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!

View More:

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

View More:

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 !

View More:

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

gown back in church