Right after finishing my test-version, I broke out one of my precious printed knits and whipped up another nursing top! I took these photos shortly before baby arrived, which is why I look 40-and-a-half weeks pregnant.
Anyway, to recap, there are two front pieces. The over-piece is my swing dress, shortened to 21 inches (plus hem allowance) from neck to centre-front, and with a swooping curve cut from the hem to the armscye.
The under-piece is just a matching trapezoid which runs from 1 inch below the armscye to the hem. Because I had only 1.5 m of fabric, I had to cut it with a seam in the centre. The top edge is folded under the make an elastic casing.
Laid together, they look like this:
The back piece is shortened to match the front, and the sleeve pattern piece is unchanged.
I pressed the hem of the over-piece before assembling the shirt.
After that, it was basic t-shirt construction, making sure to catch all of the correct layers in the side seams.
For the hems, I did two rows of straight stitching. In retrospect, I wish I’d just used my twin needle instead, because sewing two rows of straight stitches made the fabric flare out just the tiniest bit.
I didn’t have enough fabric to make a matching neckband, so I used a strip of thin cotton/spandex, sewed it on RS together, flipped it under, and top-stitched. It looked terrible and was so constricting that I could barely get the shirt on. I cut it off, pressed down the neckline, and sewed it in place with a twin needle. It worked perfectly.
I’m so pleased with how the shirt came out! It’s incredibly comfortable. The fabric is delightfully soft while still being robust. It was a completely different experience to use a nice quality cotton/spandex compared to a cheap rayon knit! It was so easy to work with–everything from tracing, to cutting, to pinning, to pressing was easier to do.
Materials: 1.5 m peony-printed cotton/spandex from Art Gallery Fabrics, bought on Fabric.com, elastic left over from making sheets. I had the merest handful of oddly-shaped scraps left, so 1.5 m is exactly the right amount for this shirt.
Pattern: Derived from the pattern for this dress, which was traced off of an Old Navy swing dress.
Cost: $30 CAD; the cost of the fabric
In Conclusion: I’m delighted with how this turned out! I’ve been too nervous to cut into this fabric for ages and I’m so pleased to have made something that’s useful and pretty.
I suppose, if we’re being honest, that a project titled “Salmon Tiramisu” was doomed from the start, delightfully swooshy skirt aside.
Despite really liking the idea of the Tiramisu dress pattern, I’ve not had great luck with it. In about 2014, I tried to make it three times and was nearly driven to tears because I could NOT get the bodice to fit. The underbust seam refused to sit flush against my rib cage–something that, in looking around the internet, is a common issue with this pattern. I eventually lengthened the bodice and made a version that worked a little better. The fit wasn’t perfect because I didn’t know how do the alteration properly, but ultimately, that version was fine and I wore it until it sprouted holes.
I had a similar salmon-y pink-coloured cut of rayon/spandex jersey in my stash. I started making it in the winter and had it done-except-for-the-hems in the spring; I was still in my first trimester of pregnancy, so my body hadn’t changed much, but the fit wasn’t great and I really wasn’t enjoying using the fabric.
I need to finally admit to myself that I loathe sewing with rayon knits. I always think they’re delightfully cool and drapey and instead they’re a frustrating combination of heavy, slinky, and difficult to manipulate. They are such a pain to sew and not even that great to wear, because they cling to every underwear line and aren’t as breathable as cotton.
So…I left the dress crumpled in a bag for about six months, then took it out and hemmed it. Sometimes when I do that, my frustration with a project goes away. Not this time!
I’m really not satisfied with how this came out. The underbust gathers are just substantial enough to look wrinkly, but not substantial enough to look deliberate. There are drag lines pointing towards the shoulder, as if the bodice is too short, despite my torso being shorter than average. And once again, that underbust sits too high despite being the right size. Harrumph.
I’m keeping it for now, with a plan to eventually slice off the bodice, turn the midriff piece into an folded waistband, and just using it as a skirt.
In Summary: Materials: 2 m rayon/spandex bought at Fabricland, matching thread from my stash. I own a lot of rayon and rayon/spandex knits because past-me was swayed by the price.
Pattern: Tiramisu Dress, which I already owned.
Cost: $10 CAD, on the fabric. See what I mean? It was $5/meter! Hard to resist, when the (much nicer) fabric for this dress was four times the price. Of course, I wore that dress twice a week and more at the end of pregnancy, because it was so delightfully comfortable.
In conclusion: Well, this was disappointing! Now that I’ve had five tries at the Tiramisu pattern (two that were never finished, the mostly-ok pink one, a black one that I have no pictures of, and this one) and not had ONE SINGLE out-and-out success, I think it’s time to call it. If I can draft a better bodice, I will; I like the idea of the dress! Just not the fit.
Hot off the success of my swing dress, I decided to use one of my favourite stashed fabrics to alter the pattern into a nursing top…then I chickened out and used one of my least favourite stashed fabrics as a test version. Hah! So this is the test version. Also, when I took these photos, I was 40 weeks and 3 days pregnant, so the the shirt rides up a lot at the front.
To make the swing dress into a nursing top, I first traced the front of the dress, and shortened it. Then, I drew a curved line from the hem to just below the armscye. That’s what I’m calling the “over-piece.” The “under-piece” is the same pattern piece, mirrored, and cut straight across from about 1 cm below the armscye. I also trimmed the back piece to make it shorter. There was no need to alter the sleeve pieces.
To assemble it, I made an elastic casing across the top of the under-piece. The elastic is under very slight tension, just so that the under-piece doesn’t get droopy.
And there we are! I can lift either side up to nurse, though I think I’ll cut the under-piece straight across the hem, instead of having it mirror the over-piece for the next version. The loose fit means that it’ll work well in the post-partum period when I’m still wearing maternity pants, but it’ll also just look like a long top later on.
Materials: 2 m of green rayon knit (with plenty leftover), bought at Fabricland for $12. I don’t think it has spandex in it, which means that it’ll tend to droop and bag out over the day. I have feelings about rayon knits these days (in short, they drive me nuts) but it was good to have something around for testing out this idea. I bought SO MUCH of this specific fabric in, like, 2012. I had about 3 m in green, 2.5 meters or so in teal (used in a Tiramisu dress that never saw the light of day), 1.5 m in lavender (used in a long-gone diy graphic tee), and I think I had some black, too. Elastic leftover from making sheets.
Pattern: Altered from this project, which I traced from an old dress.
Cost: $12 CAD.
In Conclusion: Well, I don’t like it, exactly, but it’s fine as a test garment. I don’t imagine I’ll wear it much, because this knit is so thin and clingy that…how do I put this delicately? When worn with just a nursing tank-top and nursing pads, everything looks a bit, um, lumpy. But I’m super pleased with the pattern itself! It’ll be great in a different fabric. Baby has since arrived, and I can confirm that having an underlay totally works for nursing.
So, apparently, receiving blankets are incredibly useful and something we’ll use a lot. A-online-fabric-shopping I went, buying three one-yard cuts of cotton gauze. I trimmed each one into a square and hemmed it. I did not bother with mitered corners. Somehow, I think the baby will forgive me!
Cute, no? First up, white single cotton gauze with whales, from Cloud 9.
This is light, soft, and floaty. I imagine it’ll be wonderful for warm nights.
Second, navy cotton double gauze with white anchors from Shannon Embrace.
This one, though charming, is of terrible quality. It’s coarse and stiff; when I first touched it I was sure it had been heavily starched during the manufacturing process and would soften with washing. I’ve run it through a hot wash and dryer at least five times (I just toss it in with other laundry) in an effort to get it to soften up, but it’s still rough and unpleasant.
Lastly, a floral cotton double gauze from Kokka.
Now this one is a delight. It’s incredibly soft and light, but has enough body to be opaque and offer some warmth. See how different the underside is? It’s tightly woven with finer threads.
This was my first experience of buying fabric online that I could have, theoretically, bought in person. Generally, if I’m buying fabric online it’s because I want a very specific thing that I can’t find in a local store–this fabric in this colourway from this manufacturer–and I’m usually familiar with the quality, or at least have looked at a lot of reviews. For these blankets, though, it was more a case of wanting the convenience of shopping online. I’m not sure it was worth it; I would never have bought the Shannon Embrace fabric if I’d been able to touch it first. I would also have been able to request exactly the length I wanted instead of needing to order by the half-yard. Regardless, we now have two very nice homemade receiving blankets, one mediocre homemade receiving blanket, one that we purchased, and three flannel ones that we got as gifts. The baby stuff just seems to multiply!
Materials: 3 yards of cotton gauze bought at Riverside Textiles
Cost: $49.70 CAD, which averages to $16.50 per blanket. For comparison, the gauze blankets I saw in stores ranged from were $15.00-75.00. The Kokka gauze as good or better than the most expensive blankets; the Shannon Embrace was worse than the cheapest ones. I would say that in terms of value-for-money, the Kokka gauze was the best. It was $19.90 a yard, and the quality was comparable to a $70.00 store-bought blanket.
In conclusion: Overall, I feel rather neutral towards these blankets! They’re cute enough, and I do like the flowered one. I guess I feel like I do when I open the freezer and see the enormous amount of food that I’ve cooked and stashed there. I’m glad we have it, but I’m not particularly emotionally tied to it.
Since my approach to home decor is pretty much, “Hm, where can we put all this stuff that we already own?” I didn’t really take the baby’s room in any thematic direction. I briefly considered it (outer space! nautical! garden!) but…I was tired. Making things Pinterest-worthy is a lot of work compared to, say, using the blue rug that I chose at Ikea when I was ten, the orange armchair handed down from my aunt’s friend’s mom, and the worn-out wooden side table that I bought at a thrift store thinking that I would buy an orbital sander and get really into refinishing wood furniture. Ahem. Anyway, the theme of the baby’s room is “It’s a baby! This is where we keep her stuff.”
I did, however, make time to have fun with the baby’s bedding. I went (probably) overboard and made four crib sheets and two bassinette sheets.
The crib sheets were pretty straightforward–I just followed these two sets of instructions–but I ran into some minor headaches along the way.
The middle two sheets are from fabric I owned; the second from the left is blue-and-silver double gauze, and the green is a delightful unicorn print. Since they were 1.5 meter cuts and I needed 1.6 meters, I had to sew strips of white cotton from an old sheet on either end. No matter; the white stripes are hidden when the sheet is on the mattress.
I used the dimensions of our mattress to figure out a pattern. When I made the first sheet, I was about ready to throw a tantrum because it would not lie neatly on the mattress. I sulked. I pouted. I then realized that I’d just measured incorrectly, and the sheet was too wide. An easy fix; I just re-cut it smaller.
But then I couldn’t find my elastic and my serger was broken. So…there were several weeks of delay while both of those were rectified. I guess I could have used French seams and double-folded a casing for the elastic, but that seemed like too much work.
And…something was wildly off-grain with the unicorn print. I have never seen a length of quilting cotton so stubbornly inclined to be a parallelogram. Even after I lost a lot of length trueing the edges, it still lay really skewed. I’m glad I used it for a sheet rather than trying to make pyjamas or something more complicated. Really, I was quite miffed that a fancy “designer” quilting cotton was so poorly made.
Regardless, the actual sewing of the sheets was straightforward. I serged the corners, pressed them, then serged my skinny 3 mm elastic directly the edge of the fabric.
The bassinette sheets have an envelope-style back. I squeezed the pink floral one out the remnant of an old sheet from this project, and cut a second one from my old twin-sized sheet. I just traced around the existing sheet to get the “pattern,” using a plain ball-point pen. They’re bassinette sheets for a baby; I did not feel the need to be overly precious!
The floral sheet had a little worn-out spot, so I cut a tiny little patch and hand-sewed it on. It’s right on the edge of the underside, so I’m not fussed about it.
I serged the edges of the “envelope,” then serged the back pieces to the front, overlapping to make the envelope-back. Super easy!
Materials: 1.5 m of blue and silver Nani Iro Pocho cotton double-gauze ($25 from Miss Matatabi), 1.5 m of Heather Ross unicorn print, ($35 from some shop on Etsy), 1.6 m of grey-and-white printed Moda cotton ($26 from Leo’s Textiles), 1.6 m of space-print cotton ($26 from Leo’s Textiles), remnants of a sheet from this project, one old Ikea sheet, and 20 m of elastic for 10$ from Riverside Textiles, with half leftover.
Patterns: I used the measurements of our mattress to figure out the pattern.
Total cost: $122 for six sheets, for an average of $20.33 per sheet. For comparison, the cheapest 100% woven cotton crib sheets I saw were at Ikea, at $7.50 for a plain white sheet. At other stores, prices range from $15.00 to $60.00 per sheet.
Conclusion: I definitely made too many sheets, but overall, I’m satisfied with the outcome. Unlike a lot of baby items, sheets are used for years at a time, and should last through any subsequent children. In retrospect, I wish I’d picked more bright fabrics–my husband picked the pace print and it’s one of my favourites! The walls are painted grey and baby’s room is north-east facing; the pale blue and grey sheets look very blah in the weak light. No big deal, though! They’re still useful, and we won’t be living here forever.
