Gertie Bombshell – Up Close and Personal

Now, here are the details we all love – or the details that I love, at any rate. Am I alone in this?

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.

First up, the seams:

This is where the base of a bodice cup meets the main body of the bodice. Both sections are seamed and those seams need to meet spot on. If for this technique alone, Gertie’s course is worth signing up for. She has the most amazing tip for how to pull this off that suddenly makes life so much easier. I won’t share here – sign up and enjoy the lightbulb moment too!

Here’s a detail of the cotton lining with the waist stay:

I’d never bothered with a waist stay before, because I thought it would be a pain to add. It isn’t. A length of grosgrain ribbon, some hooks and eyes, three places to stitch it on – the front waist and side seams. What’s the big deal? It helps support the eleven pieces of spiral steel boning, some of which you can see sitting in their seams in this photo.

Gertie was quite insistent that we only line with natural fabrics, ideally cotton. I’m so glad she insisted on this – I would hate to insert this lining in a shiny, slippy fabric.

You might just be able to make out the tiniest hint of red around the seams of this bodice lining. That’s because I used a tracing wheel and red dyed paper to mark my seams – and the red didn’t want to wash out. Something to look out for, future makers of the Gertie Bombshell Dress! You can also see evidence of this tracing near my laced hem:

Can you see that little line of red dots?  That’s where I traced the original hem of the pattern piece. Then I added four inches to the length, as Gertie did, to create a vintage length. I’m really glad I added this length. I think the dress might have felt a bit Eighties without it. But that red really doesn’t want to budge, so if you’re going to do the same, I’d suggest marking fabric only at the adjusted skirt length.

Here’s a detail of the tiniest lapped zipper that ever was lapped and zipped:

This became a tiny lapped zipper because after handsewing the lining in with hours’ worth of fell stitch, I tried the dress on and realized the bodice was too tight. Fortunately, I knew that I had a generous seam allowance either side of the zip. So I unpicked the zip, put it back in with a narrower seam and redid my fell stitch. Gertie’s mouth would drop open with horror at such a clumsy dress adjustment. Me? I was just glad the men in white coats weren’t coming to take me away. (They’re coming to take me away! Ha, ha! Hee, hee! – Whoever wrote that song surely owned a sewing machine.)

Here’s my grosgrain ribbon zipper guard face on:

And here it is from an angle so that you can see the way it is sewn in between the fashion fabric and zip, and the lining fabric:

And here’s a detail of the pick stitching used to hold the zipper guard in place on the lining side of the dress:

I think these are all the details I have to share with you. Oh yes, let’s not forget adjusting the lengths of the spiral steel boning:

Feminist that I am, it killed me to give in and enlist the help of a man – but that’s just what I did. Cutting this stuff is not for the faint hearted, guys! I would strongly recommend not ordering pre-cut lengths of boning until you have done a toile of your bodice and know exactly the lengths you need. That way you may be able to avoid the above. I used Vena Cava for spiral steel boning and tubing – very reasonably priced and excellent delivery. But if you mess up, and need to cut your pre cut lengths and need new caps for the end of your spiral steel boning – go to MacCulloch & Wallis if you’re in the London area. They are very, very helpful.


Gertie’s online course: £18.72

Stretch cotton: £3 a metre from the man outside Sainsburys at Walthamstow market.

Cotton lining: £4

Spiral steel boning, tubing, grosgrain ribbon and sundries: Let’s say £12

This dress came in at just over £40. Not bad. The amount I learned? Priceless.

Next up, my thoughts on zero ease and how it just blew my mind!

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33 Responses to Gertie Bombshell – Up Close and Personal

  1. I love this post! Thank you for sharing all these details, they’re fascinating.

  2. Debi says:

    I LOVE the details! That last photo is a bit scary! Some very good advice about the steel boning!

  3. Wow. It’s a beautiful dress inside and out. I’m glad you share the little fixes and problems. I know we all encounter them but it can feel like you’re the only screw up when doing it and it’s a bit liberating to not feel alone. More often than not there is a solution to it that no one else would be the wiser from the outside. I wouldn’t notice a that a lapped zipper is narrower than it should be.

    • Felicity from Down Under says:

      I wholeheartedly concur with this comment regarding the universality of mistakes and how good it is to know that you’re not the only one who makes them. And the lapped zipper? Why, don’t you think it looks nice in that sleek, slimline version? I rather like it! Besides, it works and it doesn’t spoil the dress at all. I bet nobody will notice (except people who’ve already had it pointed out).

  4. Gaylene says:

    Utterly amazing – I am in awe of what you have achieved!! Hoping to do the bombshell myself maybe next year when I’ve got a bit more sewing under my belt, oh, and a few pounds less under my belt! Vena Cava also sells horsehair braid as used by Gertie in her full skirts, as well as lots of other interesting supplies. Congratulations on a beautiful dress, and a fabulous learning curve.

  5. Juliab says:

    Cutting spiral boning is easy peasy. There’s a tutorial here:

    Completely effortless!

    Nice dress.


  6. ooobop! says:

    This is just amazing, Karen. What incredible attention to detail. You must be so proud. Its such a gorgeous dress. Re the vintage length, I’m just coming to terms with the fact that it’s ‘vintage’ and not ‘granny’! Its time to break out of the 80s for sure! ho-ho, hee-hee, ha-haaa!!

  7. Joanne says:

    This is a great post Karen – it’s wonderful to see your dress is as gorgeous on the inside as it is on the outside. Bargainous too – loving that £40 price tag!

  8. arrghhh pliers. scary! Interesting stuff. Now the ‘cups’ interest me….all err. ‘cups’ are different. Does Gorgeous Gertie show you how to adapt to the particulars of your ‘team’?

