Wedding Dress Construction Notes

What follows is a rather image-heavy summation of the construction of the elegant punk rock wedding dress. Total, I would estimate I spent about 120 hours working on this dress, from the initial pattern drafting and mock-up, to the creation of the final pattern and completed dress.

This gown project included a lot of new experiences and experiments for me. This was my first time creating a basic block pattern, creating a train, creating a bustle, creating a fully gathered bodice, and creating a gown with an integral tulle underskirt.

This is not a detailed tutorial. It illustrates some of the stages of the construction, but I did not take detailed how-to photos. I also did not take WIP images at the beginning or at the very end. This blog is intended to just show the flow of work.

The construction process stared with a detailed set of measurements, from which I created a standard block pattern. I used that pattern to create a 4-panel, princess-seamed dress pattern (of the sort one might normally use for a cute summer dress), which became a muslin mock-up. I mailed the mock-up to the customer, who tried it on, marked a couple small changes, and mailed it back. I adjusted the pattern, and altered the markings to use for the lining and foundation layers. The gathered satin bodice was based on the initial pattern, but elongated through the torso by 3X.

The foundation layer is made from white coutil. It carries the weight of the skirt, hardware, and tulle, and provides structure for the bodice. All four panels were sewn together as a unit, with the back sewn closed below the opening for the zipper. The bottom edge was finished with double-fold bias tape.

The lining layer is made from white muslin. It was sewn together as a unit, with the back seam sewn closed below the opening for the zipper. It was hemmed to fall a bit below mid-thigh. Along the top edge, it was faced with bias-cut satin fabric (shown below), so any lining visible on the top edge of the finished gown is satin.

The bodice layer was sewn with solid seams from the top to the underbust. Below the underbust, it was gathered and then sewn together with a re-enforcement of twill tape to prevent the gathers from pulling free.

The satin bodice pieces were then flatlined to the foundation layer along the top, bottom, and back zipper edges.

I added the metal adornments to the sides, securing them through the satin and the coutil. The chain is held with jump-rings secured to the metal dots.

I used a stiff, heavy-weight tulle as a lining for the skirt. I cut the tulle and skirt pieces, eyeballing them by hand and then matching the layers. Shown below is the tulle skirt layer, which has been zig-zag stitched along its seams, and then sewn to the coutil just below the satin bodice.

The satin skirt was sewn to the coutil over the tulle.

I then added the zipper, so it would be easier to secure the gown on the dress form.

To make the belt loops, I cut lengths of grommet tape and secured them on the top edge.

I then added the D-rings, folded under the edge, and stitched them in place.

After that I added the lining. It’s sewn to the bodice along the zipper and the top edge.

I added metal dots where the shoulder straps should terminate.

From here out, I did very, very little work on the sewing machine. There was too much awkward bulk, and too many layers to be able to effectively sew by machine. More than half the time spent sewing this dress was by hand with a needle and thimble.

Shown below is the first part of the gathers. The gathers are pulled to the inside of the skirt, secured with twill tape that is safety-pinned to the coutil and to the gather. The tulle layer helps to give the soft satin a little structure and body, so it doesn’t just wimp out and collapse around the gathers.

I worked my way through the entire skirt, securing the gathers with safety pins (so I could move them if I wanted to). I then added in the structural chains that would become the bustle gathering tools, also securing them with safety pins. I tested the bustling and made sure I was happy with the locations of the gathers before doing anything else.

I started adding in small lengths of chain from each gather, but ran out of chain. This meant that I was able to hand-sew the twill tape to the coutil underneath, but I was only able to secure those gathers that had chain.

After securing the gathers, I added a little metal dot to each for decoration.

This shows the inside of the skirt. Each length of twill tape secures one gather. The bottom hem of the lining is also visible in the right-hand side of the image.

Another shot of the underside of the skirt. You can see satin/tulle skirt, coutil foundation (just the bottom hem of it is visible), and you can see nearly a foot of the lining.

Somewhere in here I also sewed the hem of the skirt. It’s all hand-sewn, turned under and secured to the tulle lining. I waited to hem the skirt until I had all the gathers arranged, but if I remember right I hemmed it before hand-stitching the gathers permanently in place.

Once I had secured as many of the gathers as I could (all that had chain), I began working on the tulle underskirt. For the front half, I use multiple clumps of tulle. I cut them to about the length I needed for the length of the skirt where it would go, roughly gathered it up, and sewed it to a strip of twill tape.

The twill tape was then safety-pinned to the coutil, and I slashed and tattered the bottom part of the tulle. I would usually start with vertical cuts, and then make random angled cuts and tears. I would periodically pull the tulle back out with my fingers, trimming off any pieces that were becoming excessively long.

The back side of the gown was initially lined with a single length of tulle, which I tattered and trimmed until it was short enough to not trip over when the bride was dancing.

That’s the last in progress image I took. I added six more clumps of tulle at the back of the gown to help fill out the train and bustle. Each clump was attached to one of the gathers which has a dog-clip to pull up into the bustle, so the longer bits of tulle would not end up dragging when the bustle was gathered. After the chain arrived, I finished the shoulder straps and added chain to all the remaining gathers (all hand work). Then I took the final photos, packaged it and sent it off.

Part of the arrangement for making this dress included photos. After the wedding, I will be receiving professional photos of the bride in the dress, to show on my web site. :)

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