The Bombshell Course: Mission accomplished

side frontFirst, I want to apologize for the crappy over-exposed pictures, but the sun is shining and it’s warm enough to be outside dressed like this. There was frost in my yard this morning!

After ripping and sewing (shell) and ripping and sewing (lining) and generally fussing with this yesterday for 5 hours, I’ve accomplished my goal.  I’ve made up the dress as a trial to see if it was worth using fabric that I value highly, and found that yes, I’m pretty happy with the finished product.  It’s come a long way and is definitely worth making up two or three more times.  Using a print would also disguise a lot of the picky-picky fussing issues about the bodice cups – you just wouldn’t notice them!!! He he he he….

B 5-2011-122 back viewWhen I first saw the dress pattern on the cover of Burda’s May 2011 issue, I did not even look at it twice.  Actually, that’s a lie.  I did look at it twice, because it’s in the magazine twice.  And I distinctly remember thinking, “I really hate that dress.  I hate the 3 piece bra cup.  It fits terribly.  I hate that dress.”  And then I saw Gertie’s Bombshell Course.

A little history here:  I am completely self (read book) taught.  My mother used to sew a lot when I was little, and I finally convinced her to teach me when I was 9 years old.  The extent of her teaching was how to lay out a pattern and clarification for steps in the directions that I didn’t understand.  The first thing I ever made was a basic doll dress made up of rectangles…. on a Singer treadle, no less.  But I’ve never ever taken a sewing class. Until Gertie’s course.

When I signed up, I had no idea I would be using the Hated Dress Pattern.  But the course was paid for (half price – yay!), and so I thought, “Well, even if I never wear the darned thing, I’ll learn a lot from taking this course, especially about boning a bodice.”  And that was only the beginning.  Let me share just a little of what I learned:B 5-2011-122

  • I learned about draping.  I had to so drastically re-draft the cup pattern, that I did my first ever teeny tiny drafting project under Gertie’s video supervision  to get the cups to fit.
  • I learned about using needlepunch or thin quilt batting or felt or whatever to shape the cups and working with spiral steel boning.
  • I got to practice a lot of techniques that I’ve done once or twice over my sewing years all in one garment.  FUN! Smile

underwired bodice liningAnd now to some technical things.  I decided to double bone the CF of the bodice – in the absence of a wooden busk or very inflexible steel – and added underwire to the lining.  This doesn’t show from the outside or the inside, but it does add more security to the bodice.  I’m still not 100% happy with the way the neckline does not lay flat, but it’s better than it was.  waist stayHere’s the finished bodice from the inside.

There are some things that I will fix for next time.  First, the skirt lining is doing weird things (you can see that in the top picture).  Second, I will reduce the curve on the bottom of Piece #1 (the cup top piece) by about 1/4”.  This will change the silhouette to curved rather than angular.  I did reduce the centre seam by the intended 1/2” for this version, but it’s still not enough.  I’ve made notes on my pattern pieces for the next version.  Third, the back bodice needs to be shortened by about another 3/4” to account for my high hips (or sway back, however you like to call it). And last, I will look at imitating the boning pattern of a corset in the hopes it will encourage the CF neckline to lay flat against my breastbone.  It’s not bad, but it’s not perfect.necklineThank you to all of you who have cheered me on as I’ve waded through this one, and I just wanted to say, yes, usually I’d trash something that made me *almost* cry, but I was bound and determined, come hell or high water to conquer the fit of this dress. It’s my repressed type A personality showing through, I guess!! And the fact that I beat it in the end is truly enjoyable. No, I’m not a sucker for punishment. I just really really hate giving up on something. There is always a way to win. !!!! Did I just write that? Ah, well…..B 5-2011-122 back

So, when do you quit?

sideSo here’s THE TEST.  I’ve pinned the front hem and a halter strap, but the dress is fully lined and boned.  The back skirt needs some tweaking (I’ve got some lines happening) but that’s the least of my problems.   The test run started with undergarments, but remember, my goal is to have this bodice fitting as well as possible so that I don’t require undergarments.

Let’s start with what I think is good about this dress.  First, I’m surprised at how much I like it.  I like it enough that I’m tempted to keep tweaking it to ensure the fit is wearable perfect.   Second, I like the sarong-style skirt.  Third, I’m generally pleased with the bodice fit, although the bust line needs a few fixes.

