How I made my own wedding dress


Making my own wedding dress was one of the largest projects I have ever taken on, and though I wasn’t keeping track, I think I put in easily 150 hours, if not more. The big plus of it all was not having to compromise. I got the exact dress I wanted, and I spent less than $200.  This includes making my own dress form.  I’m writing a blog about it because there didn’t seem to be much out there on the internets about making your own dress.  Or at least not an intricate one.  If you arrived at this blog because you Googled “Make your own wedding dress” and you’re thinking of making a complicated wedding dress, I highly recommend that you only try it if you have many years of sewing experience and have taken tailoring classes.  And even then, you might want to consider just getting a part time job and using that money to have someone else make a dress for you so you don’t go crazyyyyy.

Still, how fun to have so much control one the look of one’s own dress!

This isn’t intended as a tