• Wedding

    DIY Wedding Flowers: Make Your Own Bridesmaids’ and Bridal Bouquets

    DIY wedding flowers - make your own bridal bouquet

    Welcome to “Wedding Week”! You’ve read about my dress but I wanted to share some more details about the day, the ceremony, and the party. Monday was the logistics of it all: planning our backyard wedding reception. Wednesday was all emotions: my play-by-play of the big day. And today is all about FLOWERS! Next week we’ll be back to the regularly scheduled sewing and making.

    I decided long ago that I wanted to do my own flowers for my wedding. I envisioned this as a fun girls’ day activity – instead of getting our nails done on the day before the wedding, we’d put together our bouquets! Yes, I was putting them to work, but it also seemed like a perfect way to spend time together on my last day as an “unmarried woman”.

    COVID-19 had other ideas, and I ended up making all six bouquets. My mom made the boutonnieres for the men and the corsages for the moms. It was a workout! But it was still so worth it. I LOVED getting to choose all of my own flowers and make exactly what I wanted. I’ve never spent this much money on flowers before and it was so fun to go a little crazy and bring home all of my favorites.

    DIY wedding flowers - make your own bridal bouquet

    The girls’ dresses were teal/turquoise (David’s Bridal Oasis) and I wanted to offset them with my favorite warm colors: orange and pink with a touch of yellow. These colors contrasted with the dresses exactly how I hoped they would, and I love how bright they were.

    I chose the following flowers:

    • Orange Dahlias (the huge focal point!)
    • Hot pink, peach pink, golden yellow, and white Ranunculus (my favorite flower)
    • Orange-to-pink variegated Snapdragons (so tall and gorgeous!)
    • White Stock for some fluffy, dramatic filler
    • Bupleurum and Israeli Ruscus as the green filler
    orange freesia for wedding boutonnieres

    For the men’s boutonnieres, we chose orange Freesia. David wanted a tropical flower, as a nod to his love of the tropics and our Miami home, so freesia was perfect. I, of course, chose the orange. My mom paired the freesia with a few leaves from the ruscus and, voila! Boutonnieres.

    I ordered my flowers a month in advance, with the flowers scheduled to arrive the Tuesday before the wedding (as recommended to give them time to rehydrate and open up after shipping). But sadly, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. I ordered from Blooms by the Box, and I only say that because I would not recommend them. I understand that flowers are living things, so there is always some risk in the supply chain. But when they began packing my order, they informed me that they were unable to source more than half of the flowers I had requested, and the substitutions offered weren’t even close. They did refund me for the missing flowers, but suddenly it was 3 days before my wedding and I had a pitifully small box of flowers to work with. Worst of all – none of the flowers were orange!

    David and I drove around to every grocery store we could think of in search of ORANGE. Costco really only had roses, and I just did not want roses in my bouquets. And the rest of the grocery store bouquets looked like… grocery store bouquets.

    Finally, I started calling every florist I could find on Google Maps to see if someone had some spare inventory or a source. David’s stepmom Deanne did, too, in case there was someone in between Delaware and VA who had orange flowers she could pick up on her way. And the phone plan WORKED. One of the florists said, “Have you tried Metro Flower Market?” I’d never heard of it. “They might have what you need.”

    I called them and left a panicked message. Something along the lines of, “I’m looking for orange ranunculus… or really anything orange except roses. Do you have anything?”

    Kim at MFM, my guardian angel, returned my message and said “We have lots of ranunculus, but no orange, but we do have gorgeous bright orange dahlias. I think you’ll love them.” She set them aside for me and I regained my sense of hope.

    So we set off for Metro Flower Market in Chantilly, VA, a wholesale florist that’s open to the public, and it was a treasure trove.

    This place is amazing. It’s like the big walk-in produce section at Costco, but just FILLED with flowers. They had everything. It was beautiful and perfect and we were saved and I was so relieved.

    It was so, so much easier to plan bouquets here than online. This is my recommendation for everyone now. It sounds so easy to order flowers online, but unless you know flowers very well, it’s really hard to picture the bouquets. Even if I had received my entire order, I still think I wouldn’t have had enough flowers. When I got to walk around, pick up the flowers, and pair them together, it was so easy to make exactly what I wanted to make. Many cities have “wholesale flower markets” that are open to the public, and I never knew! I can’t wait to go back there again, just to make happy bouquets for myself!

    DIY wedding flowers - make your own bridal bouquet
    test bouquet – needs more flowers!

    We loaded up a few florists’ boxes and headed home. Finally everything was looking fresh in flower land.

    I kept the flowers in buckets of water in the garage. It was October, so the garage was cool, dark, and not too cold. I think the flowers liked it there. Another word of caution for online ordering: I ordered some greenery and didn’t realize the leaves were HUGE! So most of the greens you see in the photo above weren’t even usable for my bouquets.

    On Friday, the day before the wedding, I got to work. My mom prepped the kitchen table with a vinyl tablecloth, and that was my domain.

    I started by bunching some flowers, one of each, and then I had David take a picture of me so I could gauge the bouquet size. This wasn’t big enough! I added more flowers and we tried again. I was very happy with the colors and the added interest from the varying heights of my flowers, but I clearly needed to work on my bouquet sizing. A good bouquet takes so many more flowers than I expected!

    Once I had established the number of flowers for a full bouquet, I laid them out on the table in piles. I made the bridesmaids’ bouquets first because I wanted them to be somewhat even, and then I could just use ALLLL of the leftover flowers for myself!

    DIY wedding flowers - make your own bridal bouquet
    bridesmaid bouquet piles – and little boutonnieres in progress at top left!

