Wedding dress: constructing the skirt

This is the second post in a series about making my sister’s wedding separates, which were completed in mid-June. The next posts will cover bodice construction, lace, the final dress and resources. The next few posts on construction won’t be strictly chronological; I bounced back and forth between bodice and skirt, depending on which piece had hit the skids. The bodice was generally more labor-intensive and complex, so I tended to work on the skirt when I needed some time away from it.


Hi folks! I’m back to talk about constructing my sister’s wedding skirt. (We made the decision to do separates instead of a dress somewhere in the transition from muslin to final pieces.) Since my sister wanted a flowing chiffon skirt above all else, I decided to use the fitted-through-the-hips Gabriola pattern for the underskirt, with the gathered chiffon layered on top.

We chose an off-white silk charmeuse for the underskirt, with the satin side facing towards the body (sister hates shiny) and the same color of chiffon for the overskirt. Pattern-wise, I combined the two yoke pieces into one, and took off approximately 1″ per panel piece at the skirt hem so the skirt could fit in 2.5 yards of 55″-wide fabric. I underlined the new yoke pieces with stashed silk habotai, and stabilized the seam where the yoke met the panels with silk organza selvedge since the seams were no longer on the straight grain.

Then, I made a decision I lived to RUE – I sewed the gored panels without underlining.

Looks fine here, right? The bodice shows through, but one would think it looks good enough to be covered in chiffon.

crabandbee.com | Sewaholic Gabriola wedding dress skirt

Once I began playing around with the chiffon overlay, however, the yoke revealed itself to look like big weird reverse undies.

crabandbee.com | Sewaholic Gabriola wedding dress skirt with chiffon overlay

I sulked and stomped around for a couple of days, cursing myself for french-seaming the panels. Then I bucked up and ordered more habotai to underline the panels. I grumpily cut the habotai, finished all the seams with a serger, opened the side seams of the finished skirt, stitched it in along the yoke seams, and sewed the side seams all together.

Blegh, blegh, blegh. This was the absolute nadir of the entire project for me.

crabandbee.com | Sewaholic Gabriola wedding dress skirt with chiffon overlay
Skirt of sorrow

It was over within a couple of days, however, and I got to sooth myself with catch-stitching the yoke and side seams down. I also got to move on to the chiffon overlay (again). I used two pieces of 52″ wide chiffon, essentially making a gathered tube over the underskirt. Believe it or not, the 100″+ tube was narrower than the Gabriola underneath it! Both hems were so wide and fell so nicely that I don’t believe it made a difference.

Instead of positioning the chiffon selvedges at the side seams, one was at center front and the other was at center back. This allowed me to avoid cutting a seam in the back for the opening. I sewed the back closed up until the zipper and folded the selvedges under, floating freely on top of the underskirt. I applied an invisible zipper on the underskirt only.

crabandbee.com | sewing wedding separates

As I mentioned in my post on Gabriola, the straight waistband didn’t work on me and I assumed it wouldn’t work on my sister/body double. Since the waistband needed to be fitted enough to support a 10-lb skirt, however, I didn’t reuse my pattern pieces. Instead, I sewed a rectangle of very firm canvas to test the fit. I took the waistband top in at the side seams only so I could still harness the straight grain; my waistband pieces looked like trapezoids.

I chose a piece of the duchesse silk satin from the bodice and fortified it with two layers of muslin for the outer waistband, and two layers of lightly crisp sew-in interfacing on the inner waistband.

The waistband closures were hooks/eyes and buttons, but I added a very special glass button from my grandmother’s collection for looks.

crabandbee.com | sewing wedding separates

I held off on hemming until the bodice was mostly finished. I hemmed the underskirt by measuring 1″ from the floor, and then adding a tiny bit of length to the chiffon overskirt hem. (I love how that looks.) I did find a rather ugly but ultimately not very visible mistake on the underskirt – there was one spot where the charmeuse was 1/2″ shorter than the desired hem length! Luckily the habotai lining/underlining was long enough, so I sewed down the raw charmeuse edge to prevent it from unraveling. The chiffon layer obscured the mistake. I was all out of patience for the skirt so I didn’t even entertain the notion of hemming it by hand – underskirt and overskirt alike got relatively speedy machine baby hems.

crabandbee.com | sewing wedding separates

Here’s my order of skirt operations, with faults included:

