November 18, 2014

Breanna's Wedding Ensemble, Part 2: The Bustle

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Many wedding gowns are pretty straightforward when it comes to bustling. Others, like Breanna's, present much more of a challenge and require a greater level of expertise to accomplish well.

The Challenge

Breanna's gown has two gathered English netting top layers which are meant to float beautifully over the narrower satin and organza underskirts. And they do float... quite effortlessly... when the train is down. 

However, getting those delicate, super drapey netting layers up off the ground not only securely but gracefully, and doing so in harmony with the more stiff crisp organza and satin underskirts.... ah... right... well.

The Solution

Usually the only successful bustle that can be created in a case like this is by treating the netting layers separately from the under layers and creating two completely separate bustles. 

This "double" bustling was really the only reasonable solution to this gown's bustling challenge, and here are the details of why:

1. Firstly, English netting is not tulle. Tulle, while being just as visually sheer as English netting, is actually quite stiff and will drape in little pointy poufs. English netting, on the other hand, is super soft and will drape similarly to silk gauze (it will fall in on itself). So, the netting layers of this gown are soft and drapey in the extreme, whereas the organza/satin under layers are stiff and crisp in the extreme.  Put simply, if draped together, these fabrics would fail miserably as a team!
2. The delicacy and open weave of the netting requires a very careful and lightweight attachment application (definitely done by hand). The heavier and more closely woven organza/satin requires a much more sturdy attachment application in order to support the weight of the skirt (satin is very heavy). Again, apples and oranges.
3. The top netting layers consist of over twice as much width than the satin and organza under layers. In fact, in addition to the netting layers being much wider, they are also cut in an entirely different shape vertically. This means that the netting has to be pulled up, arranged, and attached in a way that accommodates much more fullness than the bottom layers. 

So, definitely, no way around having to do two separate bustles in this case! But before I could begin calculating the actual pick-up and attachment placements for each layer, I needed to work on...

Creating a Detachable Skirting Anchor

On bridal gowns that have several layers of skirting, each layer is anchored to the others at a couple of points near the hemline (usually at the side seams and the center back seam) by a heavy thread or a crocheted string. 

This anchoring helps to ensure that, as the bride is walking and turning and dancing, all the skirts stay together and move vertically as one, more or less. These anchors are especially important on a multi-layered gown that has a train, such as Breanna's... the layers of which are always trying to slide around in different directions along the floor! 

So, my first bustling task was to make the skirting anchor at the center back seam detachable in order to free the layers so they could be draped separately. To do this, I removed the original crocheted string anchor between the netting and organza layers and replaced it with a narrow band made from a scrap of the netting I cut off when I shortened the hemline.

I sewed one end of the band to the center back seam of the netting layers. On the other end of the band, I sewed one side of a clear plastic snap. The other side of the snap was sewn onto the center back seam of the organza/satin layer, and voila!... detachable anchor. 

The reason for using an anchor made from the netting rather than simply replacing it with another thread anchor was two-fold:

1. The 1/4 inch wide netting band would give more surface area for the snap to be sewn on securely. It would also allow more "grab" surface for pulling the snap apart (see the little doubled over "tab" where the snap is sewn on to the band?). 
2. When it's time to do up the bustles at the wedding, and the band is detached (and therefore, hanging loose under the  netting skirts) it will not be as visible because of being made of the same material as the netting skirt, whereas a detached thread anchor would simply look like, well, a hanging thread!

Detachable skirting anchor, open
Detachable skirting anchor, closed

And speaking of hanging threads... what you're seeing under the snap in these pictures is not a loose thread! It is the crocheted thread skirting anchor that attaches the organza layer to the bottom-most satin layer. When the skirts are hanging vertically, and the netting layers are in place over these bottom layers, this thread anchor, as well as the netting band anchor, are not visible.

Okay! Now we can move on to the actual bustling.

Bustling the Bottom Layer

The bottom bustle actually involves two layers of fabric - the organza layer and the satin layer. In this case, these two layers can be treated as one because: 

1.  Although they are fabrics of different weight and weave, both of these layers are cut in the exact same dimensions (one is not wider or shaped differently than the other, etc.).
2. Both of these fabrics are in the crisp/stiff range so they will drape similarly enough for our purposes. 

So, for this layer, all that was needed was a simple one-point pick-up bustle... which means:

The top attachment/anchor point consists of a custom covered button (color matched to the organza/satin fabrics) sewn extra securely onto the center back seam. 

The single pick-up point beneath consists of a handworked thread loop sewn at the proper placement on the center back seam. The non-stretching thread loop is purposefully made to fit quite tightly around the button so that when it is secured, the pick-up point can move from side to side without popping off the button.

