Dry Cleaner Says NO

Do you wash your self-made things separately to your RTW stuff? Hand wash them instead? Maybe it’s never even occurred to you to treat them differently?

I’m going to admit that I’m one of those people who is slightly-hippie-inclined when it comes to household chemicals. That’s probably putting it lightly, because I refuse point blank to go down the cleaning-product aisle at the supermarket. Instead, I have a cupboard full of bi-carb, vinegar, Neways and Enjo where most people have a delightful array of (for me, head-ache inducing and nasal-passage-burning) chemical products. I also have one of those hypocritical first-world double standards going on because I totally send my more-fancy self-made stuff off for dry cleaning.

I have a dry cleaner who knows I sew, so he asks for the fibre content of my fabrics instead of searching for the label. He’s lousy at getting things done within the agreed time frame, but he’s great at everything else. So when I took my wedding dress in to get sorted, he asked me to bring in a swatch of the lace so he could test if his solvents would, you know, dissolve my dress into a blob of bubbling mess. Turns out that lace survived neither of his solvents (!!), so he refused to clean my dress, and it has since been unceremoniously flopped over a coat hanger behind my bedroom door, awaiting the day I would attend to the patch where I somehow spilt gravy down my skirt during dinner. He even gave me a stack of acid-free paper to store it in. But it’s now been hanging up for over 8 months behind my bedroom door and I’ve been having a mini-guilt trip every time I see it, wondering if my continuous inactivity on the matter would render that gravy stain permanent, if it wasn’t already.

So what to do? I hadn’t pre washed the fabrics for my wedding dress, of course. But with some time off between Christmas and New Years, it was definitely time to tackle it.

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My poor hem facing was ripped off the skirt in several places. My shoes kept catching on it when I went down stairs!

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Part of a series of gravy splatters.

I thought maybe I would draw a grid on some scraps of the taffeta and the organza, wash them and see if they shrunk. But in the end I just washed it and if it shrank, too bad.

The gravy came out straight away with not even a scrap of elbow grease. And the hem is now clean! All that took less than ten minutes…

I still want to get a box of some sort so I can wrap it up in the acid free paper my dry cleaner gave me.

All in all, a pretty happy ending! And, it was really, really nice to see my wedding dress again…. *sigh*

So after my dry cleaner turned me away, and seeing as this whole dry cleaner thing was a massive double standard and all anyway, I went in search of products that were toxin free but still effective. The answer came from within my bathroom/laundry cabinet – The Laundress. I bought some of their cashmere wash a few years ago – I’d previously tried washing my cashmere knits normally by hand (this was pre-chemical-freakout days) then getting them dry cleaned – both which left them worse for wear. So the cashmere shampoo was an absolute revelation because it keeps them in great condition.

Then two long-ago friends that I used to play violin with in an orchestra during our high school days started up an online shop – The Natural Supply Co. I was browsing soon after they launched, as you do, and discovered that The Laundress don’t only make cashmere shampoo, but a whole bunch of other stuff too, all toxin free. So I bought some silk wash, and have been happily pre-washing all my silks since. This is what I used to clean my wedding dress.

Including, some uber pretty silk which is going to be my next make – a wedding guest dress. Here’s hoping I actually get it done during my Christmas break!

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If you’re precious or have got a certain habit when it comes to washing… I wanna hear about it ;)

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V1030: A tale of two dresses

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”…. Ha! 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: w140412_101   w140412_066 w140412_103 w140412_265 w140412_335 w140412_332

we were, of course - the Perfect Match! ;)

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? w140412_184 w140412_182a w140412_431 w140412_588 w140412_684 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.

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 see the modesty panel.

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.

THE BODICE: 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.

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Playing hide and seek with the cross grain…

Vogue 1030 4 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: w140412_336 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! THE SKIRT: 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! Vogue 1030 3 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:

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Yes. We all know what this looks like, but we’re too polite to say it, right?

DISASTER! 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: photo 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! w140412_301 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. IMG_1741 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? IMG_7344 WAIST GATHERING 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.

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!

Tadaaa! Fabric now magically appears to sit right where you want it to!

IMG_7360 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 :) IMG_7317 IMG_7318 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. CLOSURES 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. photo 4 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. DRESS SHIELDS: 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. IMG_7247 IMG_7255 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 :)

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All professional photos in this post were by the amazing Todd and Alyda from Todd Hunter McGaw :)

Project WD: Marfy S963 Bodice

The final and most complex part in my 3-post series on constructing my wedding dress!

