Project Diary

The key to costume making lies in countless hours spent on the tedious and often unseen steps, eventually leading to the finished product. I have often reached the end of a project and wished I had documented my progress from the beginning, for that is where the magic happens! This diary is not meant to be a step by step tutorial, but rather a place to document my progress, share my favorite techniques and hopefully learn a thing or two along the way. 

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  • The Costume Countess

This post follows my process as I bring my fairytale wedding dress to life, but it is not a step-by-step account. Read about the making of my dress from the initial concept to our wedding day, including sentimental details, working on a big dress in a teeny-tiny (and dark!) space, living in that teeny-tiny space with my fiancé while still managing to keep the dress a secret, and last minute help from loving friends that meant the world. With that in mind, please remember that this part of the process is not always glamorous and forgive some of the poor quality photos and (sometimes) messy maker's space as we dive in behind the seams.








I never thought I would make my own wedding dress, for years I simply could not come up with a design. There were far too many details to put together and most importantly, it had to be perfect. It was more than just a dress, and I was afraid that I simply would not be able to do it justice, and so it remained an empty spot in my imagination. But when Jacob proposed, it suddenly all became so clear.


I knew wholeheartedly that I wanted to design a gown that was an intersection of past and present, representing my love of historical costume and yet creating something that was entirely my own. Always inspired by the House of Worth, particularly The Oak Leaf Dress, I decided my dress would be period in construction and silhouette while modern in fabric choices, blending both history and new beginnings, which at the end of the day is what weddings are really all about.


"Oak Leaf" dress, by House of Worth, 1902. Worn by Lady Curzon. Fashion Museum, Bath. Middle/Right: "Peacock" dress, by House of Worth, 1903. Worn by Lady Curzon. Keddleston House

My Initital Sketch

With the big picture had been decided, I wanted to incorporate a few important details into my dress, including pieces cut from my mother’s wedding dress and jewelry that belonged to my great-grandmother.


A few sentimental details:


  • Something Old: My paternal great-grandmother’s jewelry set; my maternal great-grandmother’s gold wedding band; turn-of-the-century wax headpiece

  • Something New: My newly made dress!

  • Something Borrowed: My sister’s veil; Buttons and appliqués from my mother’s wedding dress

  • Something Blue: My corset; Ribbons on my chemise

  • A Sixpence in Your Shoe! Or in my case, a shiny 2018 penny!


Heirloom Jewelry & Antique Headpiece


My sister placing her veil on me



My dad putting a penny in my shoe!

I wasn’t the only one with meaningful details, here are some of Jacob’s sentimental tokens:

  • Silver thistle cufflinks, the thistle being one of our personal symbols (Also present on our handmade wedding arch!)

  • A vintage Russian pocket watch to represent his heritage

  • A heart shaped necklace that belonged to his late mother, fashioned into the fob on his watch chain

  • A silk pocket square made from the same silk used to make my dress

  • A custom vest I made for him using vintage Scottish tweed as a call to our trip to Scotland and my heritage, complete with a hidden Harry Potter ‘Deathly Hallows’ lining

  • The silver art-nouveau boutonniere holder was the same he wore when we went to prom together

  • Tie-pin from my grandfather





 


Starting from the Inside Out

Corsets, petticoat, chemise, stockings, shoes


As with any garment, particularly historical silhouettes, one must start from the inside out! The very first thing I made for my wedding look was my “Something Blue” Edwardian Corset, which you can read all about here




Along with my corset, I also made a very simple chemise to wear beneath my corset along with a couple of petticoats. I can tell you that the old adage, "when in doubt add another petticoat," certainly applied here. I also knew that this was the perfect occasion to spoil myself with a gorgeous pair of shoes from American Duchess. I definitely bought these right away so I could “properly measure my hem during fittings” and not just admire them lovingly...



