The couture dress is complete!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

I had to look back quite a ways to see what I last posted about my long-delayed couture dress project. I've actually done a lot of sewing recently, but I haven't been great about documentation. In particular, the couture dress got to the point where it wasn't really fun any more, partly because I'm eager to start working on my wedding dress for real, and partly because it's actually a kind of boring dress. However, there are some techniques that I really enjoyed learning, and some that I feel confident in skipping.

One that I enjoyed is the hand-picked zipper. It really didn't take too long to sew the zipper in place by hand, and it looks much smoother than the inevitably wobbly zippers I end up with when I do it by machine:

After installing the zipper, I started getting discouraged again. I think I made a mistake in my fabric choice - it is rather thin and does not like the bias waistband, and kind of bulges at the side. Here's a super flattering picture:

Bulging bias waistband
I should have caught this earlier, but I thought that it might be the seam allowances acting funny so catchstitching might fix them. That didn't work, so I undid it all and let out some ease in the side seams, thinking maybe it was just too tight above and below the bias waistband. That didn't help either, and I wasn't getting any responses to my questions on Craftsy, so I came up with a new solution: boning.

I bought some fancy German plastic bones for my wedding dress, and I wanted to test out their sew-through-ability anyways. I cut out a tiny piece of muslin and sewed down a chunk of boning just big enough for the waistband:

Boning sewed to muslin. Ring for scale.
While the Farthingales people assured me that this boning can be sewn through, it definitely is not the same as Rigilene. My sewing machine didn't really like sewing through it very much, but it ultimately performed admirably on this 3" section. I'm not sure if I'll be making boning channels or sewing through this stuff for my wedding dress inner bodice though, as that might be asking a bit much.

After sewing it to the muslin I catch-stitched the boning by hand to the side seams:
Catch stitched boning in side seam
 Apparently I don't have a picture of my newly straightened side seam, but it more or less worked. It still bubbles at my unboned seams when I sit down, but looks pretty good while standing. Good enough for me to move on to hemming.

There are fancy hemming systems that you can get with a chalk wheel on an adjustable post. I employed the lesser known marker-taped-to-the-filing-cabinet method:
Marking the hemline
As an aside, I really like using washable Crayola markers for fabric. You get a bunch of colours for something like $5, they wash out well, and the tip is nice and fine.

I catch-stitched (caught-stiched?) the hem in place and the outer dress was done! Now to do it all over again with the lining, sigh.

For the lining I'm using the 8 momme silk Habotai that I dyed grey in this post. It's a bit tricky to work with as it squiggles out of the way when you least expect it, but I just sort of ignored the wobbliness in my lines and it turned out fine. Also, it's on the inside and I was pretty much past caring at this point.

One thing I really liked about the methods taught in this course is the idea of merging together pattern pieces whenever you want. I managed to cut my entire skirt on width of 44" wide fabric!

Merging together the skirt panels
 I was pretty happy not to have to cut out and sew all the panels individually. Of course, I still needed to taper it down from hips to waist, so I marked darts where the panels stopped being straight:

Converting from seams to darts
 I sewed the lining together on my new-old Singer 201! It made such perfect tiny little stitches in the silk, though I think the IDT on my Pfaff would perhaps do a better job at keeping everything aligned. Next, I inserted the lining by hand, which is kind of a pain to do. Boomer helped:

My hand-sewing helper
Cali wanted to help as well, so she found my beeswax candle that I was using for thread and started chewing on it:
This is not food.
 The final stage of inserting the lining was to sew a jump pleat at the bottom. This involves catching just the top layer of four layers of lining, which was rather tricky with the thin habotai. I kept grumbling about how I should have done it before securing the lining at the waist, but I suppose doing it this way lets you make it the perfect length.

There are four layers here, but you only want to sew the first one
After securing the lining, I called it done. No understitching, no hook and eye to keep the zipper just so, no thread chain to keep my bra straps from slipping down... maybe for the wedding dress, but I'm done with this one. Here it is on my dress form, fresh from being shoved into a bag and worn for the evening in Vancouver:

Wrinkly couture
I learned a lot, but in the end I found the couture sewing experience a bit too painstaking. However, I now have a lot more confidence working with silks and modifying patterns to suit my desires, and I'm looking forward to working on a project I actually care about - my wedding dress!


  1. Cool! And I know you have both your mom's and GrandBen's wedding dress; do you want Eleanor's as well? Yes, it's delicate, but some parts might be usable -- and of course it has all the little pearls (not valuable of themselves, except as heirloom). Not too late to send.

  2. I am tempted, but with only 3 months left I'm wondering if it's a good idea to try to introduce new things to the design. The beads might be a nice addition here and there though, so if it's not too much trouble I would say send it... I can always pass it on to Heather if I don't end up using it, and at least it would be in the right province!