Waterdress, the bodice (part 1)

It seems that I have successfully returned to a regular blogging routine – but this time by regular I mean once in two months instead of once every other week. Writing my BA thesis has taken much more time that I had thought of, but it’s nearly done and I hope to have more time to focus on my hobbies in June at the latest.

It feels odd to be writing this tutorial in April 2017 as I first started to work on the dress and this particular bodice almost a year ago, in May 2016. Browsing these making-of photos makes me feel nostalgic, but at the same time happy. This wasn’t my first time creating fitting bodices from scratch, but it anyhow taught me an important lesson that I’ll return to in a moment.

Waterdress as a title might sound a little weird, but it’s actually quite accurate name for this project that was originally inspired by tropical turquoise oceans. The reason for me designing and sewing something like this was to make my little sister happy. She graduated from upper secondary (Finnish “high-school”) last December, and I was honored to be her official seamstress for the occasion. She loves clear blue waters and wanted her graduation dress to represent it.


Because this was the gift I would give to my sister for her graduation, I wanted it to be exactly the way she had hoped. Her wishlist included a fitted bodice and a knee-length, full skirt. She also hoped it would look as much as real water as possible.

I combined all her wishes to the sketch below. I imagined the skirt would have a transparent overlay that would dull the embellishments (something oceanic, such as fish) on the  main skirt underneath it. I planned to sew rows of lace to the hem to mimic waves crashing shore. The corset could be made of the same fabric as the main skirt if I found enough materials for it. In addition to the shoulder straps (that I added merely for decoration), I planned on sewing leftover lace pieces or something similar to be the eye-catcher on center front of the corset.

I’m not so good at drawing figures (yet), so just ignore the awkward pose :P.


Luckily I got nearly 10 meters of turquoise polyester satin from my granny to make my sister’s dream dress into reality. What it meant was that I could sew the main skirt and the corset from the same fabric! The polyester has a beautiful sheen to it and it drapes beautifully, which makes me think of tropical oceans. If water could be woven into fabric, it would probably look like this.

On it’s own the fabric was too sheer to be made into a corset, but nothing could stop me from making a base layer from something heavier and sewing the top-most layer from the satin.


My personal preference for drafting patterns is to draw them first on paper with the help of a grid that I draw according to the measurements of the model. I’m not going to go into detail here but if you’re interested, I could write a tutorial on that as well in the future.

I don’t know what happened with the-making-of -photos, but I remember taking many more of them than the ones that made it to this post. I somehow managed to lose the pictures that precede the following one. Unfortunately this means that I don’t have any photos of cutting the pieces, assembling the base (nor the top layer), cutting the boning pieces nor sewing the boning channels! The picture below shows the phase were I have already sewn the boning channels shut and pinned the top layer to the base.

Edit 24.8.2017 // I found the missing pics and wrote a separate tutorial on them here.

You can see that the back pieces (the out-most pieces of the corset laying flat) of the base have interfacing ironed to them, which gives the fabric more strength to support grommets. What I like to do with boning channels is that I sew them on top of base layers’ seams (and by the way, they’re made of bias-cut cotton strips), because I’ve found they give more support that way. For boning I like to use thick zip ties, and I prepared them the same way here as I did with the petticoat. I used only one zip tie per channel. As you can see, the center front has three extra boning channels to support it (so, they are not placed on top of seams).


So, returning to the sewing tutorial after that quick briefing, in the photo above I had the base and top-most satin layer all ready. The next thing to do was to pin them together, the right side of the base facing the wrong side of the polyester. I folded the seam allowances of the satin on the lower edge inward and tacked them down by hand. The edges on the back opening were as well folded inward (but I made sure they covered completely the area where I was going to attach the grommets; thin area between the two out-most boning channels in the picture above).

What this bodice taught me is that polyester satin is really, really prone to fraying. I left the seam allowances a little bit to short on the top-most layer, and during the graduation day one of the seams began to unravel… I think it was the worst mistake I’ve ever made during my sewing career ;( There was a two centimeters long hole on one of the front seams at the end of the day, which is a pity because it’s kind of a difficult task to fix (which doesn’t mean I’m not going to try it!). In the photo below the bodice is still okay.


Having finished the bottom edge of the corset, I next finished the top edge with a bias-cut strip of polyester satin that was hand-stitched to the front of the bodice, right sides facing each other of course.


The other edge of the strip was folded inward only after I had assembled the lining and pinned it in place. One of the short edges of the lining was left open for the modesty panel that was going to be attached later on, but the other short edge and the lower edge were attached to the seam allowances of the top layer by tiny hand-sewn stitches.


Here’s a close-up of what the bias-cut finishing looks from the interior; I love the way it curves smoothly around the edge.


And here’s what it looks from the front.


After finishing the edges of the bodice, I had to keep a many-week pause from the project, because I didn’t have enough grommets, and getting more of them proved to be almost too difficult a job. My favorite place to shop for sewing supplies had run out of them and another local store had only grommets that were too big. Finally I headed online and found the ones that were perfect, but once arrived in mail, my grommet pliers decided not to cooperate… Anyhow, here’s what the bodice looked before I got to attaching the grommets (lovely, isn’t it?):


Despite I already let you in on my catastrophe with the grommets, I plan on writing the second part of this dress on the skirt. It means you’ll have to wait for the third part for more details on the grommets and information on the modesty panel and decorations. On the other hand, there will be many more progress photos there! Let’s keep our fingers crossed that I’ll have part two written in May!

Thank you for reading!


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