Tuesday 8 November 2016

A Beautiful Bodice..Or Bust! Part 1

With the toile mocked up and looking better than expected, I was super relaxed about the dress progress. The only thing I had to 'fix' was the bodice. It was soon clear that the one used in the pattern wouldn't do. Personally, I thought it looked fine - especially given that it would be overlaid with lace. But DD was having none of it. She disliked the way the bodice was sitting 'too far' from her body which she thought looked frumpy. I'd played around with a few options for alternative bodices, but she was in love with the vision of lace sleeves, so we quickly abandoned any idea changes (as above).

These days it's the norm for wedding dresses to be sleeveless, but my DD was adamant she wanted sleeves from the get-go. Firstly, she felt the look wouldn't be as formal if she was sleeveless, and the climate of her wedding day meant that she would have looked semi naked without them. So sleeves were a must. Now it was time to get the bodice right. Little did I know that making up the bodice would take me longer than making up the entire wedding dress.

In regards to the bodice included in the pattern, for anyone up to a C cup size, it will work perfectly fine. And if that had been the case for us, the dress really would have been a simple affair to sew up and finish. But as I think you already know, there is always a spanner waiting to be thrown into the works. And the bodice was my spanner.

How ugly this looks! It was such a shock to see this toile with the lace made up according to the pattern. The dress went from having plenty of potential to being so hideously frumpy. Actually a lot of garments have an 'ugly' stage, it's one of those secrets of sewing. You've got to see it through to the end. But for my DD, it was time to start expressing concern. At this stage, the wedding was 10 days away, and I had just 5 days to get my act together. It couldn't stay like this.
My DD is top heavy: much more so than she looks. And no matter the lingerie beneath, the bodice front was simply too much bosom visually and tipped the balance of the overall look. From the front it was almost passable, but from the side it wasn't flattering. Now, like I said before, I thought that with the lace, it wouldn't be such an issue but my DD couldn't get past it. The first thing we changed was the lace overlay itself. The pattern calls for a V front which is very flattering for women with a smaller bust. I insisted on trying it out just to see what it looked like. Made up (from lace curtains) it was unflattering. To create visual harmony, she would either have to have full lace up to the neck or no lace and no sleeves. The sleeves weren't going anywhere, and the original design inspiration had scalloped lace across the front up to the collar bone, so we went back to this original idea.
It was clear that I would have to deviate from the pattern entirely for the top half of the dress. At this stage I thought I would simply re-draft the bodice with more support to create a firmer shape. I set about creating a new pattern, using rigilene for support. 
It was woefully lackluster. At this stage I actually believe that I could contour the bodice to her body shape which I thought would result in a better fit - and that this would be the solution. 
Actually the curved bodice I created was impressive in regards to it's shape and form. But it was useless. On the body it simply did what the first bodice had done - nothing. It was a flop!
But I was undeterred. I simply re-drafted and went again:
 and ended up with this bodice 
The fit around the body was fine but looked terrible in the bust. I couldn't work out how to get around curving a pattern for a fitted bust that was also supportive. It was so discouraging, but I was determined. I am after all, a qualified designer and pattern maker. I knew I could do it. So I persisted.  And created yet another terrible bodice.
With time quickly getting away from me, I realized I was in trouble. As I had never designed bodices for ample busts before, I decided to get some professional help. I went onto Craftsy and found Allison Smith's class on corsetry. It's an amazing class and I realized two important things: that I wasn't creating a corset at all, but that I was creating a bodice with corsetry elements. I contacted Allison directly through the Craftsy area where you can ask tutors for help. I sent in a photo of my DD's bust issue and Allison put me on track. I immediately got online and purchased Coutil fabric and metal boning. 

It was clear I'd need plenty more boning and a 'semi corset' pattern..but from where? The Craftsy class and pattern advice was for a corset class and this wasn't suitable for joining up with the skirt. I needed a soft corset pattern which I could modify. All the patterns I had ever drafted never exceeded a B cup. Going online, it was clear that all 'bodices' out there were the same. I was feeling the pressure and took another Craftsy class in bra making, thinking it would help me get my head around the sewing techniques. It did do that, but it was a distraction from the wedding dress. The fact was, all the bra, strapless bra and bodice patterns out there were designed with stretch fabric in mind and didn't translate to the inflexibility of coutil - and it had to be coutil for the fit and support. Oh boy, was I in a dilemma!

In September 2016 I made my DD's wedding dress using the Butterick Pattern B5731 as a starting point. I then created my own variation of a semi corset with a built in bra as a replacement to the pattern bodice. I took the Craftsy online class 'Sewing Corsets' with Alison Smith which I can recommend as essential viewing for anyone interested in sewing corsets or formal wear bodices with corset elements. In fact I even received personal advice from Alison and am happy to recommend this class to anyone who's interested.
 Sewing Corsets with Alison Smith


  1. I'm looking forward to part 2, where hopefully the ugly bodice becomes a Cinderella gown!

  2. I am really enjoying your posts on the wedding dress. Thank you for taking the time!

  3. So stressful - but you handled it beautifully.

  4. Oh my! You really have tenacity - I'm glad that it was worth it in the end but I can hear from your blog that it was all getting a bit stressful when you were actually trying to make the bodice against the deadline! Well done for staying with it and getting a great result!

    1. Oh Plum, I was sewing this dress up until midnight the night before the wedding! I wasn't joking when I asked you to all send positive thoughts my way, I really know they made all the difference and carried me through!


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