Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, and Something to Sew…

Hello, it’s Kayleigh here from Fleur et Ours with a fresh blog post. Why? Kate from In a Haystack asked me (well, the shop) to feature in her fantastic stitchy subscription pack again, which I was incredibly excited to be asked back! Kate always asks the featured small businesses a series of questions and in this pack Kate asked me: “Can you tell us about making your wedding dress? It looks gorgeous!”

I’m sure you can imagine I was more than happy to share the details, but one problem, there are too many details for a short Q&A. So, instead I said “here’s the summary, but for ALL the details here’s a blog post” and so this is how the blog came to be. Read on for the full story…

I did not grow up dreaming about the big white wedding, and after a not so wonderful experience with my Sister’s dress fittings (specifically my bridesmaid dress for her wedding), a wedding shop fitting is not my idea of fun either. 90 minute appointments? Awkward small talk? Feeling bad if I don’t find THE dress in the shop? No thank you. That doesn’t even cover the price tag, as I was on a tight budget. So I knew if I was ever getting married that I would be making my own dress or thrifting.

Where did I start? Well, Pinterest. But it didn’t end there. I would say if you are going to make your own dress, or design anything, you need to allow for some organic growth of your ideas and expect them to change wildly!

Adding to all of the choice in style, I am indecisive too. In fact, I have drawn designs for at least four different wedding dresses, in the end I settled on two, and in the Summer may settle on another one – we shall see! (We are planning a big party) But the big one, the one I said I do in, how did it come to be?

The turning point and catalyst for the finished garment came after seeing THE dress in a shop window. We were driving home from Colchester and I saw this gorgeous, silvery, corset-figure-hugging dress with sleeves and thought, that is what I want. But, I had to make it myself.

This gave me a great basis for my own dress, confirming the style of a corset dress and that the fabric needed to have a subtle sparkle.

So, I shopped eBay for corset boning, scoured the internet for shimmery fabrics that were Earth friendlier – I settled on deadstock fabrics and viscose, but I needed something else…

From my Pinterest finds I knew I loved the dreamy elegance of wedding dresses that have the slightest trail with a bit of tulle, and as we were getting married at Frieda and the Moon I wanted something on theme. We are a family of “ooh, look at the Moon”, and there wasn’t a more perfect place to stay and elope than the Observatory. From that I found a beautiful celestial tulle to finish the dress.

The next step was to start making, but as I had never sewn a corset before I wasn’t sure where to start.

In comes logic: find a free pattern from a trusted source, if possible, ergo Mood Fabrics Parker Corset and create a toile. This is a practice run and was really about learning the construction of a corset, even if it didn’t end up being the pattern I used in the end. A non-judgement opportunity to muck up, basically. I used a viscose from my stash, and for the cups (the Parker is originally cupless, but Mood added a tutorial on adding them, find it here) I used old bras that no longer fitted me – these need to be too big to work, or if you have old bras where the cups are in good nick, use those and cut out all the faff!

From creating the toile I learned two things: Viscose for corsets is too delicate a fabric on its own. Firstly, it frays very easily, so in high stress areas such as the bone channeling, the fabric frays and the stitching may slowly come apart. The second is that Viscose can stretch, due to its fluidity and the weight of the boning, the shapes of each part of the corset can warp, even a small amount and that then means this fitted item is less fitted and slips down.

To overcome this, I had to redraw my pattern pieces as my back was smaller than the pattern anyway, but to create more structure I lined the corset with cotton Calico from my shop (here) this also helped with the boning channels too.

The cups were the trickiest, but mostly because depending on where I was in my cycle, my chest measurements would fluctuate, and when it comes down to something fitted that you’re making yourself, this is frustrating, but not impossible. My tip would be, dedicate a lot of time to this, create your pieces using calico first, check the fitting, then use these as a template for your old bra cups or neoprene, whichever you choose, but TAKE OFF a seam allowance for the padded material – it will make sense if you read through the corset tutorials.

For the underwire I used a bias binding channel, work smart not hard, if you can buy it in, do! And in all honesty there will be swears in the air, so if you can do something simpler, do. I sourced some gorgeous Liberty bias binding from Bluebell Hill Crafts and it doubled as my something blue, even better that it was called Kaylie Sunshine!

The button pictured is from Pigeon Wishes, I bought these at the Knitting & Stitching show last year before I had thought up this dress. They blended beautifully and just looked nicer than a hook and eye at the top of my invisible zip.

Speaking of invisible zips – what a palaver! I had bought a proper foot, apparently universal for my type of machine, but it didn’t fit and true to form I did not have time to wait for another. So I googled how to insert an invisible zip without a foot and found this amazing tutorial on YouTube – you will need an iron.

The final bits: The skirt of the dress is from the Mila dress pattern from Simply Sewing mag, I lengthened the skirt to mid calf, I am 172cm so measured the skirt pattern piece, then the drop from my natural waist to mid calf in order to ascertain where the pattern would fall before adjustment in order to work out how much I needed to add.

Once the skirt was sewn up and the corset was ready I could add the invisible zip. I would recommend doing this after a good nights sleep, brain power is required, but follow the Youtube tutorial and you will have it done in a breeze.

The cuffs were a mistake… I had cut out sleeves using the Mila pattern, based on my measurements, but once stitched turned out too small. Out of playful curiosity I turned them upside down and figured they looked very cute as cuffs. I straightened both ends and inserted elastic at both ends to keep them in place. It worked really well and didn’t slip or move at all.

To bring it all together and give the elegance I really wanted, I created a simple wrap over skirt with the rest of the tulle. Start with a large rectangle of fabric, and gather using your machine (I highly recommend the method of turning the top tension up high, stitch length to 4, and going for it. It may not work on everyone’s machine but if it does it gathers your fabric as you sew, saving so much time and potential mundane-ness). Test out your gathered fabric around you or your body form (I did it around my body form) and then it is easy to work out where the fabric will wrap across. I then secured the gathers by stitching elastic to the tulle on top of the gathers made. When sewing in elastic I would recommend you wrap it around the body part it is for, and stretch it, then measure again. Elastic when it is fresh has never been stretched, once it has once it doesn’t return to its first position, so by stretching it first you remove the chance of your elastic losing some of its strength and causing slippage. I then inserted two hook and eyes (in opposite directions for added tension because I REALLY didn’t want this skirt falling down!). The last step is just to trim the hem to the shape and trail you desire, I chose to graze the floor at the front with a slight trail at the back.

Et Voila!

I didn’t think I was capable of making this dress, many times throughout the process I thought of throwing it out and going for something simpler. The reality is, it wasn’t that complicated, and by following my curiosity as to what I could actually achieve if I didn’t listen to self doubt, I made this.

So my top tips would be:

  1. Get inspired by everything, everywhere that you love
  2. Find fabrics that you’re happy working with, ethically, experience etc.
  3. Find patterns, use tried and tested designers you love, don’t be afraid to “hack”
  4. Allow yourself space to play and experiment – toile it up!
  5. Finally sew it up, follow the “what if I can do this” mentality