Three Times a Bridesmaid. . .

This story begins back in October of 2012. Or maybe it was September. . .

Really, we could go all the way back to June (or was it July?) when my friend Noelle was engaged to a man she met in Lebanon. Having made a handful of somewhat successful dresses and eager to prove myself a “real seamstress” (and because Noelle is an awesome friend!), I volunteered to make the bridesmaid dresses (I did not even think about offering to make the wedding dress, so kudos to me for having a grain of sense).

Noelle very enthusiastically and gratefully allowed me to take over bridesmaid dress production. We had several little get-togethers to discuss options. Though there were only two bridesmaids, we knew right off the bat that we didn’t want to go the matchy-matchy route. A few months later in September (was it October?), we made our first trip to our one local fabric store. We left empty-handed because we simply couldn’t decide what we wanted to do. We came back a few weeks later with the mother-of-the-bride who really helped us with some much needed level-headedness.

We ended up choosing an aqua cotton sateen (I am in love with sateen–so yummy!) and a mystery fabric in a tealish blue. I was certain it was rayon challis (I’m such an expert at fabrics, donchaknow) except a bit thicker. Even the shop ladies weren’t sure of its origins. After a burn test, it was declared a polyester faille. Poly or no, it had a really lovely drape, so we bought all that was left on the bolt.

Fast forward to one month before the wedding. At this point, I had mailed a muslin back and forth with Sarah, the out-of-town bridesmaid, and had pretty much settled on all of her alterations (lengthening the bodice, rotating out some fullness from the armhole and scooping it a little) though I felt that her darts were too high but simply couldn’t tell for certain from pictures. I was just beginning with Anna, the MOH and Noelle’s sister, who asked me to wait because she was certain that she’d lose some weight before the wedding. Against my better judgment, I agreed. But, to her credit, she did lose some weight and the dress would have been too big if I’d charged on ahead. And her adjustments were pretty simple: raising the waistline (boy am I familiar with this alteration!), swayback adjustment, scooping the armholes, removing a bit of fullness from under the arms, lowering the darts–you know, easy stuff.

And that’s the story. I was actually sewing right up to the week of the wedding, but had everything done in plenty of time. There was no panic sewing involved, hurray! (Not so with my Noelle’s wedding dress which I was hemming the morning of.)

Now let’s discuss details.

The pattern I finally chose was Simplicity 1873 and I love it so much that I’d really like to make one for myself (I have fabric and everything!). My favorite thing about this pattern is the lovely pleating on the skirt. The skirt is made of a center front piece, two side front pieces cut on the bias, and two back pieces. All the seams are well-hidden within the pleats. It’s a really full, fantastic skirt.

I used view C for Anna and view B for Sarah. Anna wanted a shorter skirt while Sarah wanted hers a little longer (knee-length, I think).

Anna's is on the left; Sarah's is on the right.

Anna’s is on the left; Sarah’s is on the right. (Don’t you just love my classy hangers? 🙂

Both dresses are fully lined with cotton voile which I dyed purple for Anna and pink for Sarah. The voile was really, really sheer and loosely woven–I used it mostly for the fluff and finish factor, not because the dress fabrics were sheer. I trimmed a quarter inch from the lining neckline and armholes to help turn the seams to the inside (normally you’d probably only want to do about 1/8″, but the voile was a little stretchy). The lining is machine-sewn along the neckline and armholes and understitched by hand with a prick stitch.

Dress Lining Collage

Top right and left: Anna’s dress; Bottom right and left: Sarah’s dress (the lining in both cases actually turned out all the same shade–I think these pictures just came out a little off.)

I also whipstitched the lining to the zipper. I know that it’s possible to sew this by machine–I’ve actually done it before. But when I have in the past, I’ve struggled with the lining wanting to get caught in the zipper. I think what I’ll try in the future is to sew the lining to the zipper with the machine, but then prickstitch the lining down by hand to keep it from tangling with the zipper teeth. It’s probably quicker and easier than doing the whole thing with a whipstitch. Don’t you think?

Hand Stitching

Top: Prickstitching along the neckline; Bottom: Whipstitching the zipper

The lining hem was done on the machine, but I hand stitched the dress hem to keep things nice and polished.

Since I used sateen for Sarah’s dress, I thought it would be a good idea to add a waist stay. I was afraid that over time the heaviness of the skirt (it’s such a full skirt, y’all!) would drag down the bodice. I just used the selvedge I saved from some yellow twill.

