Wedding dress progress: Godet lace

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

19 days left, and I actually have something to wear! After all my careful muslining and cutting and basting, the rest of the dress has come together in about three weeks. Partly this is because I obsessively planned out every step of it, and partly because I started to take shortcuts. In this post I'm going to talk about my godet lace shortcut, which is terribly non-couture but will probably look fine.

Also, I'll save you the googling:

  1. a triangular piece of material inserted in a dress, shirt, or glove to make it flared or for ornamentation.

I had no idea what this meant when I first started this project.

When I started blogging about sewing in January, I posted this picture of my mum's dress:

My mum's dress from 1976
My plan was always to take a piece of this silk and use it in my dress somehow. I decided that the godet on the side would be a good spot to showcase a slightly different fabric - it's a bit thinner and a shade darker than my silk, but otherwise a pretty good match.

Despite having apparently quite a lot of fabric, the construction of my mum's dress meant that I had to include a seam down the middle of the godet. In fact, to avoid extra seams there was only one part of the skirt that I could use, which unfortunately had a bit of staining on it. However, I'm covering it up with lace, and in the end you can't tell.

I took a deep breath and cut in to my mum's 40-year-old dress. This project has been a good experience in working with irreplacable/expensive fabrics.

About to commit to cutting!
I underlined the godet with organza to give it a similar body to the rest of the dress and then I overlaid this fine vintage silk with a piece of generic unknown fibre synthetic lace I bought off ebay. It's got a pretty little scalloped edge, but there's a problem! The lace edge is straight, while the godet edge is curved:

Hmm, now what?
Amazingly, I actually found someone else who wrote a blog about making this exact pattern, and in much greater detail. Her post on the godet lace talks about making a dart in the lace and sewing it invisibly to create a curved edge. I've seen other tutorials out there that involve cutting around individual lace motifs, shuffling them around, and then hand stitching to create the illusion of a seamless piece of curved fabric.

I decided that both of these techniques were too finicky, so I just pinned the lace edge where I wanted it to go, shook the whole thing out, and pinned pleats on both sides to take up the excess:

Cheat pleats in lace
Since my dress has a pleated bodice, I'm going to go ahead and say that the godet is just echoing the pleatiness of the dress. I hadn't yet cut my lace so I wrapped it around my dress form to simulate the look of sewing the godet in place, and I'm happy with how well the pleats behave. With all the other folds and drapiness going on, I doubt anyone will notice that I took a shortcut here.

An acceptable level of pleatiness
I love how the subtle contrast of the godet looks against the main fabric of the dress, but I'm not going to share a picture of it until after the wedding!

Wedding dress progress: cutting and basting the outer layer

Thursday, September 8, 2016

37 more sewing days until the wedding! Though ideally I'll be done long before that. Fortunately, I've been doing a lot more sewing than blogging, and my dress is actually dress-shaped.

In my last post I'd redone my muslin and made a bunch of adjustments. I transferred the adjustments to the original pattern and cut and marked my organza underlining with my favourite Crayola washable markers. In the couture dress class Susan Khalje has you use these organza pieces as the pattern to cut out your fashion fabric, so I started doing that. However, I noticed (fortunately early on) that the curved hem at the bottom of my dress pieces wasn't very curved. I went back and compared my organza to the original pattern pieces and found something like this:

Misalignment between organza and paper pattern pieces
The organza had distorted by several inches! This is partly because of the long bias edges, but probably mostly caused by me prewashing my organza.

My solution was to first pin the paper to the organza and then pin the organza to the dupioni. This was tedious, but it worked:

So many pins
I was very careful to cut the dupioni as if it had a nap and a right side. I'm not sure if it does or not, but I've heard that it can reflect light differently from different sides and directions, so I arbitrarily chose a "top" and made sure everything lined up the same way. Of course, grain lines are also very important, so I tried to be as careful as possible to cut it on-grain. The visible horizontal lines of the dupioni help with this, but also illustrate any little mistake.

Cutting everything with the same side up
Next, I thread traced all of the lines, both to transfer the markings from the organza to the right side, but also to baste the organza to the dupioni. I thought about using glue, but decided I had enough time to do it properly, and this way I could wash out all the marker lines and then iron the pieces flat.

More basting
I basted the front pleats into place before basting the side seam. This worked pretty well, and saved me many inches of hand stitching.

Much pleating
For the princess seams I basted everything together by hand before sewing rather than my usual lazy approach. These seams are right front and centre and I don't want any weird ripples or fit problems. I do have a weird ripple at the moment, but it's at the junction of the side seam and the empire waist, and I haven't decided if I'm even going to bother redoing it. However, my princess seams are pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.