I used Marfy S963 for the bodice of my dress, which I thought was very elegant – a bateau neckline at the front, deep V-neck at the back and a capped seam that curved down around my shoulder somewhat. The front design is pretty special – with princess seams across the bust which join with two darts to create shaping at the waist. As I was only interested in the top half of this pattern, I also added in a waist seam once I’d muslined it.

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I think this dress would translate incredibly well into a sheath dress suitable for work also, once you remove the rear flounce and raise that deep V in the back to account for hiding your bra. But then when skimming through some dress inspiration pictures saved on my computer (pre Pinterest!) I saw this – look how well it would work for a dressy dress too!

Kate Emilio

Kate Ermilio

As for the muslin – after all the pain of sewing and fitting my bustier, this was a dream in comparison. I distinctly remember wiggling into my first version of this, hardly able to wipe the grin off my face because it was so DAMN GOOD.

The bodice barely needed any adjustments other than a dart-be-gone at the back to remove some very minor gaping, extending the front princess seam a little closer towards my arm (standard adjustment for the broad shouldered) and moving the waistline down the same 3.2cm (1 1/4 inch) as I did to the bustier pattern.

The muslin was easy and came together in a flash.

The real thing? Not so much!

Forcing the very structural taffeta into the booby curve of a princess seam was a nightmare, probably complicated even further by the stiff organza on top of it…

At the muslin stage I marked out the location of my bustier underneath, so I could determine where to join the souffle to the opaque part. I then thread traced the souffle and the taffeta pieces and joined them all together. Once at this point, I could play with the placement of the organza overlay – doing my best to match the more obvious parts, like the princess seams:

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I sewed up the back and side pieces first – which is when I realised that any kind of normal thread against the souffle would stand out like a burnt pixel on an LCD screen – kind of ruining the sheer effect!

A trip to Spotlight later and I had some ‘invisible’ thread – basically a very fine fishing line. This thread was about a third of the thickness of your regular gutermann poly thread, and incredibly difficult to work with… because you can’t bloody well see it. Also, it curls up worse than cotton thread after being under tension, and very easily snarls itself up – working with small lengths of this ‘thread’ when hand sewing was a must. I went cross-eyed every time I had to thread a needle with it, and quickly realised that sewing it would have to be relegated to daylight hours only.

I sewed the souffle seams together with the invisible thread on the machine (it handles fine as long as you go slowly, otherwise you’re dealing with too much plastic on plastic friction and it gets stuck on the machine’s spool holder, ruining your tension). I then cut back the seam allowances to 1cm and used the (hand sewn) rolled hem technique to seal everything up.

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It looked quite pretty I thought!

You can see in the photos above that the organza overlay was initially separate to the souffle – once I’d got the bodice sewn together, I focused on joining these two layers. I cut away the sheer part of the organza from around the floral shapes – there was of course a small amount of fraying but I liked the way this softened the cut lines.

Initially I thought I’d use a pick stitch, but the invisible thread doesn’t work so well in angles. What did work was a (pretty haphazard) loose running stitch – there’s actually a lot of thread sitting on top of the organza overlay – but you can even feel in when you run your fingers over it, let alone see it.

The Belt
The original inspiration dress (an indeed many of the dresses from that particular collection) had a metal belt with a matching leather buckle at the back of the dress – the metal part tying in beautifully with the gold of the fabric.

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From the 2012 Fall Couture Elie Saab Collection, via Style.com

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From the 2012 Fall Couture Elie Saab Collection, via Style.com

As a tribute to this, I used a silk and metal blend dupion to create a contrasting line at the waist. This was such a fabulous and unusual fabric! And one that needs to be stored rolled up, else the metal parts of the fibres remember the fold line and refuse to be ironed out… Entirely irridescent and perfectly metallic in appearance:

metallic gold fabric Tessuti

‘Gold Fanta’ photo via the Tessuti Shop

I used a 1.5cm wide strip of horsehair canvas and covered it in the dupion, using a fell stitch on the wrong side to enclose the canvas. I chose the size based purely on the size of the buttons at the back so it would all tie in nicely. I sewed this directly to the bodice along the waist seam line, leaving the top un-sewn to encourage the illusion of it being separate.

The perfectly matching gold 'belt'. And one little spot where my organza placement didn't quite cover the piece. The result of piecing with scrap! This later got an applique and lace over the top to hide it!

The perfectly matching gold ‘belt’. And one little spot where my organza placement didn’t quite cover the piece. The result of piecing with scrap! This later got an applique and lace over the top to hide it!

