Final Touches

My dress is done and under wraps for now, but I enjoyed the process of finishing so much that I can’t keep those details to myself! I handpicked the zipper into the skirt, which was my first time doing so and I’m beyond happy with it – I found the process calming (the opposite of previous zipper insertions) and it looks great. I’m not sure I’ll ever machine stitch a zipper again. I found that the zipper almost entirely disappears into the gathers, taking the term invisible zipper to another level.

For the bodice, I made rouleau loops using the remaining taffeta and some lace covered buttons that I got on Etsy. Initially, I tried using elastic button loops that I also got on Etsy, but they ended up being too stretchy and I think that the taffeta loops ended up looking nicer overall.

I slip-stitched the bodice lining to the center back and waist of the bodice. And just like that, there’s nothing left to do (technically)! But I couldn’t stop there – I added some temporary ribbon hanger straps because the dress is surprisingly heavy and I was worried about having too much weight hanging on the lace.

The very last touch, was this something blue cutie – shout out to Meg Barr for the logo.

With the dress finished, I’ll be exploring accessories next!

A Tulle Nightmare & A Taffeta Dream

Luckily, adding structure to my dress was easier than adding structure to my post-lockdown life. Spiral steel boning can be a challenge, but is well worth the effort. I first marked the boning with all of the lengths that I needed, cut them all, and then used a combination of pliers and teflon tape to secure the boning tips.

Throughout the making of this dress, I’ve been referencing the Pink Lace Party Dress instructions in Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book (UDB) because it’s pretty similar in construction. Based on the UDB, I ended up adding boning to the center front of the bust as well as 2 inch horsehair braid to the neckline. I can’t recommend this book enough, because in addition to a bunch of patterns it has a ton of technique instructions that really eased my fear of using “fancy” fabric. I added bra cups to the lining because…if you can avoid a bra on your wedding day, then why not?

Inside out bodice lining with boning inserted, horse hair braid at the neckline, and bra cups.
Finished lining turned right side out.

I expected the skirt construction to be the easiest part of this project, and with respect to technique it was. But, it was by far the most time consuming part and posed some other challenges. I had to make six layers of tulle, each consisting of six large panels. Cutting out the panels took up most of the useful space of our apartment (apologies to Patrick) and getting the fabric had me literally breaking a sweat.

Half of a skirt layer ready for sewing.
One whole layer – me for scale.

Once I had finished each of the layers, I hand-basted them together before sewing three rows of machine basting in order to gather.

In my natural state: sewing while “watching” old Real Housewives of New Jersey.

I would estimate that cutting, sewing, and gathering the tulle/net skirts took at least ten hours across several days. I ended up being short of english net by about six inches, despite having ordered one yard more than the pattern called for, so my plans were interrupted until more was delivered. To add to my frustration, I found that after the skirt was gathered it was more than two panels too big.

BRB, crying.

I was too scared to cut anything, so instead I put the underskirt together to make sure that the fit was correct. It was also too big by two inches. I’m not sure what happened there, but at least that was an easy fix. I attached the overskirt and then clipped it on my dress form. Before cutting, I hand basted a line from the top of the skirt straight down to where it would naturally fall, if it were the correct size. Then I very carefully took my scissors to the overskirt and sewed a new seam at the back. I basted the skirt to the main fabric of the bodice before attaching it with a straight stitch. At this point, I was sewing through three bodice layers and seven skirt layers. Even though most of the fabric layers were very thin, it was surprisingly difficult to handle all that while keeping the taffeta layers flat. One change from the pattern that I made during this process, is that I folded the bodice center back seam allowance in before attaching the skirt, because I intended to use buttons for the bodice closure. I left the skirt seam allowance free, because I would be attaching an invisible zipper. Only three steps left!! Zipper insertion, buttons/loops, and attaching the bodice lining.

For now I will leave you with a picture of the taffeta skirt in the sun which was almost enough to convince me that this fabric is too beautiful to cover up. While I’m coming up on completion of this project sooner than I anticipated, I’ve got some other plans in mind…and taffeta will be first in line!

