I Made My Wedding Dress, Part 4: The Big Reveal!
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.
I Made My Wedding Dress, Part 3: The Final Countdown
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!
I Made My Wedding Dress, Part 2: Lace Couture Techniques
In Part 1, I talked about the fun parts of making my wedding dress: brainstorming designs and choosing a lace (aka fabric shopping). Welcome to Part 2: this is where the WORK happens. But first, let’s talk timeline.
We got engaged in February 2019. I’ve actually always wanted a fall wedding, so we considered a wedding in Fall 2019, but that would have been pretty tight – especially with long-distance planning and, you know, making my dress. So we scheduled our wedding for May 2020.
Somehow, February through December 2019 went by with very little dress progress. I know my mom was getting nervous! There were always more urgent wedding planning tasks to do, like finding and reserving vendors while they still had our date available, and our marriage preparation classes and retreat with the church. (Catholic marriage preparation is AWESOME, by the way. It’s mandatory, so it sounds like a chore to some people, but it was hugely beneficial for us to answer some tough questions before combining our lives.) We also moved! I had wanted to wait until we were married to move in together, but once we were engaged for a few months it was the right time for us – especially because, with a combined household, we could afford to live at the beach. Can’t pass that up.
By the time I had made my muslin and had my lace in hand, it was January 2020: four months to go.
Of course – spoilers! – we all know what 2020 would hold. But it sure felt like nothing could get in the way of our May wedding, and I had a lot of dress to make. I spent most of my free time in January-March 2020 sewing away on my lace overlay. I used what I call a “lace invisible seam”. It’s a couture technique to sew lace seams without straight line seam allowances, because any seam allowance will show through the translucent fabric. Was it necessary? No. Was it worth it? I really think so. But it did, absolutely, take a lot more time and effort.
This post on Instructables (Step 10) explained the invisible seams in a way that I could wrap my head around. First, you mark the pattern lines on the lace by running a contrast-color basting stitch along each stitch line. Then you line up the stitching lines, overlapping the pieces. Finally, you cut along the edge of the lace motif and stitch it in place.
Of course, I immediately made this more difficult for myself because my lace had a border, and I wanted to use that border as the bottom hem of my dress. I took my skirt pattern pieces and stitched them together at the hem, then laid them out on the table, above. Next, I placed my lace on top, and lined up the lace border with the bottom hem edge of the pattern pieces. Then I started the invisible lace method by marking each seam line with a line of blue thread. This just marks the lace, it doesn’t actually sew anything together.
Once each seam line was basted, I cut between the panels, taking a meandering path around the motifs. Then I overlapped my blue thread seam lines and had to decide what motifs to sew down, and what to trim away.
Here’s a maybe helpful, but still confusing, picture of how this worked. The pink squiggly lines are an approximation of where I cut. And then the yellow arrows show which direction I overlapped the fabrics. Once I overlapped them, I sewed on top of the motifs that followed the pink squiggly line, and trimmed away any excess material on the back so the lace was back to being just one layer thick.
It’s hard to show in a photo, but above you can see one example. I’d already trimmed around the leaves of the overlapping piece. Then I pinned them in place, with the blue threads overlapping, and then I marked with the purple marker (disappearing ink! of course) everywhere I wanted to sew. That way, when I sat at the machine, I wouldn’t get lost in a sea of lace… I just had to follow my purple marker.
Here are the things I found to be essential for sewing the invisible lace seam.
- Disappearing ink marking pen: Dritz Mark-B-Gone. I use this pen all the time. It has two ends: the blue end disappears in water, but the purple end disappears magically with AIR. The one downside is that sometimes I mark something with the purple ink, and then don’t work on it right away… and it disappears so I have to mark it again. It usually lasts a few days, but sometimes depending on the humidity or the fabric type, it will disappear in a few hours. Of course, ALWAYS test something like this before marking your fabric. But I found that it disappeared from the lace without issue, so I was able to pin my fabric and then mark the path through the lace that I wanted to sew. Otherwise I would have gotten lost every time I took my fabric over to the machine.
- Free-Motion Quilting foot that jumps: I bought this 3-pack. My machine came with an FMQ foot, but it doesn’t jump. The jumping FMQ foot has a little bar that rests on the needle bar, so when the needle is up, the foot is up, but when the needle is down, the foot is down. This makes the fabric easy to manipulate, especially since the lace varies so much in thickness. With the “jump”, the presser foot is only applying pressure when you need it, and it leaves you to move the fabric freely in between stitches.