*A note of the Edwardian S-Bend style corsets*

I learned early on that the garter suspenders attached to the corset are a MUST for proper fit. Beforehand I thought that their only function was to keep your stockings up, however I soon learned that they help tilt your hips into the proper S-bend as well as keep the front of the corset close to the body. In some of my earlier fitting pictures, you can see the ridge from the leg ‘cutouts’ of the corset through several layers of skirt and petticoat simply because I did not have it fastened to my stockings. A small detail that makes a world of difference!



 


First Muslin Mock-ups


Bodice:

Have you seen tutorials for making your own dress form out of duct tape or paper tape? Usually one would use this method on their natural form, but sometimes I like to do this over the corset I intend to wear for the dress I will be making so I can accurately drape the bodice on ‘myself.’ If you’ve ever tried to put a corset on even the smallest dress form padded out to perfection, you will know that it simply does not squish the way a real body does, not to mention that each corset gives a unique shape, even if the measurements are identical! With Jacob’s help I like to make a duct tape form over each unique corset, and then put it over a muslin form I made from my natural measurements. It’s not exactly glamorous, but so far it has worked out really well for me! This method is also really low budget and allows to me to make new forms for each of my corsets, however one day I would really like to make a foam life cast to work from.


Draping the muslin on the form
muslin before transferring markings to patterns

first mock-up using patterns made from drape

As you can see, I was able to drape muslin over my custom form and get a pretty good first bodice mock up.


Skirt:

I ended up testing out a 1903 skirt pattern in paper, before moving into muslin for the skirt as well. I was extremely happy with how the paper test looked, but when I moved to muslin I was a little underwhelmed.


I love seeing the shape of the hem here



Satin Mock-Ups

Skirt:

At the time, I attributed the sad lack of fullness in the skirt to the drape of the muslin, knowing that in addition to petticoats I had planned to flatline my silk with a much sturdier canvas as well as adding a heavy duchesse satin lining to help hold the shape. However, as I moved into the satin, you can see that even while flatlined with canvas it was beginning to puddle at the floor, creating star-shaped drag lines.

See how it puddles?


While a bit frustrating, draglines do tend to point directly at the problem. After opening a few seams and adding a little bit here and there, I ended up adding a gore at the side seam as well as the center back. As you can see, after making these corrections the skirt now drapes effortlessly when compared to the stress lines before.


With the fit of the skirt corrected, I could then go on to finish the foundation skirt. First, I flatlined the silk to canvas and attached 4" horsehair braid with a herringbone stitch, careful to only catch the canvas. I then attached the duchesse satin lining at the hem and under-stitched before bagging it out to the waist.


Canvas flatlined to silk by hand, then panels machine-stitched together

Horsehair braid applied to canvas

Once this part of the skirt was finished, I made an identical petticoat in taffeta, complete with two rows of pinked taffeta ruffles. I then married the petticoat layer to the skirt by stitching them together at the waist. I didn't take many photos during this process, but here are a few of the skirt layers afterwards.




Bodice:

With the foundation of the skirt ready to go, I moved into making my second bodice sample in the duchesse satin lining. With these extreme curves, I prefer to take the extra time to hand-baste the pieces together and make sure it is sewn with precision. But despite my efforts, the bodice was starting to wrinkle like crazy! I triple-checked my sewing against my muslin sample which fit perfectly, and the stitching matched identically. Before adjusting the pattern, I figured it would be worth a shot re-sew half of the sample on the opposite grain for comparison’s sake, and boy did I learn something! If you look, the side on the left was on the original straight-grain while the right side was cut on the cross grain. Look how much smoother the right side is! (Zipper was for easy self-fitting only)


Left Side on Straight Grain, Right Side on Cross Grain

Here are a few fitting photos from this stage. It's starting to take form!

Bodice BEFORE fixing the grain

Bodice BEFORE fixing the grain (puckering on skirt was easily pressed out after this fitting)

Meanwhile, this is how I would hide my dress before Jacob cam home every night....



Beaded Layer


Skirt:

By this time, I have added several identical tulle skirt layers to the foundation skirt and I'm now ready to move to the beaded lace.


