The Bridal dress Project – Reveal!

Time for some pictures of the finished dress! The wedding was last October, in a lovely little restaurant in the woods. The weather was nice as well, so quite a bit of time was spent outside, making for some lovely images.

To start with, some of the lovely couple!

The groom is wearing a little tulle flower I made of scraps from the hemming of the skirt. I made one for the witnesses as well, so we could all have a little flower and link to the bride.

I helped with the preparations. Aside from being master of ceremonies and witness, I helped the bride get into her dress and with her hair. The ‘backstage’ room was the storage room, in which we got ready so the arriving guests wouldn’t yet see the bride. I especially love this first picture of me arranging the train.

The other two pictures are the ones taken by the photographer of us together during the day!

I also took some ‘finished’ pictures of the dress on my dummy. Although it doesn’t fit quite as nicely (particularly the sheer overlay at the top, as my dummy’s shoulders are quite narrow in the back), this does allow for some good ‘dress’ pictures. I really love how you can see the layers of the train in these.

Some details of the top!

And of the back. I’m still very happy with how the back of the dress looked.

Details of the lace and sparkles.

And the inside! This is definitely one of the neatest finished garments I’ve ever made, and I’m really happy with how the inside looks. The little loops were added on the sides to support the dress when on the hanger. This way the sheer top doesn’t need to support the full dress.

Inside details of the eyelets in the back, and the lace on the sheer overlay.

And that was it for the wedding dress posts! This was definitely one of the most special projects I’ve ever done, as well as one of the biggest. I really loved working with new types of fabrics for this and trying out new things. I’m really happy with how it turned out, and it was really special to be a part of the beautiful wedding in this way.

As an overview, the making-off posts:

The skirt base

The bodice base

All the lace

The Bridal gown project – Lace, lace lace!

With the base of the top and the tulle skirt finished it was finally time to start on the decorations! The plan was to have a full lace bodice, some lace on the sheer overlay at the top, and if time permitted some lace motifs sprinkled on the skirt.

We bought two types of lace for this project, both with a tulle base. The first (left) was a little finer and thinner, the second (right) had some sparkle on it. The plan was to make the base of a lace overlay for the bodice out of the left fabric, and to use the individual motifs from both laces on top to create a denser, detailed lace overlay.

To make the lace overlay, I started with the pattern pieces for the bodice. The reason for making a lace overlay instead of just flatlining the lace to the original bodice patterns is to avoid any visible seams in the lace. In this lace overlay, the pattern pieces are cut so that all lace motifs were kept intact. Whenever the motif overlays where the seam needs to be, it will be cut out around the edges and placed on top of the panel next to it so that the original seamlines meet. When the seam lies in a place without a motif there will be a 5mm overlap between the pieces of tulle base. This is then sewn down by hand, around the edge of the motifs, and any tulle underneath a motif going over a seam is cut away from underneath after. This basically creates an invisible seam except where it’s just tulle, which will be covered later.

I have very little pictures of actually sewing the panels together, but below is one. You can see how the pins sort of follow the shape of the one lace motif, which is placed over the other side. This was then stitched by hand all the way around the lace. Time consuming, but definitely worth it for the effect!

When I finished the base of the lace overlay in this way, I put it on the dress on my dress form to have a look. The lace placement was intentionally picked to not be symmetrical. On the back, I ended up with just the little leaf of one motif on one side of the base of the bodice, and the rest of the motif on top. I left this in initially because cutting it out would remove a little piece from the lace base. In the end, both the bride and me actually really liked how this motif looked on the sheer overlay of the back, so we kept it in!

The next step was to cut out lace. A lot of it. I cut out both the bigger motifs, and little pieces from the borders of the lace for some diversity in size and shape. I used a small scissor for this, and a lot of tv watching was done in the meantime, and for a while my room was full of little tulle scraps…

When I had a good collection of lace bits, we had another fitting to try out how we wanted to place the lace on the bodice. Below you see two versions we tried. The right side of the bodice (left picture) is a bit less densely covered in lace than the left side (right picture). In the end, we ended up deciding to have the top half more like the right picture (less dense), and the bottom a little more like the left picture (denser). This actually gives a nice balance. You can see the neckline a bit through the lace at the top, but the edge of the bodice is completely hidden at the bottom. When placing the lace, I played around a bit to get it to hide all the seams in the tulle, not be symmetrical, but still feel balanced.

