I Made My Wedding Dress, Part 1: Inspiration and Design
I MADE MY WEDDING DRESS. It feels so good to finally get to say that sentence. Especially in the past tense. It’s been four months and I’m still filled with relief that I’m not working on my wedding dress anymore.
I worked on my dress for a long, long time, and I kept it a surprise – not just from David, but from EVERYONE. It was a long and lonely road, so I’m excited to finally share pictures of the progress – and, of course, the finished product – here on the blog over the next few weeks. Today, I’m starting with the inspiration and design.
Everyone always says, “oh, girls grow up dreaming about their wedding day,” but I was never one of those girls. Yes, I knew I wanted to get married, but I always daydreamed about the guy, not the day. (i think this is probably a good thing). If I thought about it, I figured I’d make my dress, because that’s what I do. But that didn’t mean I had any idea what I wanted my dress to look like!
Why did I make my own wedding dress?
Like I said, it’s what I do. It’s sort of a silly answer, but the primary reason I made my dress is that I would regret it if I didn’t. I only get one wedding, and one wedding dress, and I knew that wearing a dress I made would be very special. I knew this was one of the details of The Day that mattered to me most.
I didn’t know what I wanted it to look like, but I did know what I didn’t want. I didn’t want sparkles or sequins. I didn’t want strapless and I especially didn’t want cleavage (not that I really have that option anyway). Already you can see that I’ve narrowed my way out of 90% of a standard bridal store selection, so it’s fortunate I decided on the handmade route.
One thing I did want was lace. So much lace!
With my list of “don’t want”s, you can imagine my reaction to most celebrity wedding dresses. But one day, pre-engagement, I came across Pippa Middleton’s wedding dress and thought, “wow. I would like to wear something like that”. It was my first anchor of inspiration, and it’s still the closest dress to what I was going for. I also loved everything about the wedding photo on the far right, taken by @lextakepics_, our engagement photographer. Her dress and look were slightly casual in a way that resonated with me (not to mention… succulent flower crown?!).
I made an enormous Pinterest board filled with more lace dresses, some of which I even pinned to remind myself what I didn’t like. The beginning of this project was so overwhelming. I knew some of what I wanted, but not everything. I wanted to make it up as I went, but I was obviously on a deadline, and any fabric in these quantities gets expensive fast. And I was just so worried I’d make it all the way to the end and not like the finished product. What a stressful journey!
There were lots of moments when I got stuck worrying about my design decisions. With every project, I always have to remind myself that it’s better to just make it, just try it, than worry about it. Even with a deadline… if I start, and don’t like it, I might be able to change it. But if I just worry, and don’t start, I lose the chance for redos.
So I began with patterns.
I found Vogue 1484 and initially thought it was perfect. The lines were just like Pippa’s dress: cap sleeves, lace overlay, just remove the collar and lengthen the skirt and we’re set. I even had my mom cut the pattern out for me to get me started! (thanks mama!) And then I realized I didn’t want a lace shoulder seam… and the bodice wasn’t made to hold itself up… and it wasn’t a lace overlay, it was a separate piece. Too many seams. Back to the start.
I pulled patterns from my stash to start a muslin, and cut the skirt from Simplicity 8384 in my lining fabric. It probably seems like an odd choice, but the skirt had the princess lines that I was looking for. Then I stole the strapless bodice from Simplicity 4070, made some fitting adjustments, and merged them together. Finally: I had a pattern for the solid part of my dress.
It was a little silly because I could have just used a dress pattern with long princess seams. But I also always have to do a lot of bust adjustment on princess seams, so in some ways this was easier because I wasn’t messing with the entire length of the seam yet. All I can say is: this is what I did and it worked for me.
Cutting those long, long seams was crazy! I butted my cutting mats against each other so I could use my rotary cutter for everything but the gap. Sewing a wedding dress was so. much. work. Every seam was so long, and all that fabric got heavy. The sheer size of the project meant that each step took a lot longer than expected.
Choosing a silhouette and corresponding pattern was one big decision that shaped the outcome of the dress. The other big decision was, of course, LACE. I combed fabric sites and Etsy. I had hopes that my trip to India might yield wedding dress fabric (and it’s probably good that it didn’t, because my suitcases were already full).
I didn’t want sequins or beads, but I also didn’t want anything too antiquey. I visited a few stores around Miami, and it was good practice to hold up the various fabrics because there were a few that I really liked, but then I held them up in front of a mirror and… I looked like a tablecloth.