    I knew there was no way to make multiple identical bouquets. But this strategy helped me at least keep the colors and proportions uniform. Each bouquet held the same number of each flower, and then I added greenery as necessary.

    The dahlias, with their giant, dramatic heads, were so fragile. The stem could barely support the enormous bloom, so for each dahlia I trimmed some leaves off of a stem of the ruscus and taped the ruscus to the dahlia stem to give it extra support. Each bouquet got one dahlia, except for mine… I got 3 because I’m the bride 🙂

    DIY wedding flowers - make your own bridal bouquet

    I watched a few YouTube videos (so clearly I’m an expert now) and the key to a bouquet that will last all day is tape, tape, tape. Floral Tape is my nemesis. It only sticks to itself, and it’s only sticky when it’s stretched. It’s a necessary evil, because clearly it’s what works for flowers. It doesn’t actually stick to the stems, which allows the stems to expand and contract slightly depending on how much water they’re holding, which is good! But it’s also really hard to pull the tape enough to stretch it, when you’re stretching it away from a stem that is fragile and bendy.

    For a stable bouquet, it’s recommended to tape around every 2-3 flowers you add. So I started with 3 flowers as the bouquet center, and taped around them. Then added 2-3 flowers around that center, and taped again. And again, and again.

    After 6 bouquets, I hope you’ll excuse my antipathy for floral tape. It also turned my thumbs all green and sticky.

    There was so much art to this. It was fun and challenging to keep the bouquets balanced, to try and add the right flowers at the right time. I had assumed it would be simple and straightforward to just bunch together the pretty flowers, but I had to use a lot more creativity than I expected.

    Murphy was an excellent florist’s assistant. Good girl, Murphy, you protect those flowers!

    David also helped by trimming the leaves from the flower stems. That was surprisingly time consuming, so having extra hands to take care of that step really helped me focus on taping and arranging.

    I just love ranunculus so much. They’re so delicate and feathery, so detailed. This one opened up like a lion once it got water again and it was adorable.

    DIY wedding flowers - make your own bridal bouquet

    In the end, I was thrilled with the results. Besides, once you’ve sewn a wedding dress, how scary can DIY flowers really be?

    I mentioned this in my day-of post: I added a special detail to my bouquet. I wrapped it with my maternal grandmother’s rosary and my paternal grandmother’s pearl cross necklace. It was so wonderful to have them with me in this way on my special day.

    DIY wedding flowers - make your own bridal bouquet

    Here are the men looking snazzy with their Freesia boutonnieres. I love the splash of orange on their gray suits.

    Here are two good shots of our handiwork! I love the corsage my mom made for herself. It’s similar to the boutonnieres but she added an extra freesia and one peach ranunculus bloom. For Deanne’s wrist corsage, my mom put one bloom each of freesia and ranunculus, to make it symmetric, then tied it with a ribbon.

    My mom did a beautiful job with the boutonnieres and corsages. They looked so professional!

    And, if you read my wedding day post, you’ll know that we wrapped the bouquets with ribbon in the church parking lot before the ceremony. The girls still had to work a little bit for their bouquets.

    Writing this post has inspired me – I still want a day of flower arranging with my girls! And I realized it doesn’t have to be a wedding-exclusive event. Sometime in the future, I’m going to go wild at Metro Flower Market again, and we’ll all build arrangements together. Plus, arrangements for vases means NO FLORAL TAPE!!

    My recommendation: as long as you have an idea of how you want your flowers to look, and you can set aside the time, you should definitely make your own wedding flowers. It took me 4-5 hours to make the six bouquets, so it’s not quick! But with a buddy or a few, it would go much faster and be way more fun. Table arrangements would also be much faster to make because they don’t require any tape! Highly recommend.

    Would you make your own bouquets? Did you? I’d love to hear! Leave a comment below!

  • Wedding

    Our Wedding Day, from Catholic Ceremony to DIY Backyard Reception

    DIY backyard wedding

    Welcome to “Wedding Week”! You’ve read about my dress but I wanted to share some more details about the day, the ceremony, and the party. Monday was the logistics of it all: planning our backyard wedding reception. Today is all emotions: my play-by-play of the big day. And Friday is all about flowers! Next week we’ll be back to the regularly scheduled sewing and making.

    Ten – Ten – Twenty – Twenty. Such a magical day, and not just because of its aesthetically pleasing numbers!


    The day started slowly. My alarm went off, but I hadn’t slept much – I was nervous, I was excited, and I kept thinking of things on the to-do list. I slept at my parents’ house; David was staying at the same hotel as his dad and stepmom. He had a normal, standard “guy pre-event” morning where he and his dad had a very relaxed breakfast, talked for a while, hung out in the room, ate some snacks, then finally took ten, maybe fifteen, minutes to get ready before heading to the church. And fortunately Deanne was on board for taking lots of pictures of the men getting ready! Thanks Deanne! I love these glimpses into David’s morning.

    My morning was a little different. 🙂

    DIY backyard wedding getting ready

    The morning was a blur. I checked on my bouquets. I made microwave oatmeal and stirred it around but didn’t eat much. I had some coffee.

    Then Olivia presented me with a surprise: she had requested letters from my family, my bridesmaids, my aunts, my cousins, my future in-laws, and, of course, my dear David, and together she and my mom compiled all the letters into a scrapbook for me to read on the morning of my wedding. I still don’t have words for how wonderful that was. I’m a person who loves a good card more than a good present, and I’m very sentimental. Having all these words of joy and love from my loved ones meant the world to me, and even more so when so many of them would be watching from afar.

