I Made My Wedding Dress, Part 3: The Final Countdown
Part 2 concluded with my wedding dress being unceremoniously stuffed in a drawer. Our scheduled wedding day came and went. It’s been almost a year since that time, and it’s still so weird to think about. When we cancelled our May wedding, the venue offered us an alternate date in August 2020, because that seemed safe at the time – whole MONTHS for everything to return to normal.
Everything was so unpredictable, and rules and contagion guidance were both changing rapidly. All I knew was that I didn’t want to plan a wedding a second time and have to cancel that, too. So I decided, and David agreed, that we wouldn’t plan a new date until things were stable. At the time, I meant “over”, but sometimes stable is the most you can ask for.
I had a quiet but good summer, sewing quilts and clothes, missing friends and Disney, hanging out with my fiancé and nobody else. Every so often we’d say to each other, “man, I wish we were married already,” but we also knew that it would happen eventually. So waiting was tough – and definitely didn’t make pandemic time pass any faster! – but at least we still had each other and were able to build our relationship during that extra time together.
David had the idea to revisit our plan once per month. Every month on the 9th, the date of our “almost-iversary”, we’d check in with each other a little more formally and see how we were feeling about the wedding. Did we still want to wait? Or was it time?
By August, it was clear that COVID wasn’t going to disappear on its own. At our August 9 check-in, we started to revisit our options. Our number one priority: Nobody would get COVID from our wedding. We also didn’t want to encourage people to travel. How could we make this happen?
We checked with the church – they’d allow guests as long as people wore masks and sat with distance. And they had a few Saturdays in October still open, including 10/10/2020. David’s and my nerdy engineer hearts fluttered at the thought. What a cool number!
We talked with the priest and our parents, and started a plan. Mid-August, I emailed my bridesmaids with the subject line TEN TEN TWENTY TWENTY?!?!?! And pulled my dress out of its drawer, with 6 weeks to make the rest of the dress AND plan this brand new wedding.
Step 1, of course, was to catch up with myself. I hadn’t looked at the dress in 5 months. And I had stopped at a bad time, when I was stuck and wasn’t sure what to do next with the bodice. Spoiler alert: those 5 months of “not thinking about it” didn’t help me figure it out.
So I had a mostly finished lining and a half-finished lace overlay, but I still needed to craft the exterior white layer of my dress, the layer everyone would see under the lace. Really, a dress with a lace overlay is like making two dresses.
Choosing the fabric for this was really hard. I bought one formal, satiny-satin. It felt soft, not crunchy, but it had substance to it. I sewed it up, tried it on, and hated it. It was too rigid, too formal, too old. I didn’t take any pictures of it so you don’t get to see.
The second round was this drapey stuff, I think it’s a viscose. It’s not quite as drapey as the lining fabric, which has some stretch to it, but it’s very light. This was so much better. In the photo above you can see my very advanced method for making sure I liked the way the white dress looked under the lace. It passed.
This fabric was semi-translucent so I ended up using 2 layers of it, with one of the layers ending just above my knees. This means the “white dress” was 3 layers: outer layer (full length); interlining (knee length); and inner lining (full length).
I used sew-in boning on the bodice top. I tried the standard plastic cased boning, but it was way too stiff for this fabric and application. The sew in boning was awesome. I had worked really hard on the fit of the dress from the beginning, and felt that this strapless bodice fit me better than any I’ve ever made (or worn).
I harvested the boning from the blue dress that my dressform wore – that dress ended up helping with so many things! While ripping the boning out, I noticed that the blue dress had a layer of nylon horsehair braid sewn into the top seam. This keeps the seam from stretching out and also helps the fabric make a softer edge. I used some lace I had on hand to do the same on my dress, and I think it made a nice difference in how the top edge of the bodice laid against my body. This lace is in between the lining and interlining layers, so it did not touch my skin.
I also continued forth with lace piecing, working my way up the bodice. Now that it’s over, it seems so simple, but at the time it was just nonstop decisions to be made and it all felt very important. Like, “what if that flower ends up too close to my neck?!?” important. I was scared of ruining it. But I just kept making it up as I went along.
After the triumph of completing what I’m calling “the white underdress”, and trying it on a dozen times as I finalized fit… my zipper broke. This. Was. Crushing. I was 3 weeks into my 6 week deadline and couldn’t fathom completing my dress in time. In the end, though, I’m so grateful my zipper broke then. I had been using a regular, dressmaking invisible zipper, and it could have broken at much less opportune times: a week before the wedding, when the dress was ACTUALLY almost done; or even the day OF the wedding!
