Thursday, March 20, 2008

42. I'm Moving

Now that the wedding is over, it didn't seem right to keep posting under the heading of "The Wedding Dress Saga". So, I've decided to start a new blog for my sewing projects.
I hope you'll join me at: After the dress...
Wishing you all the best in your sewing adventures and lots of beautiful creations!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

41. Reflections

(To see pictures, scroll down to post #40.)
Some people have expressed amazement that I took on this project and they seem to think that it says something about me. In fact, I think it says just as much about Susan. Obviously she is a dear friend, but I wouldn't have attempted this for "just any" dear friend.

Part of the reason I made this offer to Susan is that she sews too. To me, that means:
(a) being able to pick the pattern, the fabrics, the buttons, etc. and make a lot of design decisions would be important to her,
(b) she would truly understand and appreciate the efffort involved,
(c) she would understand and be interested in the details - where to put french seams, whether or not to underline, etc. and
(d) she would have realistic expectations of the level of quality that I could and (more importantly) could not produce.

But the bigger part of my decision stems from something more fundamental to Susan's makeup. Susan is the kind of person who looks at the dress I made and sees her design vision realized, the beautiful fabrics and lace, and the love I put into it - NOT the hem's tendency to flip up, the left-over wrinkles at the small of her back, or that one stupid bodice lace scallop that doesn't stand up perfectly... She's like that about life in general - she appreciates the good things and doesn't fuss over little imperfections. That makes her a good candidate for a handmade wedding dress, and an even better candidate for a friend! :)

Things I Wish I had Done Differently
  1. I should have started with pattern pieces that were more closely matched to Susan's size. The pieces I started with were not a good match, so I had to do a lot of adjustment, and each time I made an adjustment was an opportunity for error to creep into the product.

  2. I should have done a better job with time management - realizing that one month on the calendar was really only 5 or 6 days in the sewing room... I was rushed at the end - that was not good.
  3. I wish I hadn't washed the silk organza - while I didn't really need the stiffness for the silk satin, I could have used it for the godet and the bodice lace scallops.

  4. I should have stuck with the muslin until it was perfect. I allowed myself to move on to the silk when there was "just one little change" needed to the muslin, figuring that I could incorporate that change into the silk as I worked. That decision led to 2 scary episodes with the real dress fabrics.

Good Decisions I Made
  1. Joining the Pattern Review community! I NEVER could have taken on a project of this magnitude without the resources and support it offered - from the online classes, to Julie's review of Susan's pattern, to the advice and encouragement available through the Message Boards from some of the most skilled and generous people in the world...

  2. Bought high quality fabric.

  3. Bought high quality fabric on sale! ;)

  4. Underlined the fabric.

Thank Yous

My first "thank you" goes to Susan, for believing in me and trusting me with what could arguably be the most important outfit in a woman's life - her wedding dress. She never doubted me - not even when I made stupid mistakes or when I fell behind schedule. It's a pretty wonderful feeling when someone has that kind of faith in you... :)

My second "thank you" goes to my husband, Scott, who supplied an unending stream of support, switching seamlessly between choruses of "Don't worry, baby, it'll be okay..." and "Wow! That's gorgeous!" at the drop of a hat. He also gave up a whole month of Saturday afternoon climbs, so that I would have the extra time to work on the dress.

Next in line are Barbara for her help hand stitching the underlining to the silk satin, and Julie H. and Sarah Veblen - for their technical advice and encouragement via email.

Thanks also go to Scotti, of The Sewing Superstore in Maitland, Florida, who guided us through our first foray into the world of bridal fabrics and laces and helped us pick out the gorgeous fabrics in Susan's dress.

Last but not least, I'd like to say "thank you" to everyone who read my blog and left me comments - if you blog yourself, then you know how much those comments mean! If you don't blog, then you'll just have to take my word for it - they mean a lot!

Bottom Line

I am SO glad that I took on this project! It was a wonderful experience to share with a close friend and I think my sewing skills took a big leap forward!

If you've read my whole blog, then you know that there were some stressful and distressing moments along the journey. But, in hindsight, I wonder if those are just part of the territory when you push yourself?

I had a friend who made his living on the stock market for a few years. I asked him once how much money he could make on a single good day. He said that it depended on how much money you were willing to lose on a single bad day.

Maybe the same is true of other endeavors in life. I could have stayed in my comfort zone and kept sewing easy patterns - I would never have felt as horrible as I did on the day when the lining pieces didn't match up, but I would never have felt as happy or proud as I did when I first saw Susan, on her wedding day, in our dress...

Saturday, March 8, 2008

40. Wedding Day Pictures

Note: While I "took" all of these pictures, the professional photographer, JR Sterling, really deserves the credit for about half of them. He graciously let me follow him around and take advantage of his excellent set-ups. He was really great! If you are looking for a photographer in the Central Florida area, check him out!

Friday, March 7, 2008

39. Miscellaneous Details

I started this week a bit behind schedule, since I had spent the weekend dealing with the unanticipated waist length issue caused by the back darts. So, I took Wednesday, March 5th, off to work on the dress. It was a productive day during which I focused on a number of relatively small details.

Following advice from
Julie, I added straps so that the dress can be hung. I used ribbon with Susan’s wedding colors: yellow, blue and green. It’s kind of wild, but I think she’ll enjoy it. :)
Following more advice from Julie, I attached boning along the back darts. Hopefully this will help the back of the dress to lay flat. I used plastic boning this time, because that was all I could get at our local Joann’s. I used a combination of sand paper and melting with a candle to smooth the cut edges of the boning.

