2015 as a skirt

I love reflection, especially at the end of the year. I was heartily disappointed to miss participating in Gillian’s Top 5 series, but I continue to have so many favorite pieces still to be blogged that joining in didn’t quite make sense.

Instead, to celebrate the quickly approaching Lunar New Year, I present one garment to represent the year that was 2015 – my skirt created for the September wedding I attended.

crabandbee.com | self-drafted flared skirt

There’s nothing complicated about the construction or the design. Yes, I did draft it but I just followed a recipe from my drafting manual. Yet it epitomizes 2015 for me.

Permit me a bit of a metaphysical ramble. Like nearly all of my friends, family, acquaintances and many fellow bloggers, I underwent the process prescribed by Mari Kondo in The Magical Art of Tidying Up. And I benefitted, as expected – my living space has been reoriented to support me instead of my stuff, and my socks and undies are happily nested in leftover cardboard boxes that fit them perfectly.

But the fundamental question she requires the reader to ask of their belongings – does it spark joy? – quietly and sneakily turned my world upside down. Like my fabric-buying process, most of my decisions have been the product of tortuous mental exercises. I realized how few decisions in my life took joy into account.

So, I decided to make joy my decision-making criteria for the year. I joined an improvisational dance group, without any goal beyond moving my body for a couple of hours every week with a wonderful bunch of women. Sewing hours were more readily set aside for friend and family time. I changed jobs, going back to a full-time regular position on the team I’d left in 2013; it had nothing that I said I’d wanted (flexibility, sustainability focus) but the new role gave me a chance to work with people I really liked and it just spoke to me. I went to Japan. I went clubbing, for Pete’s sake.

I found myself buying fabrics in rainbow palettes that I would have chosen as a 7-year-old, without any of my usual dithering, and sewing up impractical things like Gabriola skirts.

This skirt fabric was one such purchase; I saw it, picked it up and walked it straight to the cutting counter. It sat on my fabric shelf, very noticeable among the solids, but it wasn’t until my friend’s wedding that it demanded to be a simple flared skirt. It was the perfect piece to wear to the wedding. Even in a particularly joyful year, dancing under the stars late at night to atrocious Top 40 music from the nineties stands out.

crabandbee.com | self-drafted flared skirt

The magical cloud of joy that carried me through most of 2015 sputtered out after Japan in October. Major changes started happening at my job. We lost our beloved kitty Orson in late October quite suddenly. Chronic health problems that had miraculously disappeared earlier in the year came back with a vengeance. I was exhausted, and needed to take care of myself.

But I wouldn’t trade my experiment for anything; it was a much-needed tonic and after a rocky couple of months, I’m finally ready for the new year that’s somehow already a month underway.

crabandbee.com | self-drafted flared skirt

I don’t have a particular goal or inspiration for 2016, but I’m wishing you joy and all other good things you may need this year.

My favorite shirt

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 double-gauze shirt

After I finished my husband’s jacket, you’d better believe I dove straight into that pile of fabrics from Japan! First on the cutting table was a tantalizing water-color striped double-gauze bought with the incomparable Inna in the incomparable town of Kyoto.

crabandbee.com

Inna witnessed my shopping process. For me, it’s rarely as simple as “I like that, I have the money, I’ll buy it.” I’ll call into question my entire identity and value system (aspirational minimalism, thrift, investment of time required to properly own something, quality, wardrobe versatility, environmental values) before I make a purchase.

And guess what? It’s a tiring, and ultimately not all that effective method for making decisions; I’ll prevaricate for some sweaty minutes or hours until I throw out all of my requirements in favor of an impulse decision. Luckily, Inna was a patient shopping buddy.

Obviously I did buy the fabric in this case, and I haven’t regretted it because it’s been sewn into what is hands-down my favorite shirt!

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 double-gauze shirt

I had no such analysis paralysis choosing the pattern. It’s another McCall’s 6436, of course, with all of my standard fit adjustments (1/2″ square shoulder, size 14 with 12 bust) and as well as some design changes (1 – piece sleeve, topstitched french button plackets, shorter cuffs, no back darts). I also added a tower placket – my first ever, after a practice run – using another Vogue pattern to place the opening. I used the Off The Cuff placket construction method.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 double-gauze shirt

And may I add that I’m excited to have my first long-sleeved buttoned shirt that fits through the shoulders…!

