|Detail of the back of the dress, mild corset-like lacing|
In the words of one of my best friends, “So basically it will be like everything else in your closet.”
She’s not wrong.
I will admit I cheated slightly, in that I half-used a pattern—originally purchased for a formal dress I wore to a Military Ball (see here for that post)—but I reused the pattern mostly to get my sizing right. I cut the inner and outer lining in the bust and torso region based on the pattern dimensions and then freehanded the rest (skirt, overlay, etc). True story. I didn’t even draw it out or pin it first (which, unless you’re psychotic like me, is not a method I would recommend attempting). The top part of the commercial pattern (this one, in case you’re curious) resembled the basic shape I wanted to use for my wedding dress since I am mildly obsessed with sweetheart necklines and firmly believe in showing off my epic shoulders with a strapless gown. Ok, so my shoulders aren’t all that epic, but they are mine and I like them, plus I have a very special tattoo that needs to be visible.
So. Here are my tips, relatively in chronological order, of things I’ve learned from the process.
1) Decide on a design. If your crafting process is anything like my crafting process, the original design is a fluid thing that will change a lot by the time everything is finished; however, it still helps get things started if you draw a few sketches first. The ones I drew are mostly doodles in one notebook or another. I am trying to post pictures, but either blogger or my computer is being lame because even though the photos are upright on my computer, for some reason when I try posting them on blogger they are either upside down or sideways...so hopefully eventually they will let me get this photo upload right.
2) Acquire your fabric. I actually purchased my fabric (this and this) before I had completely finalized my design, and then once the fabric came in and I was able to play with it, I had a better idea of what the end result would turn out to be. I knew I wanted a flowy, dreamy overlay, and I knew I didn’t want to wear white. I ended up with a champagne color that in person looks much more like a pale gold, and then a very soft, very nice ivory silk chiffon. I wanted to still look somewhat like a bride, but I didn’t want to look like every other bride. Shocking, I know. I also used a lot of tulle netting in pale gold that matched the taffeta, but you can find tulle pretty much everywhere.
3) If you plan on washing/dry cleaning your dress when it’s done, wash/dry clean the fabric before you cut. For this particular dress, I really only plan on wearing it once, so all I did was iron out the chiffon so it wasn’t so crinkled. The crushed taffeta already had a texture to it that ironing would ruin, so I did absolutely nothing to pre-treat that fabric. For the second dress I’m making (yes, I will be changing into a new dress for the reception) as well as the bridesmaids’ dresses, I will wash that fabric before I do anything with it since those dresses are intended for multiple wear.
4) MEASURE YOURSELF. Or better yet, GET SOMEONE ELSE TO MEASURE YOU. If you’re using a pattern, you need to know your actual measurements, not your regular size. Pattern sizes are very different from commercial sizes. For example, in commercial sizes I am a 6 at my hips and a 0 up top, which makes for very difficult dress shopping (one of the reasons I originally got into making my own clothes); however, in pattern sizes, I am usually somewhere between an 8 and a 12. Luckily patterns come in multi-size cuts, so my ridiculous cartoon proportions are easily accommodated. (In case you’re wondering what my measurements are and why they’re so difficult to shop for, I’m 31in at the bust, 25in at the waist, and 38in at the hips…like I said: cartoon proportions, or else maybe a pear.)
5) Sketch, Pin, Cut. If you’re using a pattern, use sharp, small pins and use as many as possible with the fabric as flat as possible. I usually use the guest bed as my cutting surface because it’s the right height for me, but if you’re taller (which is likely the case, as I am vertically challenged) a table may work out better for you. Spread it out, double it over, whatever. It depends on what you’re cutting. Be cognizant of where your folds are, if the fabric has a noticeable grain, or a pattern. “With nap” versus “without nap” took me a long time to figure out, but luckily Google came to the rescue with the answer. If using a pattern, just follow the layout directions for with versus without nap, and it helps to highlight or mark which layout you’re using beforehand so it’s easier to not get confused. If you’re not using a pattern because you’re insane like me, it helps to still have a sketch. You can use chalk—I believe they make a specific type of chalk for sewing, but I don’t own any and I’ve never used it—or else you can purchase a disappearing ink pen, which I do own but have never used, so I can’t vouch for its efficacy. Or, if you’re truly insane like I tend to be, you can just eyeball and freehand cut. I wouldn’t recommend this method unless you are familiar with the trial-and-error method of getting the right size, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for something like formalwear unless you’re going for a boho look. My method was somewhere in between pinning a pattern and freehanding, as I used the pattern sizing for the torso portion and then just expanded it freehand-style for the skirt. As for the overlay….I freehanded the whole thing. Also not recommended for chiffon, but hey it worked out well enough for me, so you can probably do it too. I recommend cutting everything you need before you start sewing, so then you have ALL of your pieces already cut, and then you can just keep them organized in whatever order makes sense to you, or label them with a sticky note. I did no such thing, and in hindsight I should have, because let me tell you—all pieces of chiffon look the same, because damn that fabric likes to shift and stretch into a shapeless monstrosity. It all turned out ok in the end, but it was way more difficult than it could have been had I followed my own advice, or anyone’s advice, really. As you can see below, little Kitty Hera likes to help cutting the fabric by grooming herself on top of it.
