Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Bombshell Bridesmaid Dress

I am still basking in the great success that was my me-made bridesmaid dress!  

Bridal Party!

The bride, Sara, selected short navy lace bridesmaid dresses for her traditional wedding in our South Carolina hometown.  My DIY wheels started turning when she told me I could choose my own style among the J. Crew leavers lace collection. In October I ordered the Cathleen from J.Crew but returned it shortly thereafter. It didn't fit well and I felt confident I could make something better.

Under the guise of sewing a matching flower girl dress, I emailed J.Crew's "wedding specialist" and procured three yards of the navy lace at $25/yard + tax/shipping.  Can you believe it was that easy? I only wish the rest of the dress-making process was as easy!

The dress  is Burdastyle (5/2011 #122A).  I mostly used the instructions in Gertie's Bombshell dress course (no longer available on Craftsy).

I planned to sew a test dress (the "jungle dress") for a New Year's Eve wedding.  I failed to meet deadline and resurrected a pink and gold brocade me-made to wear instead.  Throughout January, I continued to work on the jungle dress but ran into issues practically every step of the way.

I LOVE this fabric!  A Marchesa silk organza purchased from Gorgeous Fabrics several years ago.

As of this writing, the jungle dress is still incomplete but it allowed me to work out so many of the kinks before cutting into the blue lace for the bridesmaid dress.  2016 Holiday Party dress, perhaps?

Fitting the Bodice Pattern:

I muslined the bombshell bodice two years ago with the intent of sewing it for my rehearsal dinner dress. During this initial muslin stage I made minor adjustments that I now recognize as echoing the adjustments necessary for bramaking:  1) I graded the side of the cup to accommodate more cup volume, as I am between a B and C cup and  2) I added extra coverage at the top of the breast to the upper cup.  I still think I could add a bit more coverage as the final dress is borderline too revealing for conservative me.

In keeping with the vintage style, the Burda pattern was drafted with a fairly low waistline.  I look better with a raised waistline (empire).  After I had sewn the separate bodice and skirt on the jungle dress, Sharon pinned me in and we identified a new waistline.

Skirt is pinned into the bodice with new raised waistline  

I removed the dress from my body very carefully and immediately used a contrasting silk thread to mark the new seamline along the bodice.  I transferred this to the paper pattern by laying the fashion fabric on top of the paper and drawing in the new line.  As you can see from the photo below, the new waistline curves a great deal.

Sewing the Bodice:

Before cutting into the blue lace, I laboriously hand basted the three layers that became the fashion fabric: J. Crew leavers lace, navy silk georgette (Chic Fabrics), and silk organza (Susan Khalje).

Hand basting the 3 layers with silk thread (every 3-5 inches) and using candles (my go-to) as pattern weights

Once the three fabrics were acting as one, I cut out all dress pieces.  I had constructed the jungle dress with no seam allowances and thread traced seamlines.  I am not a big fan of this no seam allowances couture method and fail to see how it ensures more precision than a regular seam allowance.  So I added a 5/8" seam allowance for purposes of sewing the lace dress.

Ready to cut--Only used a little over a yard for the dress itself!

Right before starting to sew the bodice pieces together in the lace dress, I decided to add an additional layer of stability to all bodice pieces (minus the cups) in a quilting cotton.This means that the bodice is comprised of 4 layers (excluding lining):  lace, silk georgette, silk organza, quilting cotton.  Perhaps the cotton layer was not necessary, but I don't regret it.

Sewing the bodice pieces together was fairly straightforward.  Attaching the cups to the bodice took a good deal of patience and lots of hand basting.

Bodice Cups

The cups are a bit fiddly.  Gertie's instructions require that you pad out the bodice cups with needle punch or cotton batting.  This process is largely done by hand. I added an additional layer of batting to all three pieces of the cups on the blue lace dress to provide more shape. I still think I could have padded them a bit more in the upper cup.  When I complete the jungle dress, I will add a third layer of needlepunch to the upper cup.

Bodice Boning and Lining:

Using a light blue printed silk (Chic Fabrics) I sewed the lining in full prior to making the dress.  I picked up this sewing-the-lining-first tip from the Gorgeous Fabrics Blog.    I'm glad I did it, because it definitely helped me push through and avoid what Ann calls "lining fatigue."

In hindsight, I regret choosing this print. In spite of edge stitching the lining to the seam allowance and tacking it down by hand, the lining did start to peak out of the top of the dress along the cups, as you can see in the photo below.


