Once I found out the date that my student ceremony would be taking place I started making plans for a new dress. Not only did I want a new dress to celebrate my new journey as a student to Her Grace Mistress Esabel, but ever since having a baby I can’t really fit into any of my previous garb.
I decided not to alter my existing bodice pattern and instead start from scratch. My previous pattern that I’ve used for years divides the shoulder straps between the front and back pattern pieces, forcing you to try and pull the smaller piece (the back sections if the bodice is a back lacer, the front pieces if the bodice is a front lacer) through the shoulder strap channel. While this is not a problem if you’re using a silky material like well silk, it can cause a tug-of-war with some sturdier brocades and velvets. It also puts a lot of strain on the shoulder seams. The really tricky part of this type of pattern is that you have to be 100% certain that the shoulder strap seams match before you sew the body of the bodice together, otherwise you end up with seams at a very visible level that are off kilter.
I admire the dresses a friend (Mistress Serafina) creates that utilize one-piece shoulder straps that originate on the back portion of the pattern and are inserted down the top of the front of the bodice. I knew that with a few slight alterations I could make this version work for my new dress. I studied one of her dresses to draft the pattern and then made the one needed alteration (I’m not as generously endowed in the bosom as my friend so it needed to be slightly downsized).
Front Lacer, Back Lacer, Side Lacer?
I believe that the placement of the dress closure sets the whole tone for the dress. Front lacers without a front placket feel very informal while back lacers are impossible to get into by yourself. I decided to make the dress a side lacer so that I could dress myself if necessary but still keep an elegant look.
I was determined that this project was going to be completed using nothing but the material in my stash. Since the ceremony would be happening at Kingdom Collegium, I decided to stay away from my silks and brocades, and concentrated more on the various colors of linen and linen blends. I finally settled on a linen/rayon blend in a lovely shade of turquoise. I knew that the fabric would behave like linen but have the forgiving nature of rayon, something I desperately wanted when creating the first dress with a new pattern. The turquoise fabric would be used for the bodice lining, the outer fabric on the bodice, the skirt, and the sleeves. Duck cloth would be used for the interlining, and wool felt would be used to pad the skirt pleats. Even the sewing thread and embroidery floss for the eyelets came from my stash.
I began the construction process by cutting all needed pieces (2 front pieces and 2 back pieces) out of duck cloth, and then sewed in boning channels. The original dress had far fewer boning channels than I’m used to, but as this would speed up the construction process I decided to stick with 4 straight down the front, 2 diagonals on each side of the front boning, and 1 piece of boning on each edge to ensure the edges would remain straight when the dressed was laced up. For boning I used 1/2″ wide industrial zip ties, cut to length and rounded on each end (previously I’ve made dresses where I didn’t round the ends and they rip through your fabric pretty quick).
Once the boning was secured in the appropriate channels I cut out the outer pieces from the linen/rayon fabric (2 front pieces and 2 back pieces). The outer back pieces were 1/2″ longer on the bottom than the inner pieces, and the outer front pieces were 1/2″ longer on the top than the inner pieces. I do this intentionally so that when I hand sew those parts closed I don’t have to fold over the duck cloth, thereby deleting any unnecessary bulk. After machine sewing the interlining and outer pieces together, I hand sewed the remaining top and bottom open edges. I had forgotten to add a seam allowance to the ends of the shoulder straps, so they were sewed shut with my machine and then butt stitched to their places on the top of the front bodice pieces.
I do all of my lacing eyelets by hand using an awl and DMC embroidery floss. The lacing pattern I decided to use was spiral, which would give me 5 eyelets on the front edges of the bodice and 6 eyelets on the back edges. Once I had marked the locations of each eyelet, I used the awl to open the fabric, and a sturdy needle with my embroidery floss to buttonhole stitch each eyelet.
An appropriate length lace was found for each side and a shanked button was tied to one end while an aglet was tied to the other. I learned the trick of using the button from Mistress Jaquelinne. It enables you to pull your lacing tight without having to worry that the knotted end will pop out of the eyelet (freaking genius!).
I decided to use cartridge pleating for the skirt to add a little poof. I used a yard and a half of material for the front portion of the skirt, and two yards for the back. After cutting out the two panels, I sewed the tops of each panel to wool felt strips and marked out the location of each individual pleat. Next, I threaded my needle using 4 strands of thread (it needs to be super strong so that I can tug on it and not worry about breakage) and went to work. Once I had the pleats pulled tight I started sewing them to the bodice. This is the big reason I make sure to measure out my pleats first, because you need to know how many to sew along each inch of the bodice. I usually try to sew 3 o 4 per inch.
After the pleats were sewn on the front and back I let the dress hang in the closet for 2 days to get any stretch out of the skirt, then I sewed the front panel to the back panel using zig-zag stitch and measured out the hem. I marked the hem length for the back and front and pressed it. What followed was 2 hours of sitting and sewing the hem using teeny tiny stitches.
Once the dress was completed I finally had time to move onto the sleeves. I like using a single piece pattern rather than 2 piece sleeves for simplicity sake. I used my serger for all of the inner seams and to attach the ribbon ties. I hand sewed the cuffs using a basic running stitch. Once the sleeves were sewn together I attached the aglets to the ribbon ties and my dress was done!
After I wore the dress at Collegium, I discovered several changes that need to be made:
- The straps have to be shortened by about 1 inch since they kept falling off of my shoulders ALL DAY LONG. This means I will also have to reattach the lacing rings for the sleeves
- I can take about 2 inches out of the bodice circumference to ensure the tight fit that I prefer
- I need to lower the top of the bodice by about an inch
- I need to remember to leave fabric on the skirt edges to overlap and cover my underskirt when the dress is laced up
- NEVER serge grosgrain ribbon, it just makes the ribbon fray
Luckily these are easy fixes and can be incorporated into my next dress. Overall I enjoyed making the dress and have finally gotten over my fear of linen