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Wedding Dress Blues

SAAM | Posted in Fitting on

I hope you all can help. I am making a wedding dress for my daughter’s best friend. I’ve made the muslin and we’ve tweaked most of the design and fitting problems. However, I’m still having problems with the shoulders.

My bride is tall (6′) and all of her weight is in her upper body, bust and waist. She has essentially no hips. She would be a perfect inverted triangle except her shoulders slope downward dramatically.

The dress we are making has a medieval flavor with a sweetheart neckline,a front panel of brocade, and skirt, balance of bodice, and detachable train of satin. The sleeves are made in three parts — a fitted upper sleeve in satin, a fitted lower sleeve in beaded Aloncon lace, and a large, brocade-lined satin drape that hangs from the the seam where the upper and lower parts of the sleeve meet.

My problem is that the weight of the sleeve is pulling the shoulder of the dress down off the bride’s shoulder, and that’s just in muslin. The actual fabric is going to be even heavier.

I’m not sure how to fix this. I’ve altered the bodice so there is a wider band of fabric making up the shoulder, but I’m afraid that’s not going to be enough. I’ve alsotaken in a larger seam at the shoulder,but I’m afraid I’m going to be taking away all of the ease around the armscye.

Have any of you dealt with anything like this? Any suggestions will be met with undying gratitude. The wedding is in April, so I need to get moving on this. Thanks in advance.



  1. mainestitcher | | #1

    What kind of bra will she be wearing? It would seem that the first thing to do would be to add a lingerie strap to the shoulder seam of the dress. Attaching it under the strap of a good-fitting bra or corset might help.

    If she won't wear foundation garments, *sigh* well, those women are the bane of our existance. There isn't much else to attach the dress to. Most women, even young ones, look better wearing foundation garments.

    Is the back cut very low? Would raising the neckline in the back help to give the bodice more structure and stability?

    I know this isn't what she'd want to hear, now I'm just tossing this out as a suggestion: Maybe a rhinstone band or something, from shoulder seam to shoulder seam, across the back

    Another thing that helped, when I made a dress that was just off the shoulder in cut, was something we called a "lifeline." The upper edge of the dress had a trim of bias fabric filled with piping. Once the dress was finished, we kept pulling up and shortening the piping inside until the fit was perfect. Or as close to perfect as it needed to be, and this was for a musical comedy, so the wearer was moving about quite a bit.

    1. SAAM | | #2

      Thank you for your suggestions. Erica is planning on wearing a long-line strapless bra, so there's nothing to hang onto there. However, your suggestion about the piping is brilliant. I was planning on putting narrow satin piping around the neckline and along the edges between the satin and the brocade panel as part of the design already. I'm definitely going to try your "trick"!

      1. mygaley | | #3

        I made a mardi gras costume with the same sleeve you described.  I used 3/4 elastic from the armhole seam to cross in the back and fasten at the waistline.  Picture the "X" view that a convertible bra makes.  Another set of stays could be crossed in the front.  Either of these could be fastened with hooks and eyes at the waist or the opposite side seam.  If the neckline is very open, make lingerie type guides to hold the elastic in place. You are essentially constructing the missing foundation.   My customer said this was comfortable to wear.  Galey

        1. SAAM | | #4

          This is also another great idea. Thank you! I have a feeling I'm going to be using several different techniques to keep this dress on Erica where it is supposed to be. Your idea seems very straight-forward and doable.We're going to have one more fitting of the muslin and then jump into the frey. I was working on the petticoat this evening. I figure I'll work my way from the inside out. I'm so glad to be doing this dress. Erica is a wonderful young woman. She's been raising her twin brothers since she was in high school and the boys were infants, because her mother was unable to care for them due to drug and alchoholism. The family doesn't have much, but Erica will have a beautiful gown to wear, And thanks to all of this good advice, her dress will keep her covered.

