Wedding dress: resources for sewing your own | home-sewn lace wedding separates

It recently occurred to me that I never really finished up the series on making my sister’s wedding dress! This was easily the project that dominated my sewing this year, so it feels fitting to finish blogging about it in the last days of 2015. So, without further delay, here’s what I used to get the job done.

How to start: make some decisions and set some boundaries
My sister was drawn to feminine formal styles and lace, and I was willing to incorporate some couture-style construction. I was also willing to see the project through, no matter how much time it took. These factors – along with my utter inexperience – led to a project that took well over 200 sewing hours to complete.

That said, a wedding dress can be whatever you want it to be – more or less formal, more or less labor-intensive. Feast your eyes on this Valentino-inspired gorgeousness by I Made This! that took 600 hours, for example. On the less formal side, check out this amazing short wedding dress by Dixie DIY or Meris’s re-wearable red dress! That’s the route I would go if I lived in an alternate universe where I was getting married again – although maybe it’s to say that because I already got to wear the floor-length weddingy wedding gown…?

Considering style, time and budget requirements will help you figure out what you’ll need for you or your loved one’s dress and whether or not you’ll want to sew it yourself.

I talked a bit about patterns in this post, so I’ll just say this: if you are at all influenced by current bridal trends, you may have a difficult time finding a pattern that looks anything like what you want. Get ready to exercise your imagination, your pattern mash-up skills and perhaps even your pattern-altering or pattern-making skills. I needed all three to achieve my sister’s vision. Also keep in mind that when you alter a pattern, you’ll also need to feel reasonably comfortable making your own instructions. | home-sewn wedding separates

Construction resources
I used a couple of indispensable resources created by Susan Khalje. The first was The Couture Dress class on Craftsy, which helped me make my muslins a lot more useful and usable. The second, purchased for me by my sister on eBay, was the out-of-print (whyyyyyy?) book Bridal Couture. The sections on bridal fabrics, lace, common necklines and structural reinforcements were key for me. The book isn’t long but it’s densely packed with most of the information I needed. Khalje also addresses some of the challenges of working with white fabrics, which are not to be underestimated.

I also used Claire Shaeffer’s Couture Sewing book. Her section on different hand-stitches and their uses is incredibly useful, and she has more information on stays of all kinds than anywhere else I’ve seen.

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Last but not least, I scoured sewing blogs for any posts on home-sewn wedding dresses! I had a lot of fun curating this Pinterest board of all the beautiful creations I found. (This board is by no means exhaustive, so if you’ve created a wedding dress I’d love to hear about it!) I also created another board with tutorials or images of formal dress construction. | home-sewn wedding separates

Fabrics & notions
Sourcing supplies was less difficult than finding a pattern, and most of what I bought worked fine (with some exceptions, noted below).We chose the lace first, which I recommend if it’s part of your dress! It can be pricey or harder to find and Mood, NY Fashion Center and other fabric stores that cater to formal sewing should have formal fabrics in many colors that coordinate with your lace and each other.

Here’s what I used, organized per piece:

Bodice fabrics:

  • Lace overlay: Alencon lace, purchased semi-locally from Mill’s End in Portland
  • Bodice fabric: Duchesse silk satin, from Gorgeous Fabrics (online)
  • Bodice underlining: Silk organza from my stash (wish I’d chosen muslin instead for added weight and opacity)
  • Bodice lining: Cotton voile, purchased locally from Pacific Fabrics

Bodice notions:

  • Twill tape for stabilizing the neckline purchased locally
  • Quilt batting from my stash for the bust cups
  • Bra cups from Felinus Fabrics (Etsy)
  • Spiral steel boning pieces, purchased locally from Stitches
  • Spiral Steel by the yard (from an Etsy shop I do not recommend – the boning had damaged and dirty sections)
  • Spiral steel boning tips from Cherington MetalCraft (Etsy)
  • Hook and eye tape, purchased online from Susan Khalje’s shop
  • Silk ribbon for hanger straps, purchased locally from Nancy’s Sewing Basket

