I’m not quite sure that sewing dresses for your bridesmaids counts as selfless sewing (as really, it’s technically for me), but I’m so totally claiming it.
If I was humbled that both women were willing to wear something I made, then their trust in me throughout the muslin phase bowled me over even more. It’s hard enough for a non-sewing enthusiast to understand just how much sewing means to me, let alone be forced into wearing one of my creations. I remember doing one of the fitting sessions in front of a group of friends – one of the on-lookers genuinely thought I was going to make them wear a dress made of muslin. …..”Oh, I didn’t realise you were going for such a rustic theme”….
My third bridesmaid, technically a bridesman – escaped the whole process. Although the poor man often got confused as my betrothed when accompanying me on official bridesmaid duties such as visiting florists and trying on dresses. It was funny! I did briefly consider attempting to make a tie for him, but lumped that idea pretty quick when time got tight! So I’d like to introduce you all to Nikoo, Andrea and Lev-Ari:
we were, of course – the Perfect Match! ;)
I had picked out Vogue 1030 as pattern I rather liked, and both girls were kind enough to deem it acceptable… once I’d explained that I would be able to alter the design to provide some additional coverage – this pattern in it’s original form has one helluva plunging neckline.
This pattern certainly had its moments. I think the most difficult part was that it calls for silk chiffon or silk double georgette that is 60″ wide. Those fabrics in that width? Difficult to find generally, and nigh on impossible to find in a colour of your choosing! The skirt has both fabric and lining pattern pieces – the lining (silk crepe de chine or georgette are recommended) is effectively an exaggerated A-line skirt, whilst the overskirt (chiffon or double georgette recommended) has a train and angular side seam, which is the reason the super wide fabric is required. Upon realising this I decided it would be practical both from a wearing and fabric width point of view to keep the hem at floor length – removing the need for super-wide width and giving me far more flexibility in fabric choice.
Once we’d all agreed on on two potential colour palettes I started the fabric recon, and was disappointed at every turn. As you can see from the photos, both Andy and Nikoo have distinctly different skin tones – and I felt they’d look their best in different hues of the same colour – and I simply could not find two double georgettes in the right shades! I pinned all my hopes on my fabric shopping expedition in New York, and even there I struggled to get a match.
I did eventually spot silks in the colours I was after in Mood – what a crazy place. I know a lot of people rave about Mood, but it just didn’t do it for me – I’m so much more a B&J girl! I deliberated on the silks for a day as one was a crepe de chin, the other tagged as a charmuese (we’ll get to that in a moment) – really rather different from georgette. Oh, and the darker silk was on hold – someone was planning to buy the whole bolt. But the colours were so perfect for both the girls and my personal taste, and when I went back in just before closing and the bolt was still there, it was a done deal! Whilst my yardage was being cut, the girl told me both were Ralph Lauren silks – it made sense both were from the same place given how well the hues matched. I recall a fleeting concerned thought at how the lightweight ‘charmuese’ would work, but in the excitement of finding the right colours that thought got pushed from view. Jetlag probably had something to do with that too - it’s like a wierd mix of feeling both drunk and hungover at the same time - I think I may have lost my balance whilst standing upright when perusing fabric because of this, but noone saw so it never happened, right?
I made a muslin for both girls and was really, really challenged at having to fit them both. Even though they both had virtually identical B-W-H measurements, their proportions are vastly different. The skirt was always going to be easy as it’s so free-flowing – but the pattern bodice has a lining, and underbodice piece and an overbodice piece which incorporates the gathering around the edge of the neckline – and for the life of me I just couldn’t figure out how to adjust the pattern to get a good bodice fit without impacting the gathered portion. I had limited time to spend fitting both girls as they don’t live close by, so I ended up scratching the overbodice pattern piece (and thus, the gathering around the neckline) and not taking the risk that it might not work.
I was to extend the ruffle around the neck down to give coverage, and also raise up the trapezium shaped pattern piece joining the bodice fronts to make it more of a modesty panel – onto which the ruffles would be tacked to hold them in place. It turned out that I probably only needed to extend the ruffles as they gave plenty of modesty, but hey. I kept the gathers on the centre trapezium shaped piece the same to keep with the look.
The ‘extended’ trapezium as viewed from the inside – the stitch line across the bodice shows where it would have originally stopped. This was after the final fitting – we decided to cut back the armscye a little on Nikoo’s dress which you can see by the pencilled in adjustment.
