Wedding Gowns

The Wedding Gown: Tying up Loose Ends

A wedding gown isn’t complete without bustling. Otherwise the skirt drags on the ground during the reception, getting dirty and damaged, as well as a tripping hazard to the bride, groom and guests.

As this gown had no embellishment on the skirt, I was limited to placing the pickup points at the seam lines. If you have a gown covered with lace, any hooks, loops or buttons can usually be hidden. The bride, her mom, and I all felt it would be a shame to ruin the sleek surface of this gown with any kind of fastening device. We also chose an underbustle, rather than an overbustle. The difference is that an underbustle, or French bustle, has fastenings, usually sets of ribbons, on the underside which are tied together and hold the skirt up. Underbustling resulted in poufs of fabrics we thought looked liked soft clouds.

The difficulty with bustling is that every gown is unique. While there are some basic principles, most of the time it is a trial and error process. Check out Mrs. Mole’s blog for her bustling adventures.

Here is a diagram of what was worked out with this dress:

Sorry about the poor image. The letters are also reversed. I’m working with a new computer and don’t have image editing software installed yet, so cropping images isn’t working. The image cropping on word press isn’t working either and the scanner reversed the letters, but I hope you will be able to follow.

Pastel silk ribbons are attached on the underside of the skirt, catching the seam allowances of all layers. I color code so that it’s hard to mess up. Points A and B are one color (say pastel pink), points C and D are blue, points E and F are yellow and so on. I find that silk ribbon is strong and also has a texture that poly ribbon doesn’t. Poly ribbon tends to slip and the knots come undone. Silk ribbon tends to stay tied.  We also do a trial with the maid of honor (or whoever will be doing this) so she has practiced before doing it solo.

The skirt at center back was 20 inches too long, so the distance from A to B is 20 inches. That brings the center back up to floor length. Next C and D are tied together, E and F together. We all felt the bustle looked better if it was dragged towards the center back so an additional ribbon was attached at point G (above A) and worked like a large swing tack to prevent the bustle from falling too far forwards.

The small amount of excess length at the side seams was controlled by attaching G to H and I to J.

Sounds easy but it does take some time and trials to get the lengths right.

Cleaning and storing:

The silk dress was cleaned by a local cleaner. Lace top, dress and veil were taken to The Textile Conservation Workshop for conservation packing.

Conservation Workshop
This is the same workshop which dated and cleaned the lace pieces before I began working. They are experts in the field of textiles and with this fragile lace, the bride wanted to do everything possible to preserve it. Notice the large flat soaking trays where pieces can be gently soaked. There is a large drying screen which allows fabrics to be laid flat to dry and water drains preventing further stains; no hanging which might further damage a delicate piece.

What a fascinating project this was!

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Wedding Gowns

A Finished Gown!

Next step is the hem. At this point, the net underskirt is hand basted in place and will be removed to made hemming easier. Some sources advise a narrow hem for 4 ply silk crepe but in a skirt this luxurious I chose to use a horsehair interfaced 3 inch wide hem in the center front and two side front sections of the gown. The side back and center back sections were interfaced with bias strips of silk organza. The hem width tapered from 3 inches at the side seams to 1.5 inches at the center back. The narrower hem width allowed the fabric to be eased in along the curved edge of the train.


Now, with the gown completed, I hand sewed the net petticoat to the bottom of the corslet. Imagine wrestling all this to the sewing machine! There are times it’s just easier to do things by hand.

Now for the lace overblouse. I created a pattern by draping and manipulated the waistline darts into the bust dart and back side seam to avoid disrupting the lace pattern along the hem.

Here is a section of lace. The cat (NOT MINE, thank goodness), chewed one edge, but I was able to work around it.


How do you cut into 200 year old irreplaceable lace? VERY carefully, allowing generous seam allowances and using a muslin pattern which has been fitted over the gown.


Seam lines are traced with heavy cotton thread as a lighter weight thread pulls out of the lace too easily.


The buttons have been covered with 4 ply silk from dress scraps so they will match the gown perfectly.

The lace is backed with silk tulle and the two layers treated as one, just as when underlining.

After sewing the seams I trim all layers except one layer of tulle to 1/4 inch. Fold the raw edge of the tulle over and hand sew, binding the seam as you would do a Hong Kong finish.


Elastic looping finishes the back.