And then I could go back to stitching! All the little lace pieces (you can see from the pins a little bit how many there were) were stitched on the lace overlay by hand one by one, all the way around the edge. Again, this was some work, but it’s really the only way to give this a nice invisible finish. The lace which would lie on top of the side seam I actually left pinned and not sewed on for this stage. Because we started the bodice quite far in advance, we wanted to be able to do a final fitting closer to the wedding date. Not stitching on the lace on the side seam meant it would be much easier to take in the side seam later if necessary without having to unpick all of the lace bits first, or stitching over them.

Then it was time for the lace on the top half! Again, I used little lace cut outs, and played around with it. I ended up with a bit of the illusion of straps on the front out of little flowers, and a larger motif on each side on the back. This too took some pinning and re-pinning to design as I didn’t want symmetry, but it still needed to feel the same on both sides. Once these bits were pinned in place, I sewed on the lace overlay along the top and bottom edge of the bodice base, and then all the little lace pieces at the top over it one by one.

With the lace on, it really started to look finished, and I could finally work on closures. We’d been fitting with a canvas strip with lacing eyelets I was pinning into the back temporarily (with a red ribbon, because that’s what I happened to have laying around). I played around with the eyelets first, because I wanted to see what different sizes would do when placed on top of the lace, which is not quite flat. Both the 5mm and 4mm eyelets worked, so I let the bride pick a size, who went with the 4mm. I used prym two-piece 4mm silver eyelets for this. I’ve used one-piece before, and those tend to split, leaving sharp edges on the inside. That’s definitely not what you want, so the two-piece ones are much better. The 4mm ones have a little bit of an edge on the inside, but after trying it on this wasn’t feelable for the bride, so we ended up not placing anything underneath.

For the lacing, I used a white organza ribbon. I really love how this works very well with the lace an tulle of the dress. The dress criss-cross laces with this ribbon. As you can see, there’s a bone in the center back (sewn into the bodice base) which keeps the lacing straight. It was designed to have a small V shape when laced closed.

Then it was time to turn to the skirt! For the skirt, I cut out all remaining ‘smaller’ motifs on the softer lace, and sprinkled them around the skirt. Then I sewed them onto the top tulle layer, again by hand all the way around the edge, using an embroidery hoop to make sure it would lay nicely on the tulle layer.

This is one of the few things that I timed doing. Sewing on one motif took about 1 hour, and the skirt has 18 of them.

The very final step was to do the final fitting! At this step, I did indeed end up taking in the sides just a smidge to ensure a snug fit. I removed the bone casing from the side seam, sewed a new seam in the base layers only, re-trimmed the seam allowances and sewed on the boning channel again. Then I put a very small fold in the base layer of the lace overlay on top of this, to also take out the width in that layer. The lace motifs which I hadn’t sewed on yet were then pinned and sewed on top of that little fold. This way, it’s nearly impossible to tell it has been taken in a little bit!

And then she was, really, finally, done! I finished a couple of weeks before the wedding, after starting almost 10 months earlier. I really loved making this dress, and although I’m glad to free up some time for other sewing again, this was a very special project to work on. I learned so much, was able to make something that actually looks pretty inside and out, and take my time to do things well. And it was really lovely to make something for something that would mean so much to them.

Stay tuned for finished full reveal pictures in the next post!

The Bridal gown project – The top

In my previous post about this wedding dress project, I showed the skirt base. For this post, we’ll turn towards the base for the bodice!

The basic idea for the bodice was a sweetheart neckline with a low back, and a sheer layer above both, closing high in the front and in a v in the back.

This bodice started from a Truly Victorian late 19th century bodice pattern. I chose a Victorian bodice specifically because these are meant to have very little ease, so to fit closely to the body without much extra space. For this bodice, it was important that it fit fairly closely as there should be no weight on the sheer top part. So basically, it needs to hold itself up without straps. This only works if it fits closely, and has boning to stop it from collapsing.

