• Garment Sewing,  Sewing,  Wedding

    I Made My Wedding Dress, Part 3: The Final Countdown

    sewing a wedding dress with lace fabric

    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.

    wedding dress sewing
    yes, this will do.

    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).

    wedding dress sewing
    lace along top edge of bodice to prevent stretch (this ends up in between the layers)

    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.

    sewing a wedding dress in secret
    secret wedding dress work station

    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!

    sewing a wedding dress with lace fabric

    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!

  • Garment Sewing,  Sewing,  Wedding

    I Made My Wedding Dress, Part 1: Inspiration and Design

    handmade wedding dress lace fabric

    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.

    handmade wedding dress 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.

    handmade wedding dress skirt muslin

    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.

    handmade wedding dress muslin
    I mean, look: it’s practically done.
    cutting out my handmade wedding dress

    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.

    handmade wedding dress lace fabric

    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.

  • Garment Sewing,  Sewing

    Blue Scissors Print Sleeveless Button-Down Top

    blue scissors print button-down handmade shirt

    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.

    blue scissors print button-downblue scissors print button-down
    How a sleeveless shirt becomes office attire
    blue scissors print button-down
    the quarantine hair is out of control!

    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.

    blue scissors print button-down handmade shirt

    Thanks to my cutie HUSBAND (!) for taking these pictures at my favorite pink wall!

  • Garment Sewing,  Sewing

    Me-Made May 2020: The Value of Refashions in a Handmade Wardrobe

    Me-Made May: refashioned t-shirts

    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.

    American Apparel Afrika dress - knit dress with black and white print and 3/4 sleeves
    Even the model looks uncomfortable.

    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.

  • Garment Sewing,  Sewing

    Jaipur Jumpsuit

    me-made may 2020: blue jaipur jumpsuit

    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.

    me-made may 2020: blue jaipur jumpsuit

    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.

    me-made may 2020: blue jaipur jumpsuit

    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.