Bottom layer, single point pick-up bustle

Close up of single point pick-up bustle

Stating the obvious here, but just to be clear, in the full-length picture above, the top netting layers of the skirt are pulled up and draped over the dressform so that you can see the bottom bustle. In other words, that's not some strange fashion forward veil! 

Bustling the Top Netting Layer

The challenge of working with netting in general (or any sheer open weave fabric), is the extreme delicacy of the fabric. In the case of Breanna's gown, this means that the attachment and pick-up points on the top bustle needed to be sewn very carefully, by hand, and reinforced if possible, to prevent tearing.

The other concern is the visual sheerness of the fabric. In this case, the actual sewing techniques and materials (a very gentle stitch, plus a small needle and fine thread) as well as the "hardware" used for the anchor and pick-up applications must be made to look as invisible as possible against the netting, specifically when the train is down. 

Obviously, a covered button and thread loop, or even a small hook and eye, were just not going to work here. Both of these options would not only be way too visible, but also somewhat overkill for the needs of the fabric. 

So, my choice was to use clear plastic snaps as both attachment/anchor and pick-up point.  This would minimize visibility on the skirt when the train was down. It would also provide a very lightweight application correct for the nature of the fabric. 

So, after calculating and marking the drapes, I attached three snaps to the back waistline area and the three corresponding snaps on the skirt at each of the pick-up points.

Netting layer bustle attachment/anchor points at the waistline

Netting layer bustle pick-ups attached

With the sash in place at the waist, the "mechanics" of the attachments disappear completely and we're left with just a graceful, well draped bustle.

Completed bustle

More than you ever wanted to know about the secret life of bustles, huh? lol

Next up... 

Breanna's custom jacket. And if you think this bustle part was involved... Well, you might want to brew a nice cup o' tea and plan to sit a spell for Part 3!

November 16, 2014

Breanna's Wedding Ensemble, Part 1: The Fit Alterations

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Breanna's Wedding Ensemble, Gown and Custom Jacket
Breanna contacted me in July to begin work on her ensemble for her November 2014 wedding.

Starting early... always a good idea! And in this case, a very good idea because, in addition to her gown's needed fit alterations, she also wanted her gown bustled (no simple feat with this particular gown), and a custom jacket and veil made to match her dress.

As you'll see in later installments of this project diary, having the luxury of time, especially when it comes to custom work, means that we can test designs and search for materials that will allow us to come up with the very best match for the project, rather than simply having to settle for the "good enough" of a common or hurried design or the materials most quickly acquired.

So, contacting me early, especially for custom work = GOOD. Thank you, Breanna!

First Things First

Before we get to the custom part of Breanna's project, I'd like to first briefly outline the fit alterations needed on her designer gown.

Before additional custom pieces or other finishing adornments can be added to any bridal ensemble, the first order of business is to make sure the gown fits well! Without good fit of the gown, anything additional just isn't going to work right... or at least, won't it work as well as it can.

The Gown Description

Breanna's gown by Avenue Diagonal features a strapless bodice with ruched English netting accented with sequined and beaded appliques. The skirting consists of two upper layers of English netting floating over a double underskirt of duchess satin and organza. The gown also features a chapel length train and a ribbon sash accented with the same sequined and beaded appliques found on the bodice.    

The Alterations Needed

The gown was too big in the bodice (by about 2 size grades) and also too long (by about 6 inches in the front!). This was not simply a matter of taking a tuck here and there...

It was actually among the more complicated alterations projects I've done during the last few years. In fact, in a future post, I will be using the step-by-step details of Breanna's gown's alterations to illustrate the reality of exactly what goes into making a wedding gown fit!

But for now, the abbreviated description of the alterations needed in order to make Breanna's factory-made designer gown fit her unique proportions perfectly:

Taking In the Bodice

The sides seams of the bodice, along with the inner "bra-back" foundation piece and, of course, the lining, needed to be adjusted significantly. Because the bodice design included sequined and beaded appliques, those also needed to be removed and replaced (and in some areas, re-beaded) where they crossed the side seams. Finally, the top of the skirting (four layers) also needed to be re-adjusted at its insertion point into the side seams of the bodice.

Taking up the Hems... Plural*

Breanna wanted only the front of the hemline raised while keeping as much of the length of the train as possible. In order to do this so that the hemline sweep would flow well from front to back, and especially because almost 6 inches of the front hem had to be done away with, a complete re-shaping of the entire multi-layer hemline was required.

*Though most people will commonly think of "taking up the hem" as a single operation, wedding gowns always have more than one actual hem. Breanna's gown's hems consisted of a lining layer, a crinoline layer, a satin layer, an organza layer, and two layers of English netting. In other words, in terms of time and effort, Breanna's gown required six separate hems... done on five different types of fabrics, each with its own unique construction requirements.

And, So... The Photos of All This Arduous Work?