I credit my mom in full for cutting all the boning in the days before the wedding.  The boning was inserted into the lining along every seam, two pieces on the diagonal from the side seam down toward the center front, as well as two final pieces close to the zipper.  That's eleven pieces of boning in total!  Per the instructions, no boning was inserted into the cups.

I sourced additional spiral steel tips and white casing from Daytona Trimmings.  Unfortunately, I bought the wrong size tips and didn't realize it until I was already in South Carolina.  Mom to the rescue – My mom removed the existing tips, cut the boning with pliers (it's not easy) and then reinserted the tips before sliding the boning into the casing.  Next time I make this dress, I will be sure to leave a bit of extra margin for the casing.

The Skirt:

I had MANY problems with the skirt in the jungle dress! I had originally cut out the skirt pieces in the jungle dress to make the Burdastyle sarong style skirt.  But I quickly realized that the silk organza did not have the proper hand to be flattering in the sarong style.  In the picture below you can see where I barely squeezed a straight skirt front out of the bias cut sarong piece.


While I had dutifully followed Gertie's directions for more than half the construction, when it came to finishing the dress I was low on time, patience, and everything in between.  My RTW finishing deviated a bit from Gertie's couture methods. In particular, I joined the skirt to bodice by machine instead of using fell stitches per Gertie's instructions.  Further, I opted for an invisible zipper instead of the vintage lapped zipper that Gertie favors. Finally, I used twill tape instead of petersham for the waist stay.

With the bride before the ceremony


In the interest of taking the bombshell out of the bombshell, I selected Vintage Vogue 8812 for a simple bolero to cover my shoulders in the church.  I cut out the bolero pattern pieces before flying home and my mom sewed it up two days before the wedding.   (Yes, Maman to the rescue AGAIN.)  Luckily, she had previously made the same pattern for herself in the same size.  In fact she also wore it to the wedding!

Different fabric, same bolero!

The bolero pattern does not include instructions for a lining.  Instead, it has facings.  Maman sewed the lining separately, trimmed it down, and then attached it to the facings by hand.  She also angled the bust darts down about an inch.  The size 8 bolero fit properly, but if I make it again I will use a size 10 for my back and retain the size 8 in the front.

It was a special dress for a special celebration.  Easily the biggest sewing challenge I have ever undertaken!  I felt so much more confident in this dress than I ever did in the J. Crew version and am very proud of the construction throughout.  Still not the best testament to my time management skills, but I guess that's par for the course when you have a full time job/full life and still commit to a hobby!  I was absolutely down to the wire to finish and couldn't have done so without my Mom's help.

Family photo with the bride and groom! 

best friends + husbands = my NYC family!


  1. What a beautiful make, and the work! So many of us (me included) make easy knits and a pair of slacks....TTP allthe way but to take on a boned dress for such a special event.....takes GUTS....a beautiful joh indeed and something you can wear many many places....thanks for sharing on RTW

    1. Thank you so much Laura. This was such a challenge for me and It's affirming to have other sewists recognize that dressmaking can be a real feat!

  2. It took me awhile to digest the awesomeness of this post before responding. It's incredible! Such attention to technique and learning new things. The end result shows how much time you put in to it. It's a winner!

    1. Oh, thank you Andrea. I appreciate your kind comment so much! Im super proud of this one and 100% ready for some easy summer sewing all at the same time!

  3. The memories wrapped up in this extraordinary dress and wedding occasion will be passed on for generations of your families. You are simply beaming in these photos, as a testament to the love you share with your best friend and family connections. You have shown us the true test of creative problem-solving with a deadline!!!

    1. Thanks so much Chris for writing. It sure was a lot of problem-solving and quite a deadline. Mom to the rescue for sure. I actually was beaming ALL weekend! So special to celebrate my oldest friend and her wonderful husband (who has also become a dear friend) with my entire family. But, I think my mom was happier than I was just to have the excuse to have all of her kids home on a non-holiday weekend!

  4. Wow! What a fabulous dress! And what a process it was to make it! How wonderful! I also have to say that I love the groom's jacket! It's so fun!

    1. Thank you Sonja! Ha! You noticed the blazer! How could you not? Derek,the groom and father of the bride went to the same alma mater. There were several blazers at the wedding at the father of the bride's request! Derek was a great sport about it.

  5. Truly elegant dresses for the party! I am planning to arrange my friend’s birthday party and have booked one of amazing venues nearby. Planning to order a lovely birthday cake too from a reputed baker. Hope to have an awesome party.