I’ve only hand basted these in for now – I want to see the impact on Susan before committing to them fully. The grey thread you see here (and in other shots) is
polyamide button hole twist, which is VERY strong. Sorry for the blurriness of the photo – I’m still trying to learn the special features (like manual focus) of my new camera.

I added button loop tape and the back extension. The button loop tape I used has elasticized loops, which hopefully will make them a bit easier to secure. The loops were too far apart on the original tape, so I folded it over on top of itself and doubled the frequency of the loops.

I added my label and closed up the lining everywhere.

I trimmed the length of the skirt so that it was even all the way around. Once this length was established, I was able to align the lace properly onto the godet, baste it into place and insert the godet into the skirt.

And I finished up the waist stay. Let me spend a minute on this, because this was a detail for which my intuition failed me and I learned a few things from experience. I allowed myself to become confused by two different sets of advice. Most people on PatternReview recommended a waist stay. It’s kind of like a belt, on the inside of the dress, which holds the weight of the skirt so that this weight isn’t all on the strapless bodice, pulling it downwards.

One professional seamstress, however, gave me detailed instructions for making an inner corset to slip between the silk and the lining, and part of those instructions included attaching a grosgrain ribbon to the bottom of this corset (i.e., at the bodice-skirt seam) and using THAT ribbon to hold the weight of the skirt. So I went into this step mentally comparing the imagined advantages and disadvantages of a ribbon around bodice-skirt seam (attached continuously) and a ribbon around the waist (where there isn’t a seam in this dress) attached only in a few spots.

Can you see where I’m going with this? Without experience, the first option seemed to make more sense to me. It seemed like placing the ribbon at an existing seam line and having it connected continuously would be more secure.

But I was wrong. One of the critical things I neglected to take into consideration is that the instructions for the higher ribbon were in the context of incorporating an inner corset into the dress. Without that inner corset, trying to place a ribbon above the waist just doesn’t work. The stay naturally wants to slip to the smallest part of the body – the waist. So, that’s where it should be put.

Also, the dress hung more nicely on Susan the FEWER points at which the waist stay and skirt were attached. I can’t really explain why THAT was true, but it was. In the end, I attached the waist stay at waist level and only at the side seams. I used a bit of elastic at each end of the grosgrain ribbon, where I put the hooks & eyes, so that I could get it really snug.

Julie left small openings in side seams of the lining for her waist stay to come through, but I had cleverly (ha!) used French seams in my lining and they didn’t look like they wanted to come open again. So, instead, I reinforced the lining right by the side seams with interfacing and then made buttonholes. Conveniently, the largest setting on my automatic buttonholer is 1 inch, which is also the width of the waist stay…

So, the only steps that remain are to do the self-facing for the godet (should be quick), add the buttons, hem the dress, remove any leftover basting and a good pressing! :)

Good thing, because the rehearsal dinner is tonight and the wedding is tomorrow!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

38. "Final" Fitting: Before, During and After

After shaping the lace to fit on the bodice (with 2 darts), assembling the major pieces of the dress went smoothly. Following the pattern instructions, I stitched the silk skirt to the silk bodice and then attached the skirt lining at the same seam. (The bodice lining will eventually be slip-stitched at that seam in such a way as to cover all the layers.) Then I put in a "waist stay" - attaching it to the 2 side seams and the 2 darts in the back of the dress. (I'll talk more about this in a later post, and include some pictures.)

Then I was ready for Susan and the "final" fitting. ;)

She made the hour-long drive on Saturday and, for the first time, put on her wedding dress! From the front, it looked beautiful. :)

But there was something seriously wrong in the back... There were a number of horizontal wrinkles along the small of her back, suggesting that the dress waist was too long for her. Here is a picture (brace yourself, it's not pretty...)

I just couldn't understand it. Susan must have tried on the muslin half a dozen times, and then the lining, and I have NEVER seen those wrinkles before. How could the waist all of a sudden be too long?
The obvious, yet painful, fix would be to take apart the side seams, shift the back pieces up and then reattach them. The problem with that route was the length - I was afraid it would shorten the length of the dress enough that Susan wouldn't be able to wear the high heels that she had selected.

But I still couldn't get past the confusion - why would this fitting problem appear now? I slept on it and the next morning, I had a thought. What else, besides the shape of the side seams, contributes to the location and size of the waist of a skirt? Answer: the length and depth of the darts in the back...

As you may remember, the back darts were the ONE bit of the pattern that I didn't completely nail down in the muslin. At our last muslin fitting, I noted the need for one last adjustment and decided that it was small enough that I could transfer the idea to the real fabric. Then I had that difficulty with the lining - the back darts were too wide and I had to let them out again to get the skirt to line up with the bodice. So the darts were still kind of an open question. But, the lining did fit...

So, I compared the length and depth of the darts in the lining to those in the silk and, sure enough, they were longer in the silk - creating a longer waist. I took out the darts and put in shorter ones and Susan, bless her heart, made the drive AGAIN for another "final" fitting.

Did it work? We're still not perfect, but I think it's a major improvement. Take a look:

(Sorry the picture is a bit dark.) I still have some minor issues with the waist stay to work out - I'll talk about those in my next post. Major steps left: buttons up the back and the hem. I'm working on Monday & Tuesday, but I'm going to take Wednesday off and, depending on how that goes, maybe Thursday. (I got permission to take Friday off a while ago.)

Five days and counting! :)