  1. Combine the Gabriola/underskirt yoke pieces for both front and back
  2. Cut out Gabriola/underskirt skirt pieces in charmeuse
  3. Cut out Gabriola/underskirt yoke pieces in habotai and underline charmeuse yoke pieces
  4. Sew Gabriola/underskirt together
  5. Hand-baste zip at CB to test fit
  6. Baste on rectangle test waistband
  7. Pin chiffon over underskirt
  8. Realize error of not underlining underskirt panels
  9. Sulk
  10. Sew underskirt panels in habotai
  11. Open finished skirt side seams
  12. Sew habotai panels to charmeuse panels at the yoke seam and side seams
  13. Close side seams again
  14. Remove basted zip
  15. Machine-sew invisible zip
  16. Measure chiffon yardage length needed
  17. Tear chiffon
  18. Sew chiffon tube, with an opening left at CB to match zipper length
  19. Gather chiffon
  20. Distribute and baste chiffon to underskirt
  21. Baste test waistband to skirt
  22. Fit waistband
  23. Construct waistband
  24. Add hook closures to back waistband
  25. Add decorative button to back waistband
  26. Measure and pin underskirt hem
  27. Machine-sew baby hem on underskirt
  28. Measure and pin chiffon hem
  29. Machine-sew baby hem on chiffon

Ultimately, I think the pattern was beautiful but not the best choice. My sister never liked the look of the yoke, which was the element that caused all the problems. I think a gored, flared skirt like Simplicity 4401 would have been better and easier, but that pattern art would have been a tough sell.

il_570xN.710872634_jf3x

Anyway, the finished skirt looked spectacular and deceptively effortless. When I look at it, I can almost forget the pain of sewing it… almost…

crabandbee.com | Sewaholic Gabriola wedding dress skirt with chiffon overlay
Me trying on the finished skirt, like a creep!

Back soon with a post on the bodice!

Wedding dress: design, pattern and muslin

This is the first post in a series about making my sister’s wedding separates, and covers planning and design. The next posts will cover construction, the final look and resources.


When I first started working on my sister’s dress, I had hoped to find a single pattern to suit my sister’s exacting tastes. She was sending me tons of gorgeous Pinterest images, and I was sending her links to patterns, and boy, was there a big divide in aesthetics. None of the patterns ended up appealing to her even though what she wanted – a sweetheart bodice with some kind of flattering shoulder and armpit coverage, and a floor-length skirt – wasn’t too outlandish.

So we put down our phones and laptops and did some field research at a boutique where my sis could try on a dress by her favorite bridal designer, Monique Lhullier. She fell in love with this dress bodice, which gave us something more solid to work from.

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

She also fell in love with a-line skirts with chiffon overlays, like this one:

Photo credit: glamour.com
Photo credit: glamour.com

My diagnosis was that we’d need a strapless bodice – and all accompanying structure – with an overlay of lace, and a skirt that was shaped at the top with a full hem.

With some basic design decisions made, I found myself cobbling together patterns. The skirt I chose – Sewaholic’s Gabriola – was an instant hit with Bee and fit with only minor de-hipping. After a false start with Simplicity 1606, I made some flat pattern alterations to an unlikely candidate, McCall’s 6325 (a bustier top pattern with a button placket, which I’d sewn as designed here and here), by eliminating the front closure, removing the peplum, and extending the cups both horizontally and vertically. I documented three muslins (there were probably more):

crabandbee.com | making a wedding dress
Muslin 1: utterly unwearable but good enough to prove the concept
crabandbee.com | making a wedding dress
Muslin 2: with boning and batting, shown on yours truly
crabandbee.com | making a wedding dress
Muslin 3, with minor fit and design tweaks and what passes for straps at Crab & Bee Bridal

I won’t delve into the muslin construction too much, but I will mention that Susan Khalje’s Bridal Couture book has a section muslin-making that I benefitted from immensely. I used quite a few of her techniques, like thread tracing the muslin pieces, wide seam allowances and marking the natural waistline with elastic. I also added boning and a simulated waist stay to the muslin –  techniques I would have assumed were for the final bodice – and stabilized the neckline with twill tape, which was necessary for keeping the shape during fitting.

After the struggle of finding a pattern, fitting was the next major challenge.  Part of it was a lack of experience on my part; I rarely make or wear close-fitting garments, and when I do, I prefer a low-profile look through the bust. Bee wanted this bodice to fit like a bustier and support like a bra. Getting a good fit through the bust, especially as we wavered on undergarments, was something I had to really focus on.

