Monday, August 16, 2010

The Yellow Dress, Part 2: Constructing the Outer Bodice

Well, I have made loads on progress on my yellow dress! I promised you lots of construction posts on this one, so let's get right into it. I'm constructing the dress in this order: 1. the outer dress (fashion fabric and underlining), 2. the inner dress (lining and boning), and 3. hand finishing. Missed my earlier posts on this project? See the planning post, muslin, and underlining post.

The first thing to do on the outer bodice was to stitch all the darts. Then, I pleated the folds of the outer bust piece (the one that has the petal-like pleats). Sharon, my teacher, suggested that I handstitch lengths of silk ribbon into the folds to give them body. Here's what that looks like:

It turned out, though, that the silk ribbon wasn't enough to keep the folds from buckling and looking rumply. So later in the construction process, I added pieces of rigeline (a flexible sew-in boning). Rigeline has a nice curve to it (from being wound into coils at the store) so it was perfect to create that "crumb catcher" effect I was going for on the bust. I had to cover the ends of the rigeline with fabric to keep them from poking through the dress (I had that happen with a store-bought dress; it was quite painful!).

I inserted the rigeline pieces under the top pleats and then stitched it in by hand. (A thimble is a must if you ever need to do this!) Here's what it ended up looking like:

But back to the construction. I hand basted the pleated bust pieces to the under-bust pieces.

I hand-basted, and then machine-stitched, the center seam of the upper bust. (You can see here how the pleats were looking rumply before I put the rigeline in.)

Then I stitched the midriff and back pieces.

Now for the complicated stuff: twill tape and bra cups! Twill tape is a woven cotton tape that helps to keep the upper edge of the bust close to the chest, rather than gaping. I bought 1/4" white twill tape. It needs to be applied in the seam allowance so that the edge of the tape fits perfectly into the fold of the upper bodice seam. So here's the upper bodice seam allowance. I had already applied a row of stay stitching right onto the seam line, around the entire upper bodice - front and back. Next, I put in a line of machine basting right above it, to make slight gathers - but only on the front. Hopefully my little blue and purple arrows will help you out here!
Double click to view larger
I pulled the bobbin pieces just a teensy bit - not enough to show on the outside of the dress, but enough to cup the seam to the bust. Then I pinned in the twill tape to the inside of the dress, with the edge just butting up against the row of stay-stitching.

Then I stitched the twill tape on by hand, using a straight stitch. That's all there is to it!

Next, I put in the bra cups. This is very easy. Figure out the position of the cups by holding them, and the dress, up to your bust, and seeing what works. Once you're happy with the position, pin the cups in. Stitch them in by hand, using a catch stitch. Stitch them to the silk organza underlining only, not the fashion fabric. You only need to stitch the top of the cups. Don't stitch all the way around - this can cause the cups to pull at the outer fabric in weird ways.

Here's a close-up of the cup and the twill tape.

I finished the outer dress construction by attaching the skirt and applying the zipper.

Whew! I think that's enough for today, don't you? Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions in the comments. Next up: fun with spiral steel boning!


  1. It's looking great! The tips on twill tape are very helpful too :)

  2. It sure does look good and it's nice to see all the pictures and have you walk us through the process.
    I guess it won't be washable, will it? Will it need to be dry cleaned?
    It will be beautiful, no doubt!

  3. Wowzers, this is so impressive. Great to see the amount of work that goes into a well-constructed dress!

  4. It is great to see this dress in it's final stages. I was impressed with the final muslin, and how far you came from the 1st muslin you did. Amazing what a 1/4 inch can do. I am looking forward to the steel boning part. Steal boning is new for me.

  5. Q: The bra-cups, can they also be used the other way-up too? Only the shape reminds me of an upside regular balconette bra but without all the straps/attachments etc. - I guess you can just use them anyway feels/looks good as they'll be hidden beneath the lining fabric?

  6. Wow! That looks awesome so far!

  7. Thanks for this post...I been wondering what twill tape was used for and how it was applied..Thank you for your time!

  8. Super helpful. A question if I may? Do you stitch down the middle of the twill tape or do you need to stitch down both edges?

  9. What an amazing amount of detail. I love the updates and look forward to seeing the results!

  10. This may be a dumb question, but do the bra cups function for support, or to smooth things out? I'm just wondering how that all works out, since they aren't attached to anything at the bottom.

  11. I am enjoying the progress report Gertie. Thank you!

  12. Thanks ladies! No, no machine washing on this one. It's rare for me to machine wash anything I make - I usually handwash in cold water.