I extended the ruffles right down to where the original trapezium centre stopped. In the end you can’t even really see the modesty panel.
I started on the darker green ‘charmuese’ dress first. And that’s when I realised – this was no charmuese. It was the lightest, most loosely woven silk habutai I’d ever come across. It was Hell Spawn Habutai. Throw a fluffy feather and a piece of this in the air and the feather would land first with time to kill. It was so lightweight and fluttery and insanely sheer that even when 2 layers were laid out on my cutting mat with a silk organza underlining pattern piece on top – I COULD STILL CLEARLY SEE THE GRID LINES ON MY CUTTING MAT. I shit you not.
My second realisation – trying to align the grainline of this fabric was like trying to get a nappy on a wriggly toddler that just will not stand for having their nappy changed. I ended up taping down the selvedge, then finding the cross grain by using the thread-pull technique, before taping that down the cross-grain on the cutting mat too. Then pinning on my organza pattern pieces and thread-tracing blah etc blah blah. It was a nightmare.
Playing hide and seek with the cross grain…
At the end of cutting out the bodice pieces (none of which had bubbles indicating the grain had tricked me – woooo!!!!) I rewarded myself with a rather stiff G&T. Then came back the next day
for more punishment to cut out the skirt pieces. I think I spent nearly 3 full days just cutting out this one dress. I used every single trick in the proverbial sewing book to keep this fabric in line – basting was my best friend. After spending a full Saturday cutting out and basting together the ruffle alone (I had a hunch that the ruffle would sit more beautifully if I underlined it with itself) I was greeted with the sight of possibly the most beauteous of ruffles that has ever existed. It draped, flopped and rolled in such a way that washed away all my despair at ever getting this dress to look like I wanted it too. I mean, just look at it in the photo here:
If I had one regret from these two dresses, it’s that I had already cut and gathered the ruffle in Andrea’s dress with just a single layer of fabric. And I just didn’t have the time to do it again…
I then realised it would have been amazing if I could also underline the skirt in self fabric, but I didn’t have enough and I’d already sewn the skirt together by this stage so it was never going to be. Ah well!
With the skirt – I sewed french seams using tissue paper to hold the hellspawn habutai fabric sturdy under my presser foot, because I just couldn’t find a way to sew a seam without it looking utterly terrible. Altering thread tension minimised only slightly the chewed up look a sewn seam gave the fabric. My machine is a base computerised model (Janome DC2101) and doesn’t have the option to adjust presser foot tension – I’m not sure if this would affect it but I’d love to know!
One those seams were sewn, I hung the skirt up to let everything settle. I realised at this point that my adjustments to the over skirt weren’t really all that well thought out – sure, I’d removed the train by simply cutting it off, but I hadn’t factored in that the side seam of the skirt might be angled in such a way so as to support the weight of the train – meaning my french seamed skirt looked incredibly, horribly and devastatingly ugly:
Yes. We all know what this looks like, but we’re too polite to say it, right?
At least, I’m assuming it’s my fault. I did flatter myself for a moment with the thought that maybe I could see the hint of the same effect/drag lines in the picture on the pattern envelope, but figured people would have mentioned it in their pattern reviews if that was the case.
I let it sit like this whilst I pondered it for a few days. Really annoyed at myself for taking the shortcut of muslining the underskirt only, I figured it would have to remain as is because unpicking would ruin the skirt, and whilst I bought an extra meter of fabric as contingency, that wasn’t going to be nearly enough. Maybe somehow when Nikoo put it on, it would all be ok.
ERRRR – No.
It looked even worse on and she totally freaked out. We all have our least favourite body part and hips are hers – and this f’ugly seam drew your attention right there and would not let you go. And the image stuck with you even once you’d turned your back on it.
I had no choice but to alter it. I tested my proposed changes first in some scrap poly silk, then gently and super-carefully unpicked, realigned on my pattern piece and sliced the offending angle off. You can sort of see exactly how shifty-shifty the grain is from the off-cut on the right:
Then I carefully re-sewed the french seams. I can’t even begin to describe my frustration here – the only positive I can take from it was that I could at least save myself more pain by adjusting the lighter green dress skirt panels pattern before cutting that one out.
As much hurt, angst and frustration that this habutai fabric caused me – I absolutely love it. It has stunning sheen, drapes in such a lustful manner and is the most perfect shade of apple green – and suits Nikoo to an absolute tee.
