The beauty of Me-Made May is sharing those projects that haven’t fully been shared. I’ve worn this dress often since I made it two years ago, and shared it on Instagram, but this is its blog debut!
I found this fabric at Fabric Planet, a delightful fabric store in Venice, CA, just outside Los Angeles. If you’re ever nearby (or looking for something to do near LAX, like we were when my mom and I spotted it the first time), I highly recommend a visit.
For the pattern, I traced a ready-to-wear dress that I own. It’s a comfy dress that I wear often, and I love the elastic waist. The only downside of the RTW dress? No pockets! Of course I added pockets to my pattern.
Lately, a lot of my me-made clothes have started by my tracing a garment that I already love. For me, this is often much more enjoyable than working with a manufactured pattern, because I know the item is likely to fit well immediately, without a lot of fit adjustments.
That was definitely the case with this dress – the bodice fit perfectly! But one change for next time: this first make of the pattern ended up a little shorter than I wanted. The RTW dress is made of a stretch knit, so I think the stretch pulls the fabric a little bit closer to my knees. This fabric, a cotton blend with a slight 2-way stretch, didn’t behave the same way. I didn’t even do a real hem on this dress, I just serged the bottom edge and folded it up once before stitching in place. The fabric is very stable so it’s not a problem (and it was a very easy way to hem!) but next time I make a dress from this pattern I will lengthen the skirt.
I almost always line my dresses, but this fabric isn’t at all see-through so I kept it one layer and therefore more Miami-friendly. I finished the neckhole and shoulders with hot pink bias tape, my favorite detail of this dress! I also applied bias tape at the waist seam to tidy it and make sure the elastic + seam allowance lays flat against my skin.
I love using bias tape in fun colors, and I’ve learned that it’s worth taking the time to finish my edges well. I realized that I see my clothes often even when I’m not wearing them, because they’re in my closet or a drawer, and it makes me happy to see the clean seam finishes and colorful bias tapes.
I wore this dress recently to Mass and got David to snap my Me-Made May photos of the day in front of this amazing mural. The mural is almost finished, and it’s been delightful to see the progress they’ve made! I also love how well my dress matches the giant brain coral.
Speaking of sea turtles… their nests have started to pop up on Miami Beach and it’s the most magical process. I highly recommend learning as much as you can about sea turtles, it’s fascinating!
- Baby Sea Turtles Hatching from their Nest (video) (i love their little flippers so much)
- How Sea Turtles Hatch
- Sea Turtle Species found in Florida (there are 5!) Along the Florida coast, sea turtles annually make between 40,000 and 84,000 nests!
They’re such beautiful, amazing, and important animals. Here are some ways YOU can help sea turtles:
- Refuse Single Use Plastics – 100% of baby sea turtles that are washed back to shore, rather than making it out to the ocean to continue to mature, are found with microplastics in their digestive tract. 🙁 Do everything you can to eliminate single-use plastic in your daily life! Even when we think it’s “recycled” it’s usually either sent to a landfill or burned (locally now, instead of in China, not that that was better), or it ends up in the ocean anyway.
- Fill holes you dig at the beach – Holes left in the sand overnight can get in the way of mama turtles trying to lay eggs, or baby turtles trying to get from the nest to the ocean.
- Reduce your light pollution – For turtles, this is crucial in shoreline communities (but in general, less light pollution is better no matter where you are!). Bright artificial lights can confuse the turtles, who are looking for the light of the moon to guide them toward the ocean. If you live near the ocean, make sure your exterior lighting is sea turtle friendly! And contact your local businesses to encourage them to modify their lighting – I’ve started writing letters to the brightest stores in our area.
I’ve always wanted a fancy pair of PJs. You know, with the collar and the piping and the matching top and bottom. And of course mine wouldn’t be too fancy, I’m not talking about silk or satin pajamas here… they’d be cotton and would probably have some cutesy print all over.
I’ve considered making fancy pajamas on occasion but there are always better things to make, like clothes I will wear outside, in public. But “in public” wasn’t really a thing for most of 2020, so pajama making came back on my radar. Before I could begin, however, I had to make some important concessions to reality.
Fancy Pajamas: Fantasy vs. Reality
- I live in Florida. I don’t want long pajama pants.
- I sleep in t-shirts. There’s no way I could sleep in a cotton top with a collar and buttons. (and see number 1, don’t even think about flannel.)
- All I really need right now are pockets.
I cut out a pair of shorts in this wonderful pencil print and sewed them up as part of my Me-Made May 2020. Mint green has always felt like a great color for pajamas to me, and the pencils are so fun – I love that they’re in stripes. I used Simplicity 3571, cut to size 10. I think I made up the length for shorts, and I added my own pockets. And then I added the Fancy: piping around the cuffs and the pockets.
I’d never thought about it, but the piping at the leg hems is really nice because it helps pull the shorts away from my body a little bit, keeping them from getting clingy or all wrinkled up. And the piping at the pockets feels – yes – fancy.
I had ordered piping feet recently (this 3 pack) to upholster some chair cushions, and man do they make a difference. I had always just used my zipper foot but this really was next level… so easy, so crisp.
I lined the inside of the pocket in pink stripe because mint green pairs so well with pink, and this echoes the color of the erasers. I just love adding pocket linings and other little details that only I get to see… because why not? This is why sewing your own clothes is fun.
These shorts have served me so well during this year of spending so much time at home. I still don’t understand why so many of my store-bought shorts don’t have pockets, and I’m so jealous that David ALWAYS has pockets. But I’m catching up.
I did go all the way outside to take these pictures but this was before the bajillion tourists returned to Florida, so it wasn’t exactly “in public”. Thank goodness I have the cutest blog photographer in the world, and he’s willing to go outside with me when I’m wearing jammie shorts!
Here she is: my finished wedding dress.
A labor of love, crafted over many, many months of work.
But the absolute best part was that I got to wear it for this day.
To close the back of the dress, I added two pearl buttons. I tacked a little piece of ribbon behind the lace when I sewed them on, for extra strength. For the button loops, I used thin corded elastic, tied it into loops, and sewed the loops to the ends of two of the “leaf” lace strands.
These buttons weren’t really bearing any weight, they were just making sure the lace overlapped in the right place.
Even if the buttons had no other purpose besides getting these photos of me and my mama, they’d be worth it. We’re so cute.
Of course, David said he barely NOTICED my dress until after the ceremony, after the family photos, after the bridal party photos – not until it was time for our couple photos. Up until that point, he hadn’t really thought about my dress because he’d been too busy looking at ME. How sweet is that.
And it’s true, the couple pictures were a wonderful time that day because we got to take a moment to breathe, and hug, and be together.
I ended up finishing the dress with a whole week to spare. It wasn’t perfect, but it was exactly what it needed to be. I made myself a matching mask with a little bit of lace detailing. My mom made masks for the bridesmaids and groomsmen, to coordinate with their dresses and suits.
To hem the neckline and sleeves, I simply trimmed the mesh, carefully outlining any motifs. No sewing here. I wanted to maintain the “illusion neckline” and stitches would have been too visible. Plus, this is what the pros do, and if they’re allowed to do it, so am I.
Knowing what I know now, would I still make my dress? Absolutely. Like I said at the beginning, it’s what I do. I’m so glad I was able to wear handmade on my wedding day.
I’m also 100% thrilled I never have to make a wedding dress ever again. I said that to someone who asked, “what about your daughter’s dress?” and I replied, “She can make her own.”
The dress was great for twirling…
And more twirling.
(also how dashing is David in his vest?!)
The dress was also perfect for our backyard wedding reception. I had toyed with the idea of including a train, maybe even something detachable, but that didn’t happen and that’s okay. This dress was perfect for our casual day.
Our wedding day was so different than we had planned it. There were lots of compromises and certainly many people we missed. But we are so glad we went for it on 10/10/2020 and aren’t waiting in engaged limbo anymore! It’s so great to be married to this guy.
Thank you to Anna Liz Photography for these beautiful photos.
This is the fourth and final post in my “I Made My Wedding Dress” series.
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!
In Part 1, I talked about the fun parts of making my wedding dress: brainstorming designs and choosing a lace (aka fabric shopping). Welcome to Part 2: this is where the WORK happens. But first, let’s talk timeline.
We got engaged in February 2019. I’ve actually always wanted a fall wedding, so we considered a wedding in Fall 2019, but that would have been pretty tight – especially with long-distance planning and, you know, making my dress. So we scheduled our wedding for May 2020.