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 double-gauze shirt

In spring, I’ll be wearing this shirt tucked into skirts! This was the flared skirt muslin I drafted based on my skirt sloper. It started looking mighty wearable, so I finished it with a top-stitched waist-band facing.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 double-gauze shirt

Back soon with the skirt I drafted and wore to my friend’s wedding!

 

A jacket for my gentleman

While I was sewing my sister’s wedding dress, my husband was keeping us alive by handling all of the cooking and household matters. I was enormously grateful. So grateful was I that I promised him that the first post-wedding project I would sew would be a jacket for him.

Here’s what happened:

  • Eager to demonstrate my commitment to the project, I ordered the fabric immediately, in April.
  • A wedding dress, a Gabriola, a dance costume and two shift dresses later, I ordered the pattern in mid-August.
  • A Watson binge, two tops, and a skirt sloper even later, I started the muslin process in September and got thoroughly tied up in a sleeve fitting fit.
  • After our trip to Japan in October, I told myself I couldn’t touch any of my newly acquired fabrics until I finished the jacket. And I desperately wanted to dig into that fabric, so it was done within a few weeks, with a sleeve fit that was good enough.

crabandbee.com | men's jacket using Vogue 8842

This was the first major project I’d felt up to since the wedding dress. No hand-stitching, of course, nor did it take nearly as many hours, but I did have a laundry list of design and fit changes to make the pattern, Vogue 8842, work for what I had in mind. The pattern looked more like a ski jacket, and I wanted something with a sporty fit in non-sporty materials -organic cotton twill for the shell, with a scrap of cotton-hemp for the hood lining, and rayon for the jacket lining.

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The design changes I made form the alarmingly long list below:

  • Changing from a drop shoulder to a regular shoulder
  • Merging the 3-piece sleeve back into 1 piece
  • Moving the yokes lower
  • Removing the bottom hem band and adding a bit of length
  • Adding a hood facing
  • Adding front facings to the lining
  • Adding a zipper guard
  • Making a hybrid welted patch pocket
  • Changing the top zipper extension into two pieces instead of one folded piece for durability
  • Forgoing elastic cuffs
  • Adding a snap tap to the cuffs

(The hood and front facings should have been included in the pattern, in my opinion; I was studying a lot of RTW jackets, and even the cheapest ones had these features.)

Fit-wise, everything I did involved making more chest room and less back room. I also encountered an odd fit issue – Nathan couldn’t zip the front of the jacket over his chin! I ended up scooping the neck by 1″ at center front and widening the collar/hood area by 1.5″ total as the neck circumference had increased as well.

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This was my first experience with parka snaps. They weren’t too bad to apply; trying to figure out all the sizes and tools was much worse!

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If I make this pattern again (and I might as well – I put a ton of work into altering it!) I would raise the arm scyes. This photo is a little too dark to see, but there are some draglines across the back even though there’s ample room. I think it’s the low arm scye restricting arm motion.

Then there’s this:

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Ultimately, I feel like this project was a pattern-making triumph for me – making so many design and fit changes all at once and having all my seams line up in the end was a big, fluffy feather in my cap – but not as much a stitching triumph. I hadn’t done a project requiring precision top-stitching in awhile, and the extensions, hood, and pockets show it.

That said, when I pounded in the last snap, Nathan put on his jacket and looked at himself multiple times in every mirror on the house. He’s stubbornly worn it in unsuitably cold conditions this fall and winter, and it’s now being referred to as his favorite jacket ever. So I think the subpar stitching and the ever-so-slightly late arrival are being overlooked.

Figuring it out in 2015

This was a big year for me in terms of figuring out how to fit my figure better. My fit journey started like many others do – measuring the bust/waist/hips, comparing it to the pattern, and picking a size. based on those measurements -I’m 5’8″ and 34.5″/29″/39″ (plus or minus 0.5″ on any given day)* – I assumed I had a mild pear shape .

After six+ years of sewing, I’ve realized I don’t fit easily within any of the figure typing systems – not without caveats. The closest I can get to a neat description is an extra-wide-shouldered long-torsoed short-legged rectangle in the front / hourglass in the back. And yet with a body type that apparently doesn’t exist and some physical asymmetry, I can walk without falling over. Sometimes, I even find RTW pants that fit reasonably well.