- Small, sharp needle. I don’t change needles nearly as often as I should, but for sewing the lace I changed my needle often. Since I was sewing through thick layers of embroidered thread, my needle would snag occasionally and cause my thread to get all looped up, and then I had to stop and deal with the tangled thread. It was much smoother when I changed my needle more regularly – I probably still only used 4 needles.
- Sharp, skinny pins: Dritz Glasshead Pins. I love these glass head pins, they’re extra long and they’re very sharp and narrow. Just like with the needle, their sharp point and narrow shaft was able to pin the lace in places where a different pin may have snagged. I also used my Clover Flower Head Pins, especially to pin the lace to my dressform.
- Sharp, tiny scissors. You may be noticing a trend with this list. Sharp tools were KEY, because the fabric was delicate, so a dull tool would have caused awful snags. I used my Gingher thread snips for trimming all of the lace contours. I tried my small Kai snips, which I love for everything else, but they have a square end and weren’t as effective at maneuvering in the tight spaces.
Here’s a video I made of sewing the lace layers. You can see how my Free Motion Quilting foot is jumping up and down. You can also see that I pinned like CRAZY, and I was sewing over my disappearing purple-pen lines. The video is at 8x speed, so you can imagine that each seam took… a while.
It was tedious but it was also satisfying. Especially since my lace was just an embroidered mesh, my stitching lines blended in easily. I had a few sections on the skirt where there were no motifs, so I couldn’t avoid sewing just mesh-to-mesh. This means I do have a few tiny segments that have a visible seam with a seam allowance, but they are not noticeable.
Six slow seams later, I had a skirt. I left the center back seam open until later. But this was a big moment. I could finally tell that I really liked my lace, and I really liked the direction my dress was headed. It was a slow project, with so much uncertainty and so much pressure. So this moment was a beautiful chance for me to step back and acknowledge that yes: I was making the dress I wanted to make.
Let me give a quick shoutout here to my dressform’s dress: this is the bridesmaid dress I wore in my Matron of Honor’s wedding. It was the perfect under-layer for my dressform because it fit me very well, and it wasn’t white so I could see the overlaps in my white mesh fabric as I worked. I sewed a marking knot at the belly button of the blue dress, and a corresponding marking knot on the belly button of my lace piece, to make sure I lined up the fabric in the same way every time.
As you saw above, I had used my skirt pattern as the guideline for the lace seams on the skirt. But once I got to the bodice, I didn’t use the pattern anymore – I think that would have been more difficult and less reliable. I was sufficiently comfortable with the “seams anywhere” approach that I realized I’d rather drape the fabric directly over my dressform for a perfect fit. Plus, that way I could make sure all the motifs were where I wanted them. I wanted a lot of leaves and the smaller flowers around my neckline.
Here’s an example. I held up the lace to figure out approximate motif placement, then pinned it in place just like before: lots and lots of pins, with purple marking my stitch path. Obviously the fitted bodice curves were a lot tighter than the relatively straight lines of the skirt, so this was harder to contour and sew.
And then… March 2020 arrived. In mid-March I sent an email to my bridesmaids saying, “it sounds like this Coronavirus thing is getting to be a big deal. We’ll see what happens, but right now we’re planning to get married as long as they’ll let us.”
Literally hours later, our venue cancelled the reception and the church said they would only allow ceremonies with 10 total people inside the church. So unless one of my brothers was ready to take our pictures, and the other could binge a 6-week organist crash course, we’d have a very quiet, undocumented ceremony. Without my matron of honor, without David’s best man, without a party.
It was hard. We were so ready to get married. But at the time, COVID-19 felt like such a temporary problem. I couldn’t bear the thought of going forward with a slapdash ceremony just to “get it over with”. I was still so hopeful that we could have a wedding with “our people” there, and that was worth waiting for.
So we waited.
We cancelled what we could, and we were very fortunate compared to many other wedding planning couples I’ve talked to. Our venue returned our full deposit, and we kept most of our vendors on hold and on alert.
Maybe I should have kept working on my dress. But I had no deadline, and I wasn’t even sure what kind of wedding to look forward to. So I put the dress in a drawer, and took a big break, and made a big, gorgeous quilt.
Don’t worry, I won’t make you wait months like my dress did. I’ll be back later this week with plenty more dress construction photos!
This is the second post in my “I Made My Wedding Dress” series.
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.