Sewing my wedding dress

There is a superstition (which I am convinced was invented by the wedding dress manufacturers) that it is bad luck to make your wedding dress.

Marriage-wise, my own observation would indicate that it is extremely good luck to make your own dress- all the women I know who did have had long and happy marriages.

The beginning of a long, happy marriage (I hope!)

Perhaps the bad luck is in the making of the dress itself?

I could see that.  Making my dress was an unhappy and traumatic experience, and both my mother and mother-in-law suffered unfortunate incidences related to the making of their dresses (one of which involved brand new sewing shears, tripping over the toile, lots and lots of blood, a trip to the emergency room, and a permanent scar).

Still, if that is the price you pay for a successful marriage, bring on the wedding dress making horror stories!

My dress was a case of anything that could go wrong, did.  Part of the problem was that in between bouts of dress making, I wrote a thesis, graduated from university, moved from California to NYC, did an internship, moved from NYC to Hawaii via California and New Zealand, planned a wedding, did the immigration application to move to NZ, packed for an international move, and had a major health scare.

Oh, and I went from working in a professional costume shop with access to every machine and mannequin imaginable, to working in a tiny cramped, dark, damp room in Hawaii with only 1 (very average) sewing machine, and no dressforms.  And I was no longer surrounded by amazing professional costumers to give advice and help with fittings.

And then there was the ‘wettest autumn in recent memory’ problem in Hawaii, which meant that washed fabrics didn’t dry for days, I couldn’t use an iron as there wasn’t enough solar power, and fabrics mildewed given half a chance.

Not fun.

But somehow, with a lot of help from my Mum and sisters, and a lot of all round general patience, and the occasional willingness to re-cut new pieces of the dress when the original pieces got mildew stains, I persevered.

Goldie helps me hem the dress - she is working on one of two lining layers (which I neglected to iron).

Am I doing this right?

Part of the problem was me.  I can be a terrible perfectionist, and every bit of work that went into the dress was exquisite.  Every piece had to look as good on the inside as the outside, ever hem was hand stitched with nearly invisible stitches, and anything that wasn’t immaculately precise had to be done again, and again, and again, and then some.

The light shining through the dress shows how perfect the seam finish was.

The bodice was the part that gave me the most trouble.  The original pattern wasn’t flattering, and all the alternatives I came up with were very tricky.  I ended up cutting and sewing half a dozen different versions, before ending up with one that was acceptable, but which I never loved.

The original bodice - you can see how it is fitting funny around the neckline

Bulgy, bulgy, icky.

The final (well, wedding day) bodice.

You can see how it never quite fit right around the arms

Luckily, I had got a very good deal on the fabric, so I bought ridiculously much more than I thought I would use.  Thanks to the re-cutting, I used it all.

In the end, I had a dress which was wonderful to wear on the day (so light and cool and practical), and which I regretted, in a wistful “I missed my chance to wear something ridiculous” way, when I first saw the wedding pictures. Luckily I am growing to love the timeless and understated aesthetic of the dress more and more as the years pass.

Light and cool and practical, and goes perfectly with bare feet.

And it moved wonderfully in the breeze.

And it was so fun to dance and spin in!

It looked lovely, but simple, from both the front and back.

Would I do it again if I had the chance?  I would, and I wouldn’t.  With what I know now (life wisdom, not sewing skills), I would make a dress that was easy to sew, but had much more visual impact.  The dress I made was ridiculously difficult, but the result was deceptively simple – a masterpiece that tricked the viewer into thinking they could throw the same thing together with just a few hours work.

Look at how beautifully it flowed and clung in back!

I've never figured out why I love this image so much, but I do.

I even like that the dress fabric creased and crumpled when I sat on it

It made me look so slim! And did nice things for my bottom. My bouquet was made of pink ti leaves

17 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Atlanta says:

    I think it’s lovely! I love to see unique dresses (don’t you get sick of seeing the same run-of-the-mill strapless numbers for the last 10 years? lol)

    Bad luck or not – if there is a wedding in my future – I will definatley be making my own dress. :^)

  2. Steph says:

    Oooh! Good to the last drop, what a great post. In the picture where you talk about the funny shaped armhole, I hadn’t noticed it. When I saw the picture, I noticed the radiantly happy look on Mr. Dreamy’s face. The armhole never entered my attention.

