The Boundless Style Bridesmaid’s Dress (Georgia, Grace, and Meryl)
This dress and I, well, we didn’t get along. It made me cry. I was exhausted. But I finished it, and as my reflexive frustration with it subsided, I think I halfway like the thing. Get ready for a long journey…
I wanted very much to make a dress for bridesmaiding at my friend’s wedding, since I didn’t have a lot of other duties and wanted to do something special. I was pretty sure I could and should do this with existing materials and patterns, so pattern options were limited to Boundless Style and Vogue 1501, the half-tucked Rachel Comey dress. I pretty quickly decided to use the lovely grey-blue tencel twill I had in my stash earmarked for Esther Pants but which happened to be just the right level of luxurious and simple for a bridesmaid’s dress.
Ultimately, my friend didn’t have a strong opinion on which to go for (she had us bridesmaids pick our own outfits entirely, phew), and I leaned towards the faux wrap dress front (never again) and a midlength skirt (That is the Georgia bodice, Meryl Skirt, and Grace sleeves). I wanted to raise the waistline to accommodate early pregnancy-belly, and equally, the simple-front (Jackie) top has a beautiful back view and spoke to me as a background-for-holding-flowers, but I get pretty wonderful pregnancy backne, so that wasn’t for me in October.
I put off starting until after the August move, but then the exhaustion of early pregnancy put all progress on hold. I could not muster the enrgy for anything for a couple months, and basically went to bed when baby did. So this project became a rush job when my energy started to revisit me, and that was the start of the very bad relationship I would develop with that dress.
Anyway, I broke from usual habits and sewed a muslin. I thought about just using my Ferdinand shirt as something of a mockup, but wanted to size down and practice the pleats. Plus, I wasn’t having an easy time visualizing the length. The pleats practice was totally worth it and by the end I felt super super confident about nailing those quickly (and even lazily… without basting as outlined in the instructions). The pleats are for sure my favourite part of this dress, and they make me want a true wrap dress with this little element.
I’d already taken about 10 cm from the bodice to ensure the dress would be comfortable over my belly, and the length of the bodice felt alright, but the fit was basically swimming on me. Matthew helped me pin out lots from the underarm/sleeve, from my back (got that ballet sway), the gaping neckline at front and back, and draw on a good length. The sleeves also seemed way too pokey-outey so I started considering different style options from the book…
I took apart the pieces thinking I’d put it all back together with the edits, but my deadline (we’re on Sept. 23 looking at an Oct. 6 wedding out of town and pregnancy/toddler raising energy levels to work with) loomed so I just tested out our changes to the back yoke (fixed the neckline gape!) and moved on.
I was a bit nervous about the fit working, since there were so many changes, but there was enough spare fabric to recut the bodice parts if need be, and I was confident on the front/back yoke. However, I’d just listened to the Brooks Ann Camper ep of the Love to Sew podcast, and decided that despite the time crunch it would at least be worthwhile to hand baste my pieces. The correct-ness of this decision was confirmed for me when I made the mistake of ironing over one of my pins for the front bodice pleats, leaving a small hole in the fabric. I didn’t want any more of that.
Basting went well, and quickly, given I’ve never done this by hand. It’s really not hard, nor terribly time-consuming, turns out.
The bodice felt pretty good in front but the back still had wayyyy too much room. I pinched out yet more, found that wasn’t enough, and completely eliminated the box pleat, and cut a new back piece, basted it, and called it a day. Cutting out the box pleat, particularly, was the right decision.
I was less concerned about the fit for the skirt, so I went ahead and built it with permanent french seams. I was quite charmed when on the last panel of the skirt I did the seam backwards… I wasn’t about to unpick and “overwork” the fabric, as Brooks Ann had warned against, and luckily had noticed after seam #1 of the French, so the skirt has one un-frenched major joining seam.
I also drafted an in-seam pocked for one side seam of the skirt (since the other would have a zip), and was pleased as punch when I figured out how to attach it with french seams without too much added bulk. And, as it happens, one pocket turns out to be a perfectly functional number for a formal event.
All of this brings us to Sept. 20, which is without question crunch time, but it was mostly going along as well as I could have hoped.
You’ll notice that I haven’t been working with the collar in these mockup phases, and just transferred my bodice edits to the commensurate part of the collar. But… I didn’t do this quite right. I shortened the collar bits too much! But again, I didn’t want to unpick all this flowy almost-delicate tencel, and time was short, so I just created small pieces to fill in the blanks. Here’s me testing out that idea (with a machine baste) ->
Good enough! Although at this moment I noticed some mystery spots on the dress. They looked like oil spots. I hoped they weren’t, and hoped they wouldn’t be too visible.