You can see in this photo the offending seam ended up being quite easy on the eye!
The side seams, still being slightly on the bias – did drop somewhat. Obviously, the looser woven Hellspawn Habutai dropped much farther than the delightfully well-behaved crepe de chin.
Hemming was a case of using my piece of altered plastic belt backing to sew a miniture hem without the seams being chewed up by my machine. It involved a lot of patience on the wearer’s behalf, standing still whilst I pinned in place the ideal hem location!
Another interesting thing from a non-sewists point of view… both girls were quite visibly shocked at how ‘different’ each dress looked on a hanger. Well yeah… that’s because they both have very different body shapes, and each dress has been altered to suit that. Andrea was longer in the body and is the classic rectangle shape, whilst Nikoo is really very petite through the torso (you can see this in the shape of the armscye on both dresses below) and pear shaped, evidenced by what appears to be the curved hem when sitting flat. And yet, they are the same height and have exactly the same B-W-H sizes. When they’re being worn, you probably wouldn’t notice any of those things. This is why we sew right?
The panels at the waist are not structural – they are aesthetic additions onto the bodice and sit above the seam line between the bodice and the skirt. The panels are cut on the bias then machine gathered at each end and attached to the dress between the center back seam and the seam alongside the trapezium shaped piece at the centre front.
At least, that’s what the pattern instructions would have you do. I noticed on a few of the pattern reviews of this pattern that the gathering looked a little saggy – which was not something I wanted to replicate. This kind of gathering always looks better under tension!
I pinned my gathered panels in place then used some matching silk thread to ‘lock’ them in place, which was a something I noticed on a Colette Dinnigan dress I own that also has gathering like this at the waist.
The gathers pinned in place before being ‘secretly’ sewn down to the bodice.
Tadaaa! Fabric now magically appears to sit right where you want it to!
Having sewn this up with two different fabrics, I think it would be very difficult to get your bias cut panels cut to exactly the right length so that when worn, the gathering would sit in the right place AND look attractive. It all depends on how your fabric behaves under tension – how tightly woven it is.
It was a challenge of the fun kind to get it so the stitches held the gathers attractively whilst not showing! The light in the photo above does rather give the location of my stitches away, but it didn’t appear to be visible whilst being worn.
THE LINING & TURN OF CLOTH:
I used a white crepe de chine silk to line both the bodice and the skirt. The pattern wanted the arm holes to be finished with some self-fabric binding – that was never going to happen!
Because of the white lining, I wanted to account for turn of cloth at the armholes, and I didn’t want stitches showing on the outside (so I used this technique) – but I forgot about this when I was tracing my seamlines. To account for it, I pinned the seam line of the lining 2mm out from the outer fabric seam line and sewed along this, resulting in armholes that don’t show the lining :)
The silk organza underlining helped a lot here as after pressing it in place – gave me a nice crisp fold that held the turn of cloth beautifully.
I finished off the lining to enclose all of the seams by fell stitching it to the skirt’s seamline.
I used invisible zips on both dresses (down the centre back seam), finishing with a hook and eye at the top, which is hidden nicely by the ruffles at the neckline.
Because I used french seams at the skirt though – there is always that difficult point where french seam meets zip. I get around this by making a perpendicular cut into the seam, which allows the seam to lay flat.
Perhaps a little on the unusual side – but I think we’ve all worn a silk top at some point and had perspiration make our fabric wet under the arms. And that damp silk really stands out because it appears dark!
I saw ready-made dress shields for sale when I was in New York, but it’s not something I’ve yet to come across here in Melbourne. There was an old thread on Artisan Square from 2006 about dress shields – but also mostly about using bought versions. Both versions of the book Couture Sewing Techniques (Claire Shaeffer) discusses them briefly, shows a picture and discusses how they were traditionally sewn.
For Nikoo’s dress (Andy is one of those people that doesn’t seem to sweat!) I incorporated built in dress shields, which I made from a layer of cotton calico covered in the white crepe de chin lining, tacked in place with catch stitch before sewing up the side seams. You can’t see them when she’s wearing the dress – and I checked in with her at the end of the night as to how well they worked – not a single sweat mark! Although… we were both rather inebriated at that point…
THE END RESULT:
Super floaty and elegant – nothing looks or feels more luxurious than a flowing floor length silk skirt! They all looked pretty good I thought :)
All professional photos in this post were by the amazing Todd and Alyda from Todd Hunter McGaw :)