This is where I deviated from Pippa Middleton, and it’s mostly because I was petrified of looking like a tablecloth.
I found this lace, that’s actually just embroidered netting so it has better drape than true woven lace (and it’s much cheaper). This was the winner because it has some big flowers, some small flowers, and lots of leaves. I love that it incorporates leaves alongside the flowers! That’s unusual for bridal lace and felt very “me”.
Dealing with lace in a couture way was entirely new to me and I learned so much! Get ready, because next week’s post will have a LOT of lace pictures.
This is the first post in my “I Made My Wedding Dress” series.
Blue Scissors Print Sleeveless Button-Down Top
As I’m sure you can relate, my 2020 was a big year for “use what you have”. I hate clothes shopping anyway, so the fact that I haven’t cycled through any of my wardrobe items this year isn’t unusual for me, but my outfits lately have felt so stale.
Living in South Florida, I already end up with major outfit-planning fatigue because we essentially only have one season, so all my favorite clothes (oh, Fall clothes!) reside on the topmost closet shelf in perpetuity. Especially when I’m getting dressed for work, I am so sick of all my clothes – and more than ever after this year of nowhere to go and nothing to do.
But one day, this outfit boredom forced me to experiment and led me to a very small revelation (and right now the small things are 1000% worth celebrating). I donned a chambray sleeveless button down that had, up until that moment, been designated as “beach fun clothes only,” and added a cardigan for the chilly office and to cover my shoulders (here’s a peek of the shirt). For the first time in a year, I was wearing a new ensemble and it felt great. But what felt greatest was the sleeveless + sweater combo. I’ve always avoided button downs because by the end of the day, my shoulders and upper arms just feel restricted and worn out. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive or maybe it’s #yogaproblems. But suddenly I had the put-together look of a button down without the restrictiveness of SLEEEEVES. Gamechanger.
And we know what a revelation like that means for a garment sewist: Time to make more.
I traced the shirt – and tracing a sleeveless shirt is SO easy! I borrowed the placket dimensions from the Kalle shirt pattern, and also compared my collar trace to her collar piece to figure out best seam allowances. Then, in true use-what-you-have spirit, I cut it out of a piece of fabric from my stash that I had stolen from my mom’s stash: this fantastic scissor-print cotton circa 1992.
There was a lot of tweaking on this first round of the pattern. My trusty traced RTW chambray shirt had a tiny bit of stretch to it, whereas this fabric is a tight weave with no stretch at all, so the seam allowance went down to bare bones. I had to do a few rounds of dart placement and yoke line adjustments. The hem and the arm hole cuts are always so tough because they can make or break everything, but I kept trimming little by little and love how they both came out. The armholes don’t gape, which is a problem I often have with RTW sleeveless shirts, so I’m very excited about that.
I added a contrast inside yoke to this shirt just like I did on my Kalles, and pledged to never sew a non-contrast yoke (unless of course I ever make like, a plain white shirt). I mean, why not? It’s so fun and so special. And if you haven’t met the Burrito Method for sewing yokes, prepare to be amazed!
I finished the armholes and the hem with bias tape. There’s no easier way to deal with those tightly curved edges. Here are some close-ups… I’ve realized I LOVE when other sewing bloggers provide more detail shots so I’m trying to do this more often. It’s also a great chance to admire this scissors fabric, because it is just the best subtle-sewing-shoutout.
Button plackets are another thing I haven’t done in a while. It was tedious but not at all worth talking myself out of it – I’ve been avoiding button plackets for a long time!
I did accidentally sew – and cut – one too many buttonholes so I had to sew the last one closed. And guess what? Nobody will ever notice.
I’m looking forward to making another shirt with this pattern because I know round 2 will go so much faster.
Thanks to my cutie HUSBAND (!) for taking these pictures at my favorite pink wall!
Me-Made May 2020: The Value of Refashions in a Handmade Wardrobe
As I mentioned in my intro to Me-Made May 2020, the true value in MMM is the opportunity to reflect on my handmade wardrobe. When I’m wearing me-mades every day for a month, I’m able to make better decisions about what I should make next, and what I probably shouldn’t make again.
When I look at the clothes I’ve sewn, I tend to focus on the exciting pieces: the dresses, the printed tops, the jumpsuit. But when it comes to everyday wear, the basic pieces are the ones I reach for again and again, but never giving them the credit they deserve. And possibly the most overlooked of all are my refashions : the items of clothing that I have modified, slightly or extensively, to better fit my body and my style.