…then you make a swing dress because you’re 38 weeks pregnant in a heatwave.
The internet keeps telling me her size in terms of fruit. A lime! A mango! A coconut! A melon! I feel like I might be gestating a fruit salad. (I saw the ultrasound. She’s not a fruit salad.)
I haven’t bought that many maternity clothes, largely because this was a weird shopping year, but recently I decided that I was heartily sick of the same things again and again. Given the heatwave, I decided to make a breezy dress, like the Ebony Dress except that I couldn’t muster the energy to purchase, print, cut, tape, and cut out a pattern. Instead, I cut apart a stained Old Navy swing dress and traced it, adding about four inches of length. To give you a sense of my energy levels lately, when I cut this dress out, it hit at my knee. Heh.
Even though this dress was very straightforward, I made some mistakes. I accidentally cut all the pieces except the sleeves rotated 90 degrees off-grain. That means that the dress is stretchier up-and-down than it is side-to-side (oops) but because of the spandex and the loose fit, it still came out fine. Also, my first attempt at the neck binding was pretty bad (it’s too wide and I didn’t stretch it while sewing).
I ripped it off, then just folded the neckline twice and top-stitched. It’s not the most elegant solution, but with the stretch running in a strange way I didn’t want to fuss around with the neckline anymore. It worked out fine.
The fabric is incredibly soft and the finished dress is so comfortable. It’s great now, when it’s so disgustingly hot out, and I’m sure will be very comfortable with leggings, too, as the weather cools.
Summary: Materials: 2 m Greek-key patterned cotton/spandex, made by Art Gallery Fabrics (the pattern is called Skopelos), from Fabric.com. It is delightfully soft. All of the knits I’ve bought from Art Gallery Fabrics have been wonderfully soft, though they fade quickly if tossed in the dryer. I had bought this fabric intending to make a wrap dress, but I think this simpler shape is both more practical and better-suited to the geometrical pattern.
Pattern: Traced from a worn-out dress. I actually bothered to put it on paper, so I can make more swing dresses and tops in the future.
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.
In Part 1, I showed you some dresses that I had tried on and we discussed what I learned about what I like and dislike. Once I had returned home, I scoured the internet for sewing patterns and settled on B5731, a copy of Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. Luckily for me, Casey had made her own beautiful wedding dress out of the same pattern and blogged about the process, though I can’t find her blog anymore.
I liked the lace overlay and long sleeves, and planned use pale pink silk interlined with sturdy coutil and lined with soft cotton for the bodice. I chose the embroidered silk chiffon below for the lace overlay. For the skirt, I didn’t really want pleated satin, and instead pictured something very like Kat’s skirt: a layered circle skirt with graduated colours and weights of silk.
For my mock-ups, I bought around 5 m of cheap cream-coloured polyester crepe at my local Fabricland, as well as coutil, channeling, and spiral steel boning from a bra and corset supply store. I had scraps of pink polyester satin for the bodice outer layer, and Ikea lace curtains from my first apartment to use for the overlay.
I’d never used coutil before. It’s so stiff that the bodice stood up on its own!
Here it is on my old dressform, right side out:
It looked nice on its own, but the fit was strange. Somehow it both gaped and compressed my bust in a really unflattering way. After trying variously to take in and let out the seams, I realized that the problem was actually the shape of the princess seams. They’re very vertical, pointing up towards the middle of my collarbone. When I compared it to the shape of my bras, I realized that seams that curved laterally would fit better. With a lot of trial and error, I changed the shape of the centre front piece from this:
Please excuse those terrible schematics, but you get the idea. After that, I started working on a test of lace overlay and the fit at the shoulder was awful. I threw it away when we moved, so I can’t show it to you, but it had wrinkles and folds everywhere and I couldn’t move my arms. I planned instead to use the armscye and sleeve from this dress, and figured that the skirt would be easy. I’ve made plenty of full-, half-, and quarter-circle skirts over the years.
All of this was happening, by the way, in February 2020, with a goal of having a full mock-up of the dress by the early April and then the real dress by early May, for the wedding on June 7th.
In the spring, though, things started to change quickly. Restrictions tightened day-by-day in the face of the worsening pandemic. My fiancé and I started to worry that we might find ourselves delaying our marriage indefinitely. A Jewish wedding requires a gathering of four people and at the time, five could meet outdoors. If restrictions tightened further, we would be stuck. One Thursday evening, we decided that if we wanted to be married, we needed to move fast. On Friday, we called our rabbi and were married that Sunday.