To finish the neck edge, I discovered two edges of the lace piece had hand appliqued trim. I carefully clipped the stitches and was left with a length of perfectly matching lace trim. This was simply hand appliqued back in place along the neckline.DSC_0575

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Last item was the veil. Real silk tulle veils are luxurious and pricy but since the bride wanted a shorter length, it seemed a shame to stick a length of polyester net on her head. The edge of the veil would be finished with a narrow silk ribbon. Mokuba has exquisite ribbons and I found a shade of ivory which matched the gown. I had planned on attaching it using fine cotton thread and a fine double needle in the machine. Think again! The ribbon was so soft and the tulle so fine I had a balled up mess. Thank goodness it was on the test sample. Another reason to test, test, test your techniques. You never know when disaster will strike.

The only solution: hand sewing.
It actually went faster than anticipated and did allow me a great deal of control over the tension of the ribbon on the tulle. Working over a black surface made life easier also.

After the ribbon was sewn along each edge using 80 weight cotton thread, trim carefully along the ribbon edge.

The upper edge of the tulle was simply gathered onto a comb and stitched. An heirloom pin served as the headpiece.


Finished !

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View from the back, highlighting the luxurious drape of the heavy silk.

gown back in church

Wedding Gowns

Wedding Gown Construction

Here’s a sneak preview of the work in progress. The hem is pinned and basted. The major seams have been machine sewn. All inner support layers are basted in place as they will be removed so each component can be worked on separately.

Front View


Armed with a fitted muslin, its finally time to cut the silk fabrics. I hand basted the outer 4 ply silk crepe to the charmeuse underlining. There was too much show through even with the two layers, so a second underlining layer of cotton was added. 4 ply crepe does hang out, so the gown was hand basted together and allowed to hang on the dress form for a couple of days. Any pulling of the layers was smoothed out by removing the basting and allowing the layers to fall naturally before machine stitching. View of the inside.


Notice how the princess seams are pressed. I find that pressing most of the layers towards the center front rather than pressing the entire seam open gives a cleaner line over the bust. The second layer of cotton underlining has been trimmed to the stitching line. There is also a layer of fusible weft interfacing which stops at the waistline. This gives the upper bodice enough body to support the weight of this full, heavy skirt. The straps are just ribbons pinned in place to help support the dress on the form until the inner corslet is attached. To all my readers who alter gowns: don’t you LOVE those big seam allowances!

The corslet fit well except there was a tiny bit too much fabric at the front seams. Even though this bride is small busted and didn’t need a tremendous amount of support, we agreed that adding spiral steel boning in the middle of the side front improved the shape.


Pattern instructions usually have you stitch the gown and corslet right sides together and turn. I find this method really doesn’t work too well. Unless you are working with very thin fabrics, the gown layer is slightly larger than the corslet. Also the seam, even if understitched, tends to roll and reveal the underside.

I cut the corslet about 1/8 inch below the finished edge. I fuse a 2 inch wide strip of stiff cotton interfacing cut on the straight grain along the upper edge. This is cut to correspond to each section.  I also add a row of fusible 1/4 inch stay tape to further stabilize the top edge. This tape is pulled tight across the top of the bust so the corslet hugs the upper chest wall. How many formal gowns have we all seen where this gaps open?


Next I attach a bra which is stitched in place at the side seams. If the gown is backless or lowcut, the back of the bra can be cut away. We chose to leave the bra back in place as it didn’t show through and felt secure. The center front of the bra floats inside a loose ribbon loop. If this ribbon is too tight, the center front is pulled inwards, creating an unattractive hollow on the finished side. I tend not to use sewn in cups. They move with the dress, creating a “floating boob” effect.


The back closure has spiral steel boning along both sides and a fabric underlap to prevent the hooks from digging into the skin.


The gown is in three major sections: The silk gown, the corslet, and the petticoat. I avoid stitching these together until each section is totally completed. It’s so much easier to work on one section at a time. It saves wear and tear on the silk and 4 ply crepe tends to snag easily (usually at the center front where its most visible).

Gown is fitted and complete; corslet fits perfectly and is completed. I attach them in the following way: Trim the gown allowing between an inch and two inches to turn over at the top edge. Grade and trim all seams to reduce bulk as much as possible. I bind the top edge with silk tulle. Silk tulle is amazing stuff. It’s soft, weightless, stretches like bias tape, and stays where you put it. Nylon tulle is not the same thing. It will fight you all the way!


Fell stitch in place. Sewing this top edge by hand allows you to perfectly control the layers.

Next: hemming, attaching petticoat, lace overblouse and veil. I need a break!