Below is the pattern I started with, which had a front, side and back panel. I basically used the front dart to split the front pattern into two parts, and the top was eventually removed. I made about 3 mock-ups first to fit the pattern. The first two were out of an old sheet. The first with the top of the pattern still attached, with the only alteration being to shorten the length of the pattern, as the bride has a shorter torso than the pattern counts on. Then a second one the top cut off and boning taped in, as not having this top really changes the fit on the top edge. And a third one to check if the changes worked and for some final tweaks. This final one is shown below, and was made out of canvas, as the final bodice would be made of sturdier material than the sheet fabric I’d used so far. This final mock-up also had the bra-cups which I would use for the eventual dress, as this too changes the bust shape a bit.

And then it was time to start with the actual bodice! The bodice base is made out of two layers. The first is a sturdy plain white cotton. The second is a cotton bobbinet. Bobbinet is a very strong mesh fabric, which when doubled can even be used for corsets. It’s best known for being used in 1950’s couture bodices as structural layer. I wanted to use it as it is both very light and very sturdy, so it allows for a closer fitting bodice with some tension on it, without adding a lot of bulk.

I cut my pattern pieces out of both the cotton and the bobbinet, and then flatlined the layers. So basically, I put them on top of each other and treated them as one layer. The pattern pieces were then sewn together. The little red lines you see on the constructed bodice are the outlines of where the bra cups need to go. I used a magic marker for this project, which means that the pen lines disappear with time, which is good, but inconvenient if you need to know where to put something a week later.

The raw seams on the inside were covered with boning channels. I used the tape which is also used in bras, which is good because it’s soft and meant so sit next to the body. We actually did double check if the bobbinet wouldn’t feel scratchy on the inside as well, but because it’s made out of cotton it is much softer than the polyester tulle that it looks a bit like, so this was fine as an inner layer. As boning, I used 5mm wide synthetic whalebone.

Then came binding! I made my own bias tape out of the cotton fabric to bind both the top and the bottom of the bodice for a nice finish. I was particularly happy with the little v center front, which was made by sewing the binding into this shape before attaching it. A bit fiddly, but it looks pretty neat when done! The binding was sewn to the outside by machine, flipped inside, and finished by hand. The little prick-stitches will disappear later underneath the lace overlay.

As you can see on the picture on the dummy, the boning lines over the seams in the front flatten the chest a bit. To help with general support and comfort, I sewed two bra cups into the dress on the top and inside. This helps the bodice keep a nice shape as well.

And that was the base of the lower half of the bodice done! The back closures were done later, as that required the lace to be put on first. For now, it was time to sew the skirt onto the dress. I sewed it on such that the seam allowance of the tulle is hidden inside underneath the lining layer. Basically, under my sewing machine, I had the tulle part of the skirt on top of the bodice right sides together, and then underneath that the skirt lining right side to the wrong side of the bodice. This also makes sure the seams of the lining are to the outside, which seems odd, until you realize that it’s actually the inside of the lining which will be most visible.

I stitched the skirt to the waistline of the bodice, so not actually to the bottom edge, as you can see below. It’s just machine stitched on, there’s no need to hide this seam as it won’t show through the lace later on.

Then it was time for the top! I used a ‘body tulle’ fabric for this which is extremely sheer and light. I patterned this on the body, as the bride has roughly the same size, as my dummy, but not the same proportions. Most notably, my dummy has the shoulders/arms very far back, and the shoulder slope is different, so it looks a bit odd on her. In the end, this draping on the body meant I ended up with a slightly unsymmetrical shape which I didn’t like. So I ended up removing the whole thing, and taking one side, and using that as a base to pattern both sides. I re-cut it, and re-sewed it on, tried it on the bride again, and this worked better.

This sheer mesh is just stitched by hand to the top edge of the bodice, raw edge to the outside. It doesn’t fray (I did cut it a little shorter than shown in these pictures), and the edge doesn’t show under a layer of lace. Along the neckline and sleeve holes, I stitched a thin line with nylon invisible thread, just to protect the edges a bit. This fabric warps out of shape when pulled, and when the wearer is moving (the arms in particular) it can get stretched out of shape a bit. This isn’t the most durable solution (it will still stretch a bit), but for a bridal gown which will not see a ton of wearing, it is fine. The alternative would be to have a more visible edge (with a small seam or stretch lace or something similar), so we opted for this method.

And then the whole base of the dress was finished. In the next post: lace lace lace! This really was just the base for the dress, and all the decoration was still to come.