Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Dressmaker's Daughter's Wedding

The Bridesmaids' Dresses

One of the many, many advantages of a bride being a dressmaker's daughter is that she gets to pick any design she wants for her bridesmaids.

Let's face it, most bridesmaids' dresses are hideous. They are cheaply made, ill-fitting, and frankly meant to be worn once under duress and then tossed into a landfill. What a waste. In my business, I seldom make them, since I charge for labor and materials and my prices are not determined by the color of the thread or the intended use for the garment. I am not willing to reduce the quality of the work or to use RTW, factory construction techniques to keep prices dirt cheap, and I could never "compete" with cheap foreign labor even if I wanted to. That said, I did make some expedient adjustments in my usual construction techniques that I would not have done for a paying customer, as I will explain below, but I would wager that no one but someone as fussy as I am would ever notice.

So, my goal was to make my daughter's friends some pretty dresses that would enhance the visual themes of the wedding and make everybody look as beautiful as possible. As usual, the bridesmaids vary in size from very tall and tiny to larger and shorter, with cup sizes from B to F. Fortunately, with custom made dresses, everyone can look their best in nearly any style. Clothing that fits properly enhances the appearance of the wearer. So, the dressmaker's daughter got to pick any style she wanted, without having to worry about what style would look good on each bridesmaid. 

The Lanvin Design

This is the design that Claire cut out and pasted to notebook paper for her bridal wish book, who knows how long ago. As usual, my job was to examine the design and interpret it. We decided to nix the crinoline, because I didn't want the bridesmaids to look like walking poof balls. This design shows a gathered circle skirt, which takes many, many yards of fabric, probably silk taffeta, which runs about $40-60/yd. I really, really wanted to be able to adapt a commercial pattern, just to make my life easier. So, I decided to use this one:

The Pattern to Adapt

This pattern is dart rather than princess seam fitted, which is fine, and only needed minor tweaks, such as raising the waistline to the natural waist, conveniently marked on the pattern, and eliminating the collar and using those pattern pieces to make the arm bands. Because I am cheap, I only purchased one pattern. I used the same skirt pieces for each bridesmaid by merely adjusting the gathers as I attached the skirts to the bodices, and I copied and adjusted the only two bodice pieces to fit each bridesmaid's back waist length and cup size.

I found some iridescent silk douppioni from an Internet resource in pale blue for a relatively affordable $15/yd. and ordered 22 yards of it. The dresses needed about six yards each of face fabric, but I can generally squeeze blood out of a turnip, and laying out four dresses at a time usually saves yardage. I found pale blue acetate lining for, get this, $1 a yard. I would normally use China silk, but at least acetate breathes, so it was an economical expedient. I also ordered cotton flannel and crinoline to underline the bodices for smoothness and strength. Douppioni is pretty but fragile, and would shred at the seams in the bodice after just one fitting without a durable underlining. For paying customers, I would underline the skirts in silk organza for body, but again as an economy, and since the full, gathered skirts would take no stress with wear, I skipped this technique.

Please Make me a Dress, Too! I Look Pretty in Blue!

As usual, Cadbury helped me cut the dresses out. I started construction by basting the cotton flannel and crinoline to the bodices and arm bands, and then basting the pieces together. December is a busy month for us all, so it took some finagling to get the girls all here for a fitting. Fortunately, just the bodices really fit for these dresses.

Then after the fittings I sewed the bodice pieces together permanently. I decided to use just four pieces of spiral steel boning in the bodice lining, another economical expediency. For a customer, I would probably have sewn in boning casings to the crinoline layer by hand, or sewn a separate boned corselette, and added a waist stay, but these dresses really just needed a very light bit of vertical support to counteract gravity and a close fit. I attached the lining to the upper bodice edges, sewing down the back arm bands and leaving an opening for the front arm band. Then I understitched the neckline and basted the front arm band in place so I could double check the fit before sewing it permanently by hand after the next fitting. I added hangers to support the weight of the dress and prevent stretching during storage, and to keep the dress on the hanger. Once the bodices were completed, I constructed the skirts and gathered the upper edges; douppioni does not like to gather on the crossgrain, so I had to fight the gathers just a tad.

The Boning Slips In the Casings

Then I inserted the boning in the casings and sewed the open ends closed by hand on the wrong side. I inserted an invisible zipper, taking care to keep the waist seam matched at the center back, added a hook and eye to be covered by the lining when folded down. I then sewed the skirt lining to the waist seam allowance, and finally pinned the bodice lining in place along the zipper and waist seam before sewing it down by hand.


The Lining is Pinned and Ready to Sew By Hand

Next, I added Swarovsky buttons about an inch apart to decorate the center back closure. These are the same buttons on Claire's gown and on my dress. Since everyone's back waist length is different, I needed to adjust the spacing slightly for each dress. The buttons are on shanks so they wobble, but I am trying not to be so "O.C." that I want to position them precisely every time I see them.
A Little Sparkle

Next, I started manufacturing the 16 rosettes that decorate the juncture of the bodice and armbands. I am calling them rosettes because they look like county fair ribbons to me, and yes, in days of yore I won plenty.

First, I made 64 tubes out of rectangles of the douppioni.

The "Bow" Part of the Rosettes


Then I lapped the pinked ends and gathered them with a doubled thread by hand.


I stacked one gathered bow over the other at a 90 degree angle and sewed them together.



Then I made 16  one and an eighth inch covered buttons and sewed them to the middle of the bows.



After a final fitting to pin up the hems, Claire and I decided to make the dresses to the base of the knee cap, since a slightly longer skirt length is more flattering than just above the knee. We also decided that I would put one inch nylon braid in the hems for a bit of flare without the exaggeration of a crinoline. Since these hems were six yards around, I did them by machine, while for a paying customer I would have done them by hand, with a pretty lace to edge the top of the hem allowance on the inside. Lastly, I attached the rosettes to the arm band and bodice juncture by hand.

The bridesmaids' dresses have taken about 12 hours each to make. They will be worn with custom made silver and blue topaz briolette pendants and bracelets, silver shoes of various heel heights and designs, silver sequined evening bags, and pale grey Pashima shawls if it gets chilly.

The princess bride will have princess bridesmaids, yes?


Sneak Peak!

Next Blog:

The Five Tuxedoes