These are two of my favorite t-shirts, first because of the designs but second because of the way they fit and feel. They are well worn and well loved because I took the time to make them fit me better than the “one shape” t-shirts they were when I bought them.
The Guster shirt is the softest shirt, but it was a unisex shirt that just fit me like a square. I wanted to wear it because it was so comfy, but whenever I had it on, I just felt like a bum. So I took the sides in very slightly and added a little bit of shaping along the side seam. I also shortened the sleeves. Finally, I removed the neck band and cut a bigger neck hole with a little bit of a V-shape. The new neckband needed to be longer than the original, so I patched the back of the neckband with a piece of the fabric that had come off the sleeves – if you look at the photo you should be able to see the seam.
(p.s. here’s my favorite Guster song, Come Downstairs and Say Hello. The line “be calm, be brave, it’ll be okay” is pretty perfect for our current uncertain times.)
This neckline trick is my favorite t-shirt upgrade. It makes a huge difference in the “frumpy factor” of your average tee. I did the same thing after I bought this amazing shirt from Mood. The fit was fine on this one, but the neckline was really high and awkward. I love wearing black, but with the neckline that high, I looked extra ghostly. So I did the same neckline trick: removed the ribbing, cut a new neckline, and lengthened the ribbing with a scrap before reattaching it.
Because how could I NOT wear this shirt all the time? The only t-shirt I’ve ever seen with a golden yellow sewing machine on it. I love it so much.
These are straightforward fixes but they do take effort. I am very fast at seam ripping, even overlock stitches, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it. And you might be reading this and thinking, “wow, that is so not worth it,” and that’s where I disagree. Refashions are just like any other handmade article of clothing for me in that my number one goal is to be happy wearing it. I’m not saying any of my clothes are perfect – they’re certainly not – but when I can make a small change to increase my happiness in a big way every time I wear the garment, that’s hugely worth it to me.
Another basic refashion is the one I did of this knit dress. I found it at the thrift store and loved the fabric, but the sleeves were just weird. The dress was sized “One Size” – thanks, American Apparel, I won’t go into the obvious exclusion in that move but this dress is a size Small for sure. And the sleeves were more like size XXS. I could wear the tunic just fine, it’s form fitting but comfortable, but the sleeves were not properly sized to the garment (or my chaturanga shoulders).
Basically it was a poorly drafted series of three tubes – 1 body and 2 arms – but I still loved the fabric so I was willing to experiment. I chopped off the sleeves but left about 1″ of sleeve remaining, so I could turn it under and hem for a little cap-sleeve dolman look. With the sleeves taken care of, the only challenge left was the neckline. With the “all tubes” pattern drafting, the neckline wasn’t really a neckline at all but a straight line, and when I wore it the extra fabric just gapped and flapped. I cut a slightly round neck and added some elastic along my neck hem instead of ribbing to keep the fabric from stretching out.
Now it’s comfy, wearable, and I kept the most important feature of the original: the pockets!
Not all me-mades have to be fancy or elaborate. Often it’s the simple things that bring the most joy!
And if you want more ideas for “real” refashions (beyond a neckline or sleeve chop), Trish has done tons of amazing refashions and her blog is full of inspiration!
See all my Me-Made May Instagram posts here: #samanthasewsMMM2020, and here are all of the Me-Made May 2020 blog posts.
This jumpsuit/romper is my first sewing project that was directly influenced by Me-Made May 2020. It’s been so fun to see everyone else’s handmade clothes, and I’ve been spending more time on Instagram than I’d like scrolling through #memademay2020. I’ve seen so many amazing jumpsuits that finally, one day last week, I pulled out the Simplicity 1355 jumpsuit pattern I had purchased a few months ago and started cutting.
By mid-morning, I had a full bodice, and by the time I went to bed that night, all that was left was the hem. I don’t like doing important finishing steps like hemming at the end of the day – definitely don’t want to do details like that when I’m tired, and I also wanted to try on the jumpsuit again the next morning, in natural light, to make sure my chosen length was what I wanted.
I’m calling this my Jaipur jumpsuit because I bought this fabric on my wonderful trip to Jaipur. It’s one of those fabrics that, when I bought it, I liked it of course… it had great colors and reminds me of Moroccan tiles… but I didn’t know what I would make with it. It wasn’t until I started cutting it that I LOVED this fabric. The more 3D it became, the more this fabric came to life! It’s so fun… fabric is so magical.