As I mentioned above, I wanted the bodice support itself as strapless to reduce stress on the lace. My sister and I share the same shape, which is broad through the shoulders, no difference between upper and full bust and a fairly narrow ribcage. I can’t imagine a shape less conducive to holding up a strapless bodice! Tightening the upper edge created the dreaded back overhang and the whole bodice would eventually creep down anyway. Adding the boning and waist stay to the muslin were critical to proving the bodice could stay up.

crabandbee.com | longline bra in progress

The same fit issues with the strapless bodice applied to RTW undergarments that Bee was trying out. I ended up making a bra for Bee based on the bodice, thinking it would be easier/faster than waiting for her to find a product that may not exist. Even if it ended up getting abandoned, making the bra was what allowed us to move on from the muslin phase.

So, because I love a good summary, here’s a list of what this phase entailed:

  1. Search for dress patterns
  2. Fail at finding dress patterns
  3. Try on real dresses
  4. Start searching for skirt and bodice patterns to match favorite real dress
  5. Try Simplicity 1606 for bodice pattern
  6. Reject Simplicity 1606
  7. Choose Sewaholic Gabriola for skirt pattern
  8. Alter McCall’s 6325 for design
  9. Muslin McCall’s 6325 for fit and design, adding boning and padding
  10. Try to find strapless bra
  11. Fail to find bra, and make one myself
  12. Graduate from muslin phase

I’ll be back soon with more posts! For now, I’ll leave you with an image that captures the turning point of the messy, amorphous muslin process, when both Bee and I started to feel more confident and excited. Seeing the bodice and skirt come together, even in muslin, was magical.

crabandbee.com | making a wedding dress

In-between times

It’s been a few weeks since my sister’s wedding, but it’s still weird being done with the dress. In the month leading up to the wedding, I spend 30-ish hours a week on the dress, kicking up to about 60 hours in the week before. And in the six months before that, I spent anywhere from 5-15 hours per week on it.  The time I spent sewing was the tip of the iceberg, however, compared to how much time I spent thinking about it. Given a construction problem (when and how to underline, boning channel placement, sew-in cups, neckline stabilization…), I’ll chew it over and over like the ruminant I am. A perpetual internal dialog about construction and 200+ hours of sewing is a commitment of a completely different scale than what I’ve invested in any previous project, including my coat. I loved (almost) every minute of it, but it’s left me in a rather odd state.

For one, I’ve come to the realization that I bought a bunch of sewing stuff while in my wedding dress trance – vintage/used patterns and some new (and rather vibrant) fabrics. I got to hang out with Sanae this week and she hypothesized that my sewing wishes were coming out in the form of purchases. I completely agree. Even though I loved sewing the dress, I still lusted after other projects that had to be put off.

il_fullxfull.674768025_o755

il_fullxfull.727338948_k2c3

Paradoxically, with all the fabric and patterns and projects ready for me, I’ve found it a bit hard to get sewing again since finishing. I’ll get excited about it when I’m at work, but will end up happier spending time in our until-now neglected garden or watching Star Trek TNG with Nathan. I did plod through a black linen Gabriola last weekend. I love wearing it, but the sewing felt a bit like a chore.

crabandbee.com|garden

So I’m rolling with that feeling. I’ve gotten less and less good at forcing myself into things, which I’m taking as a sign of personal growth. “Disciplined” and “motivated” were words that people used to describe me when I was younger. Those compliments were like food to me at the time, but when I look back I realize how little I trusted my own instincts and interests at that age. I worked for good grades in every subject because that’s how I viewed success and I logged miles of running and ate low-fat foods because that’s how I viewed health. I try to ease off sewing when I get that duty-bound feeling, that I should be sewing because it’s the only way to enjoy myself. When that beyond-excited-to-sew obsessive feeling comes rushing back, though, you’d better believe I’ll be following into my sewing room.

So for now, I’ll leave you with a peek of the lace draping for my sister’s dress bodice. Still trying to figure out how to blog about this project…

crabandbee.com | wedding dress lace draping

What do you do after finishing a large project? Any rituals to share?

Flare bear

I was on a major flare high after making denim trousers, and was certain that a pair of flared jeans would be just the thing. So I made them out of this fantastically thick no-stretch denim I found at SCRAP and… meh. They’re fine but they’re just not the 70s jeans of my dreams. I wear them about once every two weeks.

crabandbee.com | flared jeans

I’m not really sure why they feel so underwhelming! They’re technically the best pair of jeans I’ve ever managed to sew. They fit really nicely. I just feel a bit frumpy when I wear them. Maybe it’s the thickness of the fabric? I also added a total of 1/2″ of ease to the outseams to compensate for the lack of stretch* (and took them in a bit when I fit them), so it’s possible they’re more relaxed than I was intending?

crabandbee.com | flared jeans

_DSC0560

They also don’t seem to work well with any of my shirts, most of which were sewn to partner with other jeans. Any suggestions on what to pair with these flares? Please? Help?