Skirt fabrics:

  • Skirt overlay: Silk chiffon, from Mood Fabrics
  • Skirt: Silk charmeuse, from Mood Fabrics
  • Skirt underlining: Silk habotai, from my stash / Mood Fabrics
  • Skirt waistband: Duchesse from the bodice for the waistband
  • Skirt underlining: Canvas, from my stash for the waistband underlining

Skirt notions:

  • Hook and eye from my stash
  • Button from my grandmother’s stash
  • Invisible zipper from my stash

The bulk of the skirt fabric came from Mood based on their color variety and the wide widths they sell. My experiences ordering from Mood have been inconsistent, but this one was mostly positive – I got what I ordered, the yardage was correct and there didn’t appear to be any discrepancy in fiber content. The charmeuse was on the thin side, however, which required me to buy extra habotai.

(As an alternative to all this sourcing, consider Alex’s method of harvesting fabric and notions from an existing wedding dress – how cool is that?)

Additional supplies & tools
You’ll most likely need some of the following supplies and tools:

  • Muslin fabric
  • Trial dress fabric (I didn’t go this route because I ran out of time)
  • Silk pins
  • Fine-weight thread for fine fabrics
  • Microtex needles for fine fabrics
  • Beefy wire cutters, if you use spiral steel boning
  • Pliers, to apply new spiral steel boning tips | draping lace

Final thoughts
So, is it worth sewing a wedding dress? My (admittedly lame) answer is, it really depends! You should give yourself some time to consider it carefully. If you are the bride in the equation, ask yourself if such a large project will fit with your increased social and planning obligations leading up to the wedding. If you’re sewing for someone else, will you resent the number of hours taken away from your personal sewing projects? In my case, this was a gift I’d long wanted to give to my sister and it dovetailed nicely with my personal sewing goals.

I will say that my zest for sewing has only very recently returned to 100%, a full 6 months after I finished the dress. It pushed me way beyond my skill level in terms of fit, construction and project management, to the point where I felt like my brain and hands were turned to mush and haven’t fully reformed themselves yet.

So this, my friends, is my final wedding dress post! Are you considering sewing a wedding dress?

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.

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.


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.

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

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. | 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. | 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! | 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. | Vogue 1387 | 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. | 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. | 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. | 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… | Vogue 8842

Back to life, back to reality

Some days ago, we returned from spectacular two-week trip to Japan. I’ve talked a little bit about my background in this post, but part of my family came from Japan several generations ago. I’d wanted to go since I was a kid, but somehow this was my first trip. I’m not sure I can adequately express my excitement and my expectations before going, or the mix of familiarity and strangeness of a culture my family came from many decades ago. | Roscoe Dress

What made the trip feel less overwhelming and the country more accessible was information and welcoming from sewing friends. I reached out to Gillian, Inna and Sanae with newbie questions about what to do, where to stay and how to get around, and they did a better job of getting me oriented and even more excited about the trip than any guidebook. | Kyoto

And as luck would have it, Inna and I overlapped by one day in Kyoto, during which she took me on an amazing whirlwind tour of the sewing shops near the indoor markets. Our menfolk met up afterwards for a fun little dinner. The very next day, we left for Tokyo by train and I got to meet Yoshimi, Novita, and Chie for tea! Talk about spoiled. (And I apparently managed to miss Amy by some minutes in Nippori Fabric Town!) | Nippori Fabric Town

For the past few years, I’ve intermittently asked myself if I want to continue blogging and why. It does require an investment of time, and I am purely a hobby blogger. The online sewing world is growing exponentially and becoming more commercial, and I wonder if I’m short-sighted for meandering along without any particular goal beyond sewing and writing/reading about it.