Somehow, February through December 2019 went by with very little dress progress. I know my mom was getting nervous! There were always more urgent wedding planning tasks to do, like finding and reserving vendors while they still had our date available, and our marriage preparation classes and retreat with the church. (Catholic marriage preparation is AWESOME, by the way. It’s mandatory, so it sounds like a chore to some people, but it was hugely beneficial for us to answer some tough questions before combining our lives.) We also moved! I had wanted to wait until we were married to move in together, but once we were engaged for a few months it was the right time for us – especially because, with a combined household, we could afford to live at the beach. Can’t pass that up.
By the time I had made my muslin and had my lace in hand, it was January 2020: four months to go.
Of course – spoilers! – we all know what 2020 would hold. But it sure felt like nothing could get in the way of our May wedding, and I had a lot of dress to make. I spent most of my free time in January-March 2020 sewing away on my lace overlay. I used what I call a “lace invisible seam”. It’s a couture technique to sew lace seams without straight line seam allowances, because any seam allowance will show through the translucent fabric. Was it necessary? No. Was it worth it? I really think so. But it did, absolutely, take a lot more time and effort.
This post on Instructables (Step 10) explained the invisible seams in a way that I could wrap my head around. First, you mark the pattern lines on the lace by running a contrast-color basting stitch along each stitch line. Then you line up the stitching lines, overlapping the pieces. Finally, you cut along the edge of the lace motif and stitch it in place.
Laying out the skirt fabric to sew it together using the lace invisible seam method, then marking the seam lines with blue thread
Of course, I immediately made this more difficult for myself because my lace had a border, and I wanted to use that border as the bottom hem of my dress. I took my skirt pattern pieces and stitched them together at the hem, then laid them out on the table, above. Next, I placed my lace on top, and lined up the lace border with the bottom hem edge of the pattern pieces. Then I started the invisible lace method by marking each seam line with a line of blue thread. This just marks the lace, it doesn’t actually sew anything together.
Once each seam line was basted, I cut between the panels, taking a meandering path around the motifs. Then I overlapped my blue thread seam lines and had to decide what motifs to sew down, and what to trim away.
Illustration: pink is cutting path, yellow arrows show direction of overlap. Click for larger image.
Here’s a maybe helpful, but still confusing, picture of how this worked. The pink squiggly lines are an approximation of where I cut. And then the yellow arrows show which direction I overlapped the fabrics. Once I overlapped them, I sewed on top of the motifs that followed the pink squiggly line, and trimmed away any excess material on the back so the lace was back to being just one layer thick.
It’s hard to show in a photo, but above you can see one example. I’d already trimmed around the leaves of the overlapping piece. Then I pinned them in place, with the blue threads overlapping, and then I marked with the purple marker (disappearing ink! of course) everywhere I wanted to sew. That way, when I sat at the machine, I wouldn’t get lost in a sea of lace… I just had to follow my purple marker.
Here are the things I found to be essential for sewing the invisible lace seam.
- Disappearing ink marking pen: Dritz Mark-B-Gone. I use this pen all the time. It has two ends: the blue end disappears in water, but the purple end disappears magically with AIR. The one downside is that sometimes I mark something with the purple ink, and then don’t work on it right away… and it disappears so I have to mark it again. It usually lasts a few days, but sometimes depending on the humidity or the fabric type, it will disappear in a few hours. Of course, ALWAYS test something like this before marking your fabric. But I found that it disappeared from the lace without issue, so I was able to pin my fabric and then mark the path through the lace that I wanted to sew. Otherwise I would have gotten lost every time I took my fabric over to the machine.
- Free-Motion Quilting foot that jumps: I bought this 3-pack. My machine came with an FMQ foot, but it doesn’t jump. The jumping FMQ foot has a little bar that rests on the needle bar, so when the needle is up, the foot is up, but when the needle is down, the foot is down. This makes the fabric easy to manipulate, especially since the lace varies so much in thickness. With the “jump”, the presser foot is only applying pressure when you need it, and it leaves you to move the fabric freely in between stitches.
