10 October 2015

My Self-Drafted Bridesmaid Dress

My lovely sister-in-law got married in July, and asked me to be one of her bridesmaids. She decided not to choose a single dress for us all, but instead just asked us to find something in lavender. It was a outdoors, daytime wedding so I wanted something cocktail in style.

I looked through loads of shops here in Singapore and couldn't find anything. Lavender just isn't a popular colour in RTW.  In the end I decided to sew it myself. 

I started by doing a Google search on bridesmaids dresses. There were some really awful dresses out there (think 1980s formal), but I did find a selection of dresses I really liked.

This one was my favourite:

I started to draft my pattern. I needed to transform my basic bodice block into a princess seam bodice with a boat neck at the front and a V at the back.

I found this excellent tutorial by LiEr on ikatbag, which gives very clear instructions on converting darts into a princess seam.

Ikatbag - Converting To Princess Seams

I also turned my skirt block into an A-line skirt, and added some invisible pockets into the seam using this tutorial.  By the way, adding invisible pockets is incredibly simple, and I plan to add them to more things I sew.

Make It & Love It - Adding Pockets

Once I had a first draft on my pattern, I made up a toile plain grey cotton that I picked up cheaply at Mustafa.  The bodice was too long, and the skirt wasn't the right shape. It should have been a slightly flared skirt. My husband helped pin the toile and I transferred the adjustments onto my pattern. I then made a second toile (please excuse the appalling photographs).

It was much closer to what I wanted. I then visited my lovely fit-buddy Emily , who was able to help with the final minor adjustments. I now had my perfect pattern.

I vaguely remembered seeing a fabric I liked in Chinatown, so I headed there one day. I visited every shop and found some good choices in plain lavender. I quite liked a few that had a texture a bit like Thai raw silk. I finally hit the jackpot in a little shop that specializes in Chinese silk
brocades. I found this amazing fabric:

It's a very muted lavender. I picked up a satin fabric to use as lining. I bought the last bit on the roll and had just enough.

I began by pinning my pattern to the silk brocade. To ensure I matched seams accurately I used a couture technique called thread tracing. I used silk thread in a contrasting colour to sew a line of running stitch around the edge of every pattern piece. Each seam has to be sewed with a separate thread, so this is time consuming work.

The silk brocade has to be handled very carefully. The weave is very mobile and is easily stretched out of shape. It also frays like crazy. I debated overlocking each piece, but decided not to as I didn't want to add any bulk.  Instead, I cut the pieces out using my pinking shears, to try and minimize fraying. I didn't bother with thread tracing on the lining. For the lining I cut the exact same pattern. To ensure the lining did not show at the neckline and armcyes, I used the advice from this tutorial by The Slapdash Sewist and trimmed the lining neckline and armscye seams down by 1/4". This will naturally encourage the silk brocade to roll to the inside of the bodice along those seams.

To piece the pattern together I followed these steps:

  1. Sew the princess seams on the front bodice (outer fabric and lining)
  2. Sew the princess seams on the back bodice (outer fabric and lining)
  3. Sew the shoulder seams (outer fabric and lining)
  4. Pin the outer fabric and lining pieces together at neckline (right sides together) and sew neckline
  5. Understitch the lining to the seam allowance along the neckline
  6. Pin the outer fabric and lining pieces together at armholes (right sides together) and sew armholes.  It's not possible to under stitch this seam (except by hand), so I just pressed it carefully. 
  7. This step is tricky to explain, and I stupidly didn't take a photograph.  Open up the side seams and separate the outer fabric from the lining.  Pin the side seam all the way from the waist of the outer fabric, to the bottom of the armscye, then continue along the lining to the waist of the lining.  Sew the side seam.  This picture from The Slapdash Sewist might be helpful.  In this picture the green fabric is the outer, and the white is the lining.  
The Slapdash Sewist

I then sewed up the skirt (adding the pockets using the Make It & Love It tutorial).  I joined the silk brocade skirt to the waist of the silk brocade bodice, and the lining skirt to the lining bodice.  I inserted an invisible zip into the centre back.  I've only done one invisible zip before, and it was very dodgy.  I looked at several tutorials to work out how it's done, and did a practice on a scrap of fabric.  It certainly helped to have an invisible zip foot.  Once I felt reasonably confident, I had a go on the actual dress and it worked perfectly.

I then sewed up the rest of the centre back seam, and hemmed the skirt.  Lastly I sewed a simple belt.  I cut a strip of fabric 2.5" wide, sewed along the length of the strip with a 1/4" seam allowance, and turned it right side out.  I turned the ends in and carefully hand stitched it to the waistband.  I used the belt fabric and created a bow, which I sewed on the front.  Finally I had finished my dress.

We packed our bags, and flew to the South of France for the big day.  I'm so glad I made the effort to create my own dress.  It looked fabulous on the day.


  1. Katie, it turned out gorgeous! And I smiled when I saw the brown kraft paper you used for your patterns - did you buy that in Singapore? Because my old basic block is made of the same thing, and brought back memories!

    And Mustafa - all that saree fabric. I hadn't realized they sold anything but fancy dressy fabric , so am very glad to discover they have regular cotton, too.

    1. Thanks LiEr. I bought 10 rolls of brown paper from IKEA in London when it was on sale for 9p after Christmas a couple of years ago. I've still got a few left. I think I got the idea from one of your posts on pattern drafting.

      Mustafa has quite a lot of regular fabric. Plain dyed cotton, printed cotton and lots of mens shirting (which I often use to make sleeveless tops for myself).