All that is to say, I don’t think I’m that unusual in needing a more nuanced way of talking about shape and fit. I think quantifying and naming our unique shape – without judgment – can be a way to treat our bodies with more care and attention.

So, listed below are some of my fit epiphanies this year.

Shoulders
I learned just how wide – 17″ – and square – I require an extra 1/2″ at the shoulder seam – my shoulders are. Luckily for me (and perhaps frustrating to almost everybody else!), the Big 4 across-shoulder measurement seems to run quite wide; I can wear a 14 in the shoulders, which works well enough for my waist and hips in fitted to semi-fitted designs.

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Having square shoulders means there’s more distance between your shoulder tip to your armpit. I do a 1/2″ square shoulder adjustment the back of every bodice (since my shoulders are also forward) grading to nothing at the neck line. After fixing the shoulder, I adjust the sleeve. To my great surprise, I’ve been able to successfully do this on every Big 4 pattern I’ve tried. It’s also positioned the bust darts correctly.

As for raglan sleeves, I now know I need either a two-piece sleeve or a dart; the angle between shoulders and neck is just too sharp for an unshaped raglan sleeve to hang off of it. (Imagine a towel draping over the arm of a chair.) This was the key in fitting my Yona coat, which has a two-piece raglan sleeve, and my McCall’s 6992 sweatshirt, which has a dart.

raglan
Before and after a sq. shoulder adj. on a raglan sleeve

Bust
While I can sew a 14 for my shoulders, waist, and hips in Big 4 patterns, my bust is smaller at 34.5″. I’ve had luck with both grading down to a 12 through the bust for the front and back bodices, or doing a 2″ SBA to a 14. I think grading down is a better method as I wear a B-cup, which is the size Big 4 patterns are drafted for.

Waist / Hips / Rear
I noticed something strange when I was working on my skirt sloper – my back waist arc was dramatically smaller than my front waist. Comparing these numbers to the drafting standards in my manual was enlightening. My front waist measured 16″ and back waist 12.75″, which put me in very different sizes from front to back.

crabandbee.com | skirt sloper

To make matters even more interesting, the situation reverses itself at the hips – my back hip arc is much, much bigger than my front. All this is to say there is a dramatic and challenging curve in my back torso, and not a lot happening in the front. No wonder I always have fabric pooling at my low back.

crabandbee.com | Vogue 1387

In the upcoming year, I’d like to try a couple of experiments for fitting my lower half – sizing down combined with a full butt adjustment, grading between different sizes in the waist/hip and back/front, or getting more into self-drafting.

In conclusion
So that’s where this year brought me – some standard shoulder adjustments, a small but fairly easy to fit bust, and some front-to-back asymmetry from the waist down. Sometimes it sounds like an exciting puzzle; other times I just want to sew up a giant caftan and call it good!

How are you doing on your fit journey? Any interesting realizations this year? Have you noticed any fascinating asymmetry – 0r maybe even rarer, perfect symmetry! – in your figure?

*Just a note, I’ve stayed away from sharing measurements and sizes in a cohesive way, but I’ve been changing my ideas (perhaps due to an interesting conversation that Heather started!) I don’t like how often elements of women’s physical appearance (and increasingly, men’s) are quantified and judged. But since I’ve started sewing – and I hope I’m not alone in this – mine and others’ measurements feel more quantitative and less qualitative.

Post season

Every season, I think I’m going to get really on top of things and blog as I sew. Yet at every equinox and solstice, I’m left with quite a few un-blogged, unseasonal projects. I’m considering calling this an Australian sewing blog in hopes of creating timely content… but before I go that route, however, I have a couple of late-summer/early fall pieces to share!

crabandbee.com | Vogue 1387

I made Vogue 1387 again in silk crepe de chine, taking a page out of Katie’s book and swapping the neckline for a scoop and changing construction accordingly. I LOVE IT. It’s made the pleats a little awkward, so if I make it again I’ll turn them into gathers. And consider a swayback adjustment. And a big butt adjustment. And maybe I’ll iron before I take pictures…

I also made my new-to-me standard adjustments – 1/2″ square/forward shoulder adjustment – as well as lengthen the bodice by an extra 1″ this time and the front looks much better; the back probably didn’t need it.

