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.
She also fell in love with a-line skirts with chiffon overlays, like this one:
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):
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.
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:
- Search for dress patterns
- Fail at finding dress patterns
- Try on real dresses
- Start searching for skirt and bodice patterns to match favorite real dress
- Try Simplicity 1606 for bodice pattern
- Reject Simplicity 1606
- Choose Sewaholic Gabriola for skirt pattern
- Alter McCall’s 6325 for design
- Muslin McCall’s 6325 for fit and design, adding boning and padding
- Try to find strapless bra
- Fail to find bra, and make one myself
- 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.