Wedding Gowns

The Wedding Gown: Creating the Understructure

Although wedding gowns can look complicated, the basic lines are often fairly simple. For this dress McCall’s M4776 (not sure if it’s still in print but there are loads of similar patterns) provided a starting point.

I find it easier to create the understructure of the gown first. That way you can have it on the dress form and get a clear idea of how the dress will actually look. The fullness also dramatically affects the hem length. I used only the four main pieces and created the boned corslet and petticoat from them.
Master Pattern
Here is an illustration of the basic pattern with my additions. The corslet pattern is shown in red. It extends 4 inches down from the waist and will be sewn with slightly (about 1/16 inch) larger seams as it needs to be skin tight. For fitting I copied the corslet shape in cotton drill fabric and padded a dress form ( the junky adjustable kind) to mimic the bride’s shape. Since this dress is only fitted through the upper bodice, no need for a fully fitted custom shape.

I used white cotton coutil. If you’ve never used this before it works wonderfully for a tight fitting support garment. It presses easily and flexes just enough to mold to the body. It’s sturdy and heavy enough to support the boning which will be added to each seam. The cotton fiber is also cooler to wear than a synthetic. The boning channels are sewn along each seam and at center front. Flexible steel bones will be inserted into the back and side seams; spiral steel into the princess seams over the bust and center front. The gown flares out below the waist so I decided to end the boning at the waist. Since this bride is not full busted, I’ll decide whether or not the bodice needs additional boning after a fitting. The waist has been thread traced to use as a reference during fitting and also as a guide for the ribbon waistband which will hold this whole thing up.
Rather than make or buy a separate petticoat I chose to integrate one into the dress so it could hang from below the waist. The pattern for this was drafted 4 inches lower than the waist (it will ultimately be stitched to the bottom of the corslet) and two inches narrower at the bottom than the outer skirt. It is about 5 inches shorter than the finished hem. The petticoat is shown in green. By removing two inches from each skirt seam I decreased the circumference 28 inches to allow for the petticoat ruffles.

The petticoat skirt was cut from satin faced silk organza. It’s stiff enough to hold the shape without being heavy. Two lower layers of stiff nylon netting were gathered and sewn to the petticoat base. I cut the netting 30 inches wide and folded it lengthwise (no scratchy exposed edges) and gathered it  4:1. An easy way to keep the gathering even is to mark every 18 inches on the netting. Zigzag over a length of heavy thread and pull up gathers so every mark is 4.5 inches apart. The two ruffles were attached along the dotted purple lines.

To soften the outer petticoat layer I used soft nylon tulle and gathered it 10:1. It was attached along the uppermost purple line. Two inch wide nylon horsehair braid keeps the hem of the organza layer full.  3/4 inch horsehair braid is topstitched along the top edges of the lower ruffles. If you want to keep your sanity while sewing this, leave the center back seam open so the piece can lay flat. Close it and lap the ends of the tulle and braid as a last step.

A closer view of the underskirt layers.
Here is the muslin toile draped over the underlayer. Notice how I’ve made a slight adjustment to the side seams under the arm. The neckline has also been shaped. Having a muslin also allows me to determine a final hem length, play with bustling options and minimizes handling the silk outer fabrics.

I keep the corslet and petticoat separate as long as possible. The corslet will be sewn into the finished gown first. The petticoat layer will be hand sewn into the dress once all else is complete; SO much easier than wrestling with mountains of poufy fabric at the machine.

Next step is construction of the outer silk gown!