The beaded panels are just pinned to the form here as i begin thread tracing

When working with pre-embellished fabric, you want to remove all beads/sequins from the seam allowance to protect your machine, your eyes (from flying shrapnel), and so the seams lie flat. With fabric as heavily beaded as this, that would mean breaking the beads with a hammer around the entirety of the seam allowance. (Breaking the beads is preferred to cutting because it leaves the threads in place and helps prevent unraveling while you sew). Before I could do this however, I traced the seam allowance of each pattern piece with red thread. This certainly took time (just one of my panels was 4yds long!) but made my life much easier down road.




Time to break the beads in all of the seam allowance! This took an entire day and was pretty loud, not to mention that eye protection is key here. There are thousands of little shards that fly in all directions and my safety goggles were constantly being pelted by little fragments.

SO dainty

Bead fragments from only two panels


Once the beaded layer of the skirt was in place, it was time for me to assess how I wanted to finish the hem visually. Looking to historical garments for reference, I tried a few variations of ruffles and appliqués, eventually deciding to add a pleated organza ruffle on the silk layer to provide lift for the tulle and lace, and then appliquéing wheat motifs from the remnants, concentrating the density at the hem and working their way up. Last but not least, the hem itself was finished by appliquéing the beaded selvedge cut from the lace and a heart shape appliqué from my mother’s dress was added at the center back of the train.


3 layer organza ruffle on silk layer of foundation skirt

Here you can see the lift provided by the ruffles

An appliqué from my mom's dress at the CB train

For fun, here is my mom's wedding dress circa 1991, this particular appliqué came from her sleeve!

Look how pretty my parents are

Bodice:

In order to not disturb the fluid wheat motif, I decided that I would drape the beaded lace in one piece over the fitted satin foundation and hand stitch it into place. I tried several variations until I was finally happy with a drape that wasn’t too distracting. I then carefully removed the beads from lower bodice where the pleated chiffon belt would sit in order to remove bulk and prevent snagging. After going back and forth with myself, I finally decided to baste the belt directly to the bodice so I wouldn’t have to worry about it shifting on my big day. Once in place, I added the covered buttons from my mom’s wedding dress to close the belt at center back, and added another appliqué from her dress to the CF neckline.


Afterwards, I pleated the silk chiffon and draped it into the neckline and sleeve to create a romantic off the shoulder look and a little nouveau nod to Alphonse Mucha’s artwork.



Painter's tape was added to form to ensure marker lines wouldn't rub off onto fabric

Last minute I decided to add a very thin silk lining and didn't end up taking any photos of the boning channels and waist tape inside. I'm Sorry! You can see, however, the little channel I stitched along the neckline that allowed me to add a little drawstring to help control the straps the day of. This was a very common detail seen in historical garments and it helped keep my straps from falling down all day.

The bodice is closed with alternating hooks and eyes with the edges meeting flush at center back. Having the hooks and eyes alternate prevents them from suddenly popping open as you move (and dance!).




Final details

Despite giving myself what I thought would be plenty of time (3 months...) a few work projects came up that put my wedding dress on hold, in addition to being a crazy person and making my 1920s rehearsal dinner dress and Jacob’s vest…. With only a few weeks left, I was in a bit of a panic. I usually don’t like asking for help because I am afraid of being a burden, but Jacob could tell I needed time to myself, so he went away for a weekend and I put out an SOS call for my friends to help me finish all the last minute details that take oh-so-much time.


The first rescue team, Judith, Kara & Jill (and a couple empty bottles of wine...)




I am so grateful for all their help and company, and for their helping hands that poured so much more love into my dress. Thank you Ariella, Jade, Toni, Kara, Jill and Judith for all of your help, I couldn’t have done it without you! While I’m at it, a special shout out to my husband for being the best “bride” ever! While I was busy panicking about finishing my dress in time, he was taking care of all the last minute wedding details and dealing with vendors like a normal bride would be doing. I am so incredibly grateful for my village.


