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.