I didn’t have silk crepe in three different weights. I didn’t have a palette of subtle pink dyes. I didn’t have embroidered silk chiffon, nor plain chiffon to drape over my head as a veil. Instead, I had my bodice mock-up (by then a patchwork of different scrap fabrics), a small amount of coutil leftover, 5 or so meters of polyester crepe, some lace curtains from Ikea, whatever was in the linen cupboard and my closet, and a hodgepodge of various notions. But that is a story for Part 3!
This is the story of how, just over a year ago, I found myself facing the challenge of sewing my wedding dress out of unexpected materials with a timeline of…three days.
The story actually started years ago, when I first became aware of the possibility of sewing my own wedding dress. Early versions that I remember seeing on the internet were absolutely lovely, made from Big 4 commercial patterns out of white fabric from the local fabric shop. As the sewing blogosphere expanded, peoples’ projects got more couture, and I followed along with Melanie of Poppy Kettle and Kat of Kat Makes, two people much more skilled than I. Those dresses are incredible. I nursed the idea of making my own spectacular dress as a secret goal for years, which was fine, because I was single anyway.
Then, I met a spectacular fellow and we got engaged, and planned our wedding for June 2020. In January, I spent two weeks in Edmonton for school. (Edmonton: awesome antique mall, terrific vegan Vietnamese food, really really cold). I was still waffling a bit on whether or not to take on such a gargantuan project, so I booked myself an appointment at a bridal chain store. I figured it would either serve as research or as a dress-finding mission. Here’s what I learned.
Lesson One: Familiar isn’t always best.
This first dress was an A+ choice on the part of the consultant, given that it conformed to what I showed her on my Pinterest board (lace top, short sleeves, chiffon skirt). It was…fine. The consultant murmured stuff about my family being my past and my fiancé being my future as she pinned the veil on me and wafted it over my face, which was a bit awkward. I think because bodice was similar to a dress that I made, it felt pretty but maybe too familiar.
Lesson Two: Comfort is paramount…
This was a lot of dress. It was heavy and difficult to move in. There were multiple layers of stiff tulle that tended to bunch and stick to each other (glitter tulle, too, which was a definite not-for-me-thanks). Despite thinking that I looked good in the mirror, I felt like I was hauling around a tulle dinghy.
Lesson Three: …but it needs to feel a little bit special
This dress was just ok. It was pretty, but didn’t feel special. I did like that it was very pale pink instead of stark white. I believe this dress was from their under-$500 range. It was encouraging to see that this even exists, even though this specific dress was not what I was looking for! Also, the back had a heart, which was a sweet touch, but not really my style.
Lesson Four: Trying on a Very Fancy Dress is the only way to know what you’ll look like in a Very Fancy Dress.
Oh, yes! I loved how this one looked. It was soft! And elegant! And had flowers! And was completely transparent! …wait, no, what? While the skirt’s blush of colour came from pink chiffon, the bodice’s blush of colour came from me. There were built-in cups, but I would have wanted the whole bodice lined and the neckline made less open.
I tried on a fifth dress, too, pictured below (thoughts: I didn’t like the shape and it had an open back), which I’d like to glide over to get to talking about money.
Let’s talk a bit about the cost of a made-to-measure tuxedo. Made-to-measure is when the manufacturer starts with their own pattern, but merges between sizes based on the customer’s measurements and then alters the garment for the best fit. A made-to-measure tuxedo, made of Italian wool with a silk lapel and silk lining, constructed in Ontario by unionized workers would have cost $1300 CAD, including alterations. Now, that’s a lot of money, no doubt about about it! But the long-sleeved dress above that I liked, which was 100% polyester and made overseas by workers in who-knows-what-kind of conditions for who-knows-what-kind of pay cost $2034 CAD…before tax and alterations. Alterations which started at $200, for the mere basics of a front hem and a nip in at the waist. That’s right, it costs more if you request that the back half of the skirt be shortened (say, because you don’t want to haul around a tulle dinghy). Considering that I would have wanted major alterations to the bodice, the cost would have been exorbitant. On top of that, the shop required a three month lead time, even though there’s nothing customized about it–they just order a straight size and charge you for alterations later.
Now, you can absolutely get wedding dresses for under $2500. There are second-hand shops, online buy/sell groups, and that one dress from ModCloth that’s so popular, all of which can net you a dress for under $500. The trouble for me is that they’re all polyester. It’s not because I’m a fibre-snob, but because polyester makes me overheated and sweaty, especially with long sleeves. But buying something made of cotton or silk or rayon would have catapulted the cost into five-figures.