crabandbee.com | Vogue 1387 crabandbee.com | Vogue 1387

Like before, I ignored the gusset/band insertion markings because they are just wrong! The drawstring channel construction – which I’m pretty dang sure is incorrect as written in the pattern – was simplified because of the design change.

crabandbee.com | Vogue 1387

This top isn’t strictly for summer; in fact, in silk it’s better suited to a less sweaty season. (Anyone else ever think of that Outkast lyric “in a silk suit trying not to sweat” when they’re wearing this sensitive fiber?) Anyway, I’m thinking it may find its way into winter rotation with a cardigan.

crabandbee.com | Cloth Habit Watson

Later in August, I got obsessed with the Watson Bra pattern and made myself three versions in short order: a gorgeous but way too tiny black dotted non-stretch mesh version (begrudgingly gifted to my sister after a day of wearing yielded no additional ease), a very sensible and much more comfortable nude version (not pictured as it’s a very intimate-looking intimate!) AND a swimsuit bikini top with a matching pair of high-waisted bottoms based on my favorite So, Zo undies.

crabandbee.com | Cloth Habit Watson bikini top, So, Zo undies

I’m tempted to fill in the missing 2-3″ at the mid-section (yes, the bottoms are that high-waisted!) and make a one-piece for next year.

As for what I’m sewing now, I’ve got dreams for my precious Japan fabrics but before I allow myself to start in on them I’m virtuously finishing up a long-overdue jacket project for my husbo! I’m using Vogue 8842 (OOP, purchased on eBay), modified for both fit and style. The sleeve fit threw me off for a long time and I was doing my best to ignore the whole project. It’s still not perfect but I think he would prefer to have a jacket before “Australian winter” is upon us again…

crabandbee.com | Vogue 8842

Eating my words / a new crop top

Hey, everybody! I ended up finishing my skirt and enjoyed THE CRAP out of myself at the wedding, which was held at a ranch in Mendocino County. In addition to attending the wedding, we stayed on the ranch for four days, doing everything from swimming, dancing, hefting around benches for the ceremony, running around the nearby small town, connecting with old friends and making some new ones. The wedding itself was a no-photography sort of affair, so I’ll try and get share pics of the finished skirt soon.

123_0514_B_large

But let’s back up a bit, shall we, and take a look at a slightly older project?

A couple of weeks ago, I was completely and utterly fooled by a Burdastyle pattern. I take a foolish amount of pride in being adept at avoiding patterns that are only a couple of alterations away from my bodice sloper or patterns I already own. Not this time! A not-very-critical look reveals that this pattern is simply a dartless block with a yoke and horizontal seam lines.

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Well, I do consistently lose my restraint when there’s a yoke in play. And after I finished softly berating myself and turned my attention to basting my garment for fitting, I noticed that the yoke had truly beautiful proportions. $5.99 for a gorgeous yoke shape doesn’t seem so terrible!

crabandbee.com | Seamed Crop Top 05/2014 #123

I did choose to baste-fit instead of making a muslin. I’ll do this when I’m pretty sure a pattern won’t have more than minor fit tweaks like adjusting the shoulder seam or taking in the sides. I’ve found that Burdastyle patterns are pretty good on my top half. Before baste-fitting, I added my usual 1/2″ square shoulder adjustment to the back only, and graded to one size smaller through the bust while keeping the shoulders and waist a larger size. I left 1″ of shoulder seam allowance in addition to my square shoulder adjustment, but I didn’t need it.

crabandbee.com | Seamed Crop Top 05/2014 #123

After fitting, I took additional ease from the bust – maybe 1.5″ total – grading to nothing at the hem and scooped the armholes.

I also skipped the shoulder wings and bound the armholes with bias binding I made. I love how they look on others, but they simply extend my already square and broad shoulders.

crabandbee.com | Seamed Crop Top 05/2014 #123

I used flat piping around the yoke only, skipping it on the tank pieces. The seam lines on the silver fabric stand on their own, you know?