    The Donut Hole Fiasco

    Ben and Olivia went out for some last minute errands and stopped at Dunkin Donuts for some pumpkin munchkins, on my request. When they got home, the box was filled with blueberry munchkins! They went back to get a replacement box, and before coming home again they tried one in the car… and they were STILL blueberry! Turns out someone at Dunkin had swapped the trays of munchkins. I know B + O will never forget the piles of blueberry munchkins we ended up with on my wedding day. I like blueberry fine, but the pumpkin are just the best. Hilariously, the next day, we were eating the last of them and learned that David loves blueberry munchkins. Oh David, if only you had been there.

    Stephanie, my hair stylist, arrived and started work on my hair. I had always envisioned a morning of getting ready with my girls, and it would have been wonderful to have them all there, gushing over me. But at the same time, my introvert self knew that there was a full day of socialization ahead, so getting ready in a calm manner was actually really nice. Stephanie was fun to talk to, and it was a nice break to just sit with her, getting my hair done. I was also so glad to have my sister-in-law with me, so I wasn’t entirely without my crew! Olivia kept me company and snapped pictures, and my mom popped in and out of the room as she continued to get the house ready.

    My mom made this beautiful peacock robe for me as a wedding shower gift. It’s gorgeous fabric – the peacocks have gold metallic feathers! Her mom had made her a robe as a wedding shower gift so she wanted to carry on the tradition (even if I didn’t have a wedding shower!). It’s so beautiful and so happy.

    Before we knew it, it was almost time to go. I rushed upstairs and put on my makeup. I was so happy with my choice to do my own makeup because I felt like myself, just a little fancier!

    This whole time, my dad and brothers were all over the place: setting up tables in the backyard, refreshing the ice on the kegs in the bar, placing speakers, double-checking lights. It was so amazing to have my family as my team.

    DIY backyard wedding getting ready
    isn’t my mom’s dress gorgeous?

    I put my dress on, and my mom helped zip me up and button the buttons. I had tried it on for her two days ago, so she had seen the dress, but it was all so real now! I had a flower in my hair! I was a bride!

    We hadn’t figured out bouquet transportation yet – the bouquets were much more fragile than expected, especially with my top-heavy dahlias threatening to collapse at any moment. We put the bouquets in vases in a big rubbermaid bin in the trunk – this took some finagling! We left the house later than planned. I had wanted to arrive at the church at 1, but I took too long to get ready, so we were set to arrive around 1:20. And then, just as we turned off our street, I realized I forgot something. I can’t remember what now – my mask? Maybe even my shoes?! So we turned around to grab it and then headed on our way. To be fair, I wasn’t the only one who had forgotten something – David had left his tie at my parents’ house, so we were transporting that, too.

    My parents drove me, and Ben drove Andy and Olivia in his car.

    The SD Card Miracle

    My dad had bought a new camcorder for the day so we could record the ceremony (even though we did get to download a copy of the live stream) and I also wanted to passively record the reception from a corner of the backyard. I had ruled out the expense of a full videographer, but I wanted to capture some moments if we could. Andy was reading the camcorder manual and setting everything up from the backseat of Ben’s car, and we got a text from him halfway to the wedding, “there isn’t an SD card in the box.” That would make it pretty hard to record something!

    My whole family was running late. David was already there, but I certainly wasn’t going to send my groom off to Best Buy an hour before the ceremony. I didn’t want to derail anyone else who still had to get ready. But then I remembered our lifeline: SEAN! Our good friend Sean and his wife live close enough that watching the streamed ceremony would have felt silly. So we had asked if they would do us the honor of joining us at the church for the ceremony, and they agreed.

    I texted Sean and asked if he could pick us up an SD card. He texted me back immediately and said he had just walked out of MicroCenter, the electronics store, and was literally standing in the parking lot. Sean loves video games and computers, so of course they stopped at MicroCenter while they were in the area. It was truly a wedding miracle and I still can’t believe how amazing that was. He picked up two SD cards and we were good to go.

    We arrived well after 1pm. I felt bad because the entire wedding party had already arrived (as requested). But I was quickly forgiven, and Brittney said, “hey, it’s your day!”

    I distributed bouquets to the girls and we tied ribbons around them in the church parking lot! I love the looks of concentration on everyone’s faces. Ribbons are serious business.

    David and his Best Man were helping the videographer set up his camera for the live stream, so I waited until we were sure the coast was clear before the girls and I snuck into our designated “getting ready” classroom. The men got to get ready in the “fancy” room, the sacristy where the priest gets ready. David’s tie was delivered to him and my mom pinned all the men’s boutonnieres (which she had made, of course!).

    I gave my girls cards (again, sentimental!) and little bracelets I had made, just simple beads on a chain that matched the dress color. I gave my mom a vintage hankie that I had embroidered. I also gave cards to my parents and David’s parents. The picture above? That’s Claire and me doing a happy dance – knowing her it was 3/4 of the way to an Irish jig. Such a happy day!

    DIY wedding bouquet with rosary

    I wrapped my bouquet with tokens from each of my grandmothers. I borrowed my maternal grandma’s rosary from my mom, and I have a small cross necklace that had belonged to my paternal grandma that she gave to me when I was in college. It was wonderful to have pieces of them with me in this way.


    And then… it was time! Almost 2pm. We could hear the organist playing some instrumental music. I wanted to make sure David wasn’t in the hallway, so I sent my mom as an envoy. But she didn’t return, there had been some miscommunication and she had taken her seat for the ceremony. The music played for a few more minutes, and then it stopped! Clearly they were waiting for us. David says these were some of the longest minutes of his life 🙂 At that point we all set off into the hallway – first my bridesmaids, and last, me and my papa.