_DSC0576

Let’s move on from my frumpy pants to wedding sewing, shall we?

Since finishing the wedding bra (pic at the bottom of that post), I’ve been building the dress bodice. On a lark, I tried inserting the molded sew-in cups I used on the wedding bra into the bodice directly, and they worked on their own! So, after all that, we’ll be skipping the bra. It’s a little bit sad, but it will prevent me the worry of having to secure the bodice to it. And, my sis has a completely custom super-sturdy white foundation piece to do with as she pleases.

crabandbee.com | wedding separates bodice

“Dress” is actually a misnomer now – I lobbied successfully for wedding separates instead of a dress, hoping my sis could repurpose the pieces more easily and maybe even dye the skirt. I lengthened the bodice into more of a bustier top that could be worn with skirts or even pants. Next, I’ll be draping the lace bodice overlay with the expertise of my friend Casey – who finally has his own blog!

* Edit: I completely forgot to include pattern info for the flares! They’re based off my moderate-stretch jeans block, which I used most recently here. I added width at the bottom, reducing to nothing at the knees. Like I mentioned above, I added a total of 1/2″ ease per leg at the outseams to compensate for the lack of stretch. Thanks to Emma Jayne for asking!

Bossing myself

You may recognize this pattern – it’s Vogue 8926, and I sent it off to Sally for our Sew Bossy exchange. I was more than a little envious of her final piece and had meant to sew one up for myself ever since I laid eyes on hers!

crabandbee.com | Vogue 8926

crabandbee.com | Vogue 8926

Based on my own fit quirks, I made the following adjustments to fit my broad/square shoulders and small bust:

  • small bust adjustment, removing 2″ total from the bust
  • square shoulder adjustment

I also lengthened the ties by nearly double and finished the sleeve hems by hand.

The fabric was a gift from Sanae and I made my own binding. I waffled between white and grey binding more than I’d care to admit. Grey won, as per usual!

crabandbee.com | Vogue 8926 detail

What I like, nay, love about this top is it’s a very simple sew (aside from two pivoted seams) with high style impact. I haven’t seen too many other patterns out there like this one and wouldn’t mind having one or two more of these in my wardrobe. Wouldn’t it be great in white as an alternative to a classic buttoned shirt?

crabandbee.com | Vogue 8926

I made this top about a month ago, before I cut myself off from any more non-wedding sewing. In a series of escalating (sewing) dares, I found myself making a bra/corset contraption for my sister. My sister possesses a similar figure to mine – broad upper back, smaller bust and rib cage – all of which make strapless designs creep towards the waist. After extensive shopping, all she could find were strapless bras that unflatteringly squeezed her back in order to stay up. I decided to create her undergarment as a time-saving device so we could continue fitting the bodice. I converted the dress bodice pattern, which is bustier-style, into a bra pattern and reduced the ease dramatically as I was using powernet.

As someone who is completely satisfied with bralettes, I was grateful for the bra-making craze that’s swept through the blogging community. I surprised myself by having a basic knowledge of the supplies – I must have absorbed that by osmosis! Big thanks to Cloth Habit’s fantastic bra-making sewalong, too.

crabandbee.com | bridal undergarment

There’s lots of things I would do differently now that I’ve tried my hand at it, like make it longer, lowering the bridge, using sheet foam instead of molded cups, etc, but I think it’s going to work for our purposes.

Next up, constructing the bodice. Wish me luck!

Two years of perspective

crabandbee.com

We got married this week two years ago. Our wedding was what we had hoped it would be – a fun and meaningful day with the people we cared about most. This year and last year, we looked through our photos together from the day and reminisced on how much warmth and love our wedding brought.

Looking through our photos also reminded me of just how many creative projects I attempted with our wedding. From a creative standpoint, I’ve spent some time thinking about what worked and what didn’t. I think those lessons apply to event-planning and creative projects in general, so I thought I’d document them here!