This was mostly a stash project. I bought two yards of silver coated linen from Mood a few years ago for this dress and received something like four yards. Pretty sure it has some sneaky polyester in it. The yoke is the dull side of the fabric. I did buy some accent fabric for the flat piping.

crabandbee.com | Seamed Crop Top 05/2014 #123

I’ve worn this over top of light sweaters and my denim shift dress, and as a tank top over jeans or this (unblogged) black Gabriola below. I love it! I was a bit pissy when my husband likened it to a Star Trek alien costume, mid-construction – I think I was feeling insecure about all the shine and seam lines could look like an insect thorax. He got to roll his eyes when I showed him the final piece and proudly proclaimed that I did in fact feel like I was a TNG character, but in a good way.

crabandbee.com | Seamed Crop Top 05/2014 #123

In spite of slapping my forehead when I realized how simple this pattern was, I really like it and will probably use it again. And look what Sax Silverain did with print-mixing on hers!

crabandbee.com | Seamed Crop Top 05/2014 #123

Party in the back: skirt sloper

This weekend, I was scrounging around for something to wear to a wedding. I was considering my MOH dress but I just don’t love how it looks on me. There’s something about the depth of the v-neck and the arm scyes I need to fix, but I’m not quite sure what it is yet.

After I’d run through my closet, I moved on to my fabrics, I found myself lingering on an intensely wonderful cotton sateen print I found earlier this year. (You may have seen it on Instagram when I was publicly wondering what to make with it.) After I’d considered a shift, a sheath, pants and a bomber jacket, the fabric demanded suddenly and unequivocally to be an A-line skirt.

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The only trouble is I don’t actually have an A-line skirt pattern. I briefly considered a truncated Gabriola like this one from Fadanista, but I didn’t want the gores and wasn’t sure exactly how to de-flare it. And I’ve meant to make a skirt sloper ever since I finished my bodice sloper (which I’ve never blogged about it…) so I went the self-drafting route.

Reviewing my measurements made me glad I’d chosen to self-draft, particularly the front/back waist and hip arcs. These measurements are important because they divide the front half from the back half, and provide more info about how a circumference is distributed. I’m rectangular from the front and basically a Kardashian from the back; most of my waist width is in the front, and most of my hip width is not actually from the hips at all but from the rear.

My drafting manual – Helen Joseph-Armstrong’s Pattern Making for Fashion Design- details measurements for standard sizes, and my arc measurements are all over the chart. This certainly explains all the fit problems I’ve ever had with my lower half, which has always baffled me because my waist/hip measurements put me in a single size in most commercial patterns.

So here’s my sloper – I got decent results pretty quickly, to my great surprise! It was much, much easier than the bodice sloper. (Please enjoy the grainy phone photos.)

crabandbee.com | skirt sloper

I took the author’s advice for swayback figures and made one small dart in the front with two larger ones in the back. These pictures are of my second muslin; I moved the back darts after seeing my first muslin. If I were working on a pencil skirt, I would fine-tune them some more, but time is limited and I think this is a fine place to draft an A-line skirt from.

crabandbee.com | skirt sloper

The waist isn’t quite level, but I think my waist itself might be tilted. I may lower the front a bit and blend towards the back. I adjusted the side seams on the third muslin; it’s hard to see in the photo below, but they were swinging forward.

crabandbee.com | skirt sloper

Fingers crossed I get the skirt finished it in time for the wedding! Even if I don’t, I’m already psyched about the possibilities of having a skirt sloper.

Shirt shifts

When I was finishing my sister’s and my dresses, my sewing brain was scheming on summer projects. As I’ve gotten a bit obsessed with altering patterns over the past couple of years, the possibilities felt even more numerous/tantalizing. So a few weeks after the wedding wrapped up, when it was as hot as blazes, I made good on one of those ideas and sewed a couple of shift dresses based on McCall’s 6436 shirt pattern.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

The pattern seemed like a good shift candidate because of the bust/back darts and the body-skimming fit. The shirt hit the widest point of my hips, so I was able to extend the side seams and square off the hem. I added extra ease through the hips just in case, but found I’d removed it all by the end of fitting. I was working with a light-weight stretch denim, previously sewn up as pants.

This dress has a split hem that’s 1″ longer in the back, a bound neckline, and an exposed zip back closure that would be too short for a non-stretch fabric.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

Even though I’m in love with this dress and wear it multiple times a week, I can acknowledge its faults; the fabric doesn’t press particularly well – I can’t seem to steam out those dart bubbles – and my zipper insertion caused waves. And fit-wise, there are some lines in the front, I’m getting some pooling in the low back, and I think the back darts could use some work towards the top.

