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?


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.

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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?

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. | 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. | 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. | 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. | 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. | 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. | 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.


Anyway, the finished skirt looked spectacular and deceptively effortless. When I look at it, I can almost forget the pain of sewing it… almost… | 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!

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

In-between times

It’s been a few weeks since my sister’s wedding, but it’s still weird being done with the dress. In the month leading up to the wedding, I spend 30-ish hours a week on the dress, kicking up to about 60 hours in the week before. And in the six months before that, I spent anywhere from 5-15 hours per week on it.  The time I spent sewing was the tip of the iceberg, however, compared to how much time I spent thinking about it. Given a construction problem (when and how to underline, boning channel placement, sew-in cups, neckline stabilization…), I’ll chew it over and over like the ruminant I am. A perpetual internal dialog about construction and 200+ hours of sewing is a commitment of a completely different scale than what I’ve invested in any previous project, including my coat. I loved (almost) every minute of it, but it’s left me in a rather odd state.

For one, I’ve come to the realization that I bought a bunch of sewing stuff while in my wedding dress trance – vintage/used patterns and some new (and rather vibrant) fabrics. I got to hang out with Sanae this week and she hypothesized that my sewing wishes were coming out in the form of purchases. I completely agree. Even though I loved sewing the dress, I still lusted after other projects that had to be put off.



Paradoxically, with all the fabric and patterns and projects ready for me, I’ve found it a bit hard to get sewing again since finishing. I’ll get excited about it when I’m at work, but will end up happier spending time in our until-now neglected garden or watching Star Trek TNG with Nathan. I did plod through a black linen Gabriola last weekend. I love wearing it, but the sewing felt a bit like a chore.|garden

So I’m rolling with that feeling. I’ve gotten less and less good at forcing myself into things, which I’m taking as a sign of personal growth. “Disciplined” and “motivated” were words that people used to describe me when I was younger. Those compliments were like food to me at the time, but when I look back I realize how little I trusted my own instincts and interests at that age. I worked for good grades in every subject because that’s how I viewed success and I logged miles of running and ate low-fat foods because that’s how I viewed health. I try to ease off sewing when I get that duty-bound feeling, that I should be sewing because it’s the only way to enjoy myself. When that beyond-excited-to-sew obsessive feeling comes rushing back, though, you’d better believe I’ll be following into my sewing room.

So for now, I’ll leave you with a peek of the lace draping for my sister’s dress bodice. Still trying to figure out how to blog about this project… | wedding dress lace draping

What do you do after finishing a large project? Any rituals to share?

Flare bear

I was on a major flare high after making denim trousers, and was certain that a pair of flared jeans would be just the thing. So I made them out of this fantastically thick no-stretch denim I found at SCRAP and… meh. They’re fine but they’re just not the 70s jeans of my dreams. I wear them about once every two weeks. | flared jeans

I’m not really sure why they feel so underwhelming! They’re technically the best pair of jeans I’ve ever managed to sew. They fit really nicely. I just feel a bit frumpy when I wear them. Maybe it’s the thickness of the fabric? I also added a total of 1/2″ of ease to the outseams to compensate for the lack of stretch* (and took them in a bit when I fit them), so it’s possible they’re more relaxed than I was intending? | flared jeans


They also don’t seem to work well with any of my shirts, most of which were sewn to partner with other jeans. Any suggestions on what to pair with these flares? Please? Help?


Let’s move on from my frumpy pants to wedding sewing, shall we?

Since finishing the wedding bra (pic at the bottom of that post), I’ve been building the dress bodice. On a lark, I tried inserting the molded sew-in cups I used on the wedding bra into the bodice directly, and they worked on their own! So, after all that, we’ll be skipping the bra. It’s a little bit sad, but it will prevent me the worry of having to secure the bodice to it. And, my sis has a completely custom super-sturdy white foundation piece to do with as she pleases. | wedding separates bodice

“Dress” is actually a misnomer now – I lobbied successfully for wedding separates instead of a dress, hoping my sis could repurpose the pieces more easily and maybe even dye the skirt. I lengthened the bodice into more of a bustier top that could be worn with skirts or even pants. Next, I’ll be draping the lace bodice overlay with the expertise of my friend Casey – who finally has his own blog!

* Edit: I completely forgot to include pattern info for the flares! They’re based off my moderate-stretch jeans block, which I used most recently here. I added width at the bottom, reducing to nothing at the knees. Like I mentioned above, I added a total of 1/2″ ease per leg at the outseams to compensate for the lack of stretch. Thanks to Emma Jayne for asking!

Bossing myself

You may recognize this pattern – it’s Vogue 8926, and I sent it off to Sally for our Sew Bossy exchange. I was more than a little envious of her final piece and had meant to sew one up for myself ever since I laid eyes on hers! | Vogue 8926 | Vogue 8926

Based on my own fit quirks, I made the following adjustments to fit my broad/square shoulders and small bust:

  • small bust adjustment, removing 2″ total from the bust
  • square shoulder adjustment

I also lengthened the ties by nearly double and finished the sleeve hems by hand.

