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: 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:
Image credit:

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

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

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): | making a wedding dress
Muslin 1: utterly unwearable but good enough to prove the concept | making a wedding dress
Muslin 2: with boning and batting, shown on yours truly | 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. | 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. | making a wedding dress

Wedding guest… suit?

Dearest readers, thank you so much for your thoughtful replies to my last post on taking a sabbatical. It was heartening to hear how many of you have had similar thoughts or made a similar change; if so many of us want to trade some income for more creative and living time, I think our working culture will change. If you feel in need of some inspiration, I highly recommend reading through the comments.

In other news, I’ve unintentionally joined Coletterie’s Wardrobe Architect project. Initially I thought I wouldn’t, because I think I sew pretty realistically for my lifestyle and tastes. As I read more of Sarai’s posts, however, I found myself mulling over the some of the topics even after I’d finished reading. The worksheets, questionnaires and mood boards were the final straw.

I’m pretty sure Wardrobe Architect influenced my latest projects. I felt like making something for our friends’ wedding this past Sunday, because it had been awhile since I’d sewn anything dressy. I was planning on making a dress, which is default wedding wear for women, but I knew I would have to wear tights to stay warm enough. I hate tights. My knees and calves are comparatively small for my waist and hips, so I always have to make a choice – sausage waist or pooling legs? Neither, please!

I started thinking about a dressy outfit centered around pants that I could make in black velvetine from my stash. I recently made a croquis of myself last fall so I could iterate through silhouettes more quickly. Here was my initial drawing: | croquis drawing

I had a bustier top pattern in mind, used here and here, and I figured I could alter my stretch jeans pattern to omit the yoke and front pockets for some super simple, streamlined dress pants. Here’s how it came together! | McCall's 6325

I figured I’d make a kimono similar to this one to wear over my outfit, and I wanted to make sure that the fabric I used was festive to balance out the black. My stash yielded nothing, so I haunted my favorite second-hand fabric store. Days before the wedding, I found a gorgeous bright floral rayon. This is going to sound nuts, but I’ve only sewn with floral fabric twice in my entire sewing career (and once was my grown-up flower girl dress.) A loud floral really does keep one entertained during the sewing process! | self-drafted kimono

I can’t seem to resist unfurling my kimono wings… Here’s a more normal pic of the entire ensemble. | kimono, bustier and pants

I felt comfortable and festive throughout the wedding. And, I noticed that a lot of the stylish older women were wearing cool kimono-style garments as well, some of them with awesome embellishments. I stole furtive, admiring glances their direction.

I have some notes on the construction and fit of the top and pants. Starting with the bustier, which is McCall’s 6325: | McCall's 6325

I underlined the bustier bodice with cotton voile to minimize the stretch of the velvetine, and lined it with a scrap of organic cotton sateen left over from my quilt. I underlined the peplum-ish part of the top with black silk habotai (also a scrap) to minimize friction against the velvetine pants. The buttons are gold-colored metal.

I went through a muslin with the bustier but I don’t think I have the fit quite right. I took out too much ease from the bust when I was fitting it and had to mess with some of the side seams, make the button plackets wider, and add a hook and eye to prevent gaping. I’d like to make a summer dress from the bodice part, so I will probably revisit fitting the pattern. | McCall's 6325

You can see on this black-and-white photo where there’s some pulling and twisting through the bodice. Since the velvetine sucks up tons of light, it’s normally not visible enough to prevent me from wearing it.

On to the pants: | velvetine pants

These fit almost identically to my jeans. Lisa G noted recently that getting a better fit at the top of her CB rise reduced how curved her back waistband had to be, and I think I will experiment with that the next time I use any variation of this pattern. My super-curved back waistband ensures that my pants stay up, but I think there is some extra ease that could come out of the top of the CB rise. I used Debbie Cook’s fly tutorial again. It’s just the best.

