After mentioning in my One Lovely Blog nomination that I had made my wedding dress and 4 bridesmaid’s dresses, I thought it only fair that I (finally) blog about this undertaking.
The idea that I would make my own wedding dress had been brewing for a very long time. It also didn’t help that my ‘fairy godmother’, who had made her wedding dress back in the ’80’s, told me earnestly that “a sewist MUST make her own wedding dress – it’s the greatest challenge of all.” Not one to give up on such a challenge, I stored that dare for the right time. And sure enough that time arrived when in 2010 my (now) husband and I got engaged and we set a wedding date for March 2011. Having given myself a good 10 months, I figured that I had enough time to decide whether making my dress was in fact feasible and, if not, coming up with a plan B.
I did do the obligatory traipsing off to dress designers to try on incredible gowns and learned very quickly that
A. the type of dress that I wanted was pretty simple and probably something I could try my hand at
B. the cost of having a dress made was ludicrous
C. the off-the-shelf dresses that I tried just didn’t do it for me.
And so I set about designing and mocking up The Big Dress.I tried some ideas out on paper (I am NO artist so excuse the sketch) and realised that a basic boned panel dress was the starting point with the interesting bits overlaid on top. I found a pattern for a typical strapless cocktail dress (wish I could remember what pattern it was!) and then adapted it to make it long, with a train and to fit me like a glove. At the time of all this I was taking sewing classes and my dear teacher was very patient and encouring in coaxing me through these initial stages.
The first version was done in blue (cheap!) cotton as the first toile and pattern. Once I was happy with the fit, I took the whole thing apart and used this as the pattern for the real thing. I made a number of neckline adjustments and had always thought I would have straps…those disappeared the night before the wedding! In the back of this picture you can also see the little ol’ Elna that I made most of the dress(es) with! She was a trooper. My dahling husband did organise an early wedding present of a brand new Elna sewing machine so the final touches were done on the new one.
Version 2 (which I unfortunately don’t have a picture of) was in a green satin with a brown overlay (just for fun) to get an idea of how the fabrics worked together and iron out any problems with the fit and construction. I’m glad I went to the trouble of taking this step because there were indeed some issues. The fabric pulled horribly around the boning and it just looked unprofessional. I was getting dispondent at this point and went to try on more store-made dresses. But after consulting with a family friend dressmaker – so grateful for the generosity of so many sewers – I got better interfacing, tried 3 different boning methods and finally came up with something I could move forward with. I then made a version 3 which was just the bodice to check the boning and rouching.
Finally it was time for the real deal. The main part of the dress was made with duchess satin and was fully lined and boned. The overlay is a very stretchy mesh that has a beautiful drape to it. It took me a long time and trips to MANY fabric stores to find the right colour and texture that I wanted. In order to get the rouching right, I pinned and tacked it in place when the dress was on the dress-maker’s doll. Since this couldn’t be done at home for fear of then fiance seeing the Big Dress, I enlisted the help of a friend (and fellow sewist) to set up in their dining room for a while!
The finishing touches were to add the lace embellishments to the top and other parts of the dress – all sewn on by hand.
The bridesmaids dresses were easier in some regards (I was using a pattern I knew and liked) but more difficult in other regards (I was making dresses for other people – none of whom were living in my city at the time!). Our wedding was a colourful affair so the bridesmaid’s dresses had to have colour. I decided to go with two different shades of brown/nutmeg with our four bright colours in each of the dresses.
These dresses were also my first experience of making piping which was easier than I had anticipated. Tacking the tulle for the petticoats was a huge undertaking and I enlisted the help of my very dedicated mother-in-law who painstakingly hand sewed two lines of stitching on all the strips of tulle! Three of the dresses turned out pretty well but the one I just couldn’t get the fit right and by the time all the girls were in town I had very little time. So again I called for help and a super seamstress granny of a friend stepped up to the plate and did a stellar job in tweaking the fit.
All in all the epic wedding sew-a-thon was quite a success. It was not without it’s drama…
…getting sewn into my dress to hide the back of the strapless bra!… but the overall effect was great and it was a fabulous fun day to be remembered by all. Not to be outdone by all the sewing happening in my bedroom, my mother, a self-proclaimed NON-sewer of note, hand made about 200m of bunting in our wedding colours. It was incredible and so festive!