- Small, sharp needle. I don’t change needles nearly as often as I should, but for sewing the lace I changed my needle often. Since I was sewing through thick layers of embroidered thread, my needle would snag occasionally and cause my thread to get all looped up, and then I had to stop and deal with the tangled thread. It was much smoother when I changed my needle more regularly – I probably still only used 4 needles.
- Sharp, skinny pins: Dritz Glasshead Pins. I love these glass head pins, they’re extra long and they’re very sharp and narrow. Just like with the needle, their sharp point and narrow shaft was able to pin the lace in places where a different pin may have snagged. I also used my Clover Flower Head Pins, especially to pin the lace to my dressform.
- Sharp, tiny scissors. You may be noticing a trend with this list. Sharp tools were KEY, because the fabric was delicate, so a dull tool would have caused awful snags. I used my Gingher thread snips for trimming all of the lace contours. I tried my small Kai snips, which I love for everything else, but they have a square end and weren’t as effective at maneuvering in the tight spaces.
Here’s a video I made of sewing the lace layers. You can see how my Free Motion Quilting foot is jumping up and down. You can also see that I pinned like CRAZY, and I was sewing over my disappearing purple-pen lines. The video is at 8x speed, so you can imagine that each seam took… a while.
It was tedious but it was also satisfying. Especially since my lace was just an embroidered mesh, my stitching lines blended in easily. I had a few sections on the skirt where there were no motifs, so I couldn’t avoid sewing just mesh-to-mesh. This means I do have a few tiny segments that have a visible seam with a seam allowance, but they are not noticeable.
Six slow seams later, I had a skirt. I left the center back seam open until later. But this was a big moment. I could finally tell that I really liked my lace, and I really liked the direction my dress was headed. It was a slow project, with so much uncertainty and so much pressure. So this moment was a beautiful chance for me to step back and acknowledge that yes: I was making the dress I wanted to make.
Let me give a quick shoutout here to my dressform’s dress: this is the bridesmaid dress I wore in my Matron of Honor’s wedding. It was the perfect under-layer for my dressform because it fit me very well, and it wasn’t white so I could see the overlaps in my white mesh fabric as I worked. I sewed a marking knot at the belly button of the blue dress, and a corresponding marking knot on the belly button of my lace piece, to make sure I lined up the fabric in the same way every time.
As you saw above, I had used my skirt pattern as the guideline for the lace seams on the skirt. But once I got to the bodice, I didn’t use the pattern anymore – I think that would have been more difficult and less reliable. I was sufficiently comfortable with the “seams anywhere” approach that I realized I’d rather drape the fabric directly over my dressform for a perfect fit. Plus, that way I could make sure all the motifs were where I wanted them. I wanted a lot of leaves and the smaller flowers around my neckline.
Here’s an example. I held up the lace to figure out approximate motif placement, then pinned it in place just like before: lots and lots of pins, with purple marking my stitch path. Obviously the fitted bodice curves were a lot tighter than the relatively straight lines of the skirt, so this was harder to contour and sew.
And then… March 2020 arrived. In mid-March I sent an email to my bridesmaids saying, “it sounds like this Coronavirus thing is getting to be a big deal. We’ll see what happens, but right now we’re planning to get married as long as they’ll let us.”
Literally hours later, our venue cancelled the reception and the church said they would only allow ceremonies with 10 total people inside the church. So unless one of my brothers was ready to take our pictures, and the other could binge a 6-week organist crash course, we’d have a very quiet, undocumented ceremony. Without my matron of honor, without David’s best man, without a party.
It was hard. We were so ready to get married. But at the time, COVID-19 felt like such a temporary problem. I couldn’t bear the thought of going forward with a slapdash ceremony just to “get it over with”. I was still so hopeful that we could have a wedding with “our people” there, and that was worth waiting for.
So we waited.
We cancelled what we could, and we were very fortunate compared to many other wedding planning couples I’ve talked to. Our venue returned our full deposit, and we kept most of our vendors on hold and on alert.
Maybe I should have kept working on my dress. But I had no deadline, and I wasn’t even sure what kind of wedding to look forward to. So I put the dress in a drawer, and took a big break, and made a big, gorgeous quilt.
Don’t worry, I won’t make you wait months like my dress did. I’ll be back later this week with plenty more dress construction photos!
This is the second post in my “I Made My Wedding Dress” series.