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There was one little spot on my dress where I just didn’t have scraps big enough to cover the entire piece… I was originally going to then applique stitch a cut piece of fabric over it, but in the end decided not to (it looked wrong).

I did end up sewing a horse shoe shaped piece of lace over the top of it :)

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From that little imperfection I was bizarrely reminded of my visits to several notable Mosques – Hagia Sofia in Istanbul and pretty much every Mosque in Iran – and the incredible relief artwork and mosaic tiles. The artists have been said to intentionally make mistakes in their intricate geometric patterns – an interesting article about that here. As an imperfect being, I rather like the parallel. And even though there are small errors – the overall effect is still strikingly beautiful. Indulge me with the particular holiday snap that inspired this?

The ceiling of the music room, at AliQapu Palace, Imam Square in Esfahan, Iran.

The ceiling of the music room, at AliQapu Palace, Imam Square in Esfahan, Iran.

The Closures
The Marfy pattern shows the use of rouleau loops and buttons at the back – I absolutely wanted to keep this feature. After reading about some wedding dress zip horror stories from your comments to this post, buttons seemed like a doubly safe option! I saw on this J’Aton dress (um… oh how I love those boys’ creations – inspiration alert!) how they extended out the fabric on the button side of the closure to act as a sort of facing, and decided to copy the concept:

J’Aton gown from Pinterest

As I’d already cutout my fabric and sewn the pieces together at the time of seeing the above picture, my facing wasn’t quite as wide as I’d perhaps prefer it to be.

Of course, it also recommends to do this in Susan Khalje’s Bridal Couture book, as otherwise when placed under tension the two fabric edges would be likely to gape. I’m sure I had read over this paragraph (it’s on page 40) multiple times before seeing the picture above and having it click into place though… definitely a visual learner!

Once all my fabrics were cut out, I sent in my covered button order to Kate at Buttonmania – she’s never failed to impress me with the quality of her work and this time was no exception. I had a series of 13mm round-top buttons covered with just the taffeta, the taffeta and organza overlay, and the gold metal dupion. I didn’t end up going with just the plain taffeta in the end – too jarring a combination against the organza! Seems completely obvious when you see the buttons on the fabric though…

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From Susan Khalje’s online shop I bought a strip of rouleau loops – no way was I going to make this myself if a ready made option was already available! The cord was white though – and I was planning to attempt dying it. That wasn’t something I ended up getting around to though, which I’m a bit sad about. You can’t see a huge amount of white, but it’s still there to be seen if you’re looking. I was running out of steam… and time!

I used tailor’s tacks to mark the location of each button, before hand sewing them on. It was quite an exciting moment to see each button be added to the placket :)

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Pinning the rouleau loops in place

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Tailors tacks marking button shank location

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The final button at the waist was in the gold dupion to match the fabric belt.

The Lace
This is where I REALLY started getting excited! I couldn’t wait to get home every night from work so I could sew more on :) I did have a moment of wondering if the lace was even really necessary because it was so lovely just on its own… but nah.

Well. The lace – which I’m told was made specifically to match the organza – was a super gorgeous embellished chantilly with a giant border repeat on one side, and a tiny repeat at the other selvedge. In between was paisley shaped teardrops of the same. I decided fairly early on to use the tiny selvedge repeat down the V-neck at the back – it would be light enough to be supported by the souffle and in turn provide some stability along the bias edge. This was the first lace I applied, using the invisible thread (ugh, nightmare).

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The rest of the lace was cut and appliquéd across the bodice and down onto the skirt. The shapes I cut were dependant on the lace design to some extent – in the photo below are two repeats with the bottom one turned upside down so they ‘connected’ with the same beads at the centre. The lace on the skirt is a different part of the repeat, with a few smaller shapes that I could easily cut out (without having beads going flying off in every direction) to try and make the placement look a little more organic.

I had a yard of this lace… and I didn’t even use a quarter of it, if you discount the fact that I used virtually the entire small selvedge along the back line. When using lace as applique – it becomes an incredibly economic fabric to sew from. You need a lot less than you think you do!

Once I’d secured the edges to the fabric and finished hand sewing it down, the netting was cut off.

I started on the bodice and worked my way down the skirt.

I started on the bodice and worked my way down the skirt. I sewed this on over the course of a week, again due to working with the ‘invisible’ thread it was only able to be done during daylight hours.

