During my years as an independent wedding dress designer I always stowed away the little swatch cards of silk samples from my silk supplier once they have been withdrawn from stock. They are too beautiful to just throw away but are essentially worthless from a business point of view. After my stash got a bit too big for the drawer I decided it was time to do something with them
Since they are all in shades of ivory or cream the logical thing to make would be an upcycled wedding dress. Even with all the swatches I had, though, it would be a small wedding dress so I decided to make a bodice from the swatches, supplemented by vintage silks and scraps I had salvaged here and there, and re-use a skirt from my student days.
After looking through some old sketches for inspiration I settled on a lightly Steampunk vibe with an apron fronted skirt with an attached train, a separate bodice/corset with busk front and lace up back and a lace shrug with long flared sleeves.
Although these are the edited highlights, there’s still plenty of detail in there for those of you who are interested in how a thing like this comes together.
The idea was not to go too far into the realm of steampunk but, rather to reference it through the style and a subtle decorative embellishment to the bodice. The garment is still a wedding dress that could be worn anywhere. However, consider it in a different colourway, perhaps a red/black combo or shades of gold/sepia and it becomes a different beast altogether. Add a gun and holster, goggles and construction boots and you’re away (in a dirigible, of course)
The skirt is an old one I designed years ago while studying at the London College of Fashion so I’m sorry I don’t have any construction images for it. I don’t think digital cameras were invented then; smart-phones definitely not! I’ve updated it with a new separate apron front though, and was lucky enough to find a perfect match for the silk.
For the purposes of the blog the garments are modelled on a mannequin which is approximately a standard 10, if such a thing exists. Therefore if any fitting issues are apparent in the images, I would crave your forgiveness. Creations always look better on the body they were destined for. When I make for individual clients the size is not an issue, everything is “made to measure”.
There are many ways to construct a bodice/corset. I do it my own way, developed from years of experience, training and prototyping. I don’t say my way is the best, I just say it works! If this an area you want to get into there are some great patterns to experiment with frm the mainstream pattern suppliers such as Vogue and Butterick. Getyourself a good reference book, too. This will help you work through the instructions on the pattern as someof the language might be unfamiliar to you.
I decided to use silk dupion as a base for the swatches in case they didn’t quite match up exactly. Some of them had embroidery or flowers on so wanted to make the most of them
After measurements are taken, a toile is made from calico and fitted to the body. Adjustments are made and transferred to the paper pattern before cutting out the silk, interfacing, tie canvas and lining. I fitted my bodice toile on top of the skirt to allow for the fullness of the fabric in the skirt.
In this instance I used a medium weight iron-on interfacing under my base fabric. In my opinion it provides a flexible support and helps to prevent extreme fraying while working on silk. I don’t use it under all my fabrics. Sometimes I use silk organza or even calico. Each project is assessed on its own merits. I knew that in this project, most of the silk would be covered anyway.
Concentrating on the silk layer I gathered together a range of lace and embroidered silk samples. These were reclaimed textiles from old sample cards from silk suppliers that had been discontinued, offcuts or waste from other wedding dresses and scraps from my somewhat extensive vintage collection!
I spent ages choosing and positioning the various bits onto the respective bodice sections before sewing them down. This is always a tricky thing to do as you need to keep checking the whole thing for balance and harmony. Once the fabric bits were positioned to my liking I sewed them down. I decided to do the sections individually as opposed to sewing the silk first and appliqueing (is that even a word?) the scraps on afterwards. I wanted to emphasis the fact that the bodice was made up of so many different pieces. I could have blended them together over the seams but decided instead to let the beading flow over the fabrics, tying them together.
So far the bodice is coming together in a very “normal” wedding way. I decided to use some very, very small watch cogs as beads to introduce the Steampunk element. I got mine from Red Rooster via e-bay.
I selected not only cogs but weird shaped innards and even some tiny watch hands. I interspersed them with some mainstream beads in shades of gold along with crystals and pearls of various sizes. I kept it subtle so it would become a talking point if people bothered to look closely enough. If I was doing a straightforward Steampunk dress I would have upped the ante on the cogs and other general “steam era” references.
I often find it easier to bead bodices in sections before they are constructed completely. I know I might find I have to add some more but don’t mind that if most of it is done.
The boning went on a separate layer of tie canvas before joining up with the bodice. The whole was piped top and bottom before the lining went in. The busk parts are inserted during the lining process. I learned how to do this at college many years ago, probably when corsets were still in daily use but you can see here for some instructions if you want to know more
If you like this sort of thing in general: follow their blog.
Bodice done and looking good, next up… the lace jacket