How to make 10 bridesmaid dresses, when you thought you were only making 3….
I was asked in January if I would help to make someone’s wedding dream happen…
A couple of bridesmaid dresses…well three….I was told. Ok so we went with mum and bride-to-be on a shopping trip to Nottingham to suss out colours, styles etc… oh and eat cake. Cake features very largely in this whole experience and was very welcome and very necessary and tasty of course.
Right, so Nottingham, not being sure of what they were after and needing some colour inspiration etc, we went to John Lewis….I have always, always had a look if not bought stuff like patterns, trimmings, and cloth, what a let down, I was shocked to see that in the times of make do and mend, The Great British Sewing Bee, retro, refurb etc they had halved the department and there was very little to tempt us to stay.
So we went to Nottingham Market next, and wow the colour was perfect, ‘How many dresses?’ we were asked, I said, ‘Three’ at the same time as bride-to-be said ‘10’, ….ok, step back, slightly surprised, lets think about this a bit…, how much fabric… there was no way I would allow her to buy that day, this needed careful planning to create a lovely vision for a dream day. We ate cake, mum took lots of pics and we went home.
Lots of cake arrived the next day, chocolate mmmmmm… it was needed.
So Version 1 of the designs was hatched.
We split up the 10 into similar age groups and sizes. This gave us four groups, 3 women, 2 teens, 3 pre-teens, 2 pre-school. I wanted Version 1 to be the real ‘wish’ list everything you could want or ask for.
Bride to be had some ideas of what she wanted and had bought a beautiful Vogue pattern for a slinky floor length dress which would suit the older girls, who were all similar sizes 10-12, this was eventually adapted to create our own version. I had a pattern that would suit the teens and pre-teens, with a little magic to make it work, based on an A-line…very 50’s, full skirt, below the knee. The very young ones was a classic very full skirt with pussy cat bow at the back, it didn’t end up twee, just gorgeous. I even painted a watercolour sketch to make sure we had the same ‘vision’, everyone was happy.
I popped into my stockist just to get some swatches and picked up a lovely lace which I thought might work within the styles.
So this being the wish list, each style grouping was added to and embellished. When I costed it out it was quite scary, knowing that they were on a limited budget having a do-it-yourself informal wedding. Back to the drawing board.. More cake.. Version 2 was born.
With clever cutting and eliminating some of the OTT elements the costs came down a bit. Version 3 knocked it back again, using alternative but still lovely fabrics, finally two months or so later we got to Version 4, ate mountains of cake and fabric was ordered.
We had a few issues with the fabric, some of what we had chosen from my stockist wasn’t now available. I took a long shot and went back to the market to see if the original roll of fabric was still there….and oh my word… it was, so a little negotiation and it was in the bag. Whew! At least the ladies were sorted.
Now it’s a good job that the World Cup was on this year or my husband would have been very fed up.
I arranged for a Saturday afternoon measuring session, please come and bring cake…
It was like a party, mum taking pics throughout, wedding talk, what was happening, what have you still got to do, all excited, the house was full of chatter…a very lively afternoon.
The biggest issue was that Bride-to-be still hadn’t got a dress, she knew which one she wanted, even showed it to me in a bridal shop in Nottingham in January, but there was no way she could have afforded it. So she started trawling the internet to find it, one came up in Glasgow, the lady refused to send it to her, so they went to fetch it. It fitted a treat but needed a little alteration which could be done later. The back up was if it hadn’t been found I would run one up two weeks before – so I was quite relieved really!
Each style of dress had several elements to it. I designed them to complement each other with the different coloured fabric and lace.
The three slinky dresses were all in aqua satin, with organza overlaid to give a real swishy look with organza ties and diamanté finishes.
The teens had cream satin underlay dresses puffed out with net and overlaid with aqua lace dresses with cream ribbon so lovely.
The pre-teens had full aqua dresses with cream lace overlay bodices and aqua organza overlaid skirts, with cream organza ties, finished with pearl buttons.
The young girls were a vision in cream duchess satin, with cream lace bodices and cream crystal organza skirts which were very full with nets, finished with pearl buttons and big pussy cat bows in aqua organza.
That was the plan… that’s what they got… it was a lot of work and a team effort … and more cake.
I started the cutting out of the first five dresses, it is important to take your time when doing this, its easy to go wrong, clever cutting can save fabric but make sure you follow the pattern cutting guides with your seam allowances and the way up the pattern should be to the fabric. I was cutting dresses which were on the bias, this takes a lot of fabric, and gives that swishy look so be mindful how you lay out the pattern if you still want the desired effect.
