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The Home-Made Bride

8 Aug

In March this year I got engaged! It was very exciting, dizzying and yes, busy. As an avid list enthusiast, I was ready to take on the wedding prep and roll up my sleeves. We decided to get married in July – this year – which gave around four months to plan the whole thing.

And, because I like a challenge, I decided to make my own wedding dress. I will say this: it seemed like a good idea at the time. And now that it’s done, it was a good idea. But the week before the wedding, I did not think that way.

I want to use this post to show what I was doing for the period between March and July 2013 instead of meeting up with friends, enjoying evenings, relaxing at weekends, and creating more items for my Etsy store.

So, here it is. Here is how I became The Home-Made Bride.

YOU’RE DOING WHAT??!

This is how my conversations started in March: “I got engaged!”

Everyone wanted to see the ring, which I didn’t have because it was being resized – it was my great-grandmother’s engagement ring. When I couldn’t show them the ring, they asked when the wedding was.

“July”, I said to blank faces. Then they thought it must be July 2014, or 15, or 35.

“No, this July”

What they said as a response shouldn’t really be repeated here. Then I broke the news: “And, I’m making my own dress”

This was too much for people.

I’ve been sewing properly since February 2012. I enrolled in an industrial sewing and garment production course at the Canberra Institute of Technology with a friend, and we learnt industrial methods for making clothes. I left CIT after one semester to focus on domestic sewing techniques with my fabulous sewing mentor – the Needlewitch, aka Bernadette. So, although I did have some quite developed sewing skills, there wasn’t a lot of experience floating around in my head. But, Bernadette believed in me and said she would help me out.

I had purchased Vogue Pattern v1084 last year, and when thinking of a wedding dress, all I could think of was this dress. I just knew it would be my wedding dress.

Here’s how the dress started out: Just a fabric swatch and a list of materials. I ordered them from EM Greenfield, Surry Hills.

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Just a swatch and a list

I decided on off-white silk dupion, with off-white silk/satin lining and a navy blue petticoat made of polyester organza on silk/cotton.

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THE FIRST TOILE

I made the first toile out of cream poplin. The first two steps were horrendous! These were the first tears of many for this project. But, I did what many do when confronted with a crisis – I got my mum. We just stood and looked at the pattern instructions until we figured it out. The problem was that it’s a kimono sleeve with a side front panel – three sides to join, one a right angle. Difficult. Now I’m a pro at them, but at that time it was a nightmare join to make.

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Paper panel pieces

The major problem was the underarm reinforcement. I had to just keep sewing that same part over and over again to get it right. I’m not sure that it really did that much to the actual dress, but I’m glad I did it anyway.

The underarm reinforcement

The underarm reinforcement

Once the first two steps were out of the way, the rest was surprisingly simple. I drew all over the toile to help with fitting. Bernadette had offered me some fittings with her as an engagement present – the most valuable present in the whole world.

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Toile markings

The toile sort of fitted – a miracle for me because of my narrow shoulders and waist – but I hated the neckline on me. Bernadette fixed that by making the neck into a boat neck – much more flattering on me – and doing some adjustments to the waist. So far, I had a weird, cream, see-through poplin dress with writing all over it. Not very weddingy.

THE SECOND TOILE

I made the adjustments, but ran out of cream poplin and could only get yellow. So I had a two-toned, weird, see-through poplin dress with writing all over it. Less and less weddingy all the time.

I kept working on the dress, doing and re-doing tricky seams and joins and learning different techniques ahead of the actual dress. I was itching to get into the real material, but also terrified. But, just because something is terrifying doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

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Crumpled up two-toned second toile

The next fitting went well. The dress fitted perfectly. I was ready to start making the real dress. I didn’t feel ready, but it was time.

THE DRESS

The material had to be laundered and pressed, and pressed, and pressed. I had 9m of silk dupion, 6.5 of silk satin and I won’t even get into the organza yet. I starched the silk satin with Crisp (not enough Crisp, as it turned out) to stop it moving around during cutting, but it had no effect so I ended up with lumpy lining pieces. More tears.

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Here is me cutting ever-so-carefully.

The silk went better. It was like cutting paper. It was so gorgeous and luxurious and wonderful to work with. But it frayed! Just looking at it frayed it. But it all got cut out, and I started sewing. I did more and more each day and tried to just keep ploughing through it.

Soon, I started to have things that looked a bit weddingy all over the place.