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I’d purposely cut the front skirt panel to have a big floral motif closer to the hem and a bit of empty space at the waist, which I thought at the time would do well for lace placement. The original inspiration gown had lace ‘tumbling’ down one side of the gown front, so I imitated that.

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How natural light makes a difference to the colours! This is probably the most true colour representation of the fabrics and lace in this post.

Learnings from the bodice…
Quite a few. Namely, the taffeta was very challenging to work with. Just because you test a garment by making a muslin, doesn’t mean it will turn out that way – because fabric hand can change everything.

Whilst I absolutely loved the end result of my dress, there was one element that didn’t work out on the day that did break my heart a little (I’ve accepted it now though):

Wedding Dresss 2

And that’s the pooching of the bodice under my bust. I have two theories – the first being that I had the position of the very-snug waist stay not quite in the right position – this was up against the bustier so wouldn’t have been able to move once done up and incorrectly positioned. The other theory is that it’s the taffeta = 1, my sewing skills = 0. Perhaps it’s a combination of both.

It’s all been parked for things to take into consideration should I ever work with silk taffeta again.

And that, my pretties – is it. Well, mostly. I also made two other dresses… coming up next!

Photo by Todd Hunter McGaw

Photo by Todd Hunter McGaw

Project WD: Marfy S655 Skirt

I spent considerable time in Muslin-city before I felt confident to pull out the fabric bolt hiding under the couch!

I was using Marfy S655 as a base, but I wanted more volume, especially at the waist. I had two private lessons with Vikki Leigh Martin to get it right – first we played with a bias cut piece of calico, gathered and pleated and pinned to me to figure out an approximate ratio of volume that looked visually appealing – ending up with 1:3.

We then slashed each of the three skirt panels down the centre and along the grain line, adding in additional strips of calico to widen. We pinned and pleated on a mannequin, then we stood back to admire:

Adjusted skirt S655 muslin #1, Dec 2013

Adjusted skirt S655 muslin #1, Dec 2013

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After I marked all the fold points and other necessary bits, I used this iteration as the pattern pieces for Muslin Mk II. This time I used an inexpensive poly taffeta underlined in organza to try and replicate how it would translate into the real thing. Unfortunately for my tactile senses, I’d already bought the silk taffeta I’d eventually be using so working with the poly taffeta was a relatively horrid experience!

I didn’t get a picture of the second version of this, but it didn’t look right on the mannequin, nor on me when I pinned it to my bodice and tried it on. The volume that looked great in cotton muslin didn’t appeal to me in the taffeta. And the train you see in the calico above got completely lost in translation – it pulled an distorted and collected in a heap large enough that it could probably have had it’s own post code.

In my second lesson with Vikki (in late January) we worked on reducing the volume. It’s odd how reassuring it was having someone with experience and who wasn’t emotionally invested get involved. Here’s where we ended up:

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After this photo, I gave myself a bit more ease at the bodice side seam. Lining those bra cups instead of having them as a soft cup takes up a bit more space!

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gotta love the bizarre facial expressions that pop up when you’re talking as a photo is being taken!

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I felt great at the time I was wearing this, but later upon reviewing the photos, I was still a little worried about the ‘harsh’ look of the pleats at the front. Muslin photos always look crap, don’t they? I reasoned I could always play around with the real (uncut) fabric to get this right… and that perhaps the colour and pattern of the final fabric would camouflage this to an extent.

We used pleats on top of each other at the back (Vikki’s suggestion – I would never have thought of this) to get the volume without it being too visually busy, and a small amount of gathering at the side to soften the ‘flow’ from front to back, and we pulled the length of the train in – even with our new fabric arrangement, the length of the back looked wrong and when I walked – pulled the skirt and all it’s additional fabric in on itself. Off with its head!

Cutting:
I thought I would be super nervous cutting into the real thing, but with the whole muslin process behind me, I was more zen that I thought I’d be. Don’t get me wrong – the heart rate was still definitely up there!

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Before cutting though, I had to align my pattern pieces. I had exactly 3.5 meters of organza – I’d paid for 3.5 yards, but I found Alice to be extremely considerate (verging on overly generous) in her cutting. Obviously I’d been keeping in mind the amount of fabric I had during muslin stage, and I just managed to squeeze it all in with a very small seam allowance at the hem of each my skirt panels. Thankfully due to the super wide fabric (60 inches), I’d still have enough left over for my bodice and the covered buttons. Not much, though!

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I played with the positioning as much as I could, and got my favourite part of the repeat (which was 1.2m wide) down the front skirt panel. I simply had no room to play with for matching at the side seams, and looking at the finished skirt – you’d never guess I tried my utmost to get the best match possible at the centre back seam.

