Even though this wasn’t seen by anyone at the wedding, this is the garment I’m both the most proud of and got the most satisfaction from sewing out of this whole wedding dress business. Pretty underthings have always been a weakness of mine – even when I was a cash-strapped University student pulling a wardrobe together from eBay purchases and second hand shops, I always found the money for lovely (and well fitting) lingerie. Corsetry has also been a fascination of mine, but one I’ve only vaguely flitted around the edges of.
This pattern – Marfy 2630 – blends the best of both of those worlds. Leisa blew me away with the muslin pattern pieces for this at Camp Couture last year. Marfy styled it as outerwear – which I think would be incredibly lush made up in a winter coating material like boiled wool or cashmere, or more dramatic in a brocade. I’m already day dreaming about another version of this in colour blocked heavyweight silk satin – either way it’s an absolute winner of a pattern.
The Muslin(s)… and the back story:
I sewed my first muslin of this pattern after getting back from Baltimore, adding in spiral steel boning and underwires at the cups before trying it on properly for the first time. I think I may have cried at this point (101% likely due to bad timing with hormones more than anything) because there was just so much that needed to be tweaked and it seemed like too much at the time. I gave up and threw it onto my sewing cabinet, where it fell down behind to be temporarily forgotten.
Figuring I’d take a short cut I went out and bought a RTW strapless long-line bra. It fit ok and I could easily have left it at that, but after wearing it for a day here and a day there as a trial, it became uncomfortable, the plastic boning bubbled out in some places and dug into me in others - and I was sure I could do so much better. Like 99.99% of us, I don’t fit RTW well, and having being spoilt by the fruits of my sewing labour these last few years, putting up with something sartorially substandard just niggled away at the back of my mind.
So I reached down behind the horn and pulled it out, ready for the first round of fitting changes. The only structurally significant change was to move the position of the waist down 3.2cm (1 and 1/4 inches) – I’m just long in the body. The other changes were minor but numerous – tweaking the various seams by taking them in here or there and reducing the height of the back down by an inch (so it wouldn’t show under the deep V neck of the bodice’s back) - and I figured once I’d got the bodice part of this sorted, I could focus on fitting the cups.
That’s my second muslin above. At this point I’d made most of the major bodice fitting adjustments, including moving the position of the waist down 1 and 1/4 inches and grading the seams. I already knew I’d be removing the front panel angular detail, so I’d stopped adjusting the seams at that point.
The cups are obviously the most challenging point - and I’ve got one original cup and another traced from a favourite moulded strapless bra on in the photos above. Even though the difference between the two was slight, a bit of additional fullness in some parts and less in others (and I’m talking in mm here) seemed to make a rather large difference.
I tried a few more cup adjustments before moving onto my next muslin – a ‘dress rehearsal muslin’ – in the same fabrics I’d be sewing the end result in. I’ve got a whole new appreciation for bra’s now, that’s for sure. They really are engineering masterpieces! Recognising how a simple change in either grain direction or fullness can have a flow-on ripple effect was fascinating. I’d solve one problem and create three more because if it. Then I’d back track and try to fix what I thought was the problem rather than the resultant effect and in the process be experiencing life at a rate of several WTF’s per second. I eventually got it to a point I’m about 99% happy with – it looked fine underneath the wedding dress bodice muslin, so near enough became good enough.
This muslin presented some new issues. Mostly that the final fabrics I was going to use have ZERO give, whilst the calico obviously did when put under so much tension. This resulted in it being too small! I could get it done up, but the cups were now too close to the centre, with me being at risk for falling out the side. You can sort of see that in the photo above if you look hard enough at my left boob. Go on. I dare you.
Also, with this muslin I took a risk and decided to move away from soft cups. The cup here are lined with some 2mm foam instead. I’m not going to talk extensively about fitting and how I tackled changes because really I had no idea what I was doing. Basically the foam lining seemed to exaggerate the fitting issues from what looked ok as an unlined cup, and I was sort-of-sure that might be from the cups now being slightly smaller due to the layer of foam.
I managed to get a picture of my black muslin in the afternoon light – a) so you can see the seam lines and detail and b) because about the only photo manipulation skill I have is cropping. And I only just manage to achieve that half the time!
I used Sea Island Cotton, which was commended by Susan Khalje as being the ideal foundation garment fabric, because it’s smooth, very finely woven, incredibly strong and breathable. It’s pretty special fabric, actually – and I had mine sent to me from B&J’s in New York. Also, Leisa gave me some whilst at Camp Couture last year. Sewists really are the most nice people around. I used this as the outer fabric and also as the lining.
Underneath that is some white Shapewell canvas, which is basically a lightweight horsehair canvas – and definitely a contributor towards the dress rehearsal muslin having zero give! Melburnians – you can get this from Clegs.
I used those two layers to sew channels for the boning:
The seam allowances also needed to be catch-stitched down to keep the bodice smooth, so having another layer in between always helps for that:
The 2mm foam I used to line the cups with, I got from Booby Traps. Their minimum order length is a meter, which was annoying – and it also arrived with some pretty dirty marks on it. Along with some other reasons, I won’t be buying from them again. It seemed I forgot to take any photos whilst I was sewing these back in December 2013, but a few months later Amy from a Cloth Habit did a 3 post extravaganza on sewing bra cups with foam. It was so lovely to read her posts – especially because she did it in a virtually identical manner to what I did, so instead I’ll leave you with the links to her posts:
I also used some self-made bias binding to close up the hem – made up in some of my all time favourite Liberty Print (of which I’ve yet to sew anything from! Criminal!):
I pilfered some underwires from a favourite bra that was out of commission (sob!), but these had to be cut back because they were a wee bit too long for this pattern at the sides, especially as I’d lowered the back to fit under the deep V-neck backline of my Wedding Dress.