Waist Stay

For Anna’s dress, I decided I really liked the tabs. But, when I made them, they consistently turned out. . . unfortunate-looking. For starters, I had narrowed them to make up for the shortened waist. Also, sewing along the curve means that at some point you’re sewing on the bias which can cause stretching which is what happened. And then in one of my rare moments of brilliance (while I was sleeping, actually) I realized that I could change the shape of the tab altogether. So, the pointed end was born. I also elongated them so they’d meet closer to CF. It was just more visually pleasing I thought.

Anna's Dress Details

The buttons we used are from Jo-Ann’s. No, they don’t really go, but isn’t that what makes them fun?

I also added a sweet little bow at the top of her zipper. It’s sewn down on one side and attaches by hooks and eyes on the other.

For Sarah’s dress, I made a bow belt. I had written her and sent a picture to see if she liked the idea. Her dress was pretty much complete when I began to feel that something was missing. I really liked the tiny pop of color on the buttons on Anna’s dress. And I liked that it tied in her purple lining. So, I really wanted to find a way to give Sarah’s dress a smidge of color that would have the pink from her lining as well.

I decided, after another brief stroke of brilliance, to add a little tab at the top of her zipper. I used the same pattern piece as Anna’s tabs and just shortened it. Then, I went searching for a colorful button to finish it. The only one I could find was perfect–except that it had purple and not pink. So, what’s a girl to do? Well–you get crafty is what you do.


All I needed was a small, stiff paintbrush and some pink nail polish (coincidentally, a party favor from Noelle’s lingerie shower). With just a few coats of polish rather liberally applied, I had the perfect button to sew on to the tab.

Sarah's Dress Details

Sewing up the dresses was easy and very fun. I really enjoyed taking the time to sew by hand and dreaming up the fun little details. Anna looked lovely in her dress though it’s not the sort of thing she usually wears. She’s pretty Bohemian. Unfortunately, I never got to see Sarah wear hers.

As we found out the week of, Sarah was unable to attend the wedding due to some health complications. One of the groom’s relatives was able to step in, but not in time for me to make a dress for her. So, that was pretty disappointing–to have planned all the details to be coherent but not matching and then never get to see the dresses worn together. . . But that’s okay. Life goes on, right?

Neville. He's such a helper.

Neville. He’s such a helper.

I can’t wait to make my own version! It’s going to be so fabulous, I can’t even stand it. But, I’m going to be a good girl and get my sloper done first.


16 thoughts on “Three Times a Bridesmaid. . .

  1. those look so pretty! Lucky bridesmaids! Sorry to hear about the health problems; that stinks. Hopefully she’s ok and can wear the dress another time. Would love to see pictures! You’re a nicer person than I to volunteer for dress duty. I’ve had friends ask when I’m going to make them something which I always reply with a (friendly) ‘No’! I barely have time (or the skill) to finish my own projects. 🙂

    • Haha! I just didn’t have the sense NOT to volunteer–a little too gung-ho for my own good, I think!
      She’ll be just fine, and I hope will be able to wear her dress eventually–maybe I can convince her to send me pictures 😉

  2. Wow! These are AMAZING! So beautiful and just perfect! I love the little details you added and love that they were similar but different enough to suit the wearers’ preferences. I agree with girlguydogcat above, this was really brave, but I’m glad you did it! It sounds like you had lots of fun!

    Can’t wait to see your version, next!

    • Thank you–I DID have fun! I would definitely volunteer again with no hesitation. I know a lot of people absolutely refuse to sew for others (and I totally get that!) but there’s something really satisfying about sewing for somebody else 🙂

  3. Those look amazing! I’m so sorry the one bridesmaid didn’t get to make it to the wedding. You put in sooo much work! I think i need to work on my handsewing skills, because i’m not neat at all so i try to do everything by machine.

    • Thank you! I was pretty disappointed, yes, but I enjoyed the process, so we can still call it a “win!”
      I really like handsewing–so much more than I ever thought I would. But, mine still needs a lot of work, too. I’m never quite as even and regular as I want to be.

  4. Wow, how stunning! I love your small additions – it really adds a personal and funky touch to them. I’m about to make bridesmaid dresses for my own wedding – I can only hope they turn out half as beautiful as these ones! Let us know if you end up using the pattern to make yourself a dress! 🙂

  5. Wow, they are such beautiful dresses! So well made, and what a lovely design, you’re really talented. Sorry to hear about your friend who couldn’t wear it in the end due to ill health, hope she’s doing better now. 🙂

    • Thanks–I really enjoyed working on them! As far as I know, the absent bridesmaid is doing well. She just wasn’t able to travel at the time.

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