That is a lot of work, is it not? Unfortunately, none of it is very before-and-after photo friendly. I suppose I could show you photos of the insides of seams and the cutting of hems and such (and maybe at some point, I'll do a post including those types of visuals).

But really, the upshot of all this is that bodices that have been taken in and hems that have been taken up, no matter how complicated they are to accomplish, look (on a dressform in the studio anyway) pretty much like they did before they were taken in or up! And they should look the same, from a construction and design point of view, I mean.

And that, right there, is the whole point (and the true measure) of really good bridal alterations, isn't it? That, after all that work, all that taking apart and putting back together, the gown simply fits perfectly... and no one can tell that anything at all has been done to it.

So, though fit alterations are some of the most difficult work I do, the results of those alterations are also some of the most difficult to show in studio photographs (on a dressform). Which is to say... there are no process photographs in Part 1 of this series, no before-and-afters, because those photos would look, well... like nothing was done!


If Breanna eventually chooses to share some of her actual wedding photographs on this blog (and I SO hope she does!), we can simply let the fit of her gown speak for the work.

Next Up...

A challenging bustle... including photographs, I promise!

October 17, 2014

What's New at Lady's Mantle Studio for 2015

A New Online Boutique!

I am in the process of creating an online boutique that will feature my one-of-a-kind, completely-handcrafted-by-me bridal accessories.

Unique headpieces, veils, sashes, wedding capes and jackets, detachable trains... lots and lots of pretty! And the best part? Many of the pieces will be upcycled, incorporating vintage laces, appliques, and other fantastic "found" materials.

The shop will be up and running in time for the January start of the 2015 wedding season. In the meantime, you just might be able to see some sneak previews right here on the blog in the next few weeks!

New Options for Custom Gown Commissions in 2015

Beginning in 2015, I will be expanding my fabric choices on all custom gown commissions to include sustainably sourced and processed natural fabrics -- silk, linen, cotton, and even wool. And along with that, I will also begin offering the option to have those fabrics custom dyed in the beautiful (and non-toxic!) colors created by botanical dyes.

If you're in the process of setting your date for 2015/2016 and want to know more about this new option at the Studio, please contact me for more details. Also watch for several upcoming posts on this blog about the fabrics, chemicals, and economic/human rights issues involved in creating factory-made wedding attire. In other words, what is it that you're really wearing to your wedding?

For general information about custom gown commissions, including my recommendations of when to begin the process, please see the Custom page.

Website and Blog Update

A badly needed update is coming soon, including a new Bride's Gallery plus the stories of two recent custom projects on the blog!

January 19, 2014

A Custom Wedding Gown, Start to Finish in 6 Weeks

Alex contacted me in November about making a custom dress for her Winter Solstice wedding. I have never accepted a custom wedding gown commission less than about 4 months from the wedding date, but there is an exception to every rule!

Back bodice detail: hand-placed Chantilly lace appliques, custom covered buttons

When a Window of Opportunity Opens...

In this particular instance, many factors came together to make this exception-to-the-rule work: Alex was already decided on the design and type of materials she wanted, she was able to accommodate scheduling a quick succession of fittings, I was able to get the materials quickly, and most of all, I had an unusual lull in my holiday sewing schedule. In other words, it all seemed meant to be!

So, we began in earnest, moved quickly through the fitting and construction process, and ended up with Alex's beautiful one-of-a-kind gown finished a week prior to the wedding.

The Challenges of Petite Design

Alex had two main requirements for her gown:  1) At her height of 5 feet, it was very important that the gown design achieved a flattering, elongated silhouette (something that's often difficult for petite sized women to find in ready made garments), and 2) she wanted her gown to feature a delicate, elegant lace.

To achieve the correct silhouette, she chose a gently curved raised-waistline bodice featuring Chantilly lace paired with a semi-fitted flared skirt of subtly textured satin. Secondly, the detail of the lace and net is placed completely at the bodice, drawing the eye upward, leaving the clean lines of the skirt to fall without visual interruption to the floor. 

These two basic design decisions worked in tandem to achieve the look and fit that Alex was after: the elegance and delicacy of lace plus a visually elongated silhouette.

Alex's finished gown

Chantilly Lace

Alex made and excellent choice when she decided on a beautiful imported scalloped Chantilly lace. This particular yardage had the classic scalloped "eyelash" edging at both selvedges along with individual appliques at the center of the yardage. 

For Alex's gown, the lace appliques and the scalloped edges had to be hand-placed over point d'esprit netting which covered the entire bodice. 

As you can imagine, working with lace is detailed, slow-going work, usually done entirely by hand. Good light, a confident steady cutting hand, and lots of breaks for tea and stretching are the key! 