          1. Teaf5 | | #5

            Have you thought about reinforcing the underarm sleeve seam to make the lower part of the sleeve support the upper part so that it doesn't drag so much on the bodice? You might use boning or stay tape or interlining or lining on the part of the sleeve just above the elbow so that it becomes supported by the upper arm rather than the bodice. Historically, sleeves were not attached to the bodice at all except by decorative lacing; the sleeve fitted the arm and was independent of the bodice.Maybe you can use all the great suggestions you've gotten to support the bodice together with self-supported sleeve. In any case, it sounds like a beautiful garment for a beautiful person made by another beautiful person!

          2. SAAM | | #7

            Since the lower part of the sleeve is lace, I'm afraid adding boning or other support will show. However, I'm thinking that adding boning to the bodice might help add support in terms of keeping the bodice in place, which in turn, along with using these other suggestions, might help keep the sleeves in place. Thanks for getting me thinking!

  2. suesew | | #6

    Is there any possibility you could use a sheer or lighter weight fabric for the sleeve drape ? It wll be very heavy to carry around all day.

    1. SAAM | | #8

      I had talked with Erica about using lighter weight fabric when we were first planning the dress, but she really likes the brocade and says she can handle the weight. We'll see! We may end up going lighter if all else fails. I'll baste the sleeves together so she can try them out. That way I will be able to change the drape quickly and easily if she decides they're too heavy.

      1. mem | | #9

        I seem to remember seeing a fair bit about the use of stays in Claire Schaeffers book on couture sewing.It seems to me that with stays you actually take all the stress off the dress. and it is suspended from the stays . what about using a shoulder pad to give some horizontal dimension to her sky slope shoulders. I have shoulders a bit like that and it is amazing that a small but firm pad mkes to the fit and hang of the bodice .

        1. SAAM | | #10

          I had thought about shoulder pads, but the fabric of the shoulder is pretty narrow — about two inches finished. I'll look for the book you recommend. Is is "Couture Sewing Techniques"? I've used stays in prom dresses and wedding dresses, but would like to learn more about how they work, the engineering of it.

          1. mem | | #11

            yes thats it. I wonder if putting some support in the top of the sleeve . perhaps a puff of tulle would help Thats what i did with my weeding dress which had huge puff 3/4 sleeves of the 80s and a sqaure neckline , I probably only had a bout the same to work with but the support in the yop of the sleeve was very helpful in extending the shoulder line which was quite flattering when I look at photos now. .Could you persude her to change the length of the shoulder seam to give you a bit more to work with V necks are more flattering to heavy topped people any way

          2. SAAM | | #12

            Hi Mem,I like your suggestions. I've recut the muslin to put more fabric width over the shoulders. The top of the sleeve is just a straight fitted smooth sleeve cap — there's not much room for adding stuff that would help hold it up. I am going to see if I can get away with a very small shoulder pad, now that I've extended the shoulder fabric.I was also noticing, from some of your other posts, that you live in Australia. I was wondering where-abouts. I was born in Sydney, then my family moved to Melbourne. Unfortunately, both my parents were New Yorkers.They moved me and my brothers and sister back to the States when I was seven. I frequently get such longings to return to Australia. I would love to hear more about your life there. I wonder if fabric stores are disappearing down your way as they are up here.I live in Baltimore Maryland (45minutes north-east of Washington D.C.) Where the fabric stores are getting fewer and farther between. I have one small independent store — A Fabric Place — near me that has nice silks and woollens plus a good selection of bridal fabrics, and there is G Street Fabrics a 45 minute drive for me, so I don't get there too often. Sherry

          3. mem | | #13

            hello Yes I am in Melbourne . Its a great place to live and while the shops are getting fewer there are sill alot of them . I think this is because we are a center for young fashion designers  and there are lots of italians here who love clothes and tend to be able to sew.

  3. marg | | #14

    I have read most of the suggestions from the other people and except  for the suggestions to change the basic style, I would try them. But if the style is important use what the actress use! GLUE and TAPE go to costumer and see what they have yes!  Doubve sided tape it what the actresses use to keep those dresses against their bodies!

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