So far, I’ve worn the kimono every day since I’ve finished it, and I’m banking on the other two pieces finding their way into my limited dressy rotation. | bustier, kimono, pants

The other Wardrobe Architect by-product? I decided the closest things I have to style icons are Alexa Chung and Sophia Coppola. Thirty Pinterest-filled minutes later, I was walking to the bathroom in a trance-state to cut some bangs…

And, the blue one!

This week has been all about relaxing after the craziness of my 36-hour trip to Bend mid-work-week. I haven’t even done any sewing besides a couple of muslin produce bags. Luckily, I have a backlog of projects to share!

This is the first bustier top I made using McCall’s 6325, the predecessor to the delightful red version. It was also seen during the week in Me-Made-May when I unintentionally wore blue every day.


The fabric is leftover grey-blue stretch denim from a jacket my friend made me. It’s pretty stiff, which is good and bad in a shirt like this. It allows the shirt to be fitted without showing any lumps and it barely wrinkles, but it also doesn’t have a lot of movement to it.

Looking a little vampiric here, don’t you think? One of the stylists on the Bend photoshoot told me I was “surprisingly porcelain”, which cracked me up.
Here’s a closer view of the green buttons, which I love! I was thinking of going with white or blue-grey buttons, but these sweet coke-bottle colored ones jumped out at me.

The lining I used is a Japanese cotton that I just can’t seem to use up, probably from my parents’ church sale. I got it maybe 10 years ago, and had cut it up into smallish pieces for a project (preventing me from making a larger project out of it). I’ll probably never be rid of it, but I think this was a pretty good use of it. I overlocked the raw edges of the lower bodice pieces because the fabric was so thick. What would I do without my overlock foot?

Anyway, that’s the blue one!

Nathan and I are taking off soon for a trip to California (CANNOT WAIT. We’re going to my college roomie’s wedding, and it remains to be seen whether or not I try and hurriedly make myself a dress for the occasion… talk me out of it, people!


I wore this bustier-style shirt during Me-Made-May but hadn’t documented it properly yet! Since it’s already a few months old, I can say with certainty that it’s one of the most loved of the pieces I’ve made so far. Nathan snapped a few pictures of me on our walk to brunch at the Boat Street Cafe on Saturday.

We found these cool 60’s futuristic buildings that neither of us had noticed before! And wouldn’t you know it, the lone car parked there was a little Miata that just happened to match the color of my shirt.

My friend Elizabeth (who writes a great blog on her adventurous life and sustainable living) handed off this amazingly red cotton fabric that she’d found at the thrift store before moving away to start a WWOOF internship in central California. I’ve used the pattern, McCall’s 6325, twice now (once in grey/blue and in red, seen during Me-Made-May).

It’s a great pattern and I would use it again as-is or adapt it into a dress. Because of the fitted nature of the garment, I highly recommend making a muslin and customizing the fit. As a shirt, I’m particularly fond of the way it is short and a bit flared in the back and gets longer in the front.

The only improvements I’d make on this version would be adding some interfacing or another layer in the straps because my fabric was a bit lightweight. And the bodice wrinkles a bit when I’m sitting for longer periods of time, which I think would be alleviated with slightly more ease. Still, none of these issues prevent me from wearing it about once per week.

In other sewing news, I’m considering beginning to post on Pattern Review. Even though I find the user interface a little difficult to navigate, I definitely use it a lot (especially if none of my favorite sewing blogs have tried out a pattern I’m interested in) and feel like I should start to contribute! Do any of you seamsters use it/love it?

The Second Week, MMM12: Blue Period

It seems I wore blue self-mades every day, with only one or two exceptions! And with the morning light being as it is, my black clothes also photographed blue.

Day 7: My self-drafted, hand-printed cotton voile tank. I so need to duplicate this project in other fabrics! It’s so easy to wear but still feels a bit fancy.

Day 8: Here is one of my favorite self-mades ever, blogged here. I’d love to make one or two more of this one! I used Simplicity 2281.

Day 9: This was my first attempt at the bustier I wore on day 1 (not counting the muslin I made). I was a little bit sick when I made it, and I rotated one of the pieces. It’s given the garment a slight pouf where I eased in the piece, but I still think it’s wearable. If I get ambitious some day, I’m going to fix it. The pattern is McCall’s 6325.