Hand basting the princess seams
I also trimmed these seams very carefully and did tiny little catch stitching. I wasn't this picky everywhere else, but again, these seams are right front and centre. I think it took me as long to do this 6" seam as it did to do an entire side seam.

Tiny little catch stitches 
I actually sewed and catch-stitched my entire outer shell over the long weekend, but apparently didn't take any pictures, so here's a picture of Boomer:

Sewing is boring, you should play with me
Up next: godet lace decisions and attaching all the pieces together!

Wedding dress muslin #2

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

After finishing my inner bodice and petticoat I was all ready to dive in and start cutting the fabric for the "real" dress, but something funny happened. I didn't work on anything sewing related for about a week, and while I felt guilty and stressed about the work that needed to be done, I couldn't bring myself to do it for some reason. I eventually realized that my first muslin, while it fit okay, really wasn't up to snuff. So I decided to make a second muslin the "proper" way, and I'm glad I did.

I don't have many pictures of this process because I was trying to make up for lost time, but here's a summary of the changes I ended up making:
  • I shortened the front bodice by almost two inchs at the centre
  • I completely changed the shape of the side bodice
  • I shortened the back by about an inch at the sides tapering down to nothing at the centre
  • I pinched the princess seams about a half inch each (a total of 2" removed from the front width!) and added about a half inch back to each side
  • I eliminated the top pleat in the front skirt panel entirely - it kept pulling taught and the result was kind of a weird thickness that seemed unnecessary. You can see the same effect in the close-up on the pattern package, but trust me, it's unflattering from the side:

To begin making these changes I thread traced all my muslin pieces and then basted them together by machine. I thought I would have to make significant adjustments to the side seams so these I just pin-basted:

Boomer helping, as usual
I didn't end up needing to change the side seams below the empire waist, but I still liked the construction of sewing the front and back together first rather than how the pattern instructions want you to sew together everything below the waist first, then above. If do end up needing to make adjustments to the side seams, it'll be easier this way.

I made all my adjustments by pinning the muslin on top of my inner bodice on my dress form. I was skeptical when I had to fold up the empire waist by an entire inch, but when I took it off the dress form and tried it on myself (pinned to the top of the inner bodice), sure enough, it fit. I am rather short-waisted and small busted so I suppose this makes sense:

Taking a big bite out of the centre front
I don't know what was going on with the original bodice side pieces, but they were completely the wrong shape for me. Again, I couldn't believe how much I was changing the pattern, but I'm actually trusting myself at this point. In the picture below the red and black lines are the new shape, while the blue ones are the original pattern (minus a half inch off the top from my first muslin adjustments):
Hugely different side bodice pieces
Finally, to remove the top pleat I simply drew a new stitching line along the fold of the top pleat. I also curved it down a bit at the edges, possibly because I had brought the side bodice piece down, but both were necessary to give me a horizontal empire seam:
Begone, pleat!
With my new pattern adjustments I'm feeling more confident that I'm actually ready to begin cutting in to my silks. 58 days to go!

Petticoat sergery

Friday, August 5, 2016

My wedding dress pattern, particularly the short version that I'm making, requires a certain amount of poufiness in the skirt. I could easily buy something like this, which would pretty much do exactly what I want, but I have this weird obsession with natural fibres, so I decided to make my petticoat. Besides, this way I can make it the perfect length.

After a bit of research, I decided that cotton organdy would be the best material to use because it's both lightweight and stiff. I bought 5 yards from puresilks (via Ebay) and it arrived folded up in an envelope looking like paper. It's ridiculously stiff when unwashed:

Perhaps this stuff is a bit too stiff
 But of course, I want everything washable, so I managed to stuff 5 yards of paper-like fabric into the bathtub, where it promptly started shedding its starch:

The starch washing out of the organdy
 I was a bit worried at all the starch coming out because the organdy turned very soft when wet, but it stiffened up again nicely as it dried. Not as stiff as before, but with a much nicer feel - perfect for a petticoat:
Post-wash stiffness
I looked at my 5 yards of crumpled organdy and I looked at my mini Ikea ironing board and I took a break to make a new and better ironing board. I was kind of excited to use power tools, but it turned out we had a 2x4' chunk of OSB in the garage that was just the right size. I stapled on a layer of batting and some old home decorator weight canvas and I now have the world's biggest ironing board.

