Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Making a Wedding Dress, Part 1

Let's get one thing straight here, I never intended to make my own wedding dress.

But, when you're as particular as I can be, the idea of shopping for a wedding dress already sounded disappointing, and, having spent the last 3 years honing my clothes-making skills, I was feeling confident. I also knew that a nearby sewing ally, Brooks Ann Camper, was available for consultations so I didn't feel so alone in my quest.

These are some Madame Gres originals that were the inspiration for my own dress.

GOAL: to look like a Greek statue, to be done before the wedding, and to not talk to my Mom about my progress so she wouldn't stress out.

Also, I didn't want to stress out either. This was supposed to be a joyous occasion and I was gonna have fun, dammit!

I knew (and feared) the first step: figuring out the underpinnings.

This would be crucial to holding the dress up on my body. With the amount of pleating I wanted to do, I knew this thing could get heavy quick, and I was determined to avoid the dreaded hoisting-up-the-strapless-dress dance us women can fall victim to. And, yes, I did end up adding straps but at this point I was designing as I went along, and had no idea what bodice iteration I would land on. Better prep for strapless rather than rely on straps to hold me up.

I also didn't want to have to find/buy a bra to go with the dress. So my plan started with mashing together basic corset principles and foam cup bra-making. Amy (of Cloth Habit) is your go-to woman for great bra-making tutorials and advice. I used her website to guide me on where to buy materials and I followed her foam cup and underwire bra info. I did look at various corset and bra patterns but ultimately decided to draft my own.

Yes, I have never worked with these materials.

Yes, I have never even worn a corset, much less made one.

But I knew that if I approached the construction in the same way that I approach any of my flat pattern-making projects, I could make it work. You're mapping the body in the same way, just this one would be the ultimate in form-fitting.

5/8 inch spiral steel boning! Brooks Ann said later I could've gone with narrower boning but what's a wedding without a little overkill??

The muslin and foam mock-up of the corset took about a day, with much-needed help from my partner to pin it on me for review. My biggest error was only making one cup in my mock-up. I really needed to do both sides so I could see how the entire thing would pull together, knowwhatImean? It's like when you're making a shirt and you only put one sleeve on. It doesn't allow you to see how much room you have across your back unless both sleeves are attached. As a result, when I made the corset out of the final fabrics, I had a bit of gapping between my breast plate and the bridge (the spot in between the 2 cups). If this was going to be a bra that I was planning on wearing every week for the next 2 years, it would be a problem. But I knew it only needed to be successful for one day.

Don't you love working on projects entirely for yourself?! 
You can choose to let go of perfection much more easily, thank GOD.

I had a consult with Brooks Ann to see how I was doing so far and to hash out a plan for the rest of the dress. She helped me add the finishing touches to my corset (it was worth paying a professional just to help me pin on myself!), it was looking like a corset, and feeling comfortable to boot.

Up next: building the final fabric onto the corset.

I chose an organic cotton tissue knit fabric because, like all my clothes, I wanted maximum comfort and I knew the odds that a July wedding in NC would be HOT.

I've discovered that my motion-censored deer camera is the best way to take pictures of myself!

One problem with making your own wedding dress is that you don't get the chance to try on the final product until you finish the thing. So you better figure out a way to design something that will look good on you BEFORE you finish. Whether that's reviewing your current wardrobe for great necklines/silhouettes/etc options, going to a bridal store and trying on various pre-made designs, or my favorite choice, the quick-and-dirty method. This time, the quick-and-dirty method meant excessively pinning scraps of the fabric in various sloppy iterations onto the corset, delicately securing the damn thing to myself, and ignoring the repeated stabbing of said plethora of pins until I got a chance to look at myself in the mirror. (Adam kept getting so nervous about poking me when I would force him to pin together the back, Me: "JUST DO IT!")

It sounds messy but I was able to instantly get a read on what was working and what wasn't. For example, my first idea for pleating the breast cups made me feel like a seashelled-Ariel from Little Mermaid, so I worked hard to cut out fabric fullness as much as possible and avoid any clam-shaped designs.

By the end of the day, I still hadn't decided on cup designs so I put it off and began building the skirt. I added a flat layer of cotton over the corset so no color would show through to the final dress (that was Brooks Ann's idea, thank you!). The tissue knit was pretty sheer and, being that it's white, I didn't want to worry about that being a problem! I created 2 layers of skirting attached to the bottom of the corset, one flat and one pleated, with slits sitting over both thighs.

Let the pleating begin! 

This would be the last time I would have the speed and luxury of using the machine to sew.

UP NEXT: curved needles, the great straight pin shortage, and me vs. the heat.



  1. Yay! This post is great! Thanks so much for letting me be a part of your dressmaking journey. You did such a great job and are an absolute blast to work with.

  2. You are beyond awesome. I couldn't help but chuckle at the motion-sensor deer camera...