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.
When my best friend Hannah announced she was expecting a baby, I was just over the moon. I do look forward to having babies of my own in a few years, but being an aunt or pseudo-aunt is the ideal scenario: plenty of baby photos without the responsibility. (although not nearly enough baby cuddles… thanks, covid.)
Of course, I’m apparently a quilter now, so I wanted to make a quilt for the new baby. Hannah and her husband decided that they wanted to keep the gender a surprise until the baby was born. I started pulling fabrics that would fit their nursery colors of mint green with navy, but quickly realized how “gendered” my fabric stash is. I don’t think many baby boy quilts contain a bunch of floral prints.
So I said to Hannah, “I’m planning to make something for you (okay, not you, your baby), but I probably won’t get too far until A. COVID is gone enough that I can do some good fabric shopping or B. the baby is here so we know its gender.”
We laughed and said something like, “haha I sure hope the pandemic is over before the baby arrives!” Such naïveté. It felt like those many months would be plenty of time for this whole thing to get sorted out.
Suffice to say, Hannah’s baby girl arrived long before the pandemic was over. And my fabric stash was well equipped to make a quilt for a baby girl.
I played with stacks of fabric – this is my absolute favorite part of making a quilt. So many possibilities! And I always find treasures in my stash that I’ve forgotten about. I really wanted to somehow incorporate those chartreuse-esque fabrics on the top-right stack, but I had to remind myself that this quilt is for HANNAH, not for me. And I’m pretty sure Hannah would hate that chartreuse.
I did end up adding one pink floral fabric, but I tried to keep the girliness to a subtle minimum. Hannah’s color scheme already helped with that, but I hope that this quilt can grow with little baby A long after she’s not a little baby anymore.
To give the blocks contrast, I paired a light fabric (mint, white, cream, or pink) with a dark fabric (navy or gray) for each of my HST blocks, so each square has one light and one dark triangle. I sewed them using the “octo awesome method” which is an aptly named, truly awesome technique for sewing eight blocks at once from one big square!
Cut, trim, press. There’s so much tedium to a quilt but it’s also so relaxing and satisfying to work through the repetitive steps. And sewing a quilt for a baby is akin to a prayer. Whenever I didn’t have to think about what I was doing, my mind would wander to baby A… what will she be like as she grows? Will Hannah read to her on this quilt? Will the quilt make it to her big girl bed? In a year or two, will she notice or point out the bunnies and squirrels? It was so fun to send love to this little baby while sewing a tangible manifestation of that love.
Once the blocks were flat, it was time to work through layout.
Block layout is so hard for me. I always want it to be PERFECT, but it’s such an art. Small changes can make a really big difference. It’s also very tactile – the only way I can do it is to lay out as many blocks as I can on my table and move them around until I start to see something that I like. I also find it HUGELY helpful to take pictures as I go, because then I can easily swipe back and forth between pictures on my phone and see what I like better. The photos also help me see more of the big picture and I often notice patterns (good or bad) that I may not have seen otherwise.
These are some of the pictures I took as I worked through the layout for this quilt. It’s a little scary to share them because I’m worried Hannah will see them and think, “oh man I like that other one better!” But it’s so fun to see how incredibly different the quilt looks just by rearranging the blocks.
I played with a flying geese design, just like with Marie’s baby quilt. I love the way flying geese uses triangles and I think it can be really fun and modern. But it wasn’t quite right for these fabrics. I also played with a chevron but I’m worried that chevrons are too much of a current trend, and I wanted this quilt to be more timeless than trendy. Finally I got to pinwheels, and that felt just right. A timeless pattern, but still somewhat modern when sewn from these fabrics. I then mixed up the pinwheel blocks so each 8-triangle block has 2 sets of matching triangles (instead of the default 4-matching). It felt like the perfect blend of structure and randomness.
Taking phone pictures also really helps for putting all the blocks back where they belong in between steps!
Finally, my quilt top was complete! Time for the next challenge: choosing a quilt back. I found this fabric that I had bought in Jaipur last year, and it just felt perfect. Yes, it’s more girly than the front of the quilt, but it’s still not babyish. It also perfectly echoes the tiny flowers on the dusty pink blocks, which I love.
I quilted in straight diagonal lines, again, because if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I bound it with solid navy to keep it clean and crisp.
The finished quilt is 40 x 50″, which is pretty big for a baby quilt! Lots of room for baby to roll around and play on, and big enough that it’ll be useful in the future, too. Finished block size was 4 ⅞” per block, for 9 ⅞” per pinwheel foursome. For my reference: I cut my original “octo” squares to 12″. The quilt contains 20 pinwheels, 80 HST blocks, 160 triangles total.
