The making of a prom dress

A few years ago, I was making for others on a regular basis. It is intensive and demanding work and can be frustrating but also incredibly rewarding, so I’m more careful about what I take on.

In the spring of this year a friend at church asked if I’d consider making her daughter a prom dress. I’ve made wedding dresses for friends in the past (way back in 2001 and 2005!) but this was somehow even more daunting.  However I soon agreed and we started to explore possibilities.

Erin had a clear idea of what she wanted to wear, which helped enormously, and I started out in early April with a couple of bodice toiles, one in jersey and one in woven cotton. The fit was ok so I moved on to an unlined toile in fabric from a swap that I’d hosted not long before.

I used two patterns as a starting point: the Day Dress  by The Avid Seamstress for the bodice and sleeve head and Threadcount 1615 (out of print) for the skirt and remainder of the sleeve.

 

The fit wasn’t too bad but there was some tension across the front around the armholes. After some thinking, it appeared that a ‘full bust adjustment’ was most likely to help resolve this. It’s something I never need to do for myself but I found an excellent tutorial by Lauren of Guthrie & Ghani and worked it out. To my relief, it worked! I then traced the adjusted pattern pieces to minimise the risk or errors when cutting out the final fabric. The bodice also needed shortening overall by 2cm, which I did after making the adjustments.

For the skirt, I used the front panel for both front and back, and swapped the original centre back zip to a side zip for neatness.

The final bodice pattern pieces looked like this (on the front bodice you can see the hacked version above its traced mirror image):

I matched the side seams and centre front and back of the bodice and skirt pieces, placed a pin at the base of the vertical bodice darts, then folded the excess fabric into pleats.

The fabric that Erin chose is a silk dupion from Doughty’s in a glorious shade of turquoise. I had ordered fat quarters of several fabrics and this was by far the loveliest! For the lining, I used a standard polyester dress lining – although silk habotai would have been a luxurious alternative – which the folk at Doughty’s kindly helped to match to the silk as I had to buy online. The trim and crystals were from Bombay Stores, an amazing Asian department store in Bradford. It’s well worth the uphill walk from the city centre and I’d encourage you to visit if you ever have the opportunity.

Beads and trims

I’m still going through a phase of wanting to create garments with scarcely any visible stitching, so I used the 1978 Reader’s Digest sewing book to guide me through inserting a lapped zip, prick stitching the visible parts by hand, and created a hand rolled hem on the skirt. The hem ended up being stitched in a very warm hospital waiting room as my elder daughter (Big Small) broke her finger in rather spectacular fashion just a few days before the dress had to be finished!

I drafted facings for the upper front and back edges, which were also interfaced for stability. Rather than cutting the lining shorter to account for the facing, I stitched all three layers (bodice, facing and lining) together, understitched through the lining and facing, and then slipstitched it to the lining to help it stay flat. The lining (bodice and skirt only) has an overlocked roll hem for neatness and minimal bulk (sewing tip: use a longer stitch for a few cm at the beginning and end and disengage the knife for the overlapped section as you finish). It is slipstitched to the armscye of the bodice and also stitched loosely to the outer in a few places with blanket stitched French tacks.

The trim is stitched in place by hand, trying to keep it symmetrical across the front and back. The Hotfix Swarovski crystals were much easier to apply than I expected (phew!); a silk organza pressing cloth and a YouTube tutorial made the process manageable with a domestic iron and no special tools were needed.

At the final fitting, the day before the prom, the finishing touch was to secure the shoulder strap, which I’d prepared as a folded piece the previous weekend and had stitched ready to position it properly. I machine stitched it to the facing and lining and then slipstitched it to the bodice edge to keep it flat.

Here’s the finished dress and Erin wearing it! It was hard work but every doubt, stitch, alteration and sparkle was, without doubt, worthwhile.

 

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