Project: Wedding dress

If you get to the train station to spend the wait till the next train with your best friend and her boyfriend on their way back from the holidays and you are looking into faces beaming with delight. You know something is different. The two just got engaged and now I was asked if I want to be my best friends maid of honor. What a question ….. of course I want, after all we are best friends for nearly 25 years now and we’ve always been there for each other in good and in bad times, so yes…. it’s not only a pleasure it’s a great honor to also be on her side when she is getting married.

The next questions we discussed some time later were – what kind of dress, which “look” is prefered, which colour nuance for the fabric and the most important question: Buying or DIY? As you might have already realised – purely on the basis of the title of this blog entry – DIY was the answer.

The style of the dress

So she surfed the net for a while to get some ideas and this is the sketch of the wedding dress she is dreaming of.

The lower dress : floor-length, with strapless top, decorative button strip at the back, side zipper and everything made from wool-white cotton batiste
The upper dress : also floor-length, even longer, front and back with v-neckline, a waistband made of the same cotton batiste as the lower dress and everything else made of tulle lace.

My planning

From this very moment I was in charge of the dress and in my head I started to panic a little… How do I make this dress, which sewing patterns can I use and combine and which pattern pieces do I have to construct myself. In addition … where do I get the fabrics at a feasible price. Because when I googled tulle wedding lace and the price per meter started from 80€, I was shocked, especially since I had already calculated at least 5 1/2 meters for this dress as the absolute minimum.

The website Etsy finally became our savior and we found beautiful tulle lace at a supplier from China, which was also wide enough to sew a floor-length skirt for a 1,73m woman. Fortunately there was also enough time until the wedding, because deliveries directly from China will take up to 5 weeks.

pattern construction and test-dress

As soon as I had the exact measurements of the bride-to-be, I constructed the sewing pattern for the top of the lace dress. Next to this I collected the other sewing patterns with which I hoped to reach the look of the planned wedding dress and started to sew a test-dress. Because in the end the dress is supposed to have a perfect fit and if you do not sew for yourself and you live more than 50km apart from each other, intermediate fittings are not so easy to organize.

In addition to that – at least I think it’s very important – is this a dress, which we both know only from sketch, or from photos, on which another woman with slightly different proportions than my best friend is wearing something like our planned dress – so we still had no real idea if it will suit her as beautiful as we imagine. So this test-dress was not only “necessary” for the fitting, but first of all to see whether it’s really the DRESS , she is dreaming of for her so important day.

The lower dress

These photos show the very first fitting of the test dress … here, however, with a zipper instead of the decorative button strip at the back and a slightly too high waistband.

It’s still a little bit to wide around the chest, the princess seams need some adjustments to her curves, and the shape of the heart neckline simply doesn’t suit her, so I’m going to straighten it a little. But what are 3-4 small adjustments at the first attempt?

Unfortunately the tulle straps are not really visible in these photos, but on the real dress these straps will be made of tulle lace and not just plain tulle.

reading, learning, testing

But for now I first need some more knowledge about some sewing techniques. For example: How do I sew a decorative button strip? How long do the button loops have to be? How to sew a bra into the dress so that it fits optimally and the bra does not flash under the dress? My main problem, however, was: How do I achieve that the lower official “strapless” dress does not slip and holds without boning, because these option unfortunately is not possible for her due to personal circumstances …. Aaaaaaaaah!

The first thing I’ve tried – as shown in the pictures above – was to stitch narrow straps onto the lower dress. But to be honest… we didn’t like it, these straps somehow take away all “lightness” of the dress and do not look elegant at all. So this is not going to be our solution. But what now?

This caused me quite a headache…. till…. uuuuuuuh I think this might be something … why don’t I simply take tulle, at least the one from the test dress which is nearly invisible and of natural color to make some straps which are congruent with the straps of the upper dress. Since I already constructed the sewing pattern for the top of the upper dress I only had to transform the straps a little and sew them to the lower dress.

