My 1930s Wedding Dress

Although I have stitched various garments this year, one project has dominated all my other sewing plans – my wedding dress. As soon as we got engaged, I knew that I wanted to make my own wedding gown. This blog post will detail the processes I went through to make my own wedding dress using a 1930s sewing pattern.

After months of working on, thinking about (and worrying about) my wedding dress – I can now finally reveal it to the world! Kieren and I got married a few weeks ago now, and the whole day was absolutely perfect.

*Before I begin, this is likely to be long blog post – with many accompanying pictures. So you may want to grab a beverage before continuing..*

Now, I have never been the kind of person to daydream about my wedding day, or even to imagine that I ever would get married or subsequently; what my dress would be like. I think this lack of defined ideas enabled me to think beyond the usual parameters of what may be expected from a wedding gown. That being said, I did have some stipulations that I wanted to meet:

Essential Features of the Gown

  • Not strapless – the skin on my shoulders is not great, and I just do not have the bust line to work a strapless style.
  • High neckline – when I am stressed, I develop an odd ‘stress rash’ of unattractive red blotches across my chest and up my neck, so I wanted a high neckline to cover as much of this as possible.
  • 1930s style. The gown absolutely had to be a 1930s design, if I had any image in my mind of what it may be like, a 1930s silhouette was it.
  • A colour other than ivory, white or cream. I just didn’t want to go down the traditional, expected route. I wanted to choose a colour I liked, rather than go with what was anticipated.

Variable Features of the Gown

  • Long sleeves
  • Evening length skirt
  • Bias cut

The Pattern & Fabrics

The search for the sewing pattern that was to eventually become my wedding gown was actually quite a short one. The moment I saw Simplicity 2309 – available from the Vintage Pattern Store on eBay, something in me just clicked, and I knew this would be the gown I would get married in. I haven’t been able to find out a great deal about the date of this pattern, but I did manage to pinpoint it to around 1937. (If anyone has any further information/has seen it in Simplicity pattern catalogues, do let me know in the comments!)

Simplicity 2309, an evening dress pattern dating from around 1937.

I loved the unusual open shoulder detail, and I also really liked the fact that it was an evening dress pattern, rather than a specific bridal pattern. At the beginning of my search, I was looking for 1930s wedding dress sewing patterns – but there are not that many available. I didn’t want to make something that many others may have made, I wanted to make a gown that was different, and a unique choice for a wedding dress. Well, Simplicity 2309 turned out to be just the pattern I was looking for!

Now that I had the pattern, the next step was to find some fabric. Maybe as a result of not having dreamt over & over of my wedding gown, I immediately knew I didn’t want to wear white, ivory or cream. The two colours that I had in mind where either: blue or yellow. In the end I decided that blue was probably a better choice, as it would be easier to coordinate with other colours (for the bridesmaids etc). Having decided on blue, I then had a very clear idea of the particular shade of blue I wanted. Surprisingly, this made it much more difficult to source. I looked through sample charts from various fabric companies, and trawled up and down the fabric shops of London – all in pursuit of the blue of my dreams. Finally, I found it – a beautiful crepe backed silk satin, in a lovely shade of true blue (not tinged with green, not leaning towards aqua, but a definite blue).

Having found the elusive blue silk, I then had a vague idea that it might be nice to incorporate lace into the design. (I tend to work on a ‘design as I go’ basis, as I’m sure you can probably tell!)As luck would have it, I found this stunning lace fabric – which matched the shade of blue of my silk precisely!

The wrong side of the lace fabric, as I have right sides together to cut out a perfectly mirrored pair of sleeves.

It really was as if the fates were finally smiling upon me (after spending hours upon hours of searching, haa ha!) The lace featured a border along both edges of the selvedge – which I later decided to painstakingly cut off, in order to give myself metres of lovely coordinating lace trim. The flowers on the lace are embroidered corded lace, giving a three dimensional aspect to the fabric.

The edging I carefully cut and removed from the selvedges of the lace fabric.

The Toile & Design Alterations

The next stage was to work on the toile. Or should I say toiles. In total, for this dress I ended up making five toiles. And believe me, at the third toile, I was at the point of giving up and finding a different sewing pattern entirely. Initially, the dress needed sizing down, as the pattern was one size, which was too large for me. That was fine. But as the sleeves are raglan cut, with various gathers along the bodice, after fittings (which my amazing friend Sarina helped me with) each toile would be too small, too big, until eventually it became just right.