    You make me want to write about my own wedding dress saga. I really, really want to pull the thing apart and put it back together beautifully instead of half beautiful and half slapdash…

  3. MrsC says:

    I love my wedding dress so much! It has silk in it I bought nearly 30 years ago and have coveted ever since. I love its shape, its complexity and simplicity, I think I looked amazing in it, not bad for a 400+ pound, 5′ 11″ bride! The journey was not too bad either, given it was probably the 300th wedding dress I ever made. It allowed me to indulge every dream I had had of a dress devoid of white or cream, or lace, that satisfied the inner (Oh all right then, outer ) Diva, and was warm enough for a Canterbury spring and comfortable enough for a very long day. I had a terrible crisis early on about never being able to get a design that would look good – I coudn’t even find shoes for the day, and an uncharacteristic hour or so of self loathing and wishing I was skinny. I got over it :)
    My ironic sadness now is that it is so much too big for me, when I put it on it practically slides to the floor. Somewhere in its future is remaking into a frock coat so I can wear it more often, or at all. Even if it still fitted it, there really is no occasion I could wear it to. :)

    • Mrs C, I’m sure we could find (i.e. make) occasions for you to wear your wedding dress too! Though I do want to see the frock coat that it is hiding!

      • MrsC says:

        Yes but my dear, it hangs on me like a big sack and it’s un-takeinable. If I am going to remake it I’d rather make the fab frock coat I have in my head so I can wear it ALL the time! :) It will be worthy of the next Dr Who! :)

  4. You may have a point about women who made their own wedding dresses having long, happy marriages. My friend Lois did that, and she and Mike are still very happily married, more than 20 years later–despite having had to deal with illnesses (for both of them) and unemployment and God knows what else.

    On the other hand, I don’t know of any horror stories associated with the sewing of her dress. :-)

    • I wonder if it is because the women who decide to make their own dress are (usually) practical minded, and more focused on the marriage than the wedding!

      Ask Lois about her experience – she might have some suppressed horrors she usually doesn’t tell people ;-)

  5. Isis says:

    It’s a truly lovely gown and you looked wonderful!

    I had a horror making my wedding dress, the biggest being falling down a stair and spraning my ankle so badly I almost ended up going to the altar with crutches. As it was I had to replace my sky high stilettos with baletto flats. In a fifties mid-ankle gown, ballet flats isn’t flattering. At all.

    Unfortunately my marriage ended disastrously, so having a bad weddinggown sewing isn’t foolproof.

    I have had used for the flats, though- they are perfect for Regency. :)

  6. hanni says:

    beautiful design love the wedding pics yall look good……:-)

  7. Shell says:

    If I’d had (lots) more time (and fewer talented friends) you bet your butt I’d have made my own dress…but I was thrilled with the result (and to have worked on bits of it, however small) anyway. I just wish I had it with me! I’d totally make up excuses to wear it – or just go to the movies in it or something.

    I think your dress was just right for you, though. Congrats on your anniversary. :)

  8. Sewing Sveta says:

    You were not only brave to make mousse for 80 persons, you also made nice dress in such situations! Very romantic wedding!

  9. Hearthrose says:

    You are exquisite! And your dress suits you, it suits Mr. Dreamy and what was clearly a Dream wedding. Such beautiful pictures. /sigh Your faces – ah, love should so shine from everyone!

    Happy 7th anniversary!

    I didn’t make my dress, but I did have it made of silk brocade brought back from China when I was a wee girl. It’s fitted and I love some of it and wish I could go back and change other bits of it. Isn’t that the way of things?

    • Oh, thank you! What sweet compliments!

      Your dress sounds beautiful, and how lovely that you owned the fabric for so long! I go through wishing I could go back and change bits, and loving it.

  10. Melanie says:

    How lovely! It’s my 7th anniversary (yesterday) too. And though I didn’t make my own dress, it was kinda similar to yours (only with a side drape and boning to underpin it all, a bit more late 1930s-ish).

    I hadn’t even thought to shop for vintage back then, nor could I sew, so I did the best I could with my budget. I spent more on a vintage garnet necklace to wear with it, cause jewellery is an heirloom that you can wear again.
    The dress sits in a box, and I love it but can’t ever wear it in public again.

    In the early 50s my mother’s dress was recylced – she chopped it off to tea length and dyed it blue and continued to wear it. I don’t think I could bring myself to do that.

    I’m sure that the care and commitment you brought to your wedding preparation is what will keep your marriage together.

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Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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