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The right front panel, with HK finish on side front edge

I bound some of the edges for a Hong Kong finish on the side front panels with bridal ivory binding from Addicted to Fabric in Phillip, ACT. Fabulous shop. For the long seams, I did a French seam – my favourite seam. The pure silk thread I used for the dress was from Canberra Sewing, also in Phillip – the shop my domestic classes were held in. Buy local where possible!

It’s not a very glamorous way to see a wedding dress, but this is the reality of making clothing.

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Not very glamorous

I ran into a fairly major problem with the lining. Bernadette had suggested I do a flat lining, meaning that I cut the pattern pieces out on silk and then again on silk satin, tack the two together and make as one garment, rather than inserting a lining into the already made dress. The problem was that the silk satin had moved during cutting and after and so didn’t fit the outer pieces. Many, many tears. I had made a big error by hanging the pieces before they were all bound and sewn together, which stretched them as the skirt panels were cut on the bias. I think I gained about 10cm in length, which robbed the side edges because of the stretching.

At this point I didn’t know if I was even going to be able to keep going with it. I really didn’t know what to do. It was a real low point in the whole project. I had wasted all that time, all that money, and all that lovely fabric. But, Bernadette answered my ‘Dress SOS’ email with a calm ‘Come and see me, we’ll figure it out’.

We ended up having to use a quilt basting glue spray to spray the materials together on the skirt, and then cut about an inch off the sides of the skirt panels. It was such a wide skirt that it didn’t matter, and maybe even improved it on my small frame. It was a very tense few days though.

It was successful, but meant washing the dress a few times to get the glue out.

It all came together, and soon I was able to put the dress on, and yes, it did look a bit weddingy. Not all that much, but better than the toiles by a long way!

FINISHING

The last few stages were fairly painstaking – hemming, binding the neck, and doing the zip.

Hemming

Hemming part 1

Part of me is still glad I don’t have to hem and handstitch it ever again.

Hours and hours at the ironing board, hand sewing the hem up

Hours and hours at the ironing board, hand sewing the hem up

ARE WE THERE YET?

So, it’s mid-July, and around a week before the wedding. Most of the dress is in hand, and it’s time to think about other things like finishing touches. These ‘touches’ include finishing the petticoat, which I had been working on for many weeks. Every evening after work, I would sit and seam bind organza ruffles – I used 28m of seam binding. I thought it would go on forever, and I think I did slip into a ‘ruffle-coma’ at one point.

Here is a bit of a montage:

Seam binding on the ruffle edge

Seam binding on the ruffle edge

Just keep sewing

Just keep sewing

The first layer of ruffles

The first layer of ruffles

THE FINISHED PRODUCT

After all the hours, weeks, months, and all the tears, failures and successes, I finally made it. My mum sewed the button at the back neckline just before Thursday 18 July turned into Friday 19 July – the wedding was Saturday 20 July.

What I had dreaded for four months was that I would look like ‘the home-made bride’, stumbling around in a lumpy, ill-fitting mess. What I ended up with was a beautiful dress that fit me perfectly, was flattering to my body shape and made me feel great. I also had a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I learnt a lot about sewing, discipline, deadlines, techniques, and more importantly, some life lessons. One thing I will remember forever is what I learnt about the importance of setting challenges for yourself, and also the difference between failure and success. I learnt that for a lot of the way through any process, it feels like failure for 99% of the time. It’s that 1% at the end, when you realise it’s worked, that you can look back and see the path you took and feel good about it. But most of the time you’re doing something, it feels like you’re just ambling about without much chance of getting anywhere.

And, I’m proud to say, my biggest fear came true. I was the ‘home-made bride’, but instead of it being embarrassing, it was liberating and wonderful! I’m proud to be ‘The Home-Made Bride’.

If you want to be a home-made bride too, I say: do it! You’ll be hard-pressed to find something more rewarding to work on. But, if you are going to do something like make your own wedding dress, remember your family and friends are there to support you and encourage you. And, trust your instinct that when you have a weird yellow and cream see-through toile with writing all over it, you can end up with something completely weddingy!

The Home-Made Bride and the Groom

The Home-Made Bride and the Groom

Bride and Groom and Groom's parents

Bride and Groom and Groom’s parents

With the coat that I made for the wedding - it was freezing

With the coat that I made for the wedding – it was freezing

Windy, cold day!

Windy, cold day!

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