6) Follow the directions, or else just start pinning seams. If you’re using a pattern, the directions—complete with illustrations, yay!—tend to be pretty clear, and they get easier to read the more times you use them. My first time using a pattern was for the dress I made for the Military ball, and it took me about four hours of just staring at the directions before they started to make any kind of sense to me. However, since then I’ve begun using more patterns for different little things, and now I can read them pretty easily. It’s just a matter of becoming versed in the pattern lingo. Once again, Google comes to the rescue whenever you have a question! Or if you’re still confused, I check my email daily—contact me here—and I can help clarify something in layman’s terms, or in crazy-person’s terms, or I can give you pattern-less sewing tips. Whatever. I ignored the pattern for this part because I knew what I was doing, so I just attacked it with pins. I made the outer lining out of the taffeta first, then the inner lining using leftover taffeta, then the overlay.
7) If you are less than well-endowed (like me), add boobs. They have all kinds of nifty padded, molded, foam, cotton, et cetera boob-shapes you can sew into a dress, and they go especially nicely with corset like creations. I used molded foam boobs with almost no padding, just the nice round shape, and sewed them into the inner lining after I had connected all of the fabric. I recommend adding these before you add the bones and connect everything, but I got a little carried away and had to sew them in by hand after the majority of the dress was assembled…my bad.
8) If you’re making anything corsety, add bones to the inner lining. Sewing bones in a dress/shirt is a total pain, but like anything it gets easier with practice. You can either sew them into the seam allowance if you left enough room, or you can make little pockets and sew them in wherever you want, which is generally the method I use, but as I’ve said a billion times already in this post, I’m a little crazy with these things and my methods are not the standard practice. I always have a hard time trying to explain how exactly I make the things that I do, because my thought process isn’t in words, it’s in seeing the end result and then and occasionally seeing the steps to get there, but more often than not I just see what I want in my head and I just start executing. It’s mostly pictures up in this brain of mine, at least where crafting is concerned, and the rest of the space is song lyrics and stories I haven’t written yet.
There’s no room for mental math.
9) Connect your layers! For me, this meant the overlay (chiffon), outer lining (taffeta) and inner lining (more taffeta, but this time with boobs and bones). Again, I was slightly dumb so I added the bones and the boobs after these three pieces were assembled, but that is not a method I would recommend because it was very difficult to add them in that way, and would probably have looked better if I put them in before. My philosophy has always been that it’s ok for the inside to look like a hot mess because no one sees it but you, but I’m trying this whole thing where I make the inside and the outside both look good, or at least more professional. So far I have one success in that department—my Samhaine costume for this year, but more on that later—an unfortunately my wedding dress is only halfway a success. I may add *another* layer of lining, this time out of an actual lining fabric, to my dress once everything else is complete just to cover up some of the messier seams.
|Here you can see the overlay of the skirt with some|
of the shirring detail I'm adding to the bottom.
10) Seal all your seams! You can do this throughout, which is usually what I do, but it helps to keep edges from fraying if they are not enclosed (i.e., French seams). I didn’t figure out how to do French seams until after I had sewed the inner and outer lining, but in hindsight I intend to only use those from now on because they’re freaking awesome and they look SO much nicer. However, if you have just normal seams, you can iron them flat and then put fabric glue (I’m a fan of this kind, it dries clear and is very strong, and doesn’t come off in the washing machine) or a no-fray type thing. Make sure you test a section first so you know how your fabric is going to react. Some types, like thicker satin, are perfectly fine because the glue/no-fray doesn’t show through; however, I didn’t use this on the chiffon, which is transparent, because it bleeds through (obviously) and looks bad. Hence, test. Then seal.
That’s all I have for now, as this is turning out to be quite the lengthy post, and I mainly wanted to hit some highlights for dress construction that a pattern may ignore, or online sewing tutorials seem to think you already know, or for the free-hand pattern-less constructioners like me. Surely I’m not the only one out there, right? RIGHT!?
[echoes, cricket chirping]