I carried out many fit and design alterations, the most important of which I shall list below:

Fit Alterations

  • Raised and shortened the bodice
  • Took in side seams at bodice and skirt
  • Added darts into the back bodice
  • Rounded and raised the neckline, removed the slight cowel neckline as originally intended on the pattern
  • Decreased the amount of gathers at the bodice shoulder
  • Removed a central slice from the skirt back, from waist to hip

The first fitting. I used fabrics which had similar drape and weight to my chosen main fabrics, but were much cheaper. The bodice alterations are clearly shown, with lines drawn in to indicate the new CF and neckline.

Design Alterations

  • Increased the size of the loop opening at the sleeve shoulder to make it much larger
  • Trimmed the loop opening at the sleeve shoulder with edging from the lace fabric
  • Split the sleeve into two sections – upper and lower
  • Made the upper sleeve much larger into a balloon sleeve design
  • Made the lower sleeve into a tight cuff, with a button and loop fastening
  • Cut the entire skirt on the bias, instead of the straight of grain
  • Removed the panels from the back skirt, instead opting for one panel
  • Fastened the CB with buttons and loops, from neck to waist
  • Inserted an invisible zipper at the left hand side

As I made so many design alterations, I think this also increased the amount of toiles that I ended up making. With each toile I would see something that I wanted to change, which I would then want to test-out before cutting into my main fabric. Usually, I am nowhere near this fussy, but I think for my wedding gown I was allowed to be 🙂

By far, I think this dress has been the most time consuming, worry inducing project I have ever undertaken. But – looking back, I wouldn’t have chosen to have done differently. Cutting out the silk on the bias, in such large panels took a sizeable amount of time. Likewise with cutting out the lace fabric for the sleeves, which I made into perfect mirror images of each other. In fact, other than working with lace trimming, this was the very first time I had worked with lace fabric in this way. So I was definitely learning as I went along.

Parts of the dress are reinforced with super lightweight interfacing. For the neckline I created a facing which I finished the edges with by using pinking shears in order to give an invisible appearance from the outside. I stitched dress shields into the armpits in order to combat any nerve induced wedding sweats! And I also stitched pure silk ribbons to the side seam seam allowances to enable me to tie-up the skirt for us to do our First Dance (which actually went better than expected, phew).

Accessories

Before I get onto the veil, I want to talk about some of the accessories I incorporated into my attire. My belt was made for me by Harlequin UK, using my fabric and an original Art Deco 1930s belt buckle I sourced on Etsy.

Original 1930s Art Deco belt buckle I sourced from Little Fish Vintage on Etsy.

My tiara is the Olivia by Ivory & Co. After looking online, I decided the Olivia style would be perfect, but I had already spent my allocated ‘tiara/headdress’ money on an original Edwardian wax flower crown. Unfortunately, the wax flower crown just didn’t work with the dress, but I felt I couldn’t justify spending yet more money on another crown/tiara. As luck would have it, I checked eBay a few weeks before the wedding – lo and behold the Olivia was listed! Even better, it was much less than the retail price, so I snapped it up. My earrings were a surprise wedding gift from Kieren the night before the wedding, and they go so perfectly with the dress (which he didn’t see until I walked up the aisle on the day itself).

Sandy shoes on the beach!

My shoes are by Hotter Shoes, and are the shoes that I dyed in this blog post here. The buttons and loops I ordered from by Bridal Covered Buttons, to be made in my own fabric. In all honesty, when I ordered the buttons & loops I hadn’t yet discovered Harlequin UK – and in hindsight I would have ordered with them instead. The communication, customer service and turnaround time were all not to my taste with Bridal Covered Buttons. Having said that, the actual product – the buttons & loops, were perfect.

Kieren’s suit was by Chester Cordite, a dark navy with a subtle pinstripe.

I also made a sash tie for my bouquet from my wedding dress silk, and hand stitched some of the lace flowers onto the ends. Kieren’s tie was made by Harlequin UK in my own fabric, and I made his pocket square also using my wedding dress fabric.

My beautiful bouquet, which I finished with a sash I made from my wedding dress silk.

The Veil

Ah, the veil. As aforementioned, not dreaming of myself as a bride meant that I didn’t really have any clue about wedding veils. Initially, I didn’t want one at all. But then a friend persuaded me to just ‘try some on and see how I felt’. Well. I tried a few on and almost immediately I decided that I must have THE LARGEST VEIL AVAILABLE. I honestly don’t know what happened to me in that wedding shop, but I tried the most enormous veil on, and I just suddenly felt like I must have it! So, I ordered a plain gigantic veil with no trims or edging, thinking that I could embellish it myself. Just a bit of lace here and there I thought.