Finally it was finished, and ready to meet baby A!
I took some photos before packing it up… but what good is a baby quilt post without some baby booty!?
And even better with butt ruffle pants. Hannah, you make excellent outfit choices. And thank you so much for taking these pictures… I’m sure you weren’t busy or anything.
This might be my last quilt for a little while, but they were the perfect immersive projects for 2020. I’m so grateful for my sewing room. And, of course, I’m a thousand times more grateful that these pandemic-born babies are so healthy and amazing. It’s a hard time to learn to be a mama and I am so proud of Hannah, Marie, Katie, and all the other new mamas out there.
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!
Back in the Before Times, February 2020, I went on a trip that included a stop in Japan, which for me meant a stop in Nippori Textile Town aka Fabric Heaven. My dear friend Marie was expecting a baby, and I wanted to make her a little something… then I found this sheep fabric and it was just PERFECT.
Marie loves knitting, and animals, so by association she loves sheep and alpacas – they’re both adorable AND they help make yarn. I loved these cute baby sheep, plus the fabric was gray – extra perfect since I didn’t know the baby’s gender yet.
By the time I started on the quilt, of course, we were in full stay-at-home, mask-up mode. A trip to Japan was as likely as a trip to Mars. I had just completed my rainbow quilt top, QUILTID-19, and in true quilter fashion, I decided to start another quilt top before actually quilting/finishing my first quilt. So I pulled fabrics from my stash to match the sheep accents: soft red, yellow, aqua, and gray; and started cutting.
After the 500+ triangles that went into QUILTID-19, I treated myself to simplicity this round and cut really big triangles, 10″ each, for a breezy 40 triangles total. The finished quilt came out to about 35 x 44″.
One of the hardest parts of quilting, for me, is laying out the blocks. I always have to play around with the layout and I never feel like it’s just right. Here on the left, you can see my “first draft”. I loved the rainbow gradient of QUILTID-19 so much that I considered trying that again, but it didn’t work AT ALL with these colors or the large blocks. I then pivoted toward a flying geese-based design. I chose the solid gray, red, and aqua as my dark contrast, and the yellow, light gray, and light red as my lights. I think this is a fun way to play with a classic quilt pattern: the large scale and the non matchy-matchy makes it more modern.
It was so refreshing to work with these large blocks and the quilt top came together so quickly!
Next it was time to quilt. I once again used my ill-advised method of basting with just straight pins. This quilt wasn’t too big, so it was much easier to wrestle through my home machine. I also didn’t need to use nearly this many pins!
I quilted with simple diagonal lines again. I like how the minimal quilting keeps quilts more lightweight and “scrunchable”. I also don’t trust myself to do intersecting quilting lines yet… I just know that will cause some puckers to get sewn down on the back of the quilt.
I didn’t want to add yet another print, so I bound the quilt in the same solid dark gray that I used for some of the blocks. This also helped to tie in the dark gray blocks, since that was the darkest color on the quilt top. The dark gray border gave it an anchor.
I always make my own quilt binding, and this one I cut on straight grain rather than the bias. Here’s how I bind my quilts. But I did the binding entirely by machine this time! No more hand sewing for me. I used this machine binding tutorial from APQS and intend to machine bind probably all of my future quilts. I also believe that machine binding will hold up better to regular machine washing.
As always, I find Clover wonder clips to be a godsend when it comes to binding.
Finally it was all done and ready to make the long journey to the UK!
Baby Benjamin and his cat friends – I’m not sure whether this is Luna or Tonks (fantastic names) – are big fans. The quilt has been part of tummy time and many a park outing and I’m so, so glad it’s being used and loved!
I also love that many of the fabrics have tiny animals on them (including more tiny sheep!). It’s so fun to think of Baby Ben becoming Toddler Ben and noticing the little zebras, sheep, and elephants on his quilt. Every baby quilt should have a little bit of I Spy to it, I think.
These are my go-to quilting items that I used on this (and every) project:
The Warm Company Warm And Natural Cotton Needled Batting 90″x96″ – this batting is so easy to work with! Natural and not too heavy.
Juki HZL-F600 – My trusty sewing machine. I finally upgraded a few years ago and this machine is just amazing. I wouldn’t have dared to machine quilt anything bigger than a placemat on my old machine.
Clover wonder clips – Perfect for pinching and holding layers together without pins.
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!