So lets start with the top of the lower dress again. I transfered all made changes to the sewing pattern, moved the zipper to the side seam and sew everything (including the additional tulle straps) together. I then again connected the top with the skirt + at least indicated the decorative button strip by sewing some botton loops onto it. The waistband I still haven’t moved downwards, because I wanted to spare myself to undo any seams of the test tulle dress. (lazy girl)

First relief

And this is how the test dress looks like now! The tulle straps are already a bit more visible, because these are made of two layers now the dress therefore has much more support. *happy*

The fit and look optimizations are now done. Now I had to start with the real version of the wedding dress and I became more and more nervous. I’ve never worked with lace in my life and since the cotton batiste is slightly different and also thinner than the cotton-polyester batiste of the test dress, I just could hope that the real dress fits just as good as our test dress. In addition to that, I felt the responsibility to fulfil her given trust and make her shine in a perfectly fitted dress on her wedding day. I only say so much …. my sleep became much more restless! 😉

sewing preparations

However before I could start I had to prewash and iron (something I do not like at all) the fabric. Hmph! But well…. you have to do what you have to do!

Since the batiste is semiopaque and really delicate, cutting the fabric was my next mammoth task. Especially because I decided (on the basis of the texture of this fabric) to sew the skirt in two and the upper part of the lower dress in 4 layers (double for the outer side of the dress and double for the lining).

I finally ended up with the following pieces for the lower dress.
– 2 front skirt parts & 4 rback skirt parts
– 4 middle & 8 side front (top) parts
– 8 side and 8 middle back (top) parts, because of the decorative button strip the backside has to be in two pieces

Fortunately the dress has princess seams, so the sewing till I reached the decorative button strip was quite easy. And indeed, I’ve sewn the skirt in two layers, but as two individual skirts, because even from the inside I wanted the wedding dress to look “clean” with no visible seams and also no visible hem. In addition to that, there is also some air between the layers of fabric which provides a bit more density and also makes the skirt a bit more flowing. 🙂

Although I could not “hide” the waist seam inside the dress because of the decorative button strip at the backside, I thought that it should also look good with a good seam finish, especially because several of the amazing sewing ladies from Instagram gave me the advice to include a waiststay *.

*waiststay = inelastic grosgrain ribbon with adjustable hooks, which is partially sewn onto the seam allowance of the waist seam on the inside of the dress. Result: The waiststay kind of “hovers” inside the dress and should fit so tight that it can hold the weight of the skirt at the waist. But more about this later…

The decorative button strip

HERE you’ll find he link (German – but with some good grafics) to the instructions I used. Published by Zwischenmass.
Because what else is this huge library called internet for, if not for finding all the great guides and tips & tricks from all the amazing DIY sewers out there? At this point I’d like to say: Thank you Zwischenmass ! Your guide was of amazing help to me!

I also made the button-loops from the cotton batiste and secured them in the correct length (which is determined by wrapping it around the planned buttons) by hand onto the seam allowance of the left middle back top part. After I did this I’ve pinned and sewn the lining onto it (right sides facing) and carefully – after turning it inside out – ironed it. The loops are now to be seen from the outside.

On the other side – the right middle back top part – I did the same, just without the botton loops and only using 1/2 the given seam allowance, because in the end the two sides still have to be sewn together overlapping, which I then did by hand after turning and ironing it.

The pattern pieces of the upper dress top and the pattern pieces of the lining are now pinned together (right sides facing), the tulle straps have to included between these layers and sewn together.

Before turning everything around, I cutted into the seam allowance especially at the curves till right before the seam – this gives this seam a smooth “look”. The upper part of the lower dress is now ready and can be connected with the skirt parts, the buttons can be sewn on, as well as the loops into which the bra is later to be stick through at the inside of the dress and the invisible zipper as last step.

Yeah! The lower dress ist done!

The upper dress:

A tulle lace dress with waistband!

This actually gave me the most “pain in my stomach”. As I said before, I’ve never worked with tulle or lace in my life before, so this is my biggest challenge at this project!

The cutting

Since you can “draw” quite badly on tulle, I put the pattern pieces onto the fabric, laid some weight onto them and additionally secured them with some pins. Then I cut out a 1cm wide paper strip (1cm = my seam allowance), placed it on the sides of the pattern pieces and then cautiously cut the fabric step by step. While doing this, I have also made sure that the pattern pieces are placed on the tulle lace so that the embroidery of the related sides are as congruent as possible to each other to obtain a nice profile.

The v-neck top pattern pieces I have also cut with the help of the paper strip, but here the positioning of the pattern pieces was rather tricky, because the flower embroidery should be mirrored as perfectly as possible along the v-neck (which is why I constructed this pattern piece as two pieces).

