Beneath the Surface: Wedding Gown Foundations

Formal gowns require structure to support the dress and give it shape. Most of the time, when we see delicate wedding gowns and formal strapless dresses, we don’t see the parts underneath that keep the bodice up, or those that keep the waist seams stable, or the weights sewn into a hemline to keep the fabric under control. They are there, however, and they are absolutely necessary to pull off the silhouettes we love.

Although I am still working, going to school, trying to get my house ready for sale, plus planning the wedding and organizing the new house with my fiancé, I’m finding time each week to do some work on the wedding gown. Not much time, usually, but I have had the occasional afternoon when I stopped working on anything but my gown to force myself into relaxing. I think you’ll be pleased to see how far I have come since my last post. I know I’m thrilled with how things are shaping up!

I have thought more than once how glad I am that I don’t procrastinate; had I waited, I would not currently have the materials I need to create my gown and I would probably be very upset. Almost everything I ordered is now unavailable on Mood’s website, at least at the moment. Fortunately, I ordered everything by the end of January, well before anyone here had even been worrying about coronavirus, and I am well-stocked with silk thread, silks, and nettings.

I’ve been using a Patterns by Gertie pattern, #B6530 from Butterick, for my bodice. I have some Rigilene, a plastic boning, that is without a casing for my boning material. I used a super soft polyester fabric from Mood Fabrics for my lining, and a pair of push-up bra cups for the built-in bra I need. Glancing over my initial design, I came to the conclusion pretty early I’d be doing some sort of illusion neckline, and a traditional bra wasn’t in the cards for me because it would show. I also have had issues in the past with strapless bras sliding around on me, so a built-in bra seemed like a good solution.

I’ve discovered that putting together the strapless bodice portion was quite easy. In spite of all the seams, it was easy to put together and I had no issues whatsoever. It fit quite well right away, which is a must with a wedding gown bodice! It was, if anything, slightly too large when I was using all the pieces, so I removed the last back panel and I plan to install an invisible zipper to hold it closed later, which should eliminate the need for me to hold it up when I’m checking the fit. I had considered a side zipper initially, but the boning channels stopped that idea cold. I just couldn’t see where it would work under the layer and boning, so we’re going with a back zipper since there is no boning along the center back.

I’m also using Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book as a guide. Gertie suggested that Rigilene could be filed to make it softer and less likely to stab you. I can say that I did that, and it still stabs and scratches me. I could try to melt the ends. I understand that works for some people, but I’m not that brave and I can’t get more Rigilene just now if I destroy it by accident thanks to the pandemic. I’m sorry to say the bodice is currently a little torturous to wear at present, but I’m going to try and use a bit of grosgrain ribbon to stabilize it to the skirt as a skirt stay, and maybe to offer additional protection from the boning. Failing that, I will stuff a bit of cotton batting into the the boning channel ends in an effort to stop it from hurting me. My sister-in-law suggested I cut it shorter, which I could still do, but I am reserving that for the final option because I don’t relish the idea of opening each channel, sliding the boning out partway, chopping off another inch to two, sliding back in and checking the fit for comfort then sewing them all closed.

Just wait, I’ll probably have to do that.

Another thing I have discovered about boning: when it is plastic and sold in a coil, it likes to stay coiled. My bustier curves the way the coils did, which is mostly okay, but I’m going to have to apply a warm iron the them to get them to conform more to the shape I need. It doesn’t look bad, for the most part, but it could curve a bit more inward in a couple of places. I hope the warm iron won’t melt the boning into the boning channel…yeah, we’re going to go slowly and carefully with that one. I have a little more Rigilene that I haven’t used, so I’ll probably be fine there if I only destroy one or two, but it’s the bodice fabric I might run out of if things don’t go well when I use heat to shape the bodice.

However, the bra cups are wonderful. I used a tutorial from Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book, and used a catch stitch to sew the tops of the cups to the bodice, using the most comfortable bra I own with the right kind of neckline as a model for placement. I actually expected to sew the bottoms of the cups, not the tops, but after having tried on the bodice, the top is the right way to do it. Not only does it look great on the dress form, it feels right when I put it on. So long as I ignore the painful stabbing from the boning, it’s fantastic!

By the way, in case you were wondering, for a lining, seam edges would go on the outside so they are not visible while putting on or wearing the garment. If you have ever worn a dress with a lining, you would see that the seams are neat and the edges are not visible when the dress is inside out. So while it might look like I have sewn this inside out, I’ve actually done it with the right side against the body and the wrong side out, which is correct. These boning channels and seam edges will disappear once I have the exterior layers on. Which leads me to another problem: the boning channels are visible through the silk charmeuse that forms the outer layer of silk. Hmm…I have some fusible interlining I might try out for solving this issue. I think it will do two things: give the bodice fabric more support, and hide the boning and seams, solving both my problems.

I also have used a vintage 1940s slip pattern, McCall’s #8521 for my skirt lining and the first layer of tulle netting that goes over it. I saw someone selling this pattern on Etsy, and they called it very rare, which makes me a tiny bit sad since my cats put a big hole in the skirt tissue paper. Ouch! It’s still usable, though, and I think going forward I will make a copy in pattern paper to protect the original from more damage. It was from Grandma’s collection, so I’m trying to be gentle with the ones I have. Preserving the pattern is important, and my kitties aren’t going to be gentle. They love playing with tissue paper.

Unfortunately, that’s what most of my patterns are made of. Sigh…

I opted to gather the fabric before stitching it to the bodice. I will have to watch that the waist seams don’t become too bulky in the near future because my gown’s skirt will probably have five or six layers total, which might make for some bumpy seams if I don’t take precautions.

The waist seam aside, I’m also wondering if I should add ruffles to the under layers to support the silks and make them float farther away from the body. Most of my inspiration dresses have a slightly wider skirt with many layers of netting and silk, almost like a ballerina’s costume. I love the transparency and lightness, but I’m not totally sure how the shape is achieved since I have only had the opportunity to examine one gown like that. That gown didn’t have ruffly petticoats. This style is not as popular here in northeast Ohio as it doubtless is in other parts of the country. Here everyone seems to be going with either the ballgown or mermaid shape, and the more bell-shaped traditional skirts have never fallen out of style here, judging by what was available at the Cleveland Bridal Expo I went to in January.

Still, my early work has shown that I’m headed in the right direction for achieving the silhouette I want. Today I was working on the first silk layer, a double georgette in antique white, which I based on Colette Patterns’ Zinnia skirt. I simply extended it to floor length, and pinned the pleats according to the directions. I think that when I cut my next skirt I will do it in a bigger room and use objects to weigh it down. In spite of my pins and careful cutting, I still ended up with slippage and a wonky hemline as a result of it. I had to cut some of the side length off, since it was very asymmetrical when I had it pinned up on the dress form. It’s too long, but that’s fine, we’re nowhere near hemming this thing yet.

Next up, I’m going to cut and sew another netting layer and then we work with the charmeuse bodice! I’m both thrilled and terrified to cut into my very expensive antique white silk charmeuse! Does every DIY bride feel this way? Yikes! I think I’m more nervous about making the gown than I am about the actual wedding.

My next post is going to cover the bodice and the lace design! See you then!

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