Sunday, 2 November 2014

Elen's Prom Dress - Part 4 - Laced Corset Back and that Dratted Rolled Chiffon Hem

This is the final post on Elen's prom dress and I'd like to share with you how I did the laced corset back, and what I thought would be the hardest part of sewing her dress - the chiffon hem! Oh, and let's not forget the blinging up.

I thought the laced corset back would be fairly straight forward. I'm familar with lacing from doing stage costumes and she had tried on enough laced backed prom dresses for me to know the lacing had to be strong.

Edwardian corset
A corset was traditionally an undergarment made from heavy fabric that had bones (initially whale bones) inserted into channels sewn over the seams.  It was used to shape the body - often into unnatural shapes - through the tightening of the back ribbons, which cinched the waist in to tiny proportions.

I found this fantastic blog article What everyone ought to know about wearing a victorian corset on the Historical Sewing website, which gives some facinating tips on wearing a historic style corset - including one on visiting the "facilities"!

Modern corset bodices borrow many of the principles of historic corsets, but are not as so damaging to the body as the extreme corseting approach, which could cause significant problems to a woman's body. 

Elen's prom dress was in a corset-style and used plastic boning so wouldn't have the same effect as a correctly tailored corset, but even if you are not looking to get that tiny waist effect, the most important part of lacing a corset is getting it to cinch in the waist so that the upper bodice is supported from the torso. I've seen so many girls hitching up their strapless prom dresses all night because they rely on tight lacing round the bust but the corset bones aren't supported correctly from the waist area. 

I needed the lacing ribbon and loops to be strong so I could lace her up tight - often fashion dresses have skimpy lacing that snap and loops that pull out of the seams.  And I wanted them to look the same as the dress so I decided not to use satin ribbon but to make rouleau loops and cording from the satin and chiffon overlay.  

This How to make rouleau loops tutorial by Peggys Pickles shows how to sew together long strips of fabric (right sides together) that are then turned inside out to make a long thin tube with the right side showing. This slightly round shaped cord can be used to make button loops, but is also great for lacing loops and ribbon, especially if it's made a little wider than normal. You can add extra strength and prevent bias stretch by threading a polyester or cotton cord through.

I also found this fantastic How to make loops for the back of a wedding dress corset You Tube Video by Des Swags Curtain Make which shows how insert the central cord as you make it and use it to pull the whole thing the right way through. Brilliant - although I agree with the lady in the video - it is really hard to pull the cording through the middle. 

Sewing the loops to the bodice - I took a length of rouleau cord and tacked it to the v-shaped back of Elen's bodice (not the lining) - in loops as shown in my diagram left.

The actual loops are the bigger ones that fall to the left in the diagram - when I was happy with the size and shape (and checked they matched on both sides) I machine stitched in place (I actually sewed it just inside seam allowance line) - sewing it twice for extra strength.

I then placed the lining on top of the whole bodice (right sides facing) and stitched together up each back seam and along the top, before turning right sides out and slip stitching the bodice lining to the skirt seam along the inside waist. 

I then had a dress with a lined bodice that had matching loops that were caught between the bodice and the lining seam - strong and neat.

The lacing was another very long piece of rouleau loop cord made in the same way as the loops and just threaded through in a criss cross pattern when putting the dress on.  And the lacing was straight up the centre of her back - unfortunately she is twisting slightly in this photo so it looks out of line.

(I didn't use rouleau loops to fasten the self covered buttons on the skirt as they were too bulky - I used shirring elastic to make stretchy loops that disappeared behind the little buttons.)

Blinging it up - this photo shows off the beautiful diamante trim - this was a pre-stoned chain in a beautiful scroll shape that I hand stitched to the bodice top and waist line - so it can easily be removed when laundering.   It was really hard to sew on though - I kept getting the thread caught up in the stones and loops.... This actually worked in our favour though for a headpiece as Elen's hairdresser needed to use hardly any pins to keep some in place in her hair. 

And talking of hard work..... I'd been dreading doing the chiffon hem.  I had made a chiffon wedding dress for my sister many years ago and the double folded hem was not my best work! So I did a bit of research and came up lucky with this fantastic You Tube video How to sew a rolled chiffon hem by Ami Simms.

Contrary to my assumptions, you don't roll up the hem before stitching, but you form a ladder of tiny stitches that connect to each other by thread slipped between a folded hem - when you gently tug on the thread, the fold rolls up on itself and the stitches disappear.  Amazing.

After cutting the hem to the right length (poor thing, Elen had to stand on a box for ages while I measured, pinned, checked, and then rechecked), I gave it a go.

It was so simple to do and although it took a bit of time, I actually loved doing it - I sat in front of the television and just stitched away. The finished hem looked stunning. I wish I'd hand rolled the satin underskirt and lining now....

Ah well, there's always her wedding dress to do, although I hope that'll be a few years in the future...... In the meantime, I'll leave you with a few more photos, including one of Elen with her grandmother and the links to the earlier blogs about Elen's Prom dress. Part 1: A design concept     Part 2: Boned corset bodice     Part 3: Bias skirts in satin and chiffon


  1. This dress is lovely. I found your blog while searching for a wedding dress. This skirt is exactly what I want but now, having read your of your difficulties, I feel my search for buying one may be near impossible. It's wonderful.

  2. Thank you very much Jaye for your lovely comments. It really is hard when you have that "exact something" in your mind - I made my own wedding dress in the end as there was nothing available in the shop. But that was many years ago and there there are many many talented designers out there - we did find a local dress designer shop that could create something to Elen's design, but it would have taken too long and cost too much for a prom dress. But hopefully you will find what you want for your wedding.