Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wedding Dress Wednesday: Pattern Making

Wedding Dress Wednesdays are guest posts written by my Mom, Janet

Two weeks ago I shared how we designed the perfect wedding dress for Bonnie, and last week I detailed selecting the fabric. This week I'll discuss how I created the pattern for it.

I always told my clients that anyone can look fabulous, regardless of size and shape, as long as the dress fits properly and is styled to suit your figure. We designed Bonnie's dress to complement her natural body, with a long, fitted bodice to show off her tiny waist while not overpowering her petite frame. She looked ridiculous in princess-style gowns, and gowns with straps and sleeves made the dress seem to swallow her. Her high heels made her look taller.

When you look for inspiration, keep your mind on the general shape and fit of a dress. What key features do you want to copy exactly, and which ones can be sacrificed? For our design, we kept the overall silhouette, but changed the number of ruffles and the fabrics in the finished dress.

Once we had our inspiration dresses, we schemed and plotted to come up with a rough sketch for our creation. I went to the fabric store to look for a pattern featuring a bodice with similar lines. There wasn't a single one! I need to let the pattern companies know that they are really lacking in silhouettes that match what is available in ready-to-wear.

I guess sometimes it pays to be a pack rat; I still had a great pattern from 1988, Butterick 6208, in my stash from doing weddings. It was a perfect start for the bodice. Princess seams for super fitting lines, sweetheart neckline, and fitted down to the thumbs. It's a good thing the groom never saw the pattern - he'd have died!

Butterick 6208 (from 1988!): sweetheart strapless fit and flare dress with princess seams
Rather than cut up original patterns, I like to copy them onto tracing paper. It comes in large rolls, and is a very affordable way of using one pattern again and again. It's sturdy enough to draw and erase pencil marks, but is thin enough to pin through just like a store-bought pattern. Instead of cutting and retaping a pattern as I change it to fit a client, I can simply trace it and cut a brand new one. For Bonnie's dress, I went through lots of versions, slashing and adding and pinning and folding.

Pattern pieces for the bodice
Bonnie picked out a well-fitting bra that we sacrificed and cut up to provide the sewn-in cups for the trial bodices. One should always have proper undergarments for fittings. (Store bought cups are very limited in style)

Bonnie is petite and curvy, and store-bought patterns don't usually fit her, so we did multiple muslin trial bodices, mailing them across the country and even doing a fitting at New Year’s in Louisiana.

Somehow she managed to pin these trial bodices on herself, although I did insert zippers in them to help her get in and out of them easily. A lot of people don’t realize that if you can pin a wrinkle out of a sample dress, that same amount can be taken out of the pattern, and when the new piece is cut, it lays perfectly flat! My classes from college on ‘flat pattern designing’ have proven to be a godsend over the years.

Bonnie taking photos of what she pinned so I could get an idea of how it was fitting
While working out the issues with the bodice, I also started designing the ruffles. The ruffled effect in the inspiration dress is not actually made with true ruffles (a gathered strip), but instead from huge circles with the center cut out, like doughnuts. When the curved inner edge is straightened out it, the curved outer edge undulates into a flounce. I knew the general effect I wanted, and started by drawing circles on tracing paper and drafting the flounces.

Pattern for flounces
Then I pinned them onto the basic under skirt shape on the dummy to see how it would look. 1, 2, ... 5 versions later I finally got the right effect! I had figured that the dress companies would design the outer circle to be the full width of the fabric, but actually the inner circumference matched the bottom edge of the bodice, so – no seam on the first flounce!

First try at flounces - they needed more tweaking!
One feature we did copy from the store bought design, was that the flounces were sewn on in pairs - a wide one and a narrow one. At first it appeared to be labor saving, but in hind sight it wasn’t really.

Sample dress with the first set of ruffles pinned on
{If you just gasped because it's black, remember when we picked out fabric that we decided to make the practice dress in black so that we'd have a ball gown at the end, instead of an ugly muslin sample}

Each flounce was cut individually, and the outer edge sewn into a narrow hem. The inspiration photo showed many more rows than my sample, but since Bonnie is only 5’2”, we ended up with 9 rows.

Once I had a complete dress, I mailed it across the country to Bonnie. She sashayed around her house in it, taking notes on how it moved and laid when still. After her fitting, we made the train longer and the skirt sections flare more. At one point, we emailed some photos of the black sample to family to give them a sneak peek at the dress. Bonnie's Grandpa Jack didn’t understand, “it’s a black wedding dress?!?!"

Bonnie trying out the black sample dress
Check back next week when I talk about having the proper undergarments!  And after that, several more posts about shoes, the belt, beading, and the removable train!


  1. Hi is your pattern for sale. I am looking to purchase this butterick 6208 pattern

    1. Sorry, it's not. I have seen them on eBay from time to time!


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