I was extremely lucky to make a trip to Japan’s Nippori Textile Town about a month before 2020 showed its true colors. The suitcase full of fabric that I brought home fueled months of dreams and adventures in my head, even as I was trapped in my sewing room. Of course, now I’ve barely made a dent in that stash of fabric, and I’m itching to return. What can I say, fabric shopping is the best part of sewing.
And only in Japan would I get so excited about fabric featuring cats.
I’m not a cat person, but I found this fabric and just loved it. The cat is giving the most cat-like, don’t-mess-with-me stare, and it’s fantastic. More than anything, this made me think of Watson, Hannah’s (okay, technically Hannah’s husband’s) black cat. He’s particular, as cats are, but more than anything he loves trying to escape to the outdoors as often as possible. So it seems incredibly likely that he’d end up under a tree, like this cat, staring back at the house like, “What.”
I don’t often sew for other people, I tend to be a selfish sewist (luckily I’m not alone, currently #selfishsewing has almost 95k posts). But when sewing for someone else means I can buy more Japanese fabric… well… I guess that persuades me to become more generous.
This fabric is a mid-weight cotton, thicker than quilting cotton, so it’s great for home dec. I decided it would make a perfect table runner + napkin set. Blue is a good match for Hannah and Adam’s Fiestaware dishes, and they always use placemats because they’re fancy like that. So I figured they’d get good use out of cloth napkins, or maybe they could even use these as placemats.
For the napkins, I used the Purl Soho mitered corner napkins tutorial. Highly recommend! They were simple to make and have such nice, clean edges. There was lots of ironing but that was the only tedious part. For the table runner, I used the remaining long strip of fabric and bound the edges with a coordinating blue bias tape. I’ve mentioned this before, but thanks to good luck at estate sales, I have a collection of bias tape that never fails. This blue was a perfect match and I also managed to use all but about 2 inches of it.
At the edge, I folded back the selvedge to keep it as part of the project. I love that it shows that it was made in Japan, plus it has another tiny little Watson cat. I love selvedge details like that. I added a little loop to the back for hanging, just in case, because it felt like a fun fancy touch.
Napkins are fun to make because they’re a great way to show off fun fabrics, and they’re also a nice palate cleanser in between more involved projects. I have a few more cute Japan fabrics that I bought with the intention of making napkins, and I think that would be a good upcoming project – I haven’t been motivated to sew much lately, and an instant gratification project like this always helps me get back into happy sewing mode.
This was also fun because I got to send Hannah surprise mail! And we all know that surprise mail mid-pandemic was about 1000x more exciting than normal surprise mail (and even normal surprise mail is pretty dang exciting).
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!