If you have never worked with organza before then be very careful
it travels…and travels….and travels, it’s a bit of a nightmare really.. I find it easier to put a blanket on the table and pin it to it, allow a bit extra because as you put it together in a skirt you have to hold it up, or put on a dummy or try on to let it find its own level naturally, otherwise you will probably end up slinging out of the window in frustration.
We set up a sewing day. My sister arrived and stayed 3 days… she was a star, she has not been in the best of health so it was a gigantic effort and much appreciated, even if we don’t always see eye to eye always, ha, ha. Mum arrived with camera and bride-to-be with a sewing machine. I had previously cut some of the dresses out, so we set to tacking them together… because I was adapting patterns I felt it was necessary to tack and try on before sewing the bodices. The skirts were sewn together, there seemed to be miles of fabric and with the multiple layers necessary it meant a lot of seams!
We concentrated on the big girls to start with. The bodices were pretty much ok, just a few tweaks, one of the girls lived in London so couldn’t make the fitting, hers was tried on by one of the others. In the actual pattern the ties were quite complicated going from the shoulder, across the back, round the waist and tied at the back, I thought this was over the top and in an effort to save fabric decided to go around the waist and tie back also I only cut one layer, we were dealing with organza here so I sent mum home with homework to hand sew rolled edges all the way around, this gave a very floaty look to the finished ties. Another way I saved a lot of fabric on these was to not line these skirts. The original pattern called for over 6 metres of fabric for each dress, I only had 15 metres of the main fabric for 3 dresses so I was short before I started, but I still have a little left.
Next came the two teens. They needed a little fitting but not too bad. The bodices were made up of 3 layers, the lining, the cream satin dress and the aqua lace overlay dress. Firstly I sewed together the cream bodice front and two back pieces, this was designed to be a strapless top, originally it had bones but the girls they were going on were quite tiny (size 8) and I didn’t feel it was necessary so I eliminated that. Also I felt that they would benefit from a small strap so I inserted a white ribbon ¼” to form this.
The lining was completed in the same way. The bodice and the lining were placed together matching the seams (with the seams on the outside), and inserting the strap within the seams on the front of the bodice. They were then machined along the top edge. All seams were pressed and turned, then the top was pressed together to form the top of the bodice.
The lace overlay bodice was more complete with shoulders and a neckline, it also had darts, so quite different from the fitted under-bodice. I joined the seams, sewed the darts, and sewed a tiny hem around the sleeves and neck openings. I then placed the lace bodice on top of the cream under bodice, matched the side seams together and tacked in place the along the bottom edge (omitting the lining). I also put a small tack under the arm on the side seam just to keep it in place.
The skirt had four layers, lining, net, cream satin and lace overlay. These were put together and machined along the top on the right side, then tacked in place with the bottom edge of the bodice and put away for another fitting.
So far so good…
I didn’t initially have all the measurements, and I wanted to work in groups of like dresses to stop any confusion. Each dress had its own labelled bag as well. So another cake party was necessary to move the project along….the wedding plans were developing at a pace and excitement was growing. The hen party was looming and the village hall was booked for a weekend of activities, films, girly chat, make-overs, lots of cake and….sewing! We did a ‘Joy to Make’ hen party on Sunday morning, the results were great see here for more of that.
Back to the frocks. The pre-teens as I called them (aged-10-13) had another style again. Similar skirts to the teens, very 50’s in style, full circle with net to push them out a bit. An aqua satin dress with a cream lace overlay bodice, aqua organza overlaid over the skirt and a cream organza tie.
To form the bodice I overlaid each piece of satin (front and two backs) with lace and tacked them together. These were then sewed as one piece joining the shoulder seams. The lining shoulder seams were joined and pressed. The bodice was laid out on the table with the outside up, and the lining placed on it with the outsides together. The neckline and the armholes were tacked together, then sewn in place. The whole thing was pulled through to the right side. The side seams were joined as a complete piece. All seams were then pressed.
The skirts were similar to the teens with the organza over the skirt and not the lace. Then back in the bag for another fitting!
I left the pre-school dresses until the last, partly because I had no measurements for dress no. 9 until a week before the wedding, and I thought it was not going to happen. The 2 year old, I wasn’t bothered about either, that could be done last, also we had a back up dress, as she had had a ‘frozen’ birthday party a couple of weeks before and a dress was quickly made for that in the same colours so no panic there then. (see how to make a frozen dress for a toddler…)
The cake making by now was excelling itself, incredibly yummy.
