This is the third post in a series about making my sister’s wedding separates, which were completed in mid-June. The next posts will cover lace, the final dress and resources. The posts on construction won’t be strictly chronological; I bounced back and forth between bodice and skirt, depending on which piece was giving me more grief.
I complained a lot about that skirt, but let’s be honest – it was nothing compared to the bodice. I tried so many new-to-me techniques on the bodice that the whole process lives under a thick fog in my memory. Or perhaps I Kon-Maried my brain and I’m trying to access data I discarded a month ago. The most solid evidence I have of what I did is this blob of to-do lists I started in May.
Given all those caveats, I’ll share my best guesses about how the bodice came together.
Once we’d decided to do separates, I knew the bodice had to be extended. No amount of hugging and celebrating should cause the bodice and skirt to part each other’s company! I went back to the original pattern (McCall’s 6325), which is longer and has a waist seam, and combined my waist-length bodice pattern with the longer bodice pieces with Bee’s measurements in mind. The dotted lines in the image below mark the waistline.
After the lower bodice was fitted, I cut it out in silk duchesse with a silk organza underlining. Earlier, I’d thrown caution to the wind and washed the duchesse. It emerged a different, much softer fabric with interesting striations. Bee liked it better – it looked kind of vintage and the sheen was gone – but it ended up being much floppier than I’d planned for. Given all that floppiness, I don’t think silk organza was the right underlining choice, but I forged ahead. (I think a light muslin would have provided more bulk and more opacity.)
After hand-basting the underlining to the lining for all the pieces, I machine-sewed them together. I used 1″ seam allowances for all the seams except for where the cups met the bodice, which were 1/2″. This gave me some flexibility for fit and allowed me to make my boning casing by felling one side of the seam.
Since Bee wanted the back to be uninterrupted lace with a high neck, we decided on a side closure. I ended up taking too much width out of the side without the closure and had to let out the closure side. The only other fit change I made was taking in the center cup seam a little more; they looked poofier in the underlined duchesse than they had in muslin.
Through the many fittings we had, I began to see that the bra I’d made Bee liked to peak over the edge of the dress. Even though the bra had been based off the bodice pattern and I’d made sure to remove a good inch from the top edge, the negative ease had a way of compressing the body and allowed the dress to slide down. I’d begun to frantically cook up ways to secure it to the dress, like snaps and ties (there may have been a particularly low moment when velcro entered my mind), when I had the idea of inserting sew-in cups to the dress itself without the bra.
It worked beautifully and no velcro would sully the dress. After cutting the cups down and serging the edges to flatten the cut edges, I secured them into the bodice by – what else – catch-stitching. Goodbye, bra.
I had originally wanted to add boning to the seamlines only, using folded and slip-stitched seam allowances as the channels, but it became clear that more support was needed. I ended up machine-sewing a channel of the duchesse down the front and catch-stitching the excess to the organza. I added diagonal boning from the CF bottom towards the top edge of the princess seam, which you can see below. I also added a boning channel underneath the hook and eye tape closure. I had assumed the tape would add enough rigidity to the closure but I was wrong. I guess it’s not surprising that cotton tape with tiny bits of metal in it can’t hold a candle to 6mm spiral steel boning. Spiral steel boning is fantastically flexible and strong – so strong, in fact, I had to buy “high leverage diagonal-cutting pliers” as my jewelry-grade cutters weren’t even making a dent.
My sis said she would have been satisfied to walk down the aisle in this and the skirt, which made me feel better about some of the flaws. The cups look a little bumpy (one on the top and one on the bottom), there was lots of visible machine-stitching, and even with the extra boning there were some wrinkles. I was tempted to care more but everything disappeared beautifully under the thick alençon lace.
I added a lining after I had finished the lace overlay. I wasn’t sure I was going to add one, but the temperatures kept rising and silk isn’t the most fun fabric to sweat into. I bought some cotton lawn and inserted a last-minute lining by hand, making sure to leave openings for the waist stay on the princess seams nearest the closure.
Based on my compromised memory, my to-do-lists and my phone pics, this is the order of operations (mistakes included) as best I can tell:
- Lengthen bodice pattern to function as a separate piece
- Cut out fabric and underlining for bodice
- Baste the fabric and underlining by hand for all piece
- Machine-sew the front pieces together
- Create boning channels from seam allowances for bodice front
- Cut out batting for cups, removing all seam allowance
- Sew cup batting pieces together with abutted seams
- Sew cup seams, grading, notching and catch-stitching seams
- Machine-sew cups to front pieces
- Stay-stitch top of cups
- Baste twill tape to cup seam allowance
- Machine-sew the back pieces together
- Machine thread-trace the neckline and hemline seam allowances in white
- Machine-baste the right side together
- Sew dress shields
- Evaluate fit (with dress shields and cup batting pinned in place!) and position of waist stay together
- Take out too much ease from the right side
- Remove some ease from the center cup seams
- Notch and catch-stitch cup center seams open
- Secure cup batting pieces to cups with catch-stitch
- Make boning channels on back seams and right side seam
- Trim and catch-stitch all remaining seam allowances open
- Cut and add tips to all boning pieces, and insert into channels
- Test position of hook and eye closure on the left side
- Reduce the seam allowance on left side to compensate for overfitting right
- Sew hook and eye tape along left-side closure
- Decide to sew cups directly into bodice instead of using the strapless bra
- Catch-stitch cups into bodice
- Machine-sew 3 more front boning channels
- Add boning channel behind hook and eye tape (the left side was buckling without it)
- Cut and add tips to all additional boning pieces, and insert into channels
- Catch-stitch top edge, bottom hem, left-side closure seam allowance to organza underlining
- Secure waist-stay to front, back and left side
- DRAPE AND SEW LACE (to be covered in the next post)
- Cut a lining from cotton voile (this would have been easier to do before lace)
- Machine-sew lining pieces together, leaving a slot for the waist stay at the front and back right-side princess seams
- Hand-sew lining into place
- Secure dress shields
This list is so long it barely makes sense to me (Jodie was wise to make a video of her wedding dress process), but if you’ve made it all the way through and ended up with questions, please feel free to ask. You may give my memory a jolt!
I’ll be back soon with my final construction post – LACE! I started working with the lace in the week before the wedding – which I’d wisely taken off work – but I’d been dreading it for months. Though time-consuming, the lace turned out to be fun, flexible, and much easier than the bodice construction… who’d have thought?