Separating the scallop motifs from the yardage

Carefully cutting the netting away from the cording lines in preparation to place the lace motifs on the bodice

Fitting the main lace motif to the front bodice while still at the cutting stage

Adding pearl and rhinestone beading to the lace before placing on the bodice

Shaping and hand-placing the lace appliques on the bodice in preparation for handsewing

Detail of the completed bodice front

A Matching Headpiece

One of the additional perks of having a custom dress made (besides getting an absolutely one-of-a-kind gown in the exact materials you want... that fits perfectly!) is the option to have custom accessories made as well. 

Alex wanted an understated but elegant comb to wear in her hair. So, I gathered up a few scallops of the Chantilly, made a couple of satin flowers and placed in some branches of gold wire and pearl beads (to echo the beading on the bodice), and...

Custom headpiece: Chantilly lace, textured satin flowers, gold wire and pearl beads


Alex, it was a joy working with you! I'm so glad time and providence came together to allow us to bring your beautiful wedding gown into being. Congratulations... and my warmest wishes to you and your husband, always.

September 9, 2013

Featured Wedding: Rebecca & Kris, July 6, 2013

Rebecca & Kris  ~  July 6, 2013

Last spring, Rebecca and her mom, Debra, came to me with an alterations situation I've unfortunately dealt with many times: a wedding gown that was altered by someone (and I'll be kind here) who was obviously less than skilled in wedding gown alterations, and in this case, even basic sewing techniques. Which brings us immediately to:

Wedding Gown Triage

Not only was the inside of this dress mangled, the overall fit of the dress was visibly atrocious. The lace overlay of the skirt had been sewn back into the bodice at a different proportion than the satin underskirt (and at different proportions on each side!), which basically destroyed the waistline fit of the dress.

The bodice side seams pooched out and were sewn very unevenly, and the armscye (the armhole opening) had been somehow narrowed out of proportion so that the entire opening ended up being hoisted up way too tight. Armpit wedgie, anyone? Yikes.

Much of the beautiful beaded lace that trimmed the front and back neckline of the bodice had simply been cut away, and even worse, several portions of the trim were unevenly sewn (stuffed, actually) back into the altered seams, beads and all!

There were several other sad sewing atrocities committed against this dress, but I'll spare you anymore details and just end the assessment of the injuries with this:  All the altered seams were sewn with dark lavender thread. A white wedding gown... dark lavender thread. Heavy sigh.

The Dress Doctor's Recommendations

At the first consultation, I actually suggested that Rebecca might want to just consider buying a new gown because, though I have been known to pull off some quasi-miracles where wedding dresses are concerned, I really had my doubts about being able to rescue this one!

But after discussing several possible solutions Rebecca and I were both hopeful, so we decided to give it a try. And in the end (even though it was touch and go for a while), I was able to nurse this dress back to beauty and actually managed to coax it back into a pretty good fit, too.

And so, since Rebecca reallyreallyreally wanted to wear this dress to her wedding, and I reallyreallyreally wanted to be able to make that happen for her... we all (including that poor dress!) eventually made it to...

The Happy Ending

Prescott Bride, Rebecca

Detail of repaired, refitted, and re-beaded bodice

But, That's Not All!

In addition to doing the repair work and the fitting alterations for Rebecca's dress, I also shortened the train (from a cathedral length to a sweep length), reshaped the crinoline (because Rebecca wanted a less full silhouette), and installed a pick-up bustle.

And Then...

I made a custom headpiece per Rebecca's own design using some of the lace trim left after the removal of the dress's train.

Detail of Rebecca's custom headpiece

Detail of Rebecca's custom headpiece

So! Needless to say, this dress and I came to know each other very well over the course of her rehabilitation. And I am here to testify:  this poor little Cinderella of a gown had one very big will to live! 

Congratulations, Rebecca and Kris

Rebecca, it was a pleasure working with both you and your mom. I'm so glad I was able to be a part of this happy ending ;)  I wish you and Kris all the best, including many many happy anniversaries!

Wedding photos by: Nelson's Wedding and Portrait Photography, Litchfield Park, AZ
That gorgeous bouquet was created by: Allen's Flowers, Prescott, AZ

And, please take a minute to visit Rebecca and Kris's adorable wedding site here: Rebecca and Kris

August 4, 2013

Megan's Vintage Wedding Gown Restyle: Congratulations Megan & Aaron!

To read all the posts in this series, go to the project diary at:

Congratulations Megan & Aaron!

Megan and Aaron - July 6, 2013

Megan and Aaron and crew

To read all the posts in this series, go to the project diary at:

July 1, 2013

Megan's Vintage Wedding Gown Restyle, Part 7: The New Gown Completed

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Megan's New (Old) Gown!

Regrettably, I was only able to get a few (not so great) pictures of the finished gown at the studio before Megan picked it up. So I'm really hoping to get a few from Megan after the wedding! But, photography snafus aside, here are the before and after pictures.

Before and after - front view

Before and after - back view

To read all the posts in this series, go to the project diary at:

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