Trial attaching the bodice to the skirt, 9:40 p.m. on Oct. 2, with 4 days to go to the wedding (and only two until we had to be out there)… the fucking thing was wavy and awful. And lumpy. How did it get lumpy? I am clearly new and unskilled in pattern editing. This could have been a manageable blow (well, except that it had seemed to fit perfectly sans skirt up to this point), even a pleasant learning experience, with more time. But I didn’t have more time, and it felt like too much. The little mistakes felt like too much, the endless back adjustments felt too much, the effort of hand basting and pattern fixing felt wasted. So I cried a bit and then tried to puzzle out how to fix this bodice. I landed on tacking the bodice wrap front into what felt like a workable position. This would leave an imperfect edge, but I hoped it would be wearable.
This took a couple of tries, and resulted in a waistline I was only moderately OK with. The wrap fronts were no longer fully sewn to the skirt, either. Oh, and more mystery spots had appeared.
While I’d started with french seams and dreams of doing them everywhere, I’d had to bail on frenching the collar anyway since I’d missed that it had a smaller seam allowance than the 5/8 everywhere else, and then there was that pesky skirt panel… by this point, “attached” was all I wanted. I just wanted this thing done. Which left the zip. For which I decided to return to french seams. Because why not try to insert an invisible zip into a french seam when things are going so well? Why not try that for the first time?
I sewed too close to the zip: I really should have invested in an invisible zipper foot. It kept sticking. Eventually got it on/off without completely opening the sticky zip, which there was no time to fix. Of course, it eventually popped open the evening of the wedding, but not until 11 p.m.
And that still leaves sleeves, which I was not excited to attach, as I had forgotten to print out an alternate pattern option and was not about to try bias binding a sleeveless option for the first time. Back to the big sleeves it was, even though combined with the blue and the knee length I figured this would end up making it look like a 50’s work dress but in nicer fabric. And I certainly wasn’t going to french them on, in case this was a one-time wear or I did eventually decide to replace them.
The sleeves looked frigging great though. On first try. Thanks, drapey tencel!
I let the hem drop on our drive out to Calgary (more mystery dots showed up on the drive) and I hemmed the dress by hand the night before the wedding, probably starting around 9 p.m. I’m glad I went for the hand finish… it feels delicate (even if it looks like garbage close up). I also handwashed the dress in the sink, hoping to get those spots out. Which worked!
Last touch: I put in a single hand stitch into the bodice while getting ready day-of to keep the errant blouse fronts from shifting unflatteringly or disastrously. It popped by the end of the night, but that wasn’t a surprise.
So for bridesmaid-ing, this dress did its job admirably. It then hung on my wall asking me to fix some little bits, like the zipper and the unfinished innards.
I still hadn’t shaken off my personal animus towards the dress when I wore it to the wedding, but actually, seeing the (professional) wedding photos (not included here!), it looked great! It’s a shame because I totally failed to take dress photos in the gorgeous light we had… Hence, this post coming way after the creation — I had to fix the zip to make it photographable/wearable again, and had no desire to do so for quite awhile.
To mend this dress, I unpicked the sleeves, zip, and waist. I reattached each with French seams: I typically see the 3/8 seam then the 1/4, but did the reverse for the waist due to all the fraying.
The zipper pull came off the top so I fully removed it, removed and re-aligned the pull, and sewed new stoppers. As for reinstallation, it was somewhat doomed. The side seams were NOT gonna match on this this dress this time. Which, fine. But the invisible zipper foot I’d picked up at The Sewing Machine Store in town was wrong for my machine (god, that place is nothing but trouble for me, and I have to remember to have as little to do with it as possible). I didn’t want to lose steam on fixing this again, so I once again installed with a regular zipper foot. I didn’t get any threads in the teeth, thank goodness, but it looks like garbage. At least it’s on the side. Sigh.
My attempt at more securely tacking the fronts together also backfired, and now there’s an awful bubble where they cross. Can’t win!
Pattern: Boundless Style Georgia Bodice (shortened), Meryl Skirt and Grace Sleeve
Fabric: Tencel twill in stonewashed blue from Blackbird
If there is a next time: Work from my edited pattern/ use as a block for patterns from this book! Give yourself more time to sew… and French seams are basically always worth it. Must get proper invisible zipper foot for my machine. Don’t go to The Sewing Machine Store. Never do wrap bodices??