The lace edging blending into the appliques towards the top.

But when it arrived, it became clear that such a ridiculously massssive veil would not look right with ‘just a bit of lace here and there’. Oh no. This veil demanded a ridiculous amount of lace, to go with its proportions of the enlarged variety.

So many individual flowers to hand stitch!

I admit, by this stage, I had almost completed the dress, and just had the odd few accessories and bits to sort out. But I had seriously underestimated just how much lace – and more importantly – time, the veil would end up taking me. When these facts dawned on me, I actually had a literal panic attack.

Many cups of tea, messages and a long talk on the telephone later, and I was back to working on my veil. I measured how much lace edging I needed to use in order for it to span the edges of the veil, up to around my bust-line. I found the lace edging too ‘heavy’ looking to be near my face, so instead from bust to cheek level I stitched individual flowers which I hand cut from the lace material.

Detail of the edging and the individual flowers.

Next, wanted the edging to be completely symmetrical on both sides, I cut the trim in half, pinning down one side to the CB, then repeating with the other piece, ensuring both sides were level and a mirror image of the other. I machine stitched the lace edging right onto the edge of the veil, which had already been machine stitched to finish anyway. Then came the laborious task of hand stitching the inner edges of lace down onto the veil. All 7.5 metres of it.

Detail of the edging and the individual flowers.

After this, I hand cut a selection of flowers from the lace fabric, and hand stitched these down onto the parts of veil that trailed on the floor. This part was incredibly time-consuming, even more so than hand stitching the lace edging all around the veil. But – the end result was completely worth it, as the lace appliques and edging on the veil brought the whole look together – matching the sleeves of the dress perfectly.

The Pictures

Note – The pictures of me wearing the finished dress were photographed on our Honeymoon. Therefore, I didn’t have the bouquet or veil with me, so the veil has been photographed on my mannequin instead.

Perhaps the part you have all been waiting for, pictures of the finished dress!

This beautiful beach was literally a few steps away from our Honeymoon hotel room, and as we both had our wedding attire with us, we thought it would be a great opportunity to take some snaps. I imagine when we get the official wedding pictures through from our photographer I will share some here, so you can see how the whole ensemble came together, massive veil and all!

Concluding Thoughts

In total, the dress took around 5 months to make (but this was alongside work commitments etc, and I would have to pause working on it for weeks at a time to schedule in fittings). I purchased the fabrics in January, but didn’t start working on the pattern until the end of March. For me, this timeframe worked well, as I didn’t feel as if I were leaving things to the last minute, which made me feel slightly calmer about the whole thing.

I am really pleased with how this dress turned out, and I felt so excited to wear it on my wedding day. I don’t think I would change anything about my design choices, and even the colour of the dress was well received by our guests on the day. Having said that, it’s unlikely that I would make this dress again for two reasons: 1). I feel that if I made this gown again, it would somehow diminish the uniqueness of this dress, and 2). From a practicality point of view, I can’t fasten or unfasten the dress on my own, which definitely limits the wearability.

What would I say to anyone thinking of making their own wedding dress? I would say go for it! Make sure you give yourself plenty of time (think of a time frame than double it to be on the safe side). Make toiles to test the fit, and perhaps do not buy any accessories until AFTER you have made the dress to ensure they will match. I would also advise to order any notions that you want made from your own fabric sooner rather than later, (such as covered buttons and loops) to ensure your sewing will not be on hold.

Links

I hope you have enjoyed my ramblings, and apologies for the rather lengthy tome of this blog post.

Until next time dears!

 

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Du Barry Patterns 1930s Cape Dress

Have you had a sewing pattern in your stash for a few years, just waiting to be made? Du Barry 1230B for me is one such pattern, and today I share my experiences (and incorrect preconceptions) of sewing this dress.

Back in this post, I shared my forthcoming sewing plans. Usually I make sewing plans, then only adhere to them in a rather vague sort of way. For example, I may plan to make a dress, but then get distracted by 1). A sewing pattern I had newly discovered and feel like I have to make it right now 2). Seeing blogger reviews on other sewing patterns, which then makes me feel that I need that particular item in my closet above all my other sewing plans and intentions 3). Getting my eager little paws on some fabric to add to my embarrassingly large hoard, and excitedly prioritising makes with that instead.