    The music started again (Jesu, Joy of Our Desiring), and my bridesmaids began to process in.

    Finally, my matron of honor made it to the front of the church, and the music changed to Pachelbel’s Canon. I was overwhelmed. My dad and I started to walk. I looked up at David but couldn’t bear to look at his face, it made me too happy. I didn’t have tears but I was crying, and trying not to, so I was just making a weird squeaking noise. My brain was saying “smile! you are HAPPY!” and I WAS happy! But I was also sobbing! My dad chuckled and said, “oh, you tear up like me!” And I laughed and cried and squeaked.

    Finally I made it to the front of the church and to my David. I gave my Papa a big hug, then my David a big, relieved hug, and then the wedding officially began.

    Catholic wedding ceremony - DIY wedding

    Our best man read the first reading, Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31. I was overjoyed to find this reading in our booklet of “wedding approved liturgical selections,” because how could I resist when I read this line:

    She obtains wool and flax
    and makes cloth with skillful hands.
    She puts her hands to the distaff,
    and her fingers ply the spindle.

    The cantor sang Psalm 103, “The Lord is Kind and Merciful”. My brother Ben read the second reading, Colossians 3:12-17. Our priest, who, by the way, was in my class in high school, read the gospel and then preached his homily. We knew each other from high school, but of course, I hadn’t seen Fr. Will in 12 years, and he hadn’t met David. But he arranged a Zoom call a few weeks before the wedding to smooth out final details, and to get to know us as a couple. His sermon was amazing. He was so filled with joy to be a witness to our sacrament of marriage and it was truly delightful.

    Throughout the homily, David and I held hands and occasionally grinned at each other. I had found my calm, and while I was still filled with emotions, I was mostly just… happy.

    Catholic wedding ceremony - exchanging rings

    We held hands and pledged our consent and our free will. We exchanged vows. The rings were blessed, and we exchanged rings.

    My brother Andy read our petitions. I had written our own Prayers of the Faithful, the prayers the entire congregation lifts together. It was so special for me to write these myself. We included a prayer for our departed loved ones, and named each of our family members who had passed away. We were so glad to include them in our ceremony in this way.

    Catholic wedding ceremony - DIY wedding
    grins all around!

    A few more blessings and then… Father Will announced us as husband and wife!

    DIY backyard wedding planning during COVID-19

    We joyfully exited the church to “O God Beyond All Praising” – I love Gustav Holst so much.

    O God beyond all praising, we worship you today
    and sing the love amazing that songs cannot repay;
    for we can only wonder at every gift you send,
    at blessings without number and mercies without end:
    we lift our hearts before you and wait upon your word,
    we honor and adore you, our great and mighty Lord.

    “O God Beyond All Praising” – words by Michael Perry, music by Gustav Holst (from Jupiter)


    After showing off our sweet new rings in the parking lot, we went back inside to take some family photos in the church and with Fr. Will. Then we headed to a local park to take the rest of the photos. I was so happy to have found this park. Nice, green backgrounds for all our photos.

    DIY backyard wedding planning during COVID-19
    we did take photos without masks, i promise. but look how cute we all are!
    thanks, mama, for making the custom masks!

    We did take all of our pictures without masks (except for the pictures where we were showing off the masks 🙂 ) so this was the one time where people were close to each other and mask-less. But we were outside and the photos didn’t take long, and my goodness I am so grateful for these photos.

    We did family photos first so that my parents could be the first to head back to the house and start getting things ready. Then we did photos with the bridal party, which was so much fun. We were all laughing and frolicking. It was honestly a nice break and a nice chance to get to see everyone individually, even if it was just for the span of a few pictures.

    DIY backyard wedding planning during COVID-19
    It looks like David was pretty happy to finally be married 🙂

    Then the wedding party headed out, too, and we took all our couple photos. This was, of course, our first chance to really look at each other and smile at each other as a married couple! We definitely didn’t have to fake any of those grins. It felt like a nice little break for the two of us to spend some time with each other (even if there were photographers and cameras watching) before we headed back to the reception and went back into social mode. David said that during the photos was the first time he really noticed my dress… up until that point he had really just been paying attention to “me”!

    DIY backyard wedding planning during COVID-19
    My lovely bowl of soup.

    Our photographers were really sweet and fun. One prompt I’ll never forget is they had me look up at David’s face and cup my hands around the back of his head, “like a bowl of soup,” they said. “Like your lovely bowl of soup.”

    So thank you, Anna and Liz, for these beautiful photos and for making our photo time so special.

    David’s parents drove us back to the reception and that was also a nice break. We just sat calmly in the car, fidgeting with our new rings, talking about the beautiful ceremony and the fantastic homily.


    We arrived at my parents’ house and everyone was in the backyard. I wanted to make a grand entrance, of course, so we waited on the front porch for a good moment. Andy, my brother and our DJ for the night, cued the music, “It’s a Good Time” from the Disney World parade that had been going on when David proposed. “Let’s get it started, ’cause we just can’t wait” was basically our wedding motto.

    I had asked Olivia – the most outgoing of my siblings, because she married in, and therefore isn’t technically my sibling – to announce us like the DJ always does. “Now, introducing for the first time ever, Mr. and Mrs. David and Samantha!”

    bride and groom wearing masks - DIY backyard wedding COVID-19

    We popped around the corner and jogged through the backyard, past our tables of friends. As I rounded the corner, I thought, “wow. This looks like a real wedding.” We had twinkle lights and tablecloths and the chairs that are always at weddings and I was amazed and thrilled that it actually felt real, even though it was just in the backyard.