I had known that when I was at muslin stage though, so I ensured the side seams were along a pleat ‘trough’ at the sides.

Construction – Preparation:
I used many of the couture methods I learnt whilst under Susan Khalje’s tutelage in Baltimore last year, from her bridal couture book and from watching the Couture Dress class on Craftsy. With my tracing wheel and carbon paper I marked the seam line locations on my silk organza underlining, before aligning on the silk taffeta and then thread tracing the two together. Only then did I align on my main fabric before cutting and thread tracing again.

Whilst the organza overlay was 60” wide – the silk organza I used for underlining and silk taffeta were not. I had to cut the two back skirt panels in two parts each, before sewing together to give me three skirt panels. I placed the located of these two seams at one of the inside folds when I was working with my poly taffeta muslin – but the hand of the silk taffeta and organza was a lot stiffer and didn’t fold in to the same degree, so they are visible if you know what you’re looking for. Ah well.

The three seams where then pinned together and sewn, then the seam allowances trimmed and catch-stitched.

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At this point, I hung the skirt up on my dress form and got to work on the bodice.

Construction – pleats, gathers and folds
Once my bodice was at a point where I could attach the skirt, I got to work forming the pleats. I hand sewed the pleats at the back to keep the softness of the folds:

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Then I attempted to coerce the rest of the skirt into the predetermined pleats. Quite simply, it just didn’t want to comply with my commands. I ended up scrapping all my carefully thread-tracing pleat markings and gathered the fabric instead. The organza/taffeta/organza fabric sandwich was considerably stiffer and more bouyant than I had anticipated – and the pleats just looked too structured and clinical. But the gathers? Divine! Like Susan Khalje says in her book though – silk taffeta is so tightly woven and thick that you need to use your widest machine stitch possible, and even then it will probably be too small.

Using a machine gathering stitch (with the strongest thread I had – poly cotton) left marks on the organza overlay fabric, and I was worried that if I did the two requisite rows of machine basting stitch for gathering that the holes would be visible once the thread was removed. As Bridal Couture predicted – the taffeta is so tightly woven that even on my machine’s longest stitch (5.0mm) I struggled to pull it through. I hand basted two rows instead with silk thread, and incorporated a single pleat fold on each side. With a bit of finger nail scratching and some judicious use of iron steam, I managed to coax the silk organza threads back to their positions pre-basting stitch.

Then, I sewed it to the bodice. Another high heart rate moment!!!!

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Photo by Todd Hunter McGaw

Construction – A Waist Stay
An essential part of the dress. The skirt has both considerable weight and a drag effect – supporting that shouldn’t be a part of the bodice’s job description. The waist stay ensures that the skirt’s weight is secured to the waist and doesn’t pull down on the bodice.

I bought some of the cotton/rayon petersham ribbon from Susan Khalje’s online shop which I sewed into the skirt’s seam allowance just shy of the seam holding the skirt and bodice together. Using my waist measurement whilst wearing the bustier, I sewed some or the leftover hook and eye tape from the bustier to the ends at exactly that measurement.

This served a dual purpose of also hiding the seams from the skirt, which I decided to fold under instead of tucking up into the bodice – there was quite a bit of volume there and I thought it would be great to have that supporting the ‘bouffy-ness’ of the skirt, rather than adding bulk to the waist.

***photo to come once I pick it up from the dry cleaners!****

Construction – Closures
There’s no escaping that I made a complete hack job of the zip on this skirt. No couture methods here!! I used an invisible zip which I painted the zipper-pull with nail polish so it would match.

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Yes. I instagram now. It’s fun.

That's my first hand picked zip!

That’s my first hand picked zip!

I machine stitched the zip to the seam allowances of the skirt, then used a pick stitch in ‘invisible ‘thread to hold the fabric in place to hide the zip. I figured I could get away with it because it was short, hidden by the pleats to some extent and also because there was no tension or pull on the fabric at this point.

Why such a dogs breakfast of zip sewing? Well, The fabric was too thick and bulky to successfully sew in an invisible zip the way an invisible zip is intended to be sewn in – but I couldn’t find a regular zip that had an attractive zipper pull. There was so much going on at that centre-back junction between skirt and bodice that the zipper pull of a regular zipper would potentially show through due to it’s bulk. At least – that’s what my instinct told me.