So as you can see, I can get side-tracked pretty easily. But, I adhered to my plans and made this dress as I had both planned and hoped. I think in part, that this was actually due to writing and publishing my aforementioned blog post – having my plans in writing somehow made me stick to them more so than I may have otherwise.

I purchased this reproduction early 1930s pattern a few years ago, around the time when I had only just started sewing with original vintage patterns. I remember when I bought it feeling a bit daunted by the design features (which goes to show how far I have come in both my confidence with sewing, and my actual sewing experience/abilities). In fact, when it arrived I put it to one side and didn’t really pay it much attention – until a few weeks ago. I must confess, I was deterred from making the pattern because I really hate sewing buttonholes. My experience with buttonholes has always been hellish, but recently my sewing machine & I have reached an understanding, and he now plays nicely when I want him to sew the aforementioned item of dread. Now that I had reached a stage where I am happy to sew buttonholes, I decided to re-visit this pattern.

But – the joke of it is – this pattern doesn’t require any buttonholes! So all that time I had been putting-off making this dress because of my irrational fear of buttonholes, when there wasn’t even any buttonholes to sew anyway! All the buttons are for ‘show’ only, none of them actually work as a fastening.

In fact, reading through the scant instructions revealed that the dress is constructed in a manner which at first glance, seems quite bizarre. The CF is sewn with the wrong sides together, down to just before the pleat at the skirt. So the inside has a neat seam, whilst the outside has the unfinished edges. Then, the placket is pinned into place to cover the seam edges on the outside. But – the placket is only stitched up to the neck on one side only. The other side is open from the neck to about 3.5inches down to allow for a placket facing to be applied. Onto which poppers are stitched to form a neck opening. There is also an opening at the left hand side of the dress – with the instructions calling for a popper placket. I however, decided to insert an invisible zipper – not authentic, but neater, quicker and easier. For the cape, I firstly finished the edges, using a light gathering stitch to ease in the seam allowances. I then stitched to the bodice with the right sides of the cape matching the wrong sides of the bodice; so the seam allowances were all underneath the cape. To finish, I understitched the bodice and the seam allowances together. This gave a neat inside finish to the neckline.

For the armholes, I used bias binding turned to the inside and slip-stitched. I added machine sewn button loops at the waist side seams in order to keep the belt where I wanted it. Now – onto the buttons and belt. I discovered Harlequin a few months ago when I was looking for a company to make some things for me, for my wedding dress. Their communication, customer service, and the swiftness of dispatch were all absolutely top notch. I was so impressed, that they would always be top of my list should I require any custom made haberdashery items. Naturally, Harlequin were the people I turned to for these buttons and matching custom belt.

Admittedly, it took me a little while to decide on what type of belt buckle, the width of the belt, and which style of buttons I wanted. They have so much choice, and I was pretty tempted to go for triangular buttons – so art deco! I really love how the buttons and belt enhance the dress, and even though I thought contrasting buttons may have been a nice visual touch, I knew I wanted to keep the whole dress one colour and one fabric. That way, the dress can act as the perfect canvas for choosing various coloured and patterned accessories – as I did so here.

Outfit Details

  • Dress Pattern – Du Barry 1230B from the Vintage Pattern Shop
  • Fabric – Yellow linen from London
  • Belt & Buttons made in my own fabric – Harlequin
  • Scarf – Silk Celia Birtwell (purchased years ago)
  • Shoes – Hotter (no longer available in this particular colour)

Concluding Thoughts

This dress is the perfect example of – read the instructions carefully in order to have an accurate idea of the construction and techniques required. I can’t believe I spent years thinking this dress had oodles of buttonholes, when in fact it doesn’t have a single one! I really love the fit and shape of the skirt – much to my surprise. When I made my toile, I fully expected to want to shorten the skirt, but I found I actually really liked this longer length. Skirts in the early years of the 1930s were around mid-calf to calf length, so in that way the length makes it even more authentic. I may sew some swing catches to the cape, as it did tend to fly up around my face in gusts of wind! Overall, I am really happy with this dress, and I most likely would make it again.

So that is an item ticked-off my sewing list, and of course an eligible Vintage Pledge item, hurrah! The next garment I am working on is another 1930s dress, and after that I feel a Merchant & Mills make coming on.

Have you ever been put-off a sewing pattern at the thought of some of the techniques required – only to discover that the imagined techniques are not actually required? (I fear perhaps it is just me, but I know I won’t make that mistake again! Haa ha!)

Until next time dears!