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.
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!