Giant ironing board diversion
To make my petticoat I more or less followed this tutorial. I didn't measure my lengths very carefully, I just started from the bottom up with my first tier being twice the length of my yardage. I wanted the whole thing to be about 26" long so I went with four 6.5" tiers, plus half an inch for serger-sized seam allowances. Since my fabric was somewhere around 5 yards I ended up with 10 yards on the bottom, then 5, then 2.5, then 1.25 that was gathered down to my waist measurement. This means that the top tier is less full than the rest (since I do not have a 22" waist), but I think that's a good thing. I also made the top tier out of my super smooth lightweight cotton voile instead of the stiff organdy to reduce the bulk around my waist.

I briefly considered cutting these giant long strips but quickly decided to rip them instead. This worked fabulously. Organdy is really quite fragile, and I was able to rip 17.5 yards in something like five minutes. There was a bit of distortion at the edges but it was still far more precise than cutting would have been.

Anyways, on to the serging! I would not have wanted to do this with a regular machine, but it was super fun on a serger. I was pretty much sewing full blast at all times.

I started with a rolled hem on the very bottom with a hint of pale blue wooly nylon:

A bit of something blue
Next I switched the serger to serging mode. To gather at a 2:1 ratio I loosened off the needle threads and increased the differential feed - I took a picture of my settings to use as a reference:

Serger settings for gathering
I did have to adjust the gathers a little bit to make the 10 yard tier match the 5 yard tier. Once you separate the needle threads from the looper threads you can slide the gathers along pretty easily. I fortunately had the foresight to mark both tiers at 1/4 length increments so my gathers are more or less even.

Adjusting the gathers. Feet can be useful for sewing.
I serged the two tiers together using a regular balanced 4-thread serger stitch. It looked a little messy feeding in at times but came out the other side all smooth and pretty.

Serging gathered to ungathered tiers
The first tier is the most unweildy - this project gets easier as you progress. Very satisfying.

Tier 1 complete! I'm drowning in fabric.
At this point my helper became very interested in what I was doing so I distracted her with the selvage:

I repeated the same gathering process a few times and my giant strips were starting to take shape!

Down to the last tier!
I should mention that I didn't sew my tiers together as circles like in the tutorial, but as strips. I also didn't bother with the ribbon finish stuff because I'm lazy.

Sewing as strips worked out pretty well and allowed for a bit of breathing room in case of imperfect gathers. I only had to finish the top tier (the voile), which I forgot to do before attaching it to the rest. It worked after the fact, but probably isn't as tidy as it could be.

Finishing the edge of the top tier
I gathered the top tier using more or less the same settings on my serger, but with a slightly lower differential feed ratio. At the waistband I just sewed the gathered edge down to a piece of petersham that was cut to fit tightly around my waist (on top of my inner bodice). I wanted it to be really tight in case I needed to use it as a waist stay for the rest of the dress, but now I'm hoping I didn't overdo it.

Sewing gathers to the waistband
Finally, the last machine step was to sew it all together into a circle from tier 2 down. The top tier is just open between the waistband and the next tier.

To secure the waistband I hand-sewed hooks and eyes in place. To do this I used the "couture way" that I learned in my couture dress course, which involves making a little hitch on each stitch instead of just looping it around. I thought this was a brilliant idea and hopefully will keep my extra tight waistband together.

Hand sewing the waist hook
In the end, I think it's just the right amount of poufiness!

All the undergarments
Here it is under my muslin with the usual terrible lighting and angles from a reluctant photographer.
It puffs
It smooths
I showed the picture of the back because the petticoat took care of some weird folding that was going on at the bottom of the zipper. There's still a lot of diagonal drag lines next to the zipper, but the real dress won't share a zipper with the underbodice, so I have faith that those lines will disappear.

All in all, making a petticoat was a fun and satisfying project-within-a-project, and a great way to really get to know my relatively new serger.

Wedding dress progress: the inner bodice

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Wedding dresses are a bit different from your average dress. If you go in to a store and try on a wedding dress, chances are it'll be like sliding into some sort of exoskeleton rather than the flimsy fabric you might expect. This makes you look awesome because you're being molded to the shape of the dress rather than the other way around. However, all this structure has another very important purpose: keeping your dress in place.

A strapless dress can be held up in one of two places: at the top, or at your waist. Remember the tube tops that were popular in the 90s? Those stayed up because of a tight elastic band that goes up above your bust, creating a nice muffin-top effect in your armpits. I'm not a big fan of that look, so I'm going with the waist support. The inner structure of my wedding dress is very tight with plastic bones running from my upper hips to the neckline, and if all goes well, this will allow the weight of the dress to be supported by my waist.

