Hold on peeps, this is a picture-heavy one! John and I just came back from celebrating a friend’s wedding in Ireland, and I’ve been working (well, ruminating and planning at least) on this dress for quite a while, so it’s a big sigh of relief to have it done and looking good. And so much fun to photograph in a castle (!) in Ireland! So many exclamation points!
Fabric: Mystery mustard colored fabric I got for free from a friend of a friend while living in Chicago. It has a beautiful drape to it and a subtle sheen, and I’ve taken it for a viscose rayon this entire time. When ironing it however, it smells unmistakably like polyester (though I haven’t done a burn test to confirm) – as a fabric snob (and being ok with that) I’ll chalk this up as one of the nicest polyesters I’ve met! Lining is a jaquard weave poly from Joann Fabrics.
Pattern: Self drafted with a-line full length skirt, bias cut cowl front, and v-neck back. I’m thrilled I had time to make both a bodice mock-up, and a wearable muslin ahead of time.
Techniques: Bias cut neckline drape, waist-stay, self-lined bodice, bias-tape bound armholes, and fusible seam tape at all cut edges of bodice seams.
Oh, where to start! I felt so damn swanky in this! I don’t often wear floor-length gowns, but it totally felt right for this occasion, and for this fabric. I shared this picture below a while back, of a dress from the 30’s that has been my visual inspiration for what I wanted to wear to this wedding:
I realized pretty quickly that as much as I wanted to take the opportunity and do a full-on replication of this dress from the 30s, I just didn’t have enough fabric to do it. And being a random mystery fabric, I certainly didn’t know where to get more! I’m ok with that though. Even if the inspiration dress is way more dramatic and stunning, I felt dramatic and elegant enough in the castle wedding setting – and looking back at this picture I’m quite amused at how similar the finished dress ended up to the super-quick draped mock-up I did back then!
The wearable muslin I made was incredible helpful. It meant that I could make the changes to the pattern, and then cut into the mustard colored fabric, confident that I didn’t have to recut, and confident that I wouldn’t have to make more alterations.
Alright, here comes construction notes – if that’s not your thing, just skip to the picture of the hat below – interspersed with somewhat non-related, pretty pictures of the finished thing (sorry about the lack of detail-shots and process, just didn’t prioritize it this time around!).
So – the bodice is self lined – the front bodice cut on fold at the cowl neckline edge, and the back bodice cut twice. I spent a whole lot of time ironing on the fusible seam tape on almost all cut edges, which I did since I was terrified of stretching out seams so they wouldn’t sew together nicely! I’ve learned through some nearly failed projects that you can gather and ease a stretched out seam to the right length, but the fabric beyond the seamline is still stretched out, and will never lay nicely. Hence all the seam tape, haha! It really did make a difference though I think, and everything sewed together very nicely (in terms of seamline lengths). While making the wearable muslin I managed to iron on the fusible both too short on some seams, and too long on others. For this dress I actually ended up laying the fabric on the paper pattern, and pinning both of them to the ironing board (just with a pin straight down, vertically, into the board) to really make sure the length ended up correctly. I was quite pleased with this method!
Deer caught in headlights descending stairs in beautiful shoes, while holding glass attempting not to spill any more drinks on herself (total tally by the end of the night was 2 plus a broken glass, which was a total fluke, and a dress rinsed out in the sink that dried to look pristine).
I knew I wanted a waist-stay on this dress (you must know by now how much I adore trying new techniques and adding little touches to what I sew!), but it took a lot of internal debate on how exactly to do it! Most often the waist stay is sewn to the waistline seam-allowances, both self and lining fabric layers, and is visible from the inside. I don’t mind the waist-stay being visible, but this alternative would mean an unfinished waistline seam that I would want to bind in bias tape, which I was afraid would get too bulky with 5-6 layers right above the waist-seam, and only the 2 layers of the skirt below. Also, it would mess up having a clean zipper finish on the inside. Alternative 1 nixed.
The next alternative I considered would be to sew together all waistseam layers but the bodice lining, attach the waist-stay, and slipstitch the bodice lining to the seam. That would be better than the first alternative, but I was still worried that any little difference in the grain of the fabrics would end up pulling weirdly by being solidly attached at the waist, in addition to the issue of bulk. Alternative 2 nixed.
Posing in the rose-garden, swoon! I can see the draglines from the wearable muslin ar still there somewhat (probably exaggerated a bit here), and I’m pretty sure it’s from the straps having slid down too far on my sloping shoulders. A bra sitting further in plus bra-loops keeping it anchored should fix that.
This was honestly such a long back and forth conversation in my head, where I kept forgetting why I had nixed the different options! I’m sure I considered other approaches, but what I ended up doing was to attach the skirt and bodice layers separately for the lining and the self, sewing the waist-stay to the outside layer waist seam allowance (pressed upwards), pressing the lining waist seam allowance downwards, and loosely slipstitch the seamline together at center front, center back, and at the side seam. I did that to keep the layers together where they were supposed to be, while allowing everything to move a bit too. I couldn’t get around this little oddity of having to leave a gap in the lining by the zipper, right where the waist-stay comes together with a little hook. It’s a trade off to not having exposed seams, but I’ll admit a little fiddly to avoid loosing the ends of the waist-stay, since they aren’t attached all the way to the zipper tape! Oh well. I found Tasia’s multiple posts on waist-stays very helpful, such as this one sewn fully to the waist seam allowance, and also this more traditional one.
Who knew I would have this much to say about waist-stays? Ok, moving on… sewing really was quite easy, there aren’t that many pieces to this dress. But making sure that they don’t stretch, and that they’re on grain, that is the tricky part. I had such a hard time hemming the skirt – the lining especially. I totally recommend having a second person helping you when hemming these types of long dresses! At the bridal shop I used to work at, we would mark the skirt with pins set in vertically where the fabric touched the floor. Then we hemmed a certain amount up from those marks, based on the type of fabric the skirt was made of (generally cutting at the pins and aiming for a finished hem about 3/8″ off the floor, but for chiffon you’d cut less since it tends to crawl up and shrink in length when cut). Anyways, I think my lining must have been a bit off grain because it was waaaay longer in one spot off to the side. Oops! It took several rounds of trimming but turned out ok. Having made myself very few floorlength dresses, it’s a new way of thinking for me that this dress is hemmed pretty much only for these shoes, and these shoes only! (loved, loved, loved, loved my shoes by the way!)
Finally, let’s admire the beautiful fascinator that my talented and lovely Sara custom-made for me! She knew the color and style of the dress I was making, and she knows me and my style. Then she took that and melded it with her aesthetics to create this smashing headpiece. I loved wearing it, and got lots of compliments on it all day long. I don’t think this outfit would have been complete without it. (Thanks Sara, you’re so lovely!)