    DIY backyard wedding - samanthasews blog

    We danced to our seats, and David even mimed himself mouse ears for “come on everybody, get your ears on!”

    I was so excited to have snacks. Crackers and cheese are always good but they are even better when you’re a super hungry, almost-done-being-nervous bride.

    DIY backyard wedding, bride mask and groom mask - samanthasews blog

    We walked and mingled, and it was so great to get to talk to everyone. I think this will forever be the biggest perk for me of our small wedding. Everyone says, “you never get to spend enough time with everyone because the day goes so fast and there are so many people.” Even with 17 guests I still felt like I needed more time to properly visit with everyone, but I’m so glad I got as much time as I did. It felt really special to spend so much time with these people we love, especially after many months of isolation.

    We teased Brittney and James because we had gotten married first – their wedding was a mere four days away!

    My wonderful, amazing, roommate-for-life and matron of honor Hannah gave a champagne toast and it was so, so sweet. I still can’t believe she made it to my wedding with her 1-month old baby and I will forever be so grateful.

    Through their years together, I’ve been lucky to watch the ever-opinionated Sam grow softer and more empathetic around David. They’ve built a beautiful life together, full of compromise and kindness and witty comebacks. It’s easy to see how they complement and truly bring out the best of each other.

    excerpt from Hannah’s toast, 10/10/2020

    Christian, David’s best man, followed with his toast and it was really cute. I’m glad David has such a good friend. Even if Hannah will win all friend awards by default for the rest of our lives because, seriously, she made it to my wedding just one month after the birth of her first child.

    And then the food arrived! Maggiano’s made everything so easy and it was also so delicious. My dad said a prayer over the food and also talked about how he was proud of me and that made me very happy.

    We ate our chicken parmesan and then we mingled some more. Every once in a while we’d look at each other and grin. Everything was just perfect and we were finally, finally married.

    DIY backyard wedding with twinkle lights

    Darkness fell, and the backyard got more magical in the glow of twinkle lights and tiki torches.

    DIY backyard wedding planning during COVID-19

    We unveiled the cheesecake and before the cutting, my dear friend Katie read us a blessing of the hands. This was another cherished moment in our day where we got to pause, hold hands, and look at each other. It was a serious moment of joy and reality and I am so grateful Katie brought us that gift.

    These are the hands of your best friend, young and strong and full of love for you, that are holding yours on your wedding day, as you promise to love each other today, tomorrow, and forever.
    These are the hands that will work alongside yours, as together you build your future.

    An excerpt from “Blessing of the Hands” by Rev. Daniel L. Harris

    We cut the cheesecake and fed each other without mess, as promised 🙂

    Then, our table was cleared from the patio and we danced our first dance as bride and groom. Our song was Life Less Ordinary by Carbon Leaf, a song I’ve loved for a long time. David’s a much better dancer than I am and he sent me for lots of twirls!

    Well, I hate to be a bother but
    It’s you and there’s no other, I do believe
    You can call me naïve, but
    I know me very well, at least
    As far as I can tell, and I know what I need.

    “Life Less Ordinary” – Carbon Leaf

    Then I invited my dad to share a dance with me. I had chosen You’ll Be in My Heart as the perfect song for two reasons. First, my dad and I have many fond memories of visiting Disneyland together and this was a nod to our special family trips. And second, my dad loves Phil Collins, and he managed to play enough Phil Collins and Genesis while I was growing up that I ended up loving it too. So it was a perfect confluence of many things we love. I was so glad to get to dance with my dad and give him lots of hugs.

    DIY backyard wedding planning during COVID-19

    From there, we opened up the dance floor with an immediate transition to Shut Up and Dance, because I don’t know about you but I CANNOT stay seated for that song no matter how many times I hear it. And this was one of the best parts of the day for me. When I envisioned my backyard wedding, I worried that dancing would be awkward. We were in the middle of a suburban neighborhood, on a brick patio, with so few people. Would people really dance? Would we all just dance to a few songs out of obligation and then call it a night? NO WAY!

    We all danced so much. Andy was our super DJ. I had told everyone to please wear whatever shoes they wanted for the reception, so we were free to let loose. Even David changed into his lightweight kicks. I remember jumping up and down to the “nana nana nana”s of “All The Small Things” and Claire saying, “this is a lot of jumping for Maggiano’s!” Jimmy had enough energy for a dance MARATHON and gave so much life to the dance floor. Hannah’s newborn slept for almost the entire reception – the longest she’d slept in days – so Hannah and Adam got to take a break and dance together. We were all still wearing masks, but it was the most social any of us had been in months and it felt. so. good.

    DIY backyard wedding planning during COVID-19

    Eventually we were all exhausted. Christian and Shelbi did a ton of cleanup and we were so grateful. I know my parents and siblings were thrilled to have a break! We said our goodbyes as couples headed out, and we foisted leftover cheesecake upon them. The night wound down. Finally, it was time to depart.

    We said goodbye to our families and rode off into our happily ever after.

    I’m so grateful we had this day. I’m so thankful for my friends for giving us so much trust and love. I’m so thankful for David’s dad and stepmom, who gave us so much love and support. And I can’t believe how blessed I am to have my amazing family, who gave us so much love and did so much heavy lifting to make this party possible.

  • Wedding

    Planning our Backyard, DIY Wedding Reception During COVID-19

    diy backyard wedding

    Welcome to “Wedding Week”! You’ve read about my dress but I wanted to share some more details about the day, the ceremony, and the party. Today is the logistics of it all: planning our backyard wedding reception. Wednesday is all emotions: my play-by-play of the big day. And Friday is all about flowers! Next week we’ll be back to the regularly scheduled sewing and making.