Getting close but not quite achieving a good fit triples the likelihood I’ll make another version immediately. I dove directly into my second version. To contrast the first, I chose the loudest fabric in my stash, a quilting cotton (!) bought as a souvenir from my trip to Kauai.

This was the best picture of the front of the dress…

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

I think everything lays much more nicely in this version, even though I wear the denim version 10x more. I raised the neckline a bit and cut the armholes in further. I’m still seeing some mild lines from bust to hip – is this just shift dress territory, or is there alteration I can make? Maybe one of those crazy darts I see on 60s shift patterns?

Not sure what I’m doing here…

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

I think I could stand to make a bit more of a swayback adjustment, but the back is much improved. I added a center back seam on this version, which helped me squeeze this dress out of 2 yards of 44″ fabric.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

I underlined with a cotton lawn and used a neckline facing instead of binding.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

I also used another one of my grandma’s spectacular buttons and made a thread loop from embroidery floss.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

Here’s a gratuitous shot – I just like how nonplussed I look while wearing this festive print.

Overall, I would call this pattern mutation very wearable. I am realizing just how much I neglect fitting my back, though, especially below the arm holes. Do you have any techniques for fitting your own back?

Wedding dress: the reveal

This is the fifth post in a series about making my sister’s wedding separates, which were completed in mid-June. The next post will cover resources I used.


 

crabandbee.com | home-sewn wedding separates

Hello, everybody! I’m so, so excited to show off the finished wedding dress! While I finished sewing this project in June, it hadn’t felt truly completed until I’d fully blogged about it. I’m keeping the words at a minimum and the photos at a maximum for this post; look away if you don’t want to see gratuitous bridosity!

crabandbee.com | home-sewn wedding separates

Just a note: my sis chose to keep her wedding private, so the photos will be dress-centric and not show faces! Well, except for mine, but that’s nothing you haven’t seen a million times before.

crabandbee.com | home-sewn wedding separatescrabandbee.com | home-sewn wedding separatescrabandbee.com | home-sewn wedding separates

I’d always intended to make a special label as a surprise, but it wasn’t until I’d finished everything else that I realized I had the perfect thing in my stash – bee fabric from my Sew Bossy exchange Sally! I cut a bee out, machine-stitched it to twill tape, folded the tape edges in and fell-stitched the tape into the lining.

crabandbee.com | home-sewn wedding separates

I didn’t end up adding any closures to the waist stay (which was petersham ribbon, from my grandma’s stash), choosing to safety-pin it closed on the wedding day to accommodate any waistline fluctuations in either direction.

crabandbee.com | home-sewn wedding separates

Hook and eye tape closure – I’d consider going off zippers for this stuff.

crabandbee.com | home-sewn wedding separates

Decorative glass button the skirt; you can see the texture of the silk duchesse, post-washing.

crabandbee.com | home-sewn wedding separates

Scalloped lace edge detail.

crabandbee.com | home-sewn wedding separates

You can see one of my favorite features, the longer chiffon skirt hem, in this picture, as well as a little bit of how the lace winged out around the arm scye with wear.

crabandbee.com | home-sewn wedding separates

I freaking love how that lace on the back and neck look.

crabandbee.com | home-sewn wedding separates

The dress suited Bee’s wedding perfectly; it was elegant but she could move easily around the venue, which was a little island farm where all the guests stayed.

crabandbee.com | home-sewn wedding separates

It goes without saying that this is the most ambitious project I’ve ever undertaken. Working with Bee on this dress, meeting somewhere in the middle between her vision and my abilities, was an honor. An honor for this Matron of Honor.

crabandbee.com | Simplicity 1801

And speaking of… I made my MOH dress, too! More on that another time. I’m out of wedding blogging steam. Thank you so much for following along on this epic journey! I’ll share my resources sometime soonish, although I may try and sneak in some non-wedding posts between then.

Wedding dress: constructing the lace overlay

This is the fourth post in a series about making my sister’s wedding separates, which were completed in mid-June. The next posts will cover the final dress and resources. 


Are you ready to talk lace??