By now my whole house was taken over with cutting table in the dining room, my sewing room and a bedroom for the fittings. Doris (the tailors dummy) was doing a sterling job standing in for the real thing, but alas she collapsed half way through and had to stand on a plastic shelf unit, several books and a hat box….ok bizarre but it worked, ‘make do and mend’ … a little improvisation … poor Doris!
Luckily the World Cup was still on.. even though England were out so hubby was occupied making endless cups of tea as well and speaking to strange hubbies who had been dumped in the living room to wait.
Following the next lot of fittings the zips were popped in… these were invisible zips, if you haven’t done them before they are really easy. Use a zipper foot, open the zip and place upside down on the right hand side of the dress opening with the teeth facing away from the edge of the fabric. Pin and tack this into place. The machine needle needs to go inside next to the zipper teeth you could press it back first if you like, I don’t I just roll it back with my nails and sew it into place as tight as I can. Do the other side as well. I allowed a couple of inches longer for the zip because all the skirts were made up and with several layers it would have been a pain sewing the seams afterwards. Don’t trap in the linings leave them flapping at the back to be hand stitched later. A good tip also if you are having a lace overlay is to not quite go to the edge as it can be a bit bulky and bumpy.
Now with the zips in lay the dress on the table with the bodice towards you and the lining face upwards. Smooth down from the top to the skirt and pin the lining to the skirt hiding all the seams, also pin the lining to the back of the zips. All this can be hand sewn to finish off.
The lace overlay dresses were finished with a handmade buttonhole and a pearl button just to hold the lace at the back of the neck.
Extra netting was put into the skirts of the shorter dresses, 4 x 8” strips were cut for each one, joined together and gathered then sewn on top of the net inside, this gave extra ‘puff’ to push them out. We didn’t want them gi-normous just a bit pushed out, so the girls didn’t feel out of place.
We were getting close to the final day now and the lady from London came up for a fitting, this coincided with an art exhibition I had on that weekend, quite how I managed to finish off three paintings the week before I don’t know…so I was back and forward a bit.
Just for a laugh bride-to-be had been down the car boot and found an 80’s bridesmaids dress complete with puffy sleeves and lots of frills, it was exactly the same colour as ours. We were all told not to say anything, and she was told to close her eyes when putting on the dress so it would be a surprise. On went the dress it fitted a treat, she was delighted and loved it, swishing around with delight… we were all crying with laughter, it was filmed, especially when she said….’This isn’t my dress is it?’
I was doing fine with just the final touches to do. It was a fortnight to go, the only dress that was really in need of being finished was the brides and I didn’t know what was needed there yet. Now the dress fitted quite well, very flattering, it just needed an inch off the bust to bring it in a bit and three inches off the bottom. A sleeve was requested as well.
Did I mention that mum and bride to be were avid car booters? Well they managed to find an old wedding dress for £5 and a fine lacy blouse, would these be any good for the sleeves? I formed a strap as a base with a piece of satin to get the shape right whilst it was on her. Mum went away with the car boot dress to take off the lace that was around the base of the dress.
They returned a few days later, I had taken up the hem on the bridal dress and I decided not to alter the lace overlay, but instead just twisted it and sewed it in place and couple of times adding a couple of pearls to finish it off, this lifted it to the correct level and it looked as if it had always been like that. The sleeve was made up and inserted it made dress unique, she looked a million dollars in it.
Ten days to go…
and I got the measurements for dress number 9…bless her I couldn’t say no, she was only 4 and wanted to be a princess. The dress was in cream satin with a cream lacy bodice and crystal organza over the skirt, and an aqua organza pussycat bow, it was a very special dress. Her eyes sparkled when we put it on and she saw herself in the mirror I have never seen such a pretty smile, it was worth the extra effort to make someone so happy.
The final finishes were done in the last week, hems were turned, sashes were sewn in place, with diamante studs sewn onto the shoulders of the full size dresses, and pearls for buttons in the centre of the ties for the pre-teens.
All was complete by Wednesday night, except for the 2 year olds dress. I had cut it out earlier (based on the size of the ‘frozen’ dress) and began sewing it on Friday night. All the dresses were still at my house, they were picked up at 11pm that night. The last dress was ‘tried on’ in the church just before the service, it fitted a treat, she looked adorable, I didn’t actually think we would get through the service with her wearing it, let alone all day, after all it was almost white.
When all the girls came down the aisle I was delighted that I had made the decision to create a ‘vision of lovely’ with differing styles, fabrics and lace that toned so well and suited each age group. The bride was stunning in her adapted dress that looked so perfect as if it were made for her.
Then we had an Edwardian tea party with loads of cake….delicious!