    My family was absolutely stellar at putting this wedding together. With the small guest count, and our desire for an outdoor venue to reduce COVID spread, we decided on a backyard reception at my parents’ house. Our initial wedding reception was set to take place at a beautiful botanical garden, and the caterers plus the venue staff would have taken care of pretty much everything. With a backyard DIY wedding reception – it was all on us! And suddenly there were dozens of tiny details that we needed to think about.

    David and I arrived in Virginia on the Wednesday before the wedding. My parents had already done a lot of work to get ready, from tidying the inside of the house to trimming trees in the backyard. My mom had ordered a big box of white roses from Costco and put them in vases all around the house… it felt so special to come home for my wedding!

    wedding planning - backyard wedding during COVID-19

    We had already done most of the planning and ordering, but in those 2.5 days it was time to get to work. I built bouquets, my mom assembled charcuterie plates, Andy charged speakers, my dad and David hung lights. Then my brother Ben and his wife Olivia arrived, and they jumped right in. Everybody rallied to get tables and chairs set up before the ceremony, then tablecloths and place settings set after the ceremony as the guests arrived. David and I arrived to the party last, after we finished our couple photos, and everything was perfect. I know my family did a ton of work to make it all happen so seamlessly, and I’m so very grateful to have them.

    That’s lesson 1. Have help. Ask for help. If your helpers are as awesome as mine, you’re super lucky. If they’re not, make them a really good list so that you don’t have to worry about it on your wedding day. I worried constantly every day until the wedding day, but on the day itself? I didn’t care about any of it. Even better? I didn’t have to, because my family was busy being awesome.

    Here’s what we did and how we did it. I love reading about how other people plan things, so I wanted to share.

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    My dad loves speakers. And the wedding proved no exception. I asked if we should rent two of the big standing amp speakers from the rental company, but in order for them to send sound to the edges of the party, they’re always deafening when you’re close. My dad had a much better idea. He said, “you know how at Disneyland, it just feels like the music is coming from everywhere?” For my wedding, he wanted to turn our backyard into a magical, musical Disneyland. So he bought ten wireless, waterproof Bluetooth speakers, and placed them in the bushes all around our seating area. Ambient sound, rather than directional sound. The speakers were the Anker Soundcore Flare 2, and we all agreed they sounded fantastic especially considering the relatively low price. My parents also emailed the neighbors to tell them about the wedding and give a heads up about the noise, and everyone was gracious and congratulatory and happy to let us play our music.

    We made Spotify playlists for our music (and obviously we upgraded to Premium for the wedding). Managing the playlist sounded easy enough, and I considered just handling it myself from my phone. This is where we say, “No! Bad Sam! You’re the bride. Ask for help.” So I did. I asked my brother Andy if he’d be our DJ and he agreed, and he did a fantastic job. He started the music for the cocktail hour, which was extra perfect since we were taking photos and arrived after all of our guests (as planned). He played our entrance song when we arrived, which was the song from the Disney World parade that was going on when David proposed – the key line for us? “Let’s get it started, ’cause we just can’t wait.

    For dinner, we just let it play. Here’s our playlist. A lot of Disney parks ambient music, some of our favorite special songs, and a few very cheesy romantic songs. I know Hannah was just shocked that I included Taylor Swift on my wedding playlist… I was too! But something about, you know, getting married made me feel a lot cheesier and more romantic than usual.

    Having a dedicated DJ was crucial. There was some troubleshooting, I remember Andy running up and down the deck stairs to the “DJ stand”. He was also the one to hit pause for the toasts by the best man and matron of honor, and my dad’s prayer before dinner. He changed the playlists for our dances, and then changed it again when we invited everyone to the dance floor. And while we had a playlist, we weren’t tethered to it, and I’ll never forget when Hannah said, “WAIT – is Andy taking requests?!?!” and ran up to request the song that we girls sang all weekend at my bachelorette party. Good music, and a great music manager, was key to our party.

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    diy backyard wedding

    Our ceremony was at 2 at the church, and that was about 40 minutes from my parents’ house. I knew that by the time we got back from church and pictures, it would be around 5pm and starting to get dark. Luckily, my dad had this one under control, too.

    The Thursday before the wedding, my hair stylist came to the house to do my hair trial, and David and my dad went on a tour of the local Home Depots. They bought out multiple stores’ worth of patio lights, plus some 1×2″ boards. My dad doesn’t do anything halfway. We could have strung the lights along the fence, but that would have only been around waist level. So my dad and my groom bolted boards to every-other fence post, so that the lights could be strung 10-12 feet in the air to bathe the whole backyard in a soft glow.

    Andy brought a spool of color changing LED lights with him because he figured they might come in handy. My mom had draped white tulle along the edge of the deck, and Andy tucked his lights along the tulle. He programmed the lights to rainbow and it was awesome to have some color to add to our dance floor!

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    We rented the mandatory stuff: tables, chairs, and tablecloths. I loved how the chairs and tablecloths looked – those Chiavari chairs are just so “wedding-y” to me, and it was the small details like that that helped me feel like my DIY wedding was a Real Wedding.

    We also rented all of our tableware. The number of table items we needed added up fast! Plates, forks, knives; water glasses, beer glasses, champagne flutes (we decided to give each guest 1 wine glass and 1 beer glass, assuming they could put water in one and their drink of choice in the other); cloth napkins; water pitchers. Renting the tableware was awesome because we didn’t have to wash any dishes – just scraped off the extra food and then they were all picked up the next day. And, of course, no waste from single-use plates. Our rentals came from Sammy’s Rental (DC area), they were fantastic to work with and very, very organized.

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    Planning the food was a tough decision because we were trying to avoid the dense gathering of a buffet line or similar. Fortunately, with our small number of guests, we were able to order individual meals for each table. We ordered our food from Maggiano’s catering, and they were extremely helpful and willing to work with us. They packed each table’s order in a separate bag. Our tables were set up to respect household “pods”, so each couple sat at its own table. The food was ordered “family style” but for couples, with a shared salad and two large entrees to share. When the food arrived, it was just a matter of distributing the bags (with the men of the party executed very graciously). We were even able to customize orders so that most of us could order salads without blue cheese (thank goodness).

    For snacking during the cocktail hour, my mom put together charcuterie plates for each table. This was also great because she arranged the plates the day before, then just wrapped them in plastic wrap in the fridge. Slices of cheese, prosciutto, salami, crackers, and grapes for everyone to nibble on before the food arrived.

    DIY wedding favors - eco-friendly

    We also gave everyone stacks of Ritter Sport mini chocolates as favors. I was adamant that I would not have wedding favors that created a bunch of waste, so no elaborate boxes or personalized bottle openers or whatever else. Just a stack of yummy, special chocolates, that my mom wrapped in a stripe of pretty cactus wrapping paper.

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    wedding planning - backyard wedding during COVID-19
    the proud brewmaster!

    This was a big highlight of the DIY Wedding. Our original venue had us tied to a caterer who was tied to an alcohol distributor. This was both expensive and prohibited us from featuring something awesome: Papa’s beer. My dad had brewed all the beer for my brother’s wedding the year prior, and to dispense the beer, he built a beautiful wooden bar that hid four small kegs and the carbonation apparatus. It hadn’t had an opportunity to come out of hiding again… until now!

    We had four different beers on tap, all brewed by my dad. We also had wine and soda available, but of course the beer was the most popular! Each table also had its own pitcher of water. For toasts, my sister-in-law went around to each table offering pours of champagne or sparkling apple cider, and of course we had more of each of those in case people wanted more bubbly. I love my dad’s beer, but it was my wedding day, and champagne was definitely my drink of choice!

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    lego wedding cake topper with cheesecake wedding cake
    complete with Lego cake “topper”

    Our wedding cake was another item where we were able to embrace our small guest count. We requested Papa’s cheesecake as our dessert. You may be noticing a theme here – my dad loves to make food and share it with people! He made cheesecakes for years, trying to “crack the code” to make perfect, tall, not-too-dense but not-too-fluffy cheesecake. He cracked the code years ago and his cheesecakes are really amazing and special, and now that he’s got the science down he’s always experimenting with new flavors.

    We wanted enough cheesecake to go around, and that called for a cheesecake sampler. We narrowed it down to three varieties:

    • Bride’s cake: Oreo crust, amaretto cheesecake layer, chocolate cheesecake layer, chocolate ganache top
    • Groom’s cake: brownie crust, vanilla cheesecake, chocolate ganache top
    • For the Neutral, we chose seasonal Pumpkin: spiced cookie crust, pumpkin cheesecake, white chocolate drizzle

    David had bought this Lego wedding set soon after we got engaged ( 🙂 ) and we modified it by adding a few of our own pieces and a lot more Lego plants. That was our cake “topper” but it sat off to the side so as to not mar the perfect ganache finish on the cheesecake. My mom surprised me with this plate, it’s my own version of the “Special Day” plate that we always used on birthdays growing up.

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    DIY wedding flowers

    Yes, we DIY’ed the flowers. I’m planning a whole post about flowers because I was just obsessed with how they came out (edit: here’s the DIY wedding flowers post!). I made the bouquets and my mom made the boutonnieres and corsages. It was a lot more work than I expected, but it was also so fun to choose all my own flowers and make exactly what I wanted.

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    wedding bridal hair with white flowers and braid
    have I mentioned that I made my wedding dress…?

    I did my own makeup, but I had my hair done professionally and I am so, so glad that I did. I’ve never been one to do much with my hair and it would have been extremely stressful for me to have to do my own hair on my wedding day. It came out better than I could have imagined and I was just thrilled. I had considered wearing some sort of flower crown, but I never quite figured out what I wanted. I ended up just trimming the top end of some Stock (the flower) that was leftover from the bouquets, and the stylist pinned that into my hair. It. Was. Perfect.

    Since we live in Florida, and the wedding was in Virginia, I had my hair trial on Thursday for the Saturday wedding. I suppose there was potential for disaster if I hated the trial, but it worked out very nicely. My stylist really enjoyed doing the trial and the event so close together, because she could remember what worked and came up with even better ways to do the final hairdo. If you’re in northern VA, I highly recommend Stephanie from Bridal Artistry.

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    wedding photography - DIY backyard wedding

    Photography was our biggest splurge. This was one day, and a big day, and I was not about to risk having mediocre photos. I also really wanted two photographers. Anna and Liz of Anna Liz Photography are a sister team, and we loved that they were able to capture our day from two different perspectives. I most wanted two shooters so that there would be pictures of me walking down the aisle AND pictures of David’s face as I walked down the aisle, because I expected him to cry. Of course, he was just grinning ear to ear while I was the one doing weird squeaky sobs.

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    COVID Planning Details

    COVID-19 wedding planning - bride and groom masks

    If you followed along with my wedding dress sewing series, you know that we didn’t plan to have an October wedding. We were all set for a wedding on May 9, 2020, and with only 6 weeks to go (almost exactly one year ago now), COVID-19 shut down the world and took our wedding with it. We waited in limbo for months. I couldn’t bear the thought of planning a second wedding, only to have to cancel that one too, so we were waiting until we could be sure that our event could go on.

