My dear friend and podcast co-host Tracy got married recently, and I was honored to be entrusted with creating the bride's dress. Early on in the discussion, the 1920s was settled on as the style inspiration, and Tracy wanted her favorite color, blue.
It started with a sketch. I am NO sketch artist, as is abundantly obvious here. But fortunately, Tracy has vision that fills in the gaps where my drawing skills fail, and she approved.
We sourced a handful of blue satin fabrics for the under layer, eventually settling on a periwinkle charmeuse. I knew I wanted to use English net for the beaded outer layer, so we just had to get a swatch from a supplier to confirm that it was good stuff. The dress construction itself was really simple -- it's just a basic sleeveless shift. The charmeuse layer was cut on the bias so it would skim close to the body; the English net was cut on the straight of grain, because the weight of the beads on it would pull it down in a way that would hug Tracy's figure.
Once I had the dress sewn together, the beading marathon began. I started by running a series of bugle and seed bead lines around the armscyes and the neck edge.
Then I slowly built out the design from there. All of the beading designs I used were based on techniques I saw on garments from the 1920s.
I knew I wanted to create a basket weave effect with beaded lines to create the diamond pattern on the dress. This turned out to be a mathematical challenge! I knew the beading had to follow the lines up from the points on the hem to converge in the design points that defined the yoke area. I ran numerous basting lines, only to take them out in frustration when I realized that I had calculated the trajectories incorrectly. Eventually, I came up with a really unorthodox, but ultimately effective solution: I laid out the lines on the dress using painters tape, and THEN, when I had them right, I ran the basting along those lines. Phew. Problem solved. In the end, things lined up nicely. Here's a shot of the back of the dress with the lines of beading converging.
One of the design elements I wanted to include in the dress was a series of Minecraft diamonds rendered in beads. Tracy and her wonderful groom Patrick play Minecraft together a lot, so I wanted to give a fun, nerdy nod to that in the dress.
My test diamond turned out pretty well:
And it seemed like it would be great when I pinned it to the dress to see how it would sit. Full steam ahead.
(You can also see in this photo the inset I added to the top of the charmeuse layer -- the neckline sat too low on Tracy when we did one of her early fittings, so I added that in, knowing beading would cover the seam once the dress was embellished.)
But when I stitched the diamonds directly onto the English net, they just didn't work. The weight of the beading on the net was pulling it in a way that distorted the shape of the diamonds and made them look like odd, random bead clumps. So, off they came, and I did a little redesign.
Another change that we made along the way was the inclusion of clear, iridescent sequins. Initially, I thought that I wouldn't use sequins, but all the beading was making the dress heavier and heavier. The sequins offered a way to add embellishment with far less weight. They also brought a whole new feel to the dress with their light-catching sparkle.
The timing on this project was right down to the wire. Life kept throwing me obstacles that would rob me of beading time, which was SUPER frustrating. I finished the last bit of beading on my lunch break the DAY BEFORE THE WEDDING, just a few hours before we left to drive up to North Caroline for the event. I never like to cut sewing projects that close, particularly when I'm stitching for other people. Nerve-wracking!
But then the big day came, and Tracy's hair and makeup was phenomenal, and we slipped the dress on her, and her transformation into Phryne Fisher was complete!
You'll be happy to know the Minecraft diamonds still found a place on the dress -- I put them at the very bottom where the distortion effect was offset by the structure of the faced hem. You can also see below that I added some flouncy gores to the charmeuse layer, and then another chiffon layer under that. Plus, lots of beaded fringe!
Tracy was just lovely in her full getup -- the perfect modern flapper!
And, perhaps my proudest achievement: No beads flew off the dress when the darling newlyweds danced! (And those under layers had great movement when Tracy twirled. Huzzah!)
Congratulations to the beautiful couple on the next phase of their life together. I'm so glad I remembered to pack my hanky in my bag for the wedding, because I CRIED and CRIED. It was lovely, and I feel lucky to have gotten to contribute to their special day.
For additional photos of the fabulous Tracy and Patrick nuptials, click here.
And now, get ready, because with that project wrapped, my brain went BANANAS coming up with new things to sew!