Day 10: A new, unblogged project! I downloaded the Burda sleeveless blouse PDF. I used the lining leftovers from my Minoru, which is still in progress. I love the blouse but found the instructions to be quite spare! That said, now that I know how to use this pattern, I will probably be making several of these. Also wearing my Simplicity 2451 skirt.

Day 11: Last year, I started Me-Made March with this shirt. It’s just slightly too big through the bust and waist, due to my misunderstanding the pattern instructions (Simplicity 2554, for reference). It was a mix of knit and woven patterns and I mistakenly assumed that it was all for knits. I’d actually be interested in making it in a woven fabric at some point, although the idea of doing a narrow hem on those ruffles again gives me pause!

Day 12: My thrifted and shredded tank, created last year during Me-Made-March. Here’s the Outsapop tutorial if you’d like to make your own or just read a really cool blog on thrifting and DIY fashion.

Day 13: What’s this? A picture of me outside of my bedroom? Nathan snapped this photo of me between mother’s day events. I’m wearing my blue Simplicity 2451 skirt, an older recently-repaired tank top and a vintage Coach purse from ebay.

I’m getting a little concerned as I’m getting down to the projects that I don’t normally wear. We’ll see how this coming week treats me; there might be some re-styling aka repeats. (I have no qualms about repeating garments weekly in the real world, but it’s more exciting to share new ones during a sewing challenge!)

The First Week: MMM ’12

Without furher adieu, here are my outfits from last week! For those not in the know, I took a pledge to wear at least one self-made item for every day of May as part of So, Zo..‘s Me-Made-May 2012 challenge.

Day 1: Red bustier, never before blogged! I love, love, love this shirt. I used thrifted red quilting cotton gifted to me by the lovely and thrifty Elizabeth of La Vida Desconocida and McCall’s 6325. I have another one in blue-grey stretch denim that will undoubtedly be making an appearance this month.


Day 2: Black 2451 (I’ve used this pattern so much that it’s synonymous with the word “skirt”). I made this one last year right before Me-Made-March 2011. I’ve seen a lot of great skirts using this pattern in the MMM community!


Day 3: Wooly grey sleeveless cardigan, based on Butterick 5528. I’ve had this gorgeous fabric sitting around for nearly a year, and I’m so glad to have put it to good use. I’ll admit to creating this piece in haste. I’ll need to watch myself this month to make sure I don’t put too much pressure on myself to churn out new things. Ideally, this month is a lovely way to measure my progress as a sewist and to savor the garments I’ve put so much time and effort into creating, and I’d really like to focus on that rather than turning my apartment into a sweatshop.


Day 4: My persimmon shirt had her day in the sun (er, the rain). I originally blogged this project here and probably wear it 2-3 times a month. It’s just such a mood-lifter. I’m starting to see signs of tearing around the darts, however, which was NOT a mood-lifter. Is that just what can happen with voile? I’m going to widen the pattern a bit when I use it next.

Day 5: Sunny Saturday! I made this project towards the end of MMM ’11 last year and have been thoroughly enjoying it. The fabric from a full skirt with a tiny waist purchased at the thrift store and I had just enough fabric to squeeze out a shirt. I love the over-sized geometric shapes.

Day 6: the first accessory to make an appearance! Awhile back, I found a piece of silk I’d dyed while working for a textile artist. All it needed was hemming to become this incredibly vibrant scarf. I used string to to bind pinched bits of the fabric to make the circular patterns.

Learnings so far: It seems I have a preponderance of red/oranges and bright blues in my self-made wardrobe. This is probably a good thing as I tend buy neutral greys and muted blues at the thrift store. I’m feeling a distinct lack of pants in my self-made wardrobe, although I’m not sure how much of a problem it is outside of the MMM world!

That’s all for this week; I’m starting my Minoru jacket (eek!) and also have a new dress to share!