Heart eye emoji.

Tacking, cursing, sewing, and more cursing.

Typically, I prewash my fabric. However, I ultimately decided not to for this project. The fabric store’s website suggests dry cleaning for most of the fabrics, and I didn’t know whether that’s something a dry cleaner would even do (if anyone has done this, please let me know!). Also, based on the information I could find, washing can change the sheen and structure of silk taffeta which I didn’t want to risk. I considered handwashing the netting, but with over 25 yards needed it sounded nightmarish, at best.

Without needing to prewash, I was in a stand off with my final fabric for several days because I was too scared to cut into it. It was helpful for me to focus solely on the first step, which was also a lesson in sewing “by the book”. I have never found the grain of the fabric at the cut end, and I can’t say that I will always do it for future, less-fancy projects because it was kind of a pain and it hasn’t cause any issues (that I know of) for projects in the past. It was interesting to do anyway.

The good news is that silk taffeta unravels quite easily, so it wasn’t too challenging, just time consuming. But the bad news is that once the pieces were cut out, they began to fray almost immediately. I first used tailor’s tacks to mark the darts, the boning lines on the lining, and the notches on the bodice. I read that you should not cut notches into the seam line when using taffeta, because that would encourage fraying, but I knew that once I serged the edges the notches that I had cut beyond the seam allowance would be gone. I also didn’t want to risk leaving marks on the fabric using any kind of marking chalk or pen. I found tailor’s tacks to be tedious initially but kind of therapeutic once I got in the swing of it. Then I accidentally cut into my fabric with my new (and very sharp) scissors while I was cutting one of the loops and they were back to tedious.

Before and after serging.

Remember when I said that I am often winging it? And remember when I decided to cut off the seam allowances from the arms and neckline because I decided I only wanted one layer of overlay on the bodice? Well. I chose a stretch lace and it was reeeeal stretchy. I was worried about how the lace would hold up to the weight of the skirt, so I decided that I would actually do two layers, but use a dress tulle for the second layer. That way, it would be almost invisible while keeping the lace from streching. That meant that those seam allowances that I had taken off, I had to add right back on.

I sewed the side seams using two rows of basic straight stitches. Easy. For the armholes and neckline, I decided I’d do a french seam. Have I ever done a french seam? No. Did I practice? No. But I read a lot about it and thought a lot about it so I should be fine, right? NO. Well, yes – kind of, but not really. I started with an armhole, and I sewed that first 3/8″ seam no problem. Then I started trimming it down to 1/8″. About halfway through I realized that I had the incorrect sides together. I was frustrated and had to take out the seam, which took a long time because finding a white thread among white lace is not easy. Then I reassessed the situation and I realized that I had in fact sewed it correctly the first time around. AWESOME. I was even more frustrated, but I had just learned an important lesson which is to step back when frustrated. So I took a break, listened to some sad songs, and considered my options. I was mostly worried about my sewing machine eating up the fabric if I were to sew a 1/8″ seam. I know that people sometimes use tissue paper to stabilize netting, so I decided to try that first. If that hadn’t worked, I planned to just remove the seams and recut those pieces using the spare fabric that I had. The good news is that the tissue paper did work which I found pretty impressive.

I finished all the seams, assembled the bodice underlay, and basted the underlay to the overlay with no further problems. The darts were sewn in after the layers had been basted together through all three layers of fabric, so the darts would be hidden in the lining. Even though it’s typically said that you don’t have to finish seams if they are enclosed in a lining, I used a bit of fray check on the taffeta to be safe.

The midriff was pretty straightforward – I basted some lace to taffeta so that it wasn’t sheer over the lining and then attached it to the bodice. After this was all done, I breathed a sigh of relief and crossed my fingers that I had gotten all of the road bumps out of the way early on.

The lining is next, which is basically the same as the main taffeta fabric plus boning, but I had done a practice round of this with some cheap fabric (another lesson learned) so I’m less worried about moving forward with that.