And then something like this trip happens, where I’m nearly 5,000 miles from my home and I have sewing friends to meet up with. And they’re just like they are on their blogs, only more interesting! | Tokyo bloggers

The trip revealed my infrequently-seen maximalist side. We walked over 10 miles a day for two weeks, pushing ourselves to see a tiny fraction of what was beautiful and strange in Japan, consoling ourselves with thoughts of a return trip. But now I’m back, adjusting to my regular life and have had some time to reflect on how grateful I am to all the sewing folks who made our trip wonderful.

Now, to make some time to sew up the fabrics I bought in Japan…

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.


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.


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! | 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. | 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. | 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. | 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. | 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! | 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.


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.) | 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. | 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. | 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. | 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. | 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… | 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… | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress | 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. | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

I underlined with a cotton lawn and used a neckline facing instead of binding. | 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. | 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. | 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! | 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. | home-sewn wedding | home-sewn wedding | 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. | 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. | home-sewn wedding separates

Hook and eye tape closure – I’d consider going off zippers for this stuff. | home-sewn wedding separates

Decorative glass button the skirt; you can see the texture of the silk duchesse, post-washing. | home-sewn wedding separates

Scalloped lace edge detail. | 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. | home-sewn wedding separates

I freaking love how that lace on the back and neck look. | 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. | 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. | 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:
Image credit:

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! | 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. | 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. | 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. | 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. | 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. | 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. | 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!

Wedding dress: constructing the bodice

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. | wedding separates to-do-list

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. | sewing wedding separates

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. | sewing wedding separates | sewing wedding separates

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. | sewing wedding separates | sewing wedding separates

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. | sewing wedding separates

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. | sewing wedding separates
You can see the right side and center panels collapsing a bit before I added more boning | sewing wedding separates
The final pre-lace bodice incarnation, with additional front and side boning

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:

  1. Lengthen bodice pattern to function as a separate piece
  2. Cut out fabric and underlining for bodice
  3. Baste the fabric and underlining by hand for all piece
  4. Machine-sew the front pieces together
  5. Create boning channels from seam allowances for bodice front
  6. Cut out batting for cups, removing all seam allowance
  7. Sew cup batting pieces together with abutted seams
  8. Sew cup seams, grading, notching and catch-stitching seams
  9. Machine-sew cups to front pieces
  10. Stay-stitch top of cups
  11. Baste twill tape to cup seam allowance
  12. Machine-sew the back pieces together
  13. Machine thread-trace the neckline and hemline seam allowances in white
  14. Machine-baste the right side together
  15. Sew dress shields
  16. Evaluate fit (with dress shields and cup batting pinned in place!) and position of waist stay together
  17. Take out too much ease from the right side
  18. Remove some ease from the center cup seams
  19. Notch and catch-stitch cup center seams open
  20. Secure cup batting pieces to cups with catch-stitch
  21. Make boning channels on back seams and right side seam
  22. Trim and catch-stitch all remaining seam allowances open
  23. Cut and add tips to all boning pieces, and insert into channels
  24. Test position of hook and eye closure on the left side
  25. Reduce the seam allowance on left side to compensate for overfitting right
  26. Sew hook and eye tape along left-side closure
  27. Decide to sew cups directly into bodice instead of using the strapless bra
  28. Catch-stitch cups into bodice
  29. Machine-sew 3 more front boning channels
  30. Add boning channel behind hook and eye tape (the left side was buckling without it)
  31. Cut and add tips to all additional boning pieces, and insert into channels
  32. Catch-stitch top edge, bottom hem, left-side closure seam allowance to organza underlining
  33. Secure waist-stay to front, back and left side
  34. DRAPE AND SEW LACE (to be covered in the next post)
  35. Cut a lining from cotton voile (this would have been easier to do before lace)
  36. Machine-sew lining pieces together, leaving a slot for the waist stay at the front and back right-side princess seams
  37. Hand-sew lining into place
  38. 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! | sewing wedding separates

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?