’t see the show, it was a brilliant exploration of the ways in which the fashion industry for centuries has been inspired by and destructively exploited the natural world. It featured pieces of extraordinary and troubling beauty: an evening dress decorated with thousands of iridescent beetle wings; an exquisite white swan-feathered shawl; the tiniest of birds hung as pendants from earrings. Of course, this being human history it wasn’t just nature who suffered, but frequently the men, women and children involved in the manufacturing processes too.

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Upstairs things were less bleak; the exhibition moved into a display of contemporary fashion by designers whose creations embrace sustainability. Here there were dresses made entirely from recycled bottles or offcuts from other production lines; there were the vegan leathers used by Stella McCartney (her Desert Island Discs episode is well worth a listen if you’re interested in her ethical fashion practices) and garments from designers such as Vivienne Westwood emblazoned with environmental slogans. There were even some displays from closer to home – Rosie Martin’s book No Patterns Needed and Wool and the Gang knitting kits!

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It can be sometimes all-too-easy to feel a complacence around the concept of fast fashion if you are a home sew-er. It’s absolutely true that we’ve cut out a frequently-horrific section of the clothing supply chain and that our garments are more likely to be repeatedly worn, mended and to last. We should feel proud of that. But thoughtful and sustainable consumption of the fabrics and other supplies we use should still be a long-term goal. I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad here by the way; this is coming from someone who adores acquiring clothes (often made, sometimes bought) and expanding her fabric stash!

Anyway, the exhibition got me thinking about the sustainability of my business and sewing practice as a whole, and I thought it might be interesting to share some of the ways in which I do try and keep waste to a minimum as a business owner.

As a pattern designer, I sometimes use a lot of fabric in the process of experimenting with and finessing a design. I can end up with myriad half-made mock-ups that don’t ever see the light as wearable garments. I currently put all fabric scraps and unwearable mock-ups into fabric recycling bins. (I’ve heard H&M take scraps too although I’ve yet to try this.) Any wearable versions I discard go to charity shops or charity recycling bins. I also try to use unbleached/un-dyed cottons for toiles as natural fibres will break down more quickly than synthetic.

Each element of my physical patterns is printed here in the UK. My envelopes are printed here in London, so travel the shortest distance to reach me. My instruction booklets come from a company with this statement on their website:

ISO 14001 certification means we are minimising any harmful effects on the environment caused by the printing process, and continually look to improve our environmental performance in all aspects of our day-to-day business. We ONLY print on paper and card sourced from forests that are 100% sustainable. We were also one of the first UK printers to make the switch to environmentally friendly vegetable-based eco inks, without compromising on our superb print quality.

For my wholesale orders, I reuse cardboard boxes and packaging materials from other orders as much as possible. Whatever cardboard or paper isn’t used, I recycle. The envelopes I put my patterns in are also FSC.

I work predominantly from home, where we use a fully-green energy supplier.

When it comes to the actual patterns, I try to minimise the amount of paper used by utilising the tightest possible layouts. For the pdfs, my instruction booklets tell you which pages to print out for different options, so you shouldn’t end up with any unnecessary pages. Similarly, all my pdfs are layered, so you can save on ink by only printing the size(s) you require.

The fabric requirements I provide are always based on again the tightest possible lay plans, with usually no more than a 10 cm excess allowance. I know how frustrating it is as a maker if you end up with too much fabric left over (which somehow is never quite enough to use for anything else!).

I know this isn’t enough. Over time I’d like to ensure my entire printed pattern supply chain is sustainably sourced, that I use eco-packaging and move towards only buying organic and ethically created fabrics. Small steps towards big change. But we all have to start somewhere and I will say again that we, as makers, are part of the solution, more than the problem. Have you any good tips for improving the sustainability of your sewing (or business?!)? If so, please share and we can all support each other in this goal! x