My other “ready-made” option would have been using my grandmother’s wedding dress. It’s from her December 1951 wedding and has two parts. The underdress is silk with pink velvet flowers embellished with beads and sequins, with a floor-length tulle skirt.
The overdress is silk satin, with long-sleeves, a shawl-collar with the same velvet flowers, and a train.
It is, truly, far more beautiful than anything I could have bought. It was also really, really not my size. The arms were too tight, the bodice needed something like seven inches at the bust and waist, and while the underdress could have been altered to fit through the insertion of panels, I didn’t think that the overdress could have been altered and still looked good. In retrospect, a dressmaker could have removed the embellished lapels and edges and attached them to an entirely new overdress, but I didn’t think of it at the time. Instead, I became more firmly committed to the idea of sewing my own dress, with a style inspired by the long-sleeved dress that I had tried on. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but I was very excited to get started.
In Part 2, we’ll talk about pattern and fabric selection, as well as my first stabs at the bodice!
I honestly can’t quite believe that it’s already halfway through April! What is time, anymore? I still have some projects form the end of 2020 to share. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge of sewing, dyeing, and crafting projects.
So! Up first, a little zip pouch for our resident gift-exchange. I gave my giftee some nice pens, some fragrance spheres (a thing I’ve never heard of, but she requested them) and a little packet of chocolate-hazelnut candies, bundled up in the zip pouch.
Cute, no? Given the price limit on the gift exchange, I had to use all stash materials for the pouch, so it’s brown poly-cotton twill leftover from my Day in the Park Backpack Tote (made pre-blog, but still used regularly), lined with cotton leftover from this top, and a metal zipper that I got in a bundle at the Textile Museum fundraiser ages and ages ago.
Next up, I dyed some jeans. In the late fall, I scored two pairs of white jeans on sale.
I had no desire to wear white jeans, but I couldn’t find a single pair of plain blue jeans! Acid wash, yes. Ripped and patched, yes. Weirdly cropped, also yes. But no plain ol’ basic blue jeans. I took matters into my own hands, and after two evenings spent over the dye pot, this is what I had:
The first pair, on the right, were dyed with two packets of Dylon Jeans Blue, which I heartily do NOT recommend. The colour faded to a dusty purple-grey in the wash. Luckily, I like the colour, but blue it is not. The second pair, on the left, were a mix of Dylon and RIT dyes, in navy blue with some black mixed in. They were more successful. I did find that they continued to discharge dye into their third and fourth washing, leaving some unfortunate streaks on one of my favourite sweaters. Boo. Overall, dyeing garments from white isn’t something I’d do again, unless I got a much larger dyepot–trying to make it work with my little pot was a bit too stressful, and the results were just not quite what I was hoping for.
Except…well, I already had some white t-shirts that I’d bought on sale specifically to dye, so I spent another evening over the dyepot (less stressful, since shirts are smaller than jeans) and had the following:
Both came out a bit splotchy, and the polyester thread didn’t take on any colour but honestly, I hardly cared! I do love having pops of red and pink in my wardrobe. I tend to choose and make pants and sweaters in shades of grey, blue, black, and cream, but having only neutral t-shirts is entirely too monochrome for me!
While the short-sleeved shirt came out blotchy (I dyed it in the leftover dye from the long-sleeved shirt), it’s imperfectness makes it a fine match for another imperfect project.
Finally, some card-making! Way back, Kristen of The Frugal Girl posted a tutorial on using dye and watercolour paper to make stationary. Guess who had lots of both of those things hanging around? I’ve come to appreciate the utility of having blank notecards around for birthday cards, thank-you cards, and holidays. First, I tried with of the leftover red dye from the above projects. It came out more pink than red, and since I didn’t want pink, I stopped after four cards.
Next, I used some blue dye that I had lying around. Those came out more to my taste! It’s a lovely, satisfying project, and so easy.
When I review my making for the year of 2020, I do feel proud of myself. The last year was a challenging one (I mean, obviously, but even beyond the obvious). I completed medical school and the process of “The Match,” which is how medical students are “matched” to residency programs (this is hugely stressful; you don’t really get to choose where in the country you wind up), planned a wedding, cancelled the plans, got married anyway, moved twice, and started residency.
When I tally what I made, it amounts to the following: