Having made and fitted my mockups, the scary time came when I had to cut into the real fabric for my dress. To ease myself in the first thing I worked on was the underpinnings for my garment
A waist stay is something Susan Khalajie is very keen on for supporting the weight of a dress, and holding the dress in the right place. Although she talks about the importance of the waist stay, she doesn’t describe how to actually make one. However, Claire Schaffer comes to the rescue with comprehensive instructions about how to make one (although they could be improved with more diagrams). Essentially, it is a piece of grosgrain ribbon folded at each end to finish it with two hooks and eyes sewn onto the ends. It fits snugly around my waist, or at least it does after the third attempt at fitting. Once I had made the rest of the underpinnings I sewed this to them closest to my body.
Lining vs. corselet
All along while thinking about this project I envisaged sewing the boning to the organza underlining of my bodice, and then sewing a cotton lining to the bodice which sealed the whole thing at the neckline and waist. However, this post on Marina’s blog made me think again. What is clear from the pictures and the comments is that the zipper was under strain because it was required to hold the garment up, and the garment needed to be skin-tight to be able to hold itself up. The comments suggested the remedy: a corselet.
After some more research in Susan K’s book, Claire S’s book and on the internet I came to understand that a corselet is an undergarment which is attached to the strapless dress at the neckline. It is a skin tight boned garment which resembles a corset by nature of its shape, however it does not have any of the cinching of a true corset. The corselet has its own closure underneath the main fashion fabric bodice, and therefore it supports the weight of the dress and holds it up, meaning the fashion fabric bodice can float over the top without needing to be skin tight, or any straining on zippers. This was a bit of a light bulb moment for me – suddenly I could envisage how the construction of my dress would work, and, crucially, how it would stay up. I am sure there are other ways to make a strapless dress (several of the example dresses in Susan K’s book have different engineering) but this really made sense to me.
To construct the corselet I use the materials I had already bought for the dress – a cotton muslin and a silk organza. As the cotton would be under more tension than I had envisaged which would stress its loose weave, adding the organza would reinforce it, while remaining very light (credit to Gertie for this bit of inspiration). As the corselet will be both structural and my lining I sewed the pieces so the cotton would be next to my skin, with the seams between the corselet and the dress (and eventually catchstitched down). As I wasn’t too bothered about the finish, I just sewed the layers of fabric together as part of the seam sewing process, rather than basting the layers together beforehand. For the closure on the corselet I decided to use a strip of hook and eye tape, which I had seen used somewhere for the same purpose. Once the seams were sewn it was time to inexorably take in the corselet seams until it was skin tight – a few millimetres at a time, as described by Claire S. I had chickened out of making a corselet with boob cups (it seemed a bit late to try to fit a pattern for these considering I was already stressed, and I would need to fit it to FF+). I am sure Dita is right that you should not wear underwear with Haute Couture, but I am on a deadline…
Once the seams were done I had to sew the boning onto the outside of the corselet. I started with the planned 9 pieces, but once I tried the corselet on, I decided I needed a few more. So far there are 13 pieces. The boning I am using is plastic boning which is stuck to a ribbon, which makes it very easy to use – just pin in place and sew up either side of the ribbon – no faffing about with boning channels. However, a few weeks later I noticed that the glue in a few places was starting to fail, so for my peace of mind I sewed up the middle of all the pieces of boning too, so I knew they would stay in place.
Once I had the corselet made and fitted I decided it would be a good idea to take it for a test drive, to check for comfort, since I would be wearing it for a whole day. Therefore, I wore it to work one day under a shirt. It was pretty comfortable, although I decided I needed to trim a few pieces of boning and take in a few seams, so it was definitely worth doing.
Deep breath – the fashion fabric
Once the corselet was made, and I had reassured myself my pattern pieces were roughly right, it was time to cut out the bodice – all three layers! White Silk organza (underlining), ivory silk satin (fashion fabric), and gold embroidered ivory poly-organza (overlay). By the time I had finished my cutting marathon I had 24 very similar pieces floating about. The first step, was to baste the fashion fabric (satin) and underlining (organza) together. As I am not destined to be a couturier I basted all three layers together at once using silk thread – I am sure Susan K would say I should have done it one layer at a time. Ah well. Although I was dreading this process it wasn’t as bad or time consuming as expected. The tricky bit was that individually all the fabrics are not very stable, so getting them to agree on the original identical piece they were all cut out from was a challenge, but by pinning corners and working from there I eventually got them to agree. I found I needed to have the pieces flat, and holding down the opposite side to the one I was sewing with a sewing weight (aka tin of food) made a big difference to how easy it was to manage. There was a great sense of satisfaction once I had eight pieces rather than 24.
Once I had the pieces basted together it was easy to proceed. I sewed in my zipper on the side seam, because I am a big believer in zipper first construction. As I was already using the organza as underlining there was no need to reinforce the edges of the zipper. Then I basted all the pieces together with silk thread, both for a last fit check, and to stop the pieces moving when I sewed them. Actually sewing the dress was a doddle – I had been expecting issues with the silk satin, but encased in organza it sewed up nice as you like.
Finally I stay stitched the neckline and eased 2 pieces twill tape ¾ of an inch short along the neckline from the side seam to the centre of the bodice, as described by Susan K and Lauren, to ensure there will be no neckline gaping.
Next: the saga of the sleeves.