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Monday, October 29, 2012

A Halloween Wedding

Well, the wedding is over, and it was beautiful. Mormon wedding ceremonies are quiet and fairly small. I was privileged to be invited to that ceremony along with the families and some other close friends of the bride and groom. Then later, there was dancing, good food, and general merriment with a much larger group of those who wish the happy couple well. I was very glad to help make the day a special one by giving the bride her dream dress.

One of the early things I had to do was fill in that hole in the back. I removed all of the pearls that lined that hole, and I also picked a lot of the lace and pearls off of the sleeves because I knew I was cutting them off below the elbow and because I wanted to tone down the decoration a bit (not a lot, though, as will become obvious). I used some of the fabric from the shortened train to fill in the hole and hand-stitched the pieces to each side. Then I picked pieces of lace that had been removed from the sleeves that could cover the newly-added fabric without needing to overlap each other too much. After hand-stitching those down, I added pearls and sequins to roughly match the existing beadwork pattern. The only step left was to make the top of the bodice close. Two zippers wasn't practical, and I didn't really want to take out the old one and put in a full-length one because it was going to be a bit difficult to make it fit correctly. So I chose a row of pearl buttons and button-loops. The addition hides pretty well.

I couldn't find button loops locally, and I have to admit that by the time I decided I was doing this, I didn't have time to order them online, so I made my own. I embroidered a row of chain stitches into the left side of the back, then crocheted into that. I had to redo the loops a couple of times because if they're just a tiny bit too loose, they slip right off the buttons, but of course, if they are too tight, they won't go on at all.

I also used some of the spare fabric to fill in the open space in the shoulders--the dress was originally held up only by elastic straps. I pinned the fabric in with the dress on the dummy before removing the straps. Then I removed the straps and hand-sewed in the new fabric.

Next, began to add layers to the skirt. I apologize for not taking in-progress photos of that process. I began with a champagne colored satin. I cut two lengths of it to match the maximum length of the train, two for the sides, and one for the front (the original skirt has five panels). I sewed all of these panels together, using no seam finish because I left the selvedges on. Then I gathered the top and pinned it to the dress, adjusting it until I liked the way it hung. Then I trimmed the bottom until the train matched the original train with only a little of the lace trim showing, and curved the front upward. I confess, I did not take it back off the dress to ensure it was perfectly symmetrical.

When I was satisfied with the shape, I stitched the top of the skirt down on the outside of the dress because I didn't really want to detach and reattach the skirt and because the dress made it fairly simple to hide the upper edges of the new skirt layers. The lace that decorates the bodice is not tacked down at the bottom, so it could hide the upper skirt edges around the front and sides. The back would later be hidden by a bow that was one of the design elements that Jasmine particularly liked from the inspiration dress. I used Fray Check to protect the upper edges of this layer.

I finished the lower edge by singeing it to give it a lighter weight appearance than could be achieved with a traditional hem. It also gave it a distressed look that worked with the feel we were trying to achieve. (If you click on the photo below to enlarge it, you can see the singed edge a bit.)

The next two layers were of chiffon, first bronze, then grey. I washed both, then twisted them tightly and let them dry that way to give them a crinkled appearance. The bronze took the crinkles better than did the grey, but a variety of textures was desirable. I created the shapes of these layers much the same way I did the satin layer, although the bronze only goes around the front and sides because I had less of it and it wouldn't be seen in the back. These two layers have french seams because they look best on chiffon. I zigzagged the upper edges rather than using Fray Check, but I singed the bottom edges of the chiffon layers just as I had the satin.

This shows the bronze chiffon as well as the upper edges hiding under the edge of the lace in front.
The final layer was of an off-white Chantilly lace, so my method of shaping was different. Since I wanted to keep the scalloped border on the bottom, the shaping all had to be achieved from the top so a lot more draping was necessary. I pinned the uncut lace to the dress and adjusted it multiple times, also using pins to mark where to cut. I cut the lace in two pieces--one for the front and sides, and one for the back. This type of lace doesn't fray, so I didn't bother to finish the seams or upper edge.

the layers of the skirt
I made the bow out of the champagne satin and the bronze chiffon, with the bronze chiffon crinkling horizontally across the bow. The bow attaches to the dress via two snaps on the center band, and two farther out to make sure it stays up high enough to cover the edges of the added skirt layers.

I've already mentioned my plan to add a scarf to the neckline. I made the scarf in a tube, with a single french seam. I intended for the ends of it to hang straight down from the shoulders, but I didn't have enough of it to make it out of one long piece. Seams were required to make the scarf long enough, so we decided to pin it in the center to hide the seams. Other than at center back, the scarf is stitched to the dress.

After cutting the sleeves just above Jasmine's elbow, I zigzagged the edges to keep them from fraying. Luckily for me, ironing them eliminated the stitching holes left by removing lace, so I didn't have to re-cover those areas. I cut ruffles for the sleeves out of the Chantilly lace. The ruffles are wider toward the back of the arm, narrower toward the front.

The final thing to do was to create a way to bustle the train so that the bride could walk and dance more easily. Let's face it, trains are really only good for pictures. They get in the way the rest of the time. So I made three little tabs with buttonholes in them out of the champagne-colored satin (to hopefully make them easier to find than if they matched the rest of the inside of the dress). I stitched them through all layers of the skirt using grey thread because it would be least visible on the outside. The stitches are vertical, also to blend better. Then I sewed green buttons very close to the waistline on the sides and just below the zipper in the center. They are sewn only through the bottom two layers because the button stitches would not hide on the outside of the dress.

Now for views of the finished product.

And I bet you'd like to see it on the beautiful bride. I hope to get permission to post some of the professional photos, but for now, here are some of mine.

She was beautiful and happy, so I think I can officially call this project a success!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I'm a Sucker for a Wedding

Weddings can be stressful, but they're also beautiful and special, and I happen to believe that every bride should have a chance to have her special day. Which is why when my friend Jasmine showed up at my house late one night a few weeks ago asking if I could help her turn a second-hand wedding dress she had bought for $25 into her dream dress, I said yes despite my being in dental assisting school and the wedding only being about a month and a half away at the time.

This is the starting point of the dress. It's fairly 80s, but not one of the more extreme styles, so I don't have to fight it too hard to update it. It does have a few inherent problems that need to be addressed before I can really get creative, and they mostly revolve around one simple fact: Jasmine is Mormon, and we Mormons have some pretty specific modesty standards. They're not as extreme as some people think, but this dress does violate them a little bit. (However, the slip on the dummy is not a sign of some weird need for the dummy to be modest--it just helps clothes slip on and off of her more easily.)

First problem: the neckline. It's a little too low in the front, and it leaves the shoulders mostly bare. I will be adding a little bit of fabric to the shoulders inside those sleeve points (which are staying). It won't show a lot, but it will cover the bride's shoulders, and it will replace the fabric-covered-elastic straps that currently hold the dress up. They will end up mostly covered by the light grey chiffon drape that will raise the neckline just a little in front and trail down the back from the shoulders. Obviously, this will be an aesthetic change as well as practical. I chose it (and luckily the bride liked it) because I hate alterations for modesty that don't blend in to the design. I think they draw attention to themselves in all the wrong ways. Purely aesthetic problem in this picture: those pearl pompoms down the front. They were also on the sleeves. They have all been removed.

Next problem: the opening in the back. Back necklines don't have to be extremely high, but this opening does go to low, so I will be filling it in. I have removed this bigger pearl flower and tear drop things, again, for purely aesthetic reasons, and I removed the pearls edging the opening so that when I fill it, they won't be sitting there announcing that something has been changed. The bride is also hoping to find and antique (or antique-looking) brooch to replace the pearl flower.

You may be wondering how I can possibly add fabric to this dress without it looking tacky. That's not as big of a problem in this case as it could be. First of all, the bride wants a non-traditional dress, so the fabrics that will be changing the style are also adding color, which means I didn't need to match this specific fabric. "Foul!" you cry. "You're adding fabric to the bodice that you claimed wouldn't be noticeable!" Luckily for me, the dress itself will supply that. The angle of this picture is not ideal to show the original length of the train, but the other picture I took made it look way longer, so this one won. We will be leaving some train, but a much shorter one, so I get some matching fabric and a little bit of lace from that. I am also shortening the sleeves to create a late 18th century style sleeve like this. Since the opaque fabric in this style of sleeve only goes to the elbow, I get to take off not only some of the base fabric, but also a fair amount of lace applique and pearls/sequins. Since the same lace was used all over the dress, and it has a fairly busy pattern, piecing the lace back together should create a near-perfect disguise for the seams I will have to add in closing up the back.

This is the inspiration for where Jasmine wants the dress to go, although we will definitely be doing a lot of our own designing too, as already evidenced by the sleeves. We are going with an overall smokey color, but some of the original off-white dress will show, and we're introducing some other color as well. (For any of you who are familiar with Mormon wedding ceremonies, this dress will be for the reception and pictures, and she will be wearing all white inside the Temple.)

I have already cut off the sleeves, though I haven't added the ruffles, and I have already shortened the train. To do that, I detached the beaded lace edging beginning at the sides of the dress and going all the way around the train, but leaving it attached in front. With the dress still on the dummy, I marked where I wanted the shortened train to end, then I took the dress off, turned in inside out, and laid it down, folded along the center back seam. This allowed me to create a symmetrical curve, and I just "eyeballed" a nice, smooth curve from the center back to the sides. I put the dress back on the dummy to see how the train looked spread out, and it wasn't quite right, but my second try achieved a good shape.

Since there is no hem on the original dress--the lace is the edge finish for the skirt/train, I did the same thing. I machine stitched the lace back to the train beginning from each side in turn and working toward the center back seam, and cutting out the excess lace from the center back. (I used a zipper foot to sew the lace on because it is beaded.)

beaded lace skirt trim

lace that has been re-attached to the new train edge
As you can see, the lace does not have a smooth line to the edge, but instead curves up and down. I felt the easiest way to attach this and still achieve the original open look of the lace (which is still there in the front) was to sew the lace on to the smoothly-curved edge of the train, making sure that the lower points in the upper edge of the lace stayed above the edge of the fabric. Then after it was all sewed on, I went back and trimmed the excess fabric about 1/2" from the stitching line. It looks nice, and I am ready to work on some of the more complicated changes.