The fabric was a gift from Sanae and I made my own binding. I waffled between white and grey binding more than I’d care to admit. Grey won, as per usual! | Vogue 8926 detail

What I like, nay, love about this top is it’s a very simple sew (aside from two pivoted seams) with high style impact. I haven’t seen too many other patterns out there like this one and wouldn’t mind having one or two more of these in my wardrobe. Wouldn’t it be great in white as an alternative to a classic buttoned shirt? | Vogue 8926

I made this top about a month ago, before I cut myself off from any more non-wedding sewing. In a series of escalating (sewing) dares, I found myself making a bra/corset contraption for my sister. My sister possesses a similar figure to mine – broad upper back, smaller bust and rib cage – all of which make strapless designs creep towards the waist. After extensive shopping, all she could find were strapless bras that unflatteringly squeezed her back in order to stay up. I decided to create her undergarment as a time-saving device so we could continue fitting the bodice. I converted the dress bodice pattern, which is bustier-style, into a bra pattern and reduced the ease dramatically as I was using powernet.

As someone who is completely satisfied with bralettes, I was grateful for the bra-making craze that’s swept through the blogging community. I surprised myself by having a basic knowledge of the supplies – I must have absorbed that by osmosis! Big thanks to Cloth Habit’s fantastic bra-making sewalong, too. | bridal undergarment

There’s lots of things I would do differently now that I’ve tried my hand at it, like make it longer, lowering the bridge, using sheet foam instead of molded cups, etc, but I think it’s going to work for our purposes.

Next up, constructing the bodice. Wish me luck!

Two years of perspective

We got married this week two years ago. Our wedding was what we had hoped it would be – a fun and meaningful day with the people we cared about most. This year and last year, we looked through our photos together from the day and reminisced on how much warmth and love our wedding brought.

Looking through our photos also reminded me of just how many creative projects I attempted with our wedding. From a creative standpoint, I’ve spent some time thinking about what worked and what didn’t. I think those lessons apply to event-planning and creative projects in general, so I thought I’d document them here!

Pick and choose what’s important to you
We had a wedding party, bouquets, toasts, a first dance and my dad walked me down the aisle. But we also had postcard invitations, cupcakes, wrote our own vows, and discarded the garter/bouquet toss. By being selective, the day felt like a lovely ritual that held real meaning for us. | photo by Gillian Spencer

Be realistic about what you can and want to accomplish
Planning arts and crafts projects is where I lost all sense of discernment: I thought I would design my own invitations, make my own dress, build a photobooth, create a picture slideshow, craft decorations, arrange bouquets, create my own thumbprint guestbook (more on that later)… In reality, I was only able to finish the invitations, the guestbook and some of the decorations. Weddings tend to be accompanied by a lot of other time commitments, and I found myself with less crafting time than I would have had normally.

Go for maximum crafting impact
The decorations I did manage to create were paper flowers for table centerpieces. I spent dozens of hours making tiny paper flowers, and I still had lots of help. It took a lot of those labor-intensive little flowers to look like a real table centerpiece!  Later that year, I helped a friend who was getting married make jumbo paper fiesta flowers and we were done before we could finish a second glass of wine. I loved my delicate paper flowers but given how many I had to make, bigger flowers would have been a good idea! | photo by Joseph Traina

Let people help
Since I started more projects than I could have possibly completed, I can’t imagine what would have happened if my friends and family hadn’t stepped in. Casey made my dress, Elizabeth stepped in as a coordinator, Kristin and Dudley made our amazing photobooth, my sister took our portraits (and let me cry on her throughout the wedding planning process), Nathan made the slideshow, Nathan’s mom helped with paper flowers and made party favors, my mom thrifted almost a hundred vases for my paper flowers, Katherine created a decoration plan, Jen schooled herself in the floral arts and made the bridesmaid bouquets, Nathan’s aunt made flower girl dresses, Jacob helped figure out the venue sound system and advised us on our slideshow, my cousin-in-law made our scrumptious cupcakes… None of these projects would have been as fantastic (or completed at all) without them.

We also had a crew of people helping to set up the venue. They strung lights, put out flowers, seated elderly guests, ran last minute errands. Guests that came early started helping, too. Part of me wanted to have everything completely ready by the time guests arrived, but our rental started a few hours before our wedding ceremony. So many people pitched in and Nathan and I were both touched.

Decide to enjoy yourself!
By the time the day of the wedding rolled around, I decided there was nothing more I could do and just floated. A sense of calm came over me; we’d prepared as well as we could and whatever was going to happen was going to happen. I enjoyed the whole event immensely! Only a few things went “wrong”, and they’re funny. The balloons we were going to put at the door flew out of my friend’s car. I forgot my birdcage veil, sent Nathan back to the hotel for it, and he forgot it too. Our slideshow was set to a song that was louder than the rest of our music and gave our guests a nice jolt when it started playing.

And, the aforementioned thumbprint guestbook turned into this explosion of color:

Hilarious, no?

There won’t be many times in your life that all of the important people in your life are together, so savor it instead of, for instance, monitoring thumbprint placement.

In conclusion
A wedding is generally a major undertaking, with lots of emotional peaks and valleys. My lowest lows were caused by stretching myself too thin and overcommitting to projects, and my highest highs were feeling so supported by friends and family, and actually getting married. I didn’t think too much about the ceremony itself during our planning phase, but it ended up being one of my favorite parts of the wedding. There’s a dizzying amount of wedding inspiration out there – would I have stretched myself so thin without the aid of Pinterest? – but the day of our wedding put everything back into perspective.

What was your biggest lesson from planning a wedding or a big event? Are you planning one right now?