And now comes the list of improvements required. To appreciate this you need to know that the one strip of spiral steel boning down the CF does not provide enough support for the bodice on me.  I really need a completely inflexible piece of steel, about 1/2” wide to hold the CF flat against my breastbone, and that is a necessary thing on this dress.  Looking over my shoulder with a clear view to my navel is not my idea of a good time.

trial bodiceIn these first pictures the CF is pinned to my undergarment so that it lies flat against my breastbone like it’s supposed to.  And looking at the picture below, you can see that I’ve still not got the perfect fit on the cups.  This is creating a problem or two!  If I’m going to wear this dress with the undergarment I have on, then I need to tweak the fit.  The right cup has a lot of extra ease along the neckline, and needs to be adjusted in – about 2 inches, I would guess.  And I would need to reduce the centre cup seam by about a total of 1/2”.  You can see from the picture (above left) that the shape is a bit odd – I’d prefer a slightly rounder shape than the angular silhouette it currently has.

bodice problems

I’ve decided that wearing this dress without some kind of shoulder strap is not happening for me.  Maybe it’s my age or my size or my mental state – don’t get me wrong!  Strapless dresses have always been something that I wanted to wear.  This is not a new opinion!  I distinctly remember a strapless bathing suit I had when I was about 13 years old, and thinking there was just something about my (less-than-boney) shoulders that did not do justice to a strapless neckline.    This dress has done nothing to change my mind about that.

However, here’s a pic of the bodice taken in along the neckline about the required 2” and pinned…… so I could take these pictures to see if the fit is any better.R cup adjustedI think it is….. along the neckline anyway.  But I’m still concerned about the gap at the centre front.  Maybe I can steal a piece of wood (like a wooden busk) from DH’s workshop to see if it would actually make a difference to have inflexible reinforcement at the centre…..

The interior of a bombshell bodice

shaped cupsI thought I’d post some pics of the interior of the bombshell dress.  You can see the shaped cups and my muslin underlining above, and the lining (below).  The boning channels are grosgrain ribbon.  There are 13 bones in all, and I’m hoping it’s enough.lining with boning channelsThe most challenging part of working with the steel bones was cutting and tipping them.  The cutting wasn’t too bad – DH has a pair of tin snips that worked beautifully – and with a little practice I was able to angle the cut so the steel sprung apart cleanly.

spiral steel boningBut tipping (capping?) the bones was another story.  If I clamped the tips tightly on the sides, the centres of the tips popped out and simply would not crimp down flat.  I decided to just go with crimping the tips to the sides of the bones as well as possible, and hope that they won’t fall off inside the boning channels with wear.

And I’m really hoping the 13 bones are enough for this bodice to stay up where it belongs.  Stay tuned!  Once this interior is in comes the test.

Almost ready!

I must confess this dress almost had me crying the other night.  I had mocked up the 6th – read SIXTH – version of the bodice, had the cups shaped and the twill tape in the neckline and asked my DH to hold the back closed while I tried it on.  It so did not fit.  *hung head*  Talk about frustrating.bombshell V6The fifth muslin I thought fit just a little too big, so I self-fit it in front of a mirror.  I’m don’t have pictures, which is probably a mercy.  But I was confident in the fit, so merrily went on my way making it up.  Just as I was ready to cut the skirt and attach it to the bodice, I thought I’d just try it on again.  Y’know, just to make sure so that I didn’t have a beautifully finished dress that didn’t fit.   My DD1 asked me how it was going, and I told her I was going to have a beautiful dress, but I didn’t know if I’d be keeping it because it might not fit!  So sadly true when I tried on Version #6.  *cue copious sobbing*

Back to the drawing board again.  This time I went back to Version #5, which I thought was too big.  It’s still a little big, but at least the coverage is good and I don’t fall out of it!  I basted the skirt to the bodice and tried it on to see if it’s worth continuing.  I am so pleased that it actually fits!  I’ll have pictures of me in it once it’s completely finished.

The fabric is not exactly what I wanted to make this dress up in, but I had enough of it in my stash to make three of them if such waste was necessary to get the fit right.  My goal is not necessarily to have a dress that I’ll wear (although I think I will wear this), but to tweak the bodice fitting so that I have a TNT pattern to use at will.   I do have a Liberty of London Ros in red and some tweed that I’d love to make this up in.  I’m just satisfied that I’ve cracked this nut that almost made me cry “Nuff!”