I’ve all but given up on the Birch zipper crap we sewists get force fed here in Aus – especially after seeing firsthand the quality of other zips when I was in New York. I’ve been buying YKK zips from this Etsy seller, and I see also that M Recht sell them (I’ve yet to buy from them but will be doing so at some point soon) in their online shop. What’s even crazier is that Birch zips are rather a bit more expensive than their YKK cousins. Sewing enthusiasts of Australia – we’re being duped!

I would usually hand sew a cover in lining material onto the zipper end, but as the skirt layers were so structural, I instead sewed a strip of taffeta onto the seam allowance, encasing the zipper end in a sweet little pouch:

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Construction – Hemming
Ah, hemming. Usually my most loathed sewing activity, but on this type of garment – just a little exciting! I decided fairly early on that I wanted to have a taffeta facing for the hem, mainly because it just gave such a wonderful shape to the poly taffeta I made up a practise skirt in. Thanks to my private lessons with Vikki Leigh Martin and the mannequin I loaned from Mr poppykettle’s brother’s partner’s mum (you figure that out) the hem location was worked out during muslin phase, so it was pretty easy.

Again, it was again bizarre that I had on the off-chance bought exactly the right amount of taffeta – after cutting out hem facings for each of the three skirts I had virtually nothing left of it. I sewed them together, pinned to the dress, sewed in place, pressed and clipped ,then catch stitched to the underlining. Easy as pie.

In the middle somewhere I toyed with a little horsehair braid – to see whether it would add or detract. Once pinned in place I decided against it – the facing already achieved what I wanted – with the horse hair braid it was too much. Taffeta is really rather a stiff, structural fabric!

The skirt hem before facing was applied:

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And after with facing applied (it’s a late night iPhone photo):

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The width of the facing was half arbitrary, half determined by the remaining taffeta I had – I wanted it deep enough so my footwear wouldn’t catch on the catch-stitching! There was a LOT of diamantes and things for those stitches to be caught on:

Photo by Todd Hunter McGaw

Photo by Todd Hunter McGaw

To Bustle or Not to Bustle?

In the days leading up to me actually starting to sew the skirt, I clicked onto one of my favourite ‘for a laugh’ sewing blogs – Fit for a Queen – who sews and alters wedding dresses and blogs about the experience (and the crazy clients!). It’s wonderful picking up little gems here and there across the interwebs – but it was here I was confronted with the issue of bustling. Hmm.

Even with my short-arse train, it seemed like the right thing to do. Problem is, my skirt fabric being quite stiff was not exactly compliant to the concept of being gracefully draped back over itself. In fact – it wasn’t amenable to the idea at all. Every attempt and combination of bustle points looked both ugly and ridiculous. To be fair – the silk organza overlay behaved more like a gazar, and taffeta isn’t exactly known for its drape.

So that did it – no bustle for me!

Lining:
Yep… no lining here. I felt that it would be a little weird to have a drapey fabric hanging underneath such a structured skirt.

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At the end of sewing the skirt, I was finally able to look at this part of the dress objectively. It’s actually a rather simple skirt, made to appear more complicated than it actually is from the number of fabrics involved and the dramatic impact of that organza. Basically, it’s just a rather simple-ish gathered skirt, made large by some stunning fabrics. But that’s just how I like it.

Project WD: Marfy 2630 Bustier

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.

Marfy 2630

Marfy bustier F2630

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.

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F2630 muslin #2 – Dec 2013

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.

Marfy 2630 muslin #3

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!

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My first ‘dress rehearsal muslin’

The Fabrics:
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:

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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:

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That was taken during some really late night sewing!

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:

Cloth Habit – Making a Foam Cup Bra: Part 1
Cloth Habit – Making a Foam Cup Bra: Part 2
Cloth Habit – Making a Foam Cup Bra: Part 3

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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!):

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The Hardware:
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.

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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.

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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!

Notions:
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:

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Firstly I sewed the bodice layers together around the cup seam line

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Trim back the seam allowances

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Pin in the cup, using my ‘death by a thousand pin stabs’ pinning technique

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Use said pinning technique again to place the channeling in place… probably a good time to tell you that saliva is the best thing to get rid of blood spots. Use it immediately and it works a treat!

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Secure in place with more pins so you can topstitch it all in place. The inner topstitch is effectively a ‘stitch in the ditch’, the lower topstitch is of course, on the bodice.

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Ta-daa! It’s tougher than it looks to get your top stitching even and in the right place! Hence the excessive pins you saw previously…

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’.

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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.

The Construction:
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.

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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.

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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 :)