It’s been a while since I started writing this series, so let’s review: in Part One, I did my research, and in Part Two, I picked out the pattern and fabric and made a mostly-ok mockup of the strapless bodice.
Chronologically, that takes us to spring 2020. In the face of world-wide uncertainty and increasingly tight restrictions, all of our wedding plans flew out the window. My fiancé and I were certain of one thing: we had no desire to indefinitely delay our marriage. On a Friday afternoon in early April, we made some calls and arranged to be married that Sunday, on the rural property of our dear friends.
While my fiancé, organized man that he is, had his wedding outfit already, I certainly didn’t have a spare white dress hanging about. It was clear at this point that this wasn’t going to be the wedding we planned: our families and friends wouldn’t be present; there would be no dinner; no one would lift us up in chairs and parade us around; but I wanted a long white dress! I had from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon to make it happen.
I started with the skirt because a circle skirt requires huge uninterrupted pieces of fabric. I measured the bottom of the bodice mockup and the height from my waist to the floor. I moved aside the furniture in my parents’ living room and laid out the $5/meter polyester crepe that I’d bought “to practice with.” I didn’t cut a paper pattern or anything; circle skirts are so easy that I just used a measuring tape and a ball-point pen to mark out the shape. A circle skirt is shaped like a large doughnut; your waist goes in the doughnut hole. It looked something like this flat:
I cut it out, sewed the side seams, didn’t bother finishing them, and then turned my attention to the bodice.
After cutting out the bodice in my main fabric, I took apart the patchwork mockup to re-use what I could. I didn’t have quite enough coutil for the back panels, so I fused together two layers of heavy interfacing and used that instead. Coutil and interfacing aren’t that comfortable against the skin, but I didn’t really have any fabric for lining the bodice. I turned to my bed, stripped off the pillowcase, and cut it apart for the lining. I’m not sure if I ever actually mentioned this to my mother (Hi, Mom!), though I’m certain she won’t mind!
Here’s what the bodice looks like flat, mid-assembly:
And this is it, attached to the skirt.
I didn’t consider that that my mockup, made of heavier fabric with more body, was better suited to the curved bodice seams. On this lighter fabric, even though there aren’t actually little wrinkles caught in the bust seams, the fabric buckled and creased instead of holding smooth. Live and learn, I guess!
The back has an interesting arrangement. There are an extra pair of little flaps that zip at the back, to hold the stiff underlayer tight against your body, and then the outer fabric closes with another zipper. I assembled the inner zipper backwards (it’s supposed to face out). I wasn’t too fussed about it; it just meant it was kind of tricky to zip.
The bigger problem, even more so than the wrinkles, was the fact that the whole thing was too big at the waist. This is a constant problem with things that I make; I’m always so worried that I’ll make things too small that I make them too big. Even with the addition of some early-pandemic weight-gain, the dress had a tendency to slowly wriggle down a few inches until the waist landed on my upper hip. Had things gone according to plan–I mean, our initial plan to get married in June–this would have just been the mockup and I would have fixed it, but there was definitely no time. I was a bit disappointed. The point of wanting to my make my own dress was to get exactly the style and fit that I wanted. At the same time, though, when planning a wedding with less than 3 days’ notice those things start to evaporate in the face of, “I need to wear something!”
And, crucially, I had something! At this point, less than 24 hours before the wedding, I had a strapless dress.
Despite still needing the lace overlay and a veil, I also needed to do things like “eat” and “sleep.” The lace overlay from the pattern was not going to happen; my muslin had been unwearable and I didn’t have the time to re-work it. I looked into my closet and grabbed this dress.
I looked at the cream colour of the lace bodice and the cream colour of my dress and went, “Sure, close enough.” That bodice, by the way, is made out of a tablecloth from a thrift store, and has dots of white fabric paint on it covering up stains from when I mistakenly marked the pattern pieces with an orange highlighter. It was also completed minutes before I needed to wear it, so I guess we’re establishing a bit of a stressful tradition, here! I cut off the green skirt and bodice lining, opened the back seam, and cut wide strips of my remaining crepe to bind the bottom and back. I decided to do this by hand. Why? I cannot tell you. Why did I not just…attach the skirt to the already-made bodice of that dress and add a sash or something, instead of spending all that time constructing a new bodice? Honestly, it probably would have looked better, because I would have been able to pull the waist in.
However, when you sew a wedding dress on short notice, there is no time for reflecting or doing things over. On Sunday morning, while I was still attaching the binding, I hopped on a stool and had my mom trim the skirt while I worked on attaching the binding to the lace.
I’ve subtly and expertly edited it out out of this photo, but in the original you can fully see my underwear through the skirt. The fabric was translucent. ARGH! I only had a meter of fabric left, but my mom to sewed it into a tube and tacked it into the waistline of the dress as a lining.
The last thing was the veil. My mom took one of the Ikea lace curtains from my first apartment and cut out an oval. This was rolled up and stuffed in the trunk of the car.
The skirt was unhemmed and there were no fastenings on the lace jacket, so my mom safety-pinned it shut. Time was up; it was Sunday afternoon and we had a wedding to get to!
Folks, that there is a wedding dress. It’s not quite what I had planned, but it has a delightfully swishy circle skirt, with lace on top. Really, I’m very proud that I was able to cobble together a wedding outfit in three days out of practice fabric, an old dress, a pillowcase, a curtain, and a mocked-up bodice.
Now, below is probably the least flattering photo I have, but this is a sewing blog, so let me give you an unvarnished look at the deficiencies of this outfit.
Because I had made both pieces a bit big and the lace jacket a bit short, the dress wriggled down to my upper hip, and the lace jacket rode up and sometimes skewed sideways. Because neither element sits snugly at my natural waist, they make me look wider than I am in reality.
But here is a different type of unvarnished photo, which our witness very kindly took on his cellphone.
You can’t really see the fit mistakes in my wedding dress. Instead, you can see how lucky we were to have beautiful weather. You can see the chuppah lovingly made from dowels stuck in buckets from the hardware store, cup hooks, and my dad’s extra tallit. You can’t see it, but just off to the left, our rabbi thoughtfully set up a video camera to tape the wedding, so that we could send it to our families afterwards. The dress’ deficiencies are, ultimately, not that important. I was marrying someone whom I love very much; what’s a dress that’s a few inches too wide, next to that?
Getting married in a pandemic gave me a sense of kinship with the women before me who married during times of crisis on little notice; who found ways to make their weddings feel special despite not having all of the formal trappings. The Seven Blessings that are sung at weddings and in the week following make no mention of hors d’oeuvres, professional photographers, and long white dresses. Instead, they speak of joy and gladness, mirth, song, delight and rejoicing, love and harmony, and peace and companionship. I can say with certainty that those were at my wedding.