Thankfully, Amy had also covered this in another handy post, so I felt confident cutting into them with some wire cutters.
I was at a loss as to what to use for ‘tipping’ them though… and even though I made and finished the bustier back in mid-January this year, I of course left the underwires until 3 days before the wedding – when I really didn’t have time to go searching for such things. So I used nail polish. It took overnight to for several coats to dry properly, but it did ok. Next time I’ll get something more appropriate!
The other hardware was of course – the spiral steel boning. I bought a 10m continuous length from Aussie Corset Supplies (an online shop that I would highly recommend), plus some metal tips as well.
My first attempt at cutting was disastrous and relied solely on excessive brute strength – after 2 or 3 cutting attempts I realised there’s a sweet spot in the boning’s circular repeat where the wire cutters can snip through with very little effort. That made thing so much easier!
Instead of sewing channels for the underwires like I did with the boning, I chose to use a pre-made underwire channel as it worked with my construction method. I bought two types during muslin phase, one from Aussie Corset Supplies, the other from Booby Traps. The ACS one was a few cents more expensive, but considerably better in quality.
I used the underwire channel to ‘hide’ the seam allowance between the bodice and the cups, which worked a treat:
A back closure was a little more tricky. A zip is completely inappropriate – they simply aren’t designed to handle that kind of tension. I know, because I used one on all my muslins to make it marginally easier to get in and out of, and yes – they kept on breaking.
I ended up going with some hook and eye tape which I bought from Susan Khalje’s online shop. It’s lightweight, supple, super strong, well spaced and ends up being quite subtle, even though it’s white and my sea island cotton is ‘ecru’.
Before I realise that was an option, I had also ordered some hook and eye tape from Booby Traps. I didn’t use it because it was stiff, scratchy and bulky – not the kind of thing I wanted pressed up against me. But you can’t know this from looking at it online, so that was a risk I knowingly took. What shat me off is that they thought it was appropriate to send me that minimum-order-length of a meter length in two sections – stapled together. I did email my disappointment through to them, and got a prompt and pleasant response back indicating they do this in order to keep costs down. Whilst I ended up throwing it out, if I order a length of something, I full well expect to receive that as a continuous length, unless otherwise advised of at the time of ordering. Combine that experience with the foam I ordered from them that had dirty stains on it, and I won’t be ordered from them again.
Obviously without instructions, you sort of have to go at it your own way. Making muslins really helps in this regard, you really get a feel for what needs to be done. The trickiest part is the cups, which you can see in the series of photos that cover the underwire channeling.
Otherwise, you’re simply dealing with three layers of fabric. The canvas underlining I sewed directly to the outer layer of the cotton, which means you only have two layers to deal with instead of three. I sewed these together along the tops of the bustier, folding it over and pressing, so I could then sew around the cup seamline to sew in the cups.
After sewing in the hook and eye tape by sandwiching it between the inner and outer layers, I closed up the hem with bias tape.
The Finished Bustier
I’m ecstactically over the moon I persevered with this pattern – it’s so much more comfortable compared to the RTW version I bought. I get damn good boobage support thanks to the underwire, I can move freely and not feel restricted, and most importantly – I’ve got a totally custom-fit-to-me foundation onto which I could sew the bodice of my wedding dress.
What absolutely blew me away is how amazing it feels to not have the weight of your chest supported by your shoulders. I honestly thought bra’s were comfortable until I wore this around the house for a day! Afterwards I really noticed the pull on my shoulders – and I always get fitted when I buy bra’s so I know I’m wearing the most suitable option. I’m absolutely going to sew up another one of these and play around with making the boning channels removable (??) so I can wash it and make it everyday wearable. The spiral steel boning is technically rust proof because it’s been galvanised (which means the steel has been coated in zinc so it doesn’t react with oxygen (you know the term ‘oxidise’)) – but the moment you cut it to length there’s a break in that seal meaning rust is definitely a potential outcome from washing. I wasn’t able to acquire ‘tipping’ fluid to seal off the ends with in the time I had, so I might investigate that also. Not sure how I feel about taking a garment like this to the dry cleaners! (and yet, here I am flaunting it all over the internet….). I ended up unpicking my fell stitches along the binding and removing the channels so I could hand wash it after the wedding, which isn’t really something I want to do on a regular basis.
I was originally planning to sew the dress directly onto this undergarment, but by the end of it all, decided to keep them separate so I could get some more wear out of it. I’m still undecided as to whether this was an intelligent decision.
With all the craziness that is getting ready prior to the wedding, I never did actually get any photos of wearing the final iteration… but you can see it peeking through in the photo above. I probably could have given myself a little extra breathing room – it’s a tough call to make when it’s your first time sewing such a thing!
Next up… all about the construction, design and sewing challenges of my Wedding Dress skirt :)