From the very beginning, my sis had her heart set on the stuff. I think it’s gorgeous too, but I was apprehensive from a technical standpoint. This apprehension heightened as the wedding date loomed and I still hadn’t started. I kept chipping away at the bodice, telling myself that rushing wouldn’t make the lace any easier. When I was finally ready, there was a mere week and a day before the wedding.

I’d put out a cry for help from my friend Casey, who is not only a fashion designer but had worked in a bridal alterations job. He told me that lace is surprisingly easy to work with and that I’d be fine. I had no choice but to believe him.

He and Bee came over on a Friday night and we started draping. I’d bought 2 yards of 16″-ish wide alencon lace, which was heavy and corded, with dense motifs and a lovely scalloped edge. Since lace has no grain, our job was to position the motifs and the scalloped edges of the lace to get the look Bee wanted.

Image credit: weddingchicks.com
Image credit: weddingchicks.com

Casey suggested starting from the back, as it was the largest area to cover. We draped it with the scalloped edge perpendicular to the neck for visual effect, and marked the shoulder and arm scye locations with pins. At Casey’s suggestion, we labeled the pieces as they could quickly become indistinct from one another!

crabandbee.com | draping lace

Next, I had to cut off the piece we’d draped onto the back, which was nerve-wracking. Finding the right place to cut the lace was a fun brain-teaser, though, since it was corded and the motifs were large.

crabandbee.com | draping lace
Draped and labeled

On to the front; after testing the angle of the v-neck scallops with a longer piece of lace over Bee’s shoulders, we draped one scalloped edge to form half of the v-neck. Then, with a deep breath, I cut this shape out and we draped the final piece on the other side. Even though a big chunk of the lower back was missing and there was lots of overlap in the lower front, Casey assured me that it would be easy to add where I needed and cut out excess.

My take-away from this little lesson? Drape the sections that are large and/or visually impactful first, then fill in the rest with the leftovers. Also, consider buying lace in the same fashion one buys fabrics – get more if your lace has large motif.

When Bee came back the next morning, I overlapped and pinned the front and side pieces together at the shoulders, and pinned the back and front pieces onto the bodice.

crabandbee.com | sewing lace
Amorphous lace blob

Then begin the fun; I spent the next few days securing the lace to itself at the shoulders and to the bodice. It reminded me of sculpting in the earlier stages, removing excess to reveal a shape underneath, and collaging in later stages, adding little bits on top where necessary. I felt emboldened by Casey’s parting words of wisdom, that any area I really messed up could be solved with a lace patch sewn on top of it.

crabandbee.com | sewing lace
Many layers of lace at the shoulders

I appliqued the lace to the bodice by hand using fell stitches, and machine-stitched the free-standing shoulders with a zig-zag (per Susan Khalje’s suggestions in Bridal Couture, surprisingly invisible). I tried to bind any cording that I ended up having to cut. Any cording I’d had to cut (in spite of my best efforts to avoid that), I secured by hand to prevent unraveling.

Everything took a long time – I watched an entire dull but lengthy BBC period drama – but every step made the bodice look better than the last. It was as gratifying as sweeping or house-painting, both of which I love without reservation or sarcasm.

crabandbee.com | draping lace
Of course I tried it on!

I especially love how the lapped side closure and bodice hem turned out; I let the lace motifs end organically and didn’t worry about them going right up to the edge. The hem was hidden under the skirt and the side closure wasn’t very visible, but it was a fun and organic-looking finish.

crabandbee.com | sewing lace
Hem (right) and closure (left)

In spite of my absurd timeline, the lace and the entire wedding ensemble were finished with days to spare – no hurried or last-minute sewing, thank goodness, just many hours of slow sewing. I thanked my past self profusely for having the foresight to take the week off of work.

My one lace-covered regret is that I didn’t stitch in some ribbon to stabilize the shoulders. We used pieces of scalloped edge for the armholes, and by the end of the wedding, they were looking a little winged. Lace can have quite a bit of stretch due to the mesh. To his credit, Casey suggested some sort of binding or stabilization, but I was pretty much at my limit after I’d finished the lace and the lining.

crabandbee.com | sewing wedding separates
Finishing the bodice lining

With that, I’m done with my construction posts. Thank you to everybody who’s been following along; I’m so terribly excited to share the finished dress in the next post!