    Seemane, I'm sure you can use the bra cups whichever way you like! If you play around with basting them into the muslin, you'll get a sense of how they look best.

    SueMarie, the twill tape can be stitched right down the middle.

    Amy, the bra cups provide both shaping and support. The support comes from the seamline under the bust in conjunction with the cups, not the stitching on the bra cups. I hope that makes sense!

  13. Very nice much sartorial....

  14. I don't know why I wasn't reminded of this sooner: My mother and I made the Past Patterns 1830's Mill Girl dress, ages ago. It requires more-or-less period-correct construction, which wasn't as hard as it sounds and actually was quite sensible once we understood it. It needed a sturdy bodice lining, and then the outer fabric was basically appliqu├ęd on--you made all your fitting mistakes on the lining where it wouldn't show. Pretty ingenious, really, and a method I've promised myself to remember in case I ever need another fitted dress.

  15. Hi Gertie - I have a patternmaking suggestion! I would consider cutting your outer bodice panel on the bias, this way the pleats will drape beautifully across the bust with a natural crumbcatcher effect, and you will also be able to eliminate the bust dart, and the rigilene. Drape a bias piece across your bust and you'll see what I mean!

  16. Hi Sherry! I actually tried that first. It was so much harder to get a crisp pleat on the bias, though, so I went with the straight grain.

  17. Wow, Gertie! It's looking so impressive thus far--and it's still in pieces! lol. I really love seeing the steps you're taking--the finished piece is going to be so detailed and beautiful.

    Can't wait to hear how you treat the steel boning! I used to use it a lot in historic costumes I made, but haven't in years. It's my favorite form of boning, however--it really does give that corseted, cinched in effect. ;)

    ♥ Casey
    blog |

  18. I'm curious about the unsewn bottom of the cup. I have 3 questions.
    Does the tightness of the bodice keep them in place?
    Do 'the girls' try to escape?
    How did you know not to sew the bottom of the cup?

  19. Hi Tory! In answer to your three questions: 1) Yes, 2) Mine don't but keep in mind that I'm a B cup, and, 3) from both experience and a Threads article I once read. I once stitched in bra cups all the way around, and they caused the outer fabric to pull around the bust. Then I read a Threads article on "building a better bust" and saw the suggestion to stitch only the upper side of the cup. This solved my pulling problem!

  20. I have a totally stupid question that my new sewinggodess could answer better than google anytime. I have an all white dress, outer shell is 100% cotton (embroided holes, dunno the name of it) and lining in rayon. How do i wash this? Do i have to dryclean?

    Soo looking forward to the result of this awesome yellow dress btw.

  21. Gertie, this is awesome! So the underlining is key to being able to add the bra cups, that makes sense.. and I am guessing you won't be able to see them on either the inside or the outside that way. Brilliant!

  22. I'm having the absolute most fun reading through your blog! I'm buying a lot of vintage patterns from a lady this weekend, and will be referring to your blog often, I think.

    Ok, so I have a weeny problem with what you're doing in this dress, at least in that it won't work for me easily - it's the cups you sewed into the top.

    I'm built like Christina Hendricks. They don't make foam cups in our size available at the fabric store. I wear a 34 I. Yes "I" as, as in "eye". Or Ay, yi yi, those are huge boobs!!!

    The way bras are built, I have the same breast mass as a lady who wears a 48DD, but the other lady would be 14 inches larger than me around the middle. Basically, I'm balancing 2 watermelons on a chopstick (the chopstick being my spine!).

    The problem is that what cup manufacturers for general sewing cups call a D or DD is only that cup size for a certain body measurement. A DD cup from the store (when I can find them that large) qualifies to be a pair of pasties for me, but would be a perfect DD cup for a girl who wears a size XS.

    So, If I wanted to make a dress like this for me, how would you go about handling the cup problem? I suppose I could go find a $50 foam cup bra in the 48DD size and cut out the cups, but I'm utterly unwilling to sacrifice $50 (or more) to do something that might not work. Other suggestions?

    I guess you can see why I'd be interested in sewing my own clothes... ;)

    Thank you!

  23. I have a question which is probably obvious to experienced sewers, but I just don't know this. Do you need to hem or serge the raw edges of the bodice if you later attach the lining? I'm especially curious about light fabrics that fray a lot. Thanks!

  24. It's looking great! I will apply my new bali minimizer bras. Thanks for sharing useful tips.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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