Ariella sewing on more appliqués

Toni at work

Jade working on boutonniéres as Ariella continues with appliqués

Here is the final fit of my gown before packing everything up for San Francisco! As you can probably tell, I haven’t slept in a few days here (the photos are also really fuzzy which is very fitting....) My dress could have been worn down the aisle as it was, but it still wasn’t finished. To be honest though, I’m not sure if it would have ever been completely “finished” in my eyes, there was always more that could be perfected. Lucky for me, my maid of honor, Ariella, continued to hand stitch appliqués onto my dress in the final days leading up to (and possibly the morning of...) our wedding!




Here is the final layer count of my dress!

Under Skirt:

  • Chemise

  • Silk Stockings

  • Hip Pad

  • Corset

  • Petticoat #1

Bodice

  • Silk Lining (not historically accurate, but decided to add it in)

  • Boning

  • Silk Satin flatlined with fine canvas

  • White Tulle Layer

  • Beaded Lace

  • Silk Chiffon Belt, tucker and sleeves

Skirt

  • Taffeta petticoat #2 attached at waist

  • Duchesse Satin Lining attached at hem

  • Silk Satin flatlined with fine canvas, Horsehair hem

  • Blush Tulle Layer 1

  • White Tulle Layer 2

  • White Tulle Layer 3

  • Beaded Lace


Wedding Day!

The big day was finally here and filled with so much magic and love.




First Look!



First Look!

First Look!

First Look!











Overall, I am so happy that I ended up designing and making my own wedding dress. It was certainly stressful, and there are still a few minor things I would change, but at the end of the day being able to walk down the aisle in one-of-a-kind dress made with so much love made everything worth it.


 

Special thanks to our Wedding Day Photographer: Ditto Dianto; Our Videographer: Yew Productions and our Florist: Bewilder Floral

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  • The Costume Countess

Updated: Jan 5, 2018



My biggest project this year will absolutely be my wedding dress and I will document the process as soon as I have a space big enough to work in again! I've designed a Turn-of-the-Century style gown inspired in part by House of Worth (sketches and inspiration to come in a later post!). While my dress will have some modern touches to it, the silhouette will be wholly Edwardian, and as with any period piece, to get the right look you have to start with the right foundations and work your way up to the final garment.


I have made many corsets before, but most were Victorian in shape, this is my first attempt at the "S-Curve" of the Edwardian era. I did not want to spend too much time drafting and experimenting, so instead I decided to go straight to the source and order a pattern drafted directly from an antique corset. If you haven't already, you should definitely check out Atelier Sylphe Corsetry on Etsy, she has a huge collection of patterns all drafted from original sources. After what was probably a little too much deliberation (there were so many to choose from!), I finally chose the "REF W Antique Edwardian" pattern and couldn't be happier.



After looking at the patterns I knew right away that I would want to lengthen the corset as I wanted this style to hit about mid-bust. I made a quick sample out of canvas to confirm my initial guess, and ended up lengthening it by about 3". I did not take any pictures from this stage, but I am happy to answer any questions about my process if you'd like to learn more about altering patterns.


With newly adjusted patterns and a second fit sample sewn, I was off to buy my fabric and trimmings. Nothing gets my blood pumping quite like fabric shopping, I combed through hundreds of colorful silks like an eager kid in candy store, until I found the perfect french blue silk dupioni. It was "the one," my something blue! From there I was on the hunt for lace and ribbon which took way longer than it should have, but I eventually decided on a beautiful antique french lace and silk ribbon for contrast. As always, I had my favorite Herringbone Coutil on hand from SewCurvy, I have never found anything quite as strong and it is a dream to work with.




There are many different ways to add a fashion fabric on top of your coutil layer such as roll-pinning, flat lining or fusing, all have their own pros and cons and everyone has their own preference. Roll pinning, while tedious, will give you the most professional finish, as this traditional technique of pinning on a curve accommodates the natural turn of cloth and eliminates excessive fabric buckling. For an in depth tutorial on roll-pinning, see this tutorial written by Barbara Pesendorfer on Foundations Revealed.