    Finally, in August, we decided it was time to plan the new wedding. No more waiting! We had every intention of getting married in 2020 and we weren’t going to let 2020 stop us.

    wedding planning - backyard wedding during COVID-19

    Our number one priority was simple: nobody would get sick from our wedding. We didn’t go into this with a “it will probably be fine” attitude. It’s clear now that none of our guests, or ourselves, had COVID-19 at our wedding, so maybe we could have “gotten away with” more. But that wasn’t our game to play. We designed our celebration to prevent any transmission that could occur, and while it definitely made for some compromises, I’m still very proud of this decision and glad that we and our guests were able to relax and mingle relatively safely and respectfully.

    wedding planning - backyard wedding during COVID-19

    The only indoor activity was the ceremony inside the church. Everyone was seated with their household pods and the pods were spaced out across the front half of the church. Our priest allowed David and me to remove our masks for the ceremony, which was much appreciated, especially for the pictures! We were close to the altar and secluded from the rest of the congregation so our lack of masks did not create much risk for others.

    The remainder of the day’s events were held outdoors. We were so fortunate to have good weather! It was very cloudy all day but it wasn’t cold and there was no rain. Plus, the overcast sky made for much better pictures than bright sun! For our posed photos with our families and the wedding party, everyone did remove their masks, so this was the one time of day when different households interacted without masks. But it was in short bursts and we were outdoors.

    DIY backyard wedding - samanthasews blog

    The rule for the reception was essentially “masks unless you’re eating”. Each couple had its own table, and the tables were spaced out across the backyard, so that everyone could eat and drink comfortably at their own table without worrying about a mask. I think everyone had a good time, too, because it was like a special date night. It’s always fun to mingle with other guests at your table at a big wedding, but I think our wedding was fun in its own way, with each couple in their own little bubble.

    When it came time to dance, we all donned our masks and danced our hearts out. Would it have been better without masks? Sure. But it was awesome anyway.

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    Guest List and Digital Celebrations

    The biggest compromise, and the hardest part of planning the new wedding, was the guest list. Our original guest list was close to 100 people, with many relatives and my dozens of cousins. But our new guest list had to be much, much smaller. We wanted to make sure everyone would be able to socially distance at each of the locations, especially during dinner, and we also focused on keeping guest travel to a minimum.

    Our final decision was a very, very small number of people: just our parents, my siblings, and our wedding party plus their dates. Sadly, two of David’s groomsmen were unable to attend because they would have been flying from California and Europe, which both felt like the other side of the globe in October 2020. So we ended up with 17 guests, plus the two of us, for a cozy 19-person total.

    Catholic wedding live streaming over facebook

    It was such a hard decision to make. It was sad to have our day of celebration without our extended families, and I was so disappointed to miss out on my aunts cooing over my dress! But it also meant we could get married now, instead of later, while keeping everyone safe. So we did three things to help include our extended families:

    1. We broadcast the wedding live over Facebook. We made a new Facebook account for this, and sent the link to our extended families. (make sure to make the account well in advance – we had to add some friends to our account before we could share video so Facebook would decide we weren’t spammers). We were extremely fortunate in that our church had been live streaming services throughout the pandemic, and the church’s videographer was available for our wedding. He was familiar with the church setup and network, and he already had mics set up with the priest and at the lecterns, so that was really seamless for us.
    2. I emailed everyone a program for the ceremony. We didn’t do printed programs, but I thought it would be nice for our families to be able to follow along from home. I listed the readings so that everyone had the option to read along in case the video stream was hard to hear. I also wrote our own personalized petitions, the “prayers of the faithful”, and shared those in the program as well.
    3. We hosted what I called a “virtual receiving line” the day after the wedding. On Sunday afternoon, we hosted 4 Zoom calls, all in a row, with all of our relatives: my mom’s side, my dad’s side, David’s mom’s side, David’s dad’s side. This was David’s idea, and it worked out so well. We were able to talk with our families in small groups, and tell them more about how the day and evening went. And yes, my aunts cooed over my wedding dress. 🙂 Even though none of them could be there in person, it was wonderful to get to see them all.

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    I’m hopeful that within a few months, my “Pandemic Wedding Tips” will be obsolete! We’re almost to the end. But this was a real challenge for us, and 2020 was a truly noteworthy time in history (besides the fact that Nobody Went Anywhere). We’ll always remember the weirdness that surrounded our wedding, and the unusual questions we’ll face in the future (“mama, why are you wearing a mask in your wedding dress?”), but it was all part of our day. And it was a glorious day.

  • Garment Sewing,  Sewing,  Wedding

    I Made My Wedding Dress, Part 4: The Big Reveal!

    handmade wedding dress sewn with lace fabric

    Ta da!

    Here she is: my finished wedding dress.

    handmade wedding dress sewn with lace fabric

    A labor of love, crafted over many, many months of work.

    handmade lace wedding dress

    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.

    handmade lace wedding dress Catholic wedding

    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.

    handmade lace wedding dress

    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.

    handmade wedding masks, lace wedding face mask

    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.

    handmade wedding dress sewn with lace fabric

    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.

    back of handmade wedding dress sewn with lace fabric, showing pearl buttons
    love how you can see the little buttons on my dress in this picture

    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.”

    twirling in a handmade lace wedding dress

    The dress was great for twirling…

    i made my wedding dress - handmade lace wedding dress

    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.

    handmade wedding masks, lace wedding face mask

    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.

  • 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!