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.

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