The picture below is just the dupioni before I roll-pinned it to the coutil:




Once I had each piece carefully pinned, I sewed the body together which is the quickest part of the process! I knew this was going to be a heavy duty corset as it was already taking shape from the earliest step. The heavy coutil and sculptural shape of the pattern pieces alone were enough to make the corset stand without any boning or channels!



For accuracy, I marked all of my boning channels on the coutil pieces before sewing. This step is not necessary but makes life a lot easier, especially when sewing over all of those curved seams. Next, I hand basted the channel tape in place, making sure to pin my waist tape where I wanted it first. The original corset this pattern was drafted from did not have waist tape, but I went ahead and added some for extra strength. In the picture below you can see the boning channels marked on the left and basted on the right.


Here's a view of both sides basted on the inside as well as the outside:



Next, I stitched down the sides of the tape:


Afterwards, I removed my basting stitches and carefully stitched down the center of each tape. This particular style of corset calls for double boning (two channels right next to each other) and as long as you account for this when deciding on your tape width, this technique is an easy way to achieve it.


Look how pretty all the channels look from the front!

Next I measured, cut and numbered all of my boning pieces. While you can do this beforehand, I like to measure directly from the constructed corset just to be sure. I decided to use all flat steel bones instead of a combination of flat and spiral steel and I am very happy with the result.


Once I had ground down the sharp edges of the bones on a belt sander, I moved on to tipping the ends to prevent wear & tear on the corset later down the line. Of all the tipping techniques I've tried including (but not limited to) tipping fluid, tape and even plasti-dip, using Plumber's Tape is my absolute favorite! Not only is it quick and easy, but it forms perfectly to the shape of your boning with just the warmth of your finger tips, provides plenty of cushion and is extremely affordable and easy to find. In all honesty, I don't think I will ever use anything else.



After tipping all of the bones and tucking them into their rightful channels, I sewed the top edge closed and moved on to my bias binding. This particular style of corset has an extreme shape along the bottom edge that allows the center front to dip down a little lower than a Victorian corset, eventually tipping the pelvis forward for that picturesque Edwardian silhouette. To make my life a little easier, I traced the top and bottom edges of the corset onto lightweight cardboard and used it as a template to pre-shape my bias binding.


It couldn't have been easier! I slipped the bias binding along each edge and slowly coerced it into place using pins and a steamy iron. Afterwards I was left with some beautifully shaped binding that couldn't wait to fall perfectly into place on my corset.




I machine stitched one side of the binding then finished by hand stitching the inside with a simple blind stitch. The corset could have technically been finished at this point, but I wanted to add the decorative lace. I played around with a few different placements before finally deciding on a more modern "V" shape that accentuates the waist instead of the traditional free-hanging lace from the top edge.



I then attached the scalloped lace trim at the bottom edge, sewing it in place with a teeny tiny blanket stitch that ended up looking like it was a part of the lace. With coutil this heavy, I prefer to use a curved glover's needle when hand sewing.


Almost there! The corset has so much structure with all of the steel bones that I needed to fill it out with my favorite corset "dress form" ---- a pillow ---- normal dress forms just don't squish enough! I can also work this way on a table or in my lap instead of on a traditional form which is an added bonus. For this particular style I also had to stuff the bust with a couple of tailor's hams before I could baste on the french lace.



After adding the final decorative touch of the bow, my corset was ready to go!


Once I add the garter straps at center front, they will help pull the center front down and back to tilt the pelvis forward and provide the flat front and S-Curve shape.



And that's that! Eventually I will add pictures of the matching garters and decorative flossing. Next step: making the ruffly shift to be worn underneath, but that will have to wait until I get back to Los Angeles!


#Corsetry #corsetmaking #corset #authenticcorset #edwardiancorset #scurve #somethingbluecorset #sewing #sewingtechniques #historicalsewing #historicalreproduction

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