I’m just going ahead

bustier 4I’m still working on the bustier for my bombshell dress.  I needed to redraft the cups yet a 5th time.  I’m really having a lot of trouble getting this to fit the way I want it to.  The centre piece of the bodice should lie flat against my breastbone – and it’s quite happy to do that until I get the cups in.  HA!  So I redrafted the cups a 4th time – I actually had to add width across the centre bust point – in order to get the CF to lie flat properly.  But it was a little too much!

So here I am again, re-drafting them a 5th time.  bustier 4 cup piecesI’ve decided to make the entire bustier and finish it properly with the lining, padding (for shaping the cups) and spiral-steel boning this time.  I’m curious to see whether the 12 channels of boning that are supposed to go into this bustier will help the bodice stay close to my ribcage or not.  The goal, frankly, was to have a bustier that did not require undergarments.  This may be impossible, but I’m still forging ahead.  My rationale?  If it doesn’t work as a strapless garment – y’know, sags, pulls away from the breastbone or whatever – there are several strap options that just may add that extra “keep in place” help that this thing needs – on my body, anyway.  So stay tuned.  I’ve not re-drafted and remade so many muslins for any garment EVER.  And when I get the fit just right, it’s going to be a good foundation pattern for any number of garments.

Third time is the charm

DSC03182The fit for the Bombshell bodice, that is.  It required some serious redrafting of the bra cup pattern pieces, though.  Here’s just a sample.  You can see the original seam lines traced in red, and my pattern adjustments in blue pen after fitting it to my makeshift dress form.  Once I trued up all my pen markings from the fitting, I transferred the new pattern shape to yet another DSC03185piece of muslin using tracing paper and a wheel.  I’ve actually never done any of this multiple redrafting of a pattern before in my life.  I’ve never actually sewn up such a fitted bodice before in my life, either.   I’ve always been a little intimidated by the challenges of fitting myself and all the redrafts that have to be done  on a seemingly endless basis to get a good fit through the torso.  I just have to remember patience, and remind myself that I like the process of learning and success at the end.

Anyhow, once I’ve traced the seam lines onto the new muslin, I’ll thread trace them all by machine and sew up the muslin for yet another fitting.   Hopefully it will fit well this time and I can go onto the next step of cutting the fashion fabric and underlining it. DSC03186

Persevere, persevere, my dear

I’m well into Gertie’s sewalong, and boy, am I learning a lot.   The dress (Burda 05-2011-122) is quite fitted through the bodice, and I must confess that that is probably the only reason that I decided to take the course.   I am a busty girl, and fitting a strapless bodice – or a fitted one, for that matter – is a nightmare waiting to happen.DSC03180

Here’s where I am so far.  I cut the bodice to fit my ribcage (chest) and waist measurements, knowing full well that there will be major pattern adjustments to get it to fit perfectly through the bust.

I have cut the bust twice.  I have fit the bust twice.  I do think I’ve almost got it nailed, but in the process I have learned two things:

1.  Being larger than a B cup is a girl’s worst fitting nightmare, no matter how the DH appreciates the extra assets she carries around.

2.  I really – and I mean really – need to spend the money on a proper dress form.  Putting an undergarment on a vintage dress form and stuffing it into shape only works so well, y’know.


So I went on a tracing binge today.  Well, OK, not really a binge, considering it’s only two dresses, but that was enough to send me to the floor for some remedial Pilates after bending over my table tracing all afternoon.

First up is Burda 5-2011-119, the pattern Gertie suggests using for her Bombshell dress sewalong (the button’s at the side if you decide to sew one up).  Now I don’t know if sewing up a bombshell dress is a good idea, but considering it’s a sewing course per se that you enroll and pay for, and can ask any questions as you follow along… and that it was 50% off (you have to use her link here)…and that I can do it on my own time (which may be a bad thing)… I thought I’d sign up and have some fun learning, watching videos and (hopefully) ending up with a perfectly fit bombshell dress.  I’m planning to sew it up in this striped poplin, which I can’t for the life of me photograph accurately.

Burda 05-2011-122DSC03131Second up is this dress for DD1 – yes, another dress for my eldest daughter.  She’s fun to sew for and doesn’t require oodles of fitting… oh, and this was a dress she picked out waaaaaaay back in March of this year when we were talking about her summer clothes.  She chose a light sandy jersey for the dress, which is Burda 07-2010-120.

Burda 7-2010-120DSC03128