Pick and choose what’s important to you
We had a wedding party, bouquets, toasts, a first dance and my dad walked me down the aisle. But we also had postcard invitations, cupcakes, wrote our own vows, and discarded the garter/bouquet toss. By being selective, the day felt like a lovely ritual that held real meaning for us.

crabandbee.com | photo by Gillian Spencer

Be realistic about what you can and want to accomplish
Planning arts and crafts projects is where I lost all sense of discernment: I thought I would design my own invitations, make my own dress, build a photobooth, create a picture slideshow, craft decorations, arrange bouquets, create my own thumbprint guestbook (more on that later)… In reality, I was only able to finish the invitations, the guestbook and some of the decorations. Weddings tend to be accompanied by a lot of other time commitments, and I found myself with less crafting time than I would have had normally.

Go for maximum crafting impact
The decorations I did manage to create were paper flowers for table centerpieces. I spent dozens of hours making tiny paper flowers, and I still had lots of help. It took a lot of those labor-intensive little flowers to look like a real table centerpiece!  Later that year, I helped a friend who was getting married make jumbo paper fiesta flowers and we were done before we could finish a second glass of wine. I loved my delicate paper flowers but given how many I had to make, bigger flowers would have been a good idea!

crabandbee.com | photo by Joseph Traina

Let people help
Since I started more projects than I could have possibly completed, I can’t imagine what would have happened if my friends and family hadn’t stepped in. Casey made my dress, Elizabeth stepped in as a coordinator, Kristin and Dudley made our amazing photobooth, my sister took our portraits (and let me cry on her throughout the wedding planning process), Nathan made the slideshow, Nathan’s mom helped with paper flowers and made party favors, my mom thrifted almost a hundred vases for my paper flowers, Katherine created a decoration plan, Jen schooled herself in the floral arts and made the bridesmaid bouquets, Nathan’s aunt made flower girl dresses, Jacob helped figure out the venue sound system and advised us on our slideshow, my cousin-in-law made our scrumptious cupcakes… None of these projects would have been as fantastic (or completed at all) without them.

crabandbee.com

We also had a crew of people helping to set up the venue. They strung lights, put out flowers, seated elderly guests, ran last minute errands. Guests that came early started helping, too. Part of me wanted to have everything completely ready by the time guests arrived, but our rental started a few hours before our wedding ceremony. So many people pitched in and Nathan and I were both touched.

crabandbee.com

Decide to enjoy yourself!
By the time the day of the wedding rolled around, I decided there was nothing more I could do and just floated. A sense of calm came over me; we’d prepared as well as we could and whatever was going to happen was going to happen. I enjoyed the whole event immensely! Only a few things went “wrong”, and they’re funny. The balloons we were going to put at the door flew out of my friend’s car. I forgot my birdcage veil, sent Nathan back to the hotel for it, and he forgot it too. Our slideshow was set to a song that was louder than the rest of our music and gave our guests a nice jolt when it started playing.

And, the aforementioned thumbprint guestbook turned into this explosion of color:

crabandbee.com

Hilarious, no?

There won’t be many times in your life that all of the important people in your life are together, so savor it instead of, for instance, monitoring thumbprint placement.

In conclusion
A wedding is generally a major undertaking, with lots of emotional peaks and valleys. My lowest lows were caused by stretching myself too thin and overcommitting to projects, and my highest highs were feeling so supported by friends and family, and actually getting married. I didn’t think too much about the ceremony itself during our planning phase, but it ended up being one of my favorite parts of the wedding. There’s a dizzying amount of wedding inspiration out there – would I have stretched myself so thin without the aid of Pinterest? – but the day of our wedding put everything back into perspective.

What was your biggest lesson from planning a wedding or a big event? Are you planning one right now?

Busy crab

Me, watching the moss grow while I pretend to be busy. Photo by Nathan (Hall of Mosses, Hoh Rainforest)

Friends, you might have noticed that I’ve really been letting Erica aka Bee carry this blog lately. I’ve written more in the form of comments than I have in the form of posts! Especially after announcing my grandiose couch plans, I feel a little sheepish. But I suppose that’s what you get when you throw work, drawing class, special projects, and oh yes, planning a wedding into the mix!

The couch project is a little bit stalled because I’m scared of it and I really need to get started on a wedding dress. I’m going to base it on Simplicity 2250, which I already made once during Me-Made-March. I’m planning on making it long, removing the elastic and ties in the back, and generally making it super fancy. I have the muslin all cut out, just waiting to be sewn. This was the last Cynthia Rowley dress I made before realizing that their sizing runs one size too large. Providing expert help and personal accountability will be my good friend Casey, aka the talented Mr. C. Vincent Stitch.

I’m hoping, HOPING, I get the muslin done within the week. Fingers crossed!

PS If you haven’t already, consider signing EWG’s petition for safer cosmetics here!