Time to talk skirts! This is the last construction based post for the dress in sure you’re relieved to hear but if you’ve ever been curious about putting a zipper in a sheer skirt I’m sharing how I did it.
The skirt is a 3/4 circle that I drafted on Swedish tracing paper using an online tutorial. Each layer is constructed individually. The base is silk satin, then rose print, then organza. There’s also a satin lining layer facing inwards in liquid satin. All are constructed with tiny French seams. I agonized over this because the rose organza bias seams were hard work. No matter how carefully I sewed them or what tricks I tried they fought laying flat.
I made two skirts and picked the least wobbly, managed to steam them pretty straight and accepted the top layer would cover them better and the petticoat would support the seams. I think it’s due to the design being printed on top of the fabric because the floral areas are a lot stiffer than the sheer area so the stretch isn’t even. Not all fabrics behave the way you want them to. Safe to say the silk layers sewed beautifully.
I didn’t want all the layers joined at the centre back of the skirt so each layer is French seamed up to the zipper opening and then clipped at an angle to sit flat. Then I could turn all the layers under together for my lapped zipper. I know the above photo doesn’t look like anything but that was the point!! The clipping (at the rose area) is near invisible. The clipping at an angle helps prevent fraying and the organza softens everything making it look hazy underneath.
Hemming the layers was awful. Utterly awful! The different layers dropped in different ways and I had to decide if I would try and level them evenly or stagger them. I wore my full outfit and my bridal seamstress expert/bridesmaid Charly came round and pinned all the layers to the same height. I then trimmed and did rolled hems on my overlocker all to the same length.
The problem with circle skirts though is that as they swish they constantly look slightly uneven. Multiple floaty layers make this more noticeable which is frustrating when you know it definitely IS even! But all you need to do is re-swish your skirt and things look better. My rolled hem settings took quite a while to work out as they needed to change a bit for each layer. They look identical above but the width and tension needed tiny tweaks. It’s very easy to get too close to the edge on a sheer fabric and then the rolled hem just pulls off so speed is the enemy. In hindsight I wish I’d levelled the layers off slightly staggered. It would have been hell to do but looked a bit better.
You might ask if the lining was necessary when I had a crinoline petticoat on underneath. Well I thought in case I took the petticoat off for the evening (which I did) or if I wear it again (which I might) it would be nice against my legs.
It was staggering 35 degrees on my wedding day so I decided to pop back to my room half way through the evening do. Run around in my underwear in the air conditioning and then pop the dress back on without the petticoat. Here’s me “rehydrating” below.
We’re on the home straight with wedding dress posts now. I hope you’re still finding them interesting!
The thing I’m most proud of on my wedding dress is how my beginner attempts at draping went. The whole bodice fit and looked exactly how I wanted.
I used an ivory satin base, rose print organza in between, and soft organza with subtle twinkle on top. With luxury interfacing and a boned muslin layer for support the bodice took the longest time to complete.
I started by mounting the rose print on top of each silk that was interfaced with my luxury weft interfacing from Alison Smith’s bridal sewing course. I agonized over the rose placement but in reality I didn’t need to bother as it’s just fuzzy pink underneath the finished bodice.
I assembled all the seams, clipped and notched then catch stitched the allowances. I then padded my mannequin and pinned my bodice up.
To drape the bodice I tried a few different size pleats (see below) but decided 1″ overlapping pleats pointed upwards looked best. Bestie, bridesmaid and bridal seamstress Charly advise positioning a big piece of fabric with the crosswise grain straight across the bodice, keep it pinned to my mannequin body, and then create the pleats.
Starting with the left hand side I had to hand stitch the under bust seam line and then trim the excess fabric down to a hideable length. This was turned under and stitched in place. I used a strand of yarn to remind me of the best curve for my right hand side seam line.
Draping the right side was much harder. I had to create a neat fold that started at the centre front point and then swooped aggressively to cover the seam line. I was too scared to mark the seam line on the fabric in case it didn’t come out so just put one tiny pink dot in fabric pencil at the centre point of the V. The organza was very resistant to draping into such a strong curve and it took 5 or 6 attempts. Then I had to match the second pleats on each side so they were the same height at the princess seam point but it still had to swoop under the bust pleasingly.
On both sides the most difficult areas were just under the bust point where a dart would easily absorb the curve. The organza was very difficult to position and I must have gone over the left facing side 15 times or more. Watch my upcoming video to see why. Eventually I found a way to absorb the excess and keep the pleats the same width. Lots of twisting the organza about and draping the full curve rather than trying to drape it in small sections.
The pleats start to overlap at the side seam, but I wanted them to be hidden neatly underneath each other – so the number of pleats at the side seams were even ready to match at the centre back. The pleats needed to be parallel across the waist to be flattering, but those last two pleats curve off into the seam allowance at the back away from the CB seam.
The other tricky aspect was pinning everything in place without catching the bra or padding on the mannequin below. And not pulling the organza too taught, distorting the rows above or fabric below.
To secure the pleats I decided to stitch at the princess seams and side seams then scattered stitches all over the bodice. I had to stitch in two ways; First tiny tiny tiny prick stitches at the top edge of the pleat (at the seam point), so tiny they weren’t really visible. Then prick stitches at the bottom edge of the pleat, inside the fold (for the stitches scattered around the bodice). There were a few places the stitches showed and undoing them was panic inducing. I stitched each seam in one go but for the scattered stitches these were done individually and knotted off/snipped before starting again in another place.