So it was a big wake-up call and I learned about heavy-duty invisible zippers. For formalwear, and… bridal gowns. I ordered a YKK heavy duty zipper off Amazon and kept appliqueing my lace.
I got this question a lot, and YES, I did keep the dress a secret from David the whole time! He never even saw the lace. My sewing room is on the 3rd floor and his office is on the ground floor. The only other room on the 3rd floor is our bedroom. So I could sew away safely while he was in his office, the kitchen, or the living room, and then if he came upstairs he’d knock on the wall or warn me somehow before coming in the room.
With the zipper incident, I had a LOT of seam ripping ahead of me and I didn’t want to stay secluded for it. So I carried the ironing board downstairs and set up the enclave you see above. I sat in a comfy chair with my sheet-curtain protecting my work, and David sat on the couch. We were able to sit and watch something together, which gave me some much needed emotional space from my project. And after a few hours of movies I was ready to install my new zipper.
The final zipper installation meant the merging of the lace layer and the white underdress. I sewed that layer by machine, then basted the lining in, then sewed the lining on with a topstitch that went through everything. The topstitch definitely made the zipper more noticeable on the finished dress, but it was worth it to me for the added strength. I did not want ANY extra stress on that zipper – or that lace.
To help the lace drape and keep it from sagging under its own weight, I did some more of the lace-applique stitching to attach it to the bodice in a more organic way. I also did this to attach the lace along the bodice top, but only on the back side of the dress. On the front side of the dress, the lace is not attached to the dress bodice at all, it just hangs freely. If I had attached it, I wouldn’t have been able to lift my arms!
Finally. Finally I had sculpted my shoulders – the hardest part of the whole dress in my opinion – and I was able to try on the whole dress as one unit. It looked like a dress, and it looked like a dress I liked. We were gonna make it.
I finished my last big lace seam and attached the two pieces of lace underneath the zipper the same way as I had done the other skirt sections. I felt like a GENIUS when I realized I could set up my ironing board over the table, so the table held the weight of the dress while the ironing board let me deal with just the one layer.
As you can see, I still had some final trimming to do on the shoulders and neckline but, like I said, that was scary, stressful, and confusing. So it came last. My next big task was Hemming By Myself.
My mom had always planned to visit sometime to help with my dress, even for a weekend. I think that was my plan for hemming, and it also would have helped a lot with deciding what to do on the back of the dress. But of course, pandemic! I didn’t want her to travel anyway, but especially so close to the wedding.
It was really hard to do a lot of these steps, especially final fitting things, when the only other person around was the one person who wasn’t allowed to see the dress!
I think I ended up stepping on the hem with my toe so I could crouch down and put a pin in it. Then I trimmed the lining layer first, because if that ended up too short, it wouldn’t be a big deal. The lining layer looked okay… so I did the same thing to the outer layer. And it was fine.
I hemmed the lining layer with a rolled hem on my serger because I didn’t really care what it looked like. I used a rolled edge foot on my regular machine for the outer layer. I also think floor-length hems can be very forgiving, especially in terms of stitch quality. The rolled-edge foot always gives me a few hiccups but in the end it looked fine.
Part of the process of making a dress in solitude is endless mirror pictures. Thank goodness for my dressform, but I also needed to know how the lace looked on ME. Where was a good spot to stop for the neckline? How far down did I want the sleeves to go?
Here is the lace piecing on the back. Like I said, it was so hard to decide what to do for a lot of this. Here, I almost sewed the whole back closed and then realized I might not be able to get into the dress! (especially with my hair done!) It was far too late for a row of buttons, and that didn’t really go with my seamless lace anyway. So what did I do?! I have to leave at least one surprise for next week!
This is the third post in my “I Made My Wedding Dress” series. This is the last construction post – next week is the big reveal!
Jane E. McAndrew
The beauty is coming through. How are you keeping David from seeing your gown?
It was a challenge! Fortunately we each have our own spaces within the house – my sewing room is the bedroom on the 3rd floor, and his office is on the ground floor. We often spend a lot of time working on our own hobbies, so it wasn’t a huge departure from the usual, even though the dress was a lot more consuming than my usual projects! When he came upstairs to visit, he’d knock on the wall at the top of the stairs to warn me he was approaching so I could either leave the room to see him or cover my work.