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!

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39 thoughts on “Wedding dress: constructing the skirt

  1. I wasn’t expecting this post to follow so soon on the heels of the 1st one. Love how you have “sulk” listed 🙂 The chiffon overskirt looks so lovely and etheral, makes me want to try it out… (albeit in a darker, non wedding & probably shorter format!!)

    1. Yes, I think it’s time for me to get this whole project out of my head and written down. I’m hoping to share the entire thing over the next week or two, but don’t hold me to that! I say go for it on the chiffon skirt 🙂

  2. Wow – what a labour of love. I think most people can identify with carrying on altering something we have started and put a lot of time into rather than drawing a line under it and starting afresh with a new pattern!

  3. Love reading these posts. I’ve made wedding dresses for my sisters, and it was nerve wracking but very rewarding! It’s always a problem trying to suggest patterns with awful cover art – eventually I stopped showing them the patterns I was using and just worked from an outline sketch and toile /muslin. Sometimes people who don’t sew are really thrown by illustrated seam lines or bad pattern photos!

    1. It is a let-down to start envisioning your wedding dress from unattractive pattern art. You’re so wise! (And generous – how many wedding dresses did you end up making?)

      1. My three sister’s dresses and two sister’s -in-law! (+a cousin). They were all very grateful and trusting and thankfully it all worked out, but in the middle of each one I would think “never again”!

  4. Oh my gosh, what a saga with this skirt! This is truly a labor of love and something you would probably only do for someone very, very important to you – like a sister. 🙂 I never would have predicted that the yoke would show through so strongly, so don’t beat yourself up for only realizing it after the fact. Live and learn!

    1. Haha, thanks Carolyn. I think part of why bridal sewing is so weird is because everything is typically done in white! I doubt the yoke would have shown through on many other colors.

  5. Really enjoying reading about your sewing adventures for your sister’s wedding. What a big commitment you made! It has always mystified me why cover art is so awful. With all the choices out there and fabulous ads for some pretty shoddy rtw, you would have thought they could have produced some better envelope shots by now!

    1. Philippa, it’s so nice to hear from you! I hope everything is going well with you. I was just trying to think what the optimal pattern artwork would look like and nothing came to mind! I love technical line drawings and illustrations but those can go awry just as much as photos. Hrm…

  6. Another great wedding dress post. I would have never guessed the Gabriola yoke would have stood out so glaringly underneath all of the chiffon. Good save though. And, I actually really, really like the look of the final skirt. I could imagine wearing that out and about with a tank just like you are above. Great idea with the separates!

    1. Yah, I’m hoping she can use it for something else! That was the big plus of separates in my mind. We’ve even talked about dyeing it a pretty light color or taking up the hem.

  7. what a dedication, to sew a wedding dress and not even your own. The skirt looks beautiful, I think it’s a great idea to make separates.

    1. I’m not sure I could have handled sewing my own! Actually, let me re-phrase – I wasn’t able to sew my own and had to hand it off to a friend. Planning a wedding is so much work and I have infinite respect for those sewers who are able to sew their own dress!

  8. Beautiful, I’m about to make a very similar skirt for a bridesmaid dress so it’s great to see how you added the chiffon over lay. I’ll be stealing your tip to not sew it into the zip.

  9. I’ve been eating up every detail of your wedding dress posts! I love how the chiffon skirt came out, it’s just gorgeous. When I made the wedding dress for one of my sisters, it was the skirt drafting that gave me the most difficulty. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong until waaaay too late… Argh it still haunts me!

      1. The trouble I had was that I didn’t cut the skirt panels on the same angle, so when I sewed the panels together, each side of the seam wanted to drop a different amount and it caused weird wrinkles down each seam. I think I went and hand stitched the outer skirt to the lining to keep it from pulling too badly… it was a nightmare! I didn’t mention the mistake to anyone so as not to draw attention to it!

  10. That skirt is just lovely, and well worth the effort you put into it! Did your sister need to bustle the skirt at all for the reception?

    1. Thanks, Lucinda! I hemmed it the same length all around so it was off the ground and there was no train. The wedding was on a farm, as was the reception. So no on the bustling, although the hem did end up getting a little dirty!

  11. I think “sulk” is a mandatory step in all of my sewing projects, and I’ve never even come close to sewing anything as complicated as a wedding dress! Also, I’m kinda glad to hear I’m not the only one that’s a little meh about the Gabriola pattern. Something about the yokes throws me off too. But it does look like it turned out well in the end!

    1. Haha! Sewing can be a cruel mistress. I was initially skeptical about the Gabriola yokes – it looked kind of prairie-chic to me – but then I got totally into them and I don’t really understand why.

  12. Never underestimate the power of underlining. I go totally overboard with underlining on everything pretty much ever since I learnt about it – and I’ve never regretted it! The little detail of your grandmothers button is so sweet 🙂
    Going back to dress patterns though – I think for non-sewists, seeing a picture of a made up pattern on the envelope (like with 4401) locks them into only being able to see that image – they can’t necessarily compute how the line drawing and style of the pattern would suit them (or be made to suit them), which makes it a majorly tough sell. I had a similar issue when shortlisting dress patterns for my bridesmaids – they just couldn’t see past the dodgy styling (pretty much anything McCalls or Butterick), or the over-accentuated design drawing (Marfy, I’m looking at you). Bizarely, they all ‘got’ Burda. Vogue wasn’t far behind that.

    1. I think I’m getting there, too, with the underlining. It opens up such possibilities!

      I think Burda patterns read better, too, and I’m not sure why! Maybe Burda looks like more up-to-date RTW catalog photography whereas other big brands’ art looks like very dated catalog photography (the horror!) – not aspirational in the slightest.

  13. Oh my, this brought back memories! I spent last summer making my sister’s wedding dress for her mid-September wedding. I wasn’t working at the time so it was basically my (more than!) full time job for the months of July, August and September. I loved reading your posts b/c I STILL think about parts of the dress that I think I made mistakes on, lol… It was such a bittersweet feeling when it was done, it was all I thought about for months and then it was just over! I finally blogged about the whole process, but it took me a few months to get around to it, I just had to decompress from the whole experience. It was stressful but I’m so glad I did it!
    Great job!!

    1. It sounds like we went through nearly identical processes. I found your blog post about your sister’s dress and what she wanted sounded weirdly similar to my sister! How funny. 🙂 PS – I like your dyeing projects!

  14. Yes! They have very similar taste, I think that’s why this gave me such strong flashbacks! Thank you, I love to dye fabric, I would have loved to dye that white wedding dress, hahaha…

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