A completely identical mirroring unfortunately was not possible, because our tulle lace was nowhere mirrored and the left and the right side of the fabric do not look the same, but I think that I have nevertheless reached a quite beautiful result. Or what do you think?

The Tulle lace top

And to have no unattractive seam allowance visible through the tulle lace later – especially in the center of the upper part – I removed the embroidery from the seam allowance, secured the seam once again with a fine buttonhole stitch right next to the seam and then cut back the seam allowance.

The same I did at the skirt parts – except on the side where the zipper is located – and I think I achieved a good and clean result. I’ve also sewn around the edges of the v-neck & the armholes with this fine buttonhole stitch, although there is no need for it since tulle basically don’t has to be finished but I think it looks way more beautiful this way.

The waistband (the side which later shows outwards) I’ve now sewn (right sides facing) directly onto the top, so it finally starts at the waist seam of the lower dress and does not overlap it as it did on the test dress. The tulle lace skirt I then gathered and sew it (right sides facing) onto the other side of the waistband. At the lining side of the waistband I ironed the seam allowance to the inside and sew everything together by hand.

So far so good, for now I’m done – until the next fitting – because at which locations the bra – next to the loops into which the bra is later to be sticked through – still has to be secured in the dress and at which points the straps have to be connected to each other, so that they remain congruent, is only to be determined with the bride-to-be wearing the dress! The same applies to the waiststay, which is still missing. But first, take a deep breath Nina! 😉

Only 8 days to the wedding and we finally made it to the final fitting of the wedding dress. The night before I could barely sleep, I was way too nervous! Will everything fit and what if not? So many thoughts that circled in the head, but luckily all my worries should prove ungrounded.

The bra

So the bride-to-be got dressed and we put the bra into position. This meant that we first sticked it through the loops provided for it (these are located left & right with a little distance to the decorative bottom strip at the inside of the dress), then I have marked the position up to where the bra should be allowed to go upwards and secured this point at the loops.

Then I attached the bra directly to the lining of the dress. I’ve done this with small cross-stitches near the topline of the neckline (here, however, only on the sides and on the upper curves of the heart neckline), so that everything fits tightly and nothing can slip. This way the bra can also be easily removed and reused later.

The waiststay

Even though the bottom skirt of the lower dress was not quite as heavy as expected, this extra protection was very important to me, because I know my love … the last days before the wedding will be stressful and should she loose some weight because of that, the fit of the dress will loosen.

To find the right length for the waiststay, I strapped the grosgrain ribbon around her and let her inhale very slowly and deeply. While she was breathing I have marked 4 different positions (from very tight to very loose) on the band, to which I then sewn the hooks later. The counterpart to the hooks is logically sewn to the other side of the grosgrain ribbon.

Now the waiststay has to be sewn to the inside of the dress with small cross-stitches onto the seam allowance of the waist seam (at places where seams or darts are located) of the dress. Since we have the zipper on the side of the dress and the waiststay is supposed to almost “hover” in the dress, I of course have not attached it all the way around, but only punctually (with a blue thread because something blue was missing on her outfit) and not on the side of the zipper.

With the help of this waiststay you can now adjust the width of the dress without it being visible from the outside. It also holds the weight of the skirt at the waist and the weight will no longer pull on the top, although we have already stabilised it with the additional tulle staps. But better safe than sorry. 😉

The inside of the dress

At the top you can see one of the loops, where the bra (the closure of the bra) is “threaded” and below is the hook band from the waiststay for the width adjustment and to make the skirt stay in place.

The final touches

Make one dress out of two. At first the side seam allowance of the upper dress had to be sewn directly to the edges of the zipper of the lower dress. And since I used an invisible zipper and it is very difficult to sew it all the way up to the upper edge (without funny “bumbs”), I had sewn it in slightly shifted and closed the last open part of the dress (under the arm) with another button loop and a button.

The straps of both dresses I have luckily succeeded nearly congruent, so that I only had to arrange them and then fix them together with little stitches. The same I did with the waistband, so that both dresses do not move against each other while wearing.

The result

My best friend in HER wedding dress!

And doesn’t she look gorgeous? And these are only pictures of the last fitting, still without jewelry, make-up, styling and flowers.