I'm following this excellent tutorial that was posted to the patternreview message boards, but I'm making a few changes just to be difficult. Instead of using sew-through rigilene boning German plastic bones that can be sewn through, but my machine doesn't like it very much. Also, my next-to-skin layer is silk charmeuse, which isn't very strong, so it needs underlining anyway. I decided to do a double underlining of silk organza and light cotton voile with boning channels.

I basted the underlining together with Elmer's school glue and traced all my seamlines and channel placements with washable Crayola markers. Totally not couture, but quick and effective. I also stabilized the squiggly silk charmeuse with spray starch, which made it much more manageable.

I started by stitching just under 1/2" boning channels for my 7 mm bones:
Boning channels 
 As an aside, I wonder if I need to reduce my bobbin tension. I've never touched it but I keep getting puckering in fine fabrics regardless of my top tension.

Boning comes in a big coil, so it's naturally got a curve to it. I read something somewhere about straightening boning by softening it in hot water and then pressing under books, so I tried this. Magically, it straightened out as soon as it touched the hot water. I still let it cool down under books but it didn't seem necessary, and it's still straight a month later.
Super straight boning
I hand basted the bodice together in an attempt to not have to re-sew seams, but the hand basting wasn't tight enough for the zero-to-negative ease of this bodice. On the plus side, I used some beautiful old silk thread that I believe belonged to my great-grandmother (thanks Sally!), and it was amazing to work with. It felt a little wrong using it for something as disposable as basting, but the thread is so delicate that it wouldn't hold up anywhere else. Silk thread is great for basting because it pulls out easily, and it really made a huge difference.

Antique silk basting thread!
Following along with my bodice tutorial I traced around the shape of the back to make an inner bra strap type of thing. Commercially these tend to be of a stretchy material, but I made mine out of the same silk charmeuse with cotton voile and organza underlining. I took a picture comparing my pattern to the various layers after stitching around the outside, and you can see that I've got some skewing going on. Whoops. I'm sure the same thing has happened to the bias edges of the rest of the bodice, but hopefully it's stabilized now that I've stitched it in place.

Inner bra strap flap
Even though I don't plan on changing size in the next three months, I'm worried that the fabric will stretch out or something, so I sewed on a triple row of loops to allow me to tighten it if need be. I took a risk and fit it to the outer row of hooks, assuming that I'll want to make it tighter if anything.

Sewing on a triple row of loops
The transition from the hook section (which came with all three in a strip) to the rest of the flap isn't perfectly smooth, but it is on the inside after all.

Both flaps complete
I extended the silk on the right hand flap to cover the line of hooks. Unfortunately, this makes the flap stick out a bit funny, but I think it would have done that anyway with the style of hook and loop tape I'm using (this one) as the hooks aren't right at the edge. Again, it's on the inside though, so it'll be flattened out and covered up.

Inner flaps!
I ended up sewing and re-sewing several of my seams to get a perfect skintight fit. Even though I made a muslin, my triple layered fabric was quite thick and firm and I had to loosen off my seams a little.
Adding a bit of breathing room
I then folded all the seams to the side and topstitched about an eighth of an inch beside them. This is another very non-couture approach, but it's much stronger than catchstitching by hand and again, none of this will be visible.

At this point my seams are all a bit pink hued because of my marked lines, but it washed out nicely.
Topstitched seam from the inside

Here's how it looks from the outside! Since this is inside various other layers, the outside has all the seam allowances and such.
Inner layer from the outside
To support the neckline I decided to add a strip of horsehair braid as suggested by Gertie. This was fun - apparently I really like the "sculpting" part of sewing.

Adding horsehair braid to keep the neckline from flopping
Next up was to make some bra cups to smooth things out. I made them out of cotton batting with a couple of layers hand-tacked together, while the bottom layer has some triple zigzag quilting to keep it from falling apart in the wash.

Bra cups
Part of the purpose of the bra cups is to prevent peaky cone-boob, so I was disappointed when they came out a bit pointy. However, my tailor's ham came to the rescue once more, and a quick press with plenty of steam worked magic. Here the one on the left has been pressed while the one on the right has not:
Steam pressed bra cups
Finally, I washed the glue, marker, and spray starch out of the bodice and hand stitched the bra cups to the organza layer. Here's the completed inner layer! The double underlining came out a bit bubbly, but I'm going to say it again: none of this is visible. It's also a bit tighter and smoother on me than on my dress form because she doesn't have lungs.

Now I just need to make the middle layer (to smooth out all these seam allowances) and the dress itself. I've also got a petticoat that I'm super excited to share, but that's for another blog post.