The pattern calls for facings on all the bodice pieces, but I decided it would be easier and cleaner to just add a full bodice lining. I didn’t want to add bulk with my lining – I was already worried that my Jaipur fabric, which doesn’t have much drape, would be somewhat “poofy”. I found this very soft, very drapey striped cotton in my stash and it made a perfect lining. I think it’s navy and white, but it could be black… I haven’t been able to look at it long enough to figure it out, haha. Ironing this fabric was dizzying!
To reduce bulk, on the lining I sewed the shoulder pleat into a dart. I also added a tiny amount of the outer fabric to the neckline seams to create a bit of a facing in case they flap open. The back of the pattern called for an overlapped/wrap look, but I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that, so I just sewed the two pieces together along the center seam. Of course, that is how the jumpsuit can be pulled on and off! So I had to add an invisible zipper to the side seam to get into my romper.
Speaking of – would you call this a jumpsuit or romper? I’ve been confusing the heck out of David because he has no idea what either one is. In my opinion, a romper has shorts – if the legs are long, it’s definitely a jumpsuit and NOT a romper. But a jumpsuit can be shorts OR pants, in my opinion. Yes?
Regardless, I’m happy to finally join the club with a me-made one-piece in my wardrobe. This is just what my Miami life needed and I can tell I’m going to be wearing it a lot.
Blue Poppy Maxi Dress for Lectoring
At the beginning of this year, I became a Lector at my church. This means that on my assigned weeks, I get to read one of the Scripture passages of the Mass from the altar. It’s a great privilege and it’s really special to serve in such an active way.
I only had the opportunity to read on three occasions before the church shifted to virtual Masses due to Covid-19, but those three occasions wiped out the majority of my lector-acceptable wardrobe. When I’m scheduled to read, that means I spend the first ten minutes of Mass sitting on the altar, facing the congregation. None of my skirts are very short, but I don’t have many that go well below my knees, and that’s obviously what I want if I’m sitting facing everyone.
“Lector Skirts” were high on my sewing list, and “isewlation” is the perfect time to work through my more practical to-do’s. On my recent trip to Japan and Thailand, I bought this gorgeous poppy-printed rayon in Bangkok specifically to make a lectoring skirt. Fortunately, Bangkok fabric prices mean I always buy more than I need, and I had enough fabric to make a full maxi dress.
I have a much easier time wearing dresses than skirts, because skirts always have the issue of finding a matching top. This dress will be easy to throw on for dinner by the beach (dreaming of someday when we can go out to dinner again!), and it will be perfect for lectoring with a little sweater over my shoulders.
I lined the bodice with a soft knit to add some comfort to an already very comfortable dress. I didn’t use a formal pattern for this dress – a few years ago, my mom bought me a dress in this style and I LOVED the fit but the fabric wasn’t quite right. So I traced the simple shapes of the dress to save the pattern, a la Tabitha Wheelwright, and my mom returned the dress to the store.
I didn’t include pockets as I was sewing the dress because I was eager to just be DONE. And then I realized a dress without pockets is just sad. So I opened the seams back up and added in-seam pockets. I might not use them often but I’m glad they’re there.
I have fun selecting lining fabrics that coordinate rather than perfectly match. This allows me to work from my stash and worry less about having all the perfect fabrics before I can complete a garment. My bodice lining is a golden yellow that matches the yellow poppies, and again, it’s comfy knit which is more important to me than having it be a perfect match. And the in-seam pockets are a peach that matches the pink flowers. The pockets, especially, are never seen from the outside of the garment, so this fabric was also chosen by weight first – it’s a midweight rayon with enough support for a pocket, but thin enough that it won’t weigh down the dress.
The back has a little keyhole with a button, which is mostly a design detail, as I don’t need to unbutton it to put on the dress. Choosing buttons is always both very fun and very challenging! Here I debated going for something more “fun”, like a flower shaped button, or something more contrasting, like the handful of yellow buttons I found in my stash. In the end, I went with a flat pink shank button… nothing fancy, but I like its simplicity. I used a thin hairtie for the button loop! I have a whole pack of assorted colored hairties that I keep on hand for occasions like these when I might need a thin, colored elastic.
I’m looking forward to the day when I can wear this dress farther than around the block to my favorite pink wall! But I can’t complain about days spent inside, they certainly help me cross projects off the endless to-sew list.