  9. Molly says:

    I needed to cut and drill holes into steel boning once (for making a two-person dragon as you do). Myself, a theatre pro of some 15 years and a pro carpenter spent an hour dulling metal bits and files and cursing a lot – the determination from the boys that they weren’t going to be beaten by a bit of steel was hilarious! In the end, I sewed casings for the steel and sewing the casings together to required lengths. Steel boning definitely won!

    I buy my spiral boning (and steel boning) from Fabricland 99p to £1.29 a pair for spirals, think I paid about £16 for 20m steel boning and about the same for 20m of rigilene type stuff. Precut and painted steel bones, cotton (prussian) tape and lacing cord from Vena Cava.

  10. Marie says:

    Oh wow, the details on this dress are incredible and such a bargain at £40! It’s a work of art, something to be very proud of!

  11. Maryanne says:

    Oh I feel your pain about the wax paper dots. I used orange once on someone’s WHITE wedding dress, and all the cleaning fluid, soap and water never quite got it out. I was a jibbering wreck but the bride was pretty ok about it (brides come in every size and length of zilla!!). So now I use offwhite on white etc and rely on my acute eyesight (in glasses) to guide me. Thank goodness it doesn’t show. You have done the most beautiful job on this dress, now you just need to manufacture occasions to wear it..maybe next summer? 🙂

  12. Paunnet says:

    Beautiful work! A dress that is so nice on the inside gives you double the satisfaction, right?
    Gertie’s course is really great, I hope she’ll teach another one.

  13. Tilly says:

    Wowzers. I am in awe of you, clever lady. I can’t get over how stunning this looks on the inside! As for the tiny red dots, they add a certain je ne sais quoi 😉 xx

  14. Suzie says:

    Oh wow, this dress really is a work of art! I love all the detail shots (you’re definitely not the only one) so thanks for sharing them with us all.
    £40 is a fantastic price for this dress – you would never in a million years be able to buy a RTW dress with that mutch care and attention to detail for anywhere near £40 – plus it’s custom fit!
    I see that you used stretch cotton, would you recommend it for the bombshell dress, being as tight-fitting as it is? I have some regular cotton I was planning on making this out of, but perhaps it might be a bit restricting?

    • Felicity from Down Under says:

      This point about the cost was pretty much in my mind too. A custom-fit, couture garment for peanuts (so long as we’re not including labour costs, and we know we’re not because that’s not how this whole sewing gig rolls) strikes me as something that would be a bargain at twice the price.

  15. Law says:

    Oh wow the construction techniques in this dress!!! It is almost more beautiful on the inside.
    The effort you have gone to on this dress, must make you feel proud when wearing it. Proof (as if we needed it) that handmade items are of the highest quality.

    I am seriously considering adding this course to my Christmas list, for a future time when I feel ready to tackle a project like this. Thanks for sharing all this detail Karen.

  16. Bold Sewist says:

    This dress is just stunning! Love the fabric, and all these beautiful details! Looking forward to making my own one of these days!

  17. Bold Sewist says:

    Oh by the way the packets of Burda tracing paper that you can get in John Lewis etc have a sheet of white and a sheet of yellow – they work well for lighter fabrics. But the red looks quite pretty!

  18. melissa says:

    Fantabulous details! You did such an amazing job on this dress! I worked with a lot of this stuff when making my wedding dress last year and I’ve got two things to add:

    1. If you use ready-made bra fasteners on the ends of your waist stay, not only do you not have to handsew the hook and eyes, but you get some room for adjustment there as there are a few rows of eyes! 😀
    2. Kellie at stocks steel boning and end caps REALLY cheaply and was really helpful at explaining exactly how to cut the stuff (tip: you don’t cut the whole way through it!). I posted some step-by-step photos here on how to cut and cap them, I think it’s way easier than accidentally buying the wrong pre-cut length!

  19. LinB says:

    Your pick-stitching is so even and neat! I hope that you have invested in one of those jeweler’s loupe-style magnifying lens contraptions that embroiderers use. The older I get, the more I need mine. What a lovely dress, for a lovely woman. You should be proud that you accomplished your dress, that it fits, that it won’t fall apart in the wash.

  20. Erika says:

    The dress is as beautiful on the inside as on the outside! =) Thank you for sharing, I love watching construction details.

  21. Lynn says:

    Thank you for the details! Lovely! No time for it now, but it certainly makes me want to sign up for this course just to learn all these neat tricks.

  22. Suzy says:

    Fantastic details! The first time I used spiral boning I struggled (I should say my partner struggled) with cutting it to size so I took a chance and bought this cutters from Kleins ( What a miracle tool, I swear I could cut spiral boning all day and not break a sweat!

  23. Lisa says:

    Beautiful dress !!! I love the all the details involved in this dress. I think I may have to do this course just to to learn extra skills.

  24. Felicity from Down Under says:

    Everyone else has said it better but congratulations on a beautiful achievement. You’ll have such fun wearing that dress, knowing it’s as lovely on the inside as the outside, that it makes you look a million quid without having cost it, and that, come rain, hail or shine, you’re ready to party.

  25. Inspirational! The attention to detail is tremendous and all that handsewing! You really must feel even more the seamstress. I saw the zip and thought “wow it’s invisible” not that it was slimline. Thank you for sharing. I shall mark this in my learning folder for when I get beyond the first stages of sewing the bodice muslin. Enjoy your bombshell!

  26. Michelle says:

    Wow. Just … wow! The details in this dress are so freaking cool. Totally worth learning about at double the cost!

    Can’t wait to read about the negative ease.

  27. Love those finishes and the fit. Until now I haven’t signed up for the course since I don’t see myself making such a complex dress. But I am now considering it just for the techniques Gertie shares in her course. Well done Karen, It’s really a pro job!

  28. Pingback: The Makings of a Bombshell « LLADYBIRD

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