The muslin inner bodice was cut slightly smaller that the outer because all the organza made the bodice very firm and the muslin still had a little stretch. My boning was cut from an old h&m dress. The one I wore to charly’s wedding in fact. It’s as thin as lingerie boning (about 4mm wide, 2mm thick), clear and very smooth. It’s bendy but was already in a curve. I don’t know if it was set into shape during construction or if years of being in the dress moulded them into their shape but they fit like a dream.
Most advice for bridal sewing is to not place boning in the princess seams. It creates false shape, doesn’t add support over the bust and prevents adjustments down the line. BUT I ignored this because 1. As the bones were perfectly shaped to match my body they created a great shape, 2. I don’t need the bones to hold my bust up as I’m small chested and have a good bra, and 3. I hoped not to have to make adjustments. I made channels out of more muslin and stitched them inside with a little bit of wiggle room above and below which is very important for you to bend or move about. The muslin was the placed RS to the wrong side of the bodice and basted all around.
Aligning the pleats at the centre back was eyes down and hope for the best. The lapped zipper could have ruined everything. Everything was basted around the outer edges then the excess trimmed down. One wiggled out of place in the end but I don’t really care.
The last bodice stage was to install a lining made of duchesse silk satin. Seam allowance was clipped to help the sweetheart bodice shape, turn through neatly and understitched, then handstitched into place. And I decided to add rubber trimmed elastic to help the dress hug my body at the upper edge. A less attractive finish but worthwhile for that sense of security if you’re an enthusiastic dancer like me.
Next up! A look at the skirt. I promise it won’t be as long as this post. I’ll also sharing sewing tips, costings and more before the end of the month. Any queries please do share them!
I thought I’d share a quick peek of my test dress that shows how different my finished dress turned out.
I ordered the yellow colourway of the rose organza specifically for the test (So I’d get the effect but wouldn’t be too precious about the fabric… we’ll touch on prices in another blog post), plus used white duchesse satin underneath and white chiffon on top. On this test the under bodice is Simplicity 1606 and the skirt is a full circle I drafted myself. The rose was mounted onto the satin then the front and back princess seams of the bodices were constructed. Each skirt was assembled at the side seams but the layers were kept separate to allow swish.
Having never really tried draping before I first tried working flat, laying the bodice on my worktop. On the front I placed the pleats turned upwards, about 3/4″ wide and quite spread apart. On the back the pleats faced downwards. I then joined the side seams and attached to all three of the skirts.
It was a really revealing test. The white satin and chiffon was too bright and the pleating made me look very flat chested. The upwards pleats were definitely more flattering but they needed more curves and to be placed closer together. The full circle skirt was great for twirling but I thought it should sit flatter on my tummy. And you could barely see the print so I needed to find something more sheer to go on top. I have a little of the yellow rose organza left so it’ll be lovely to make something from in the future. (Though it’s not as nice as the pink).
I resolved to sit and think through the construction order more carefully and figure out if I could drape the bodice in one go rather than joining the side seams. Plus I had to work out how to install a zip into three layers of fabric!
In my next meaty post I’ll share the major part of the construction plus some videos of me making the dress.
There are times when I feel imposter syndrome sneaking in and I start questioning whether I’m really a creative person at all. I start believe that I can’t think up any original ideas; I just copy things I’ve seen out in the world and I don’t actually know what I want to sew or wear. This comes and goes and it helps to remind myself that I have drafted an original design in the past, I am inventive with fabrics and I only feel happiness when I look in my wardrobe.
And something guarranteed to make you feel more unsteady is a wedding and specifically a wedding dress. If like me you haven’t been dreaming about your ideal dress for years, there’s a sudden rush of confusion, pressure and indecision as you try and work out what to wear. I also know women who were rock-solidly confident in their dream dress until they were proposed to and the fear crept in.
Its a giant white dress… that isn’t really like anything you’ve ever worn before. What is actually going to suit you and what you’re capable of sewing might also not match up! And how often are we asked to create pattern instructions from scratch that result in a flawless finish???
It turns out, I couldn’t think up an original dress to make and I’m okay with that. Instead I went to several dress trials and whittled it down to one dress I really liked from Lou Lou bridal. I didn’t love it but I really really liked it. The way you can really like the possibilities a lovely pattern or piece of fabric holds. Then I thought about how I could tweak it and make it my own. Shortening it for sure, different bust gathers, a different combination of fabrics and a different skirt shape. I found a base pattern and made up the rest.
It has been a strange roller coaster ride: I found what was labelled rose voile curtain fabric online but what I actually think is the exact poly-organza fabric from the Lou Lou source dress. Ordered 5m too much silk organza and currently have no use for the excess. Made four toiles for fit and a wearable test. Nearly cried over the hem. Nearly cried over the zipper. And stabbed my fingers countless times.
It’s my dress, brought into being by these hands so it’s one of a kind in that sense and although I failed on an original design, I think I succeeded in testing my fitting, construction and time management skills.
I love my dress. Even though its not perfect… because can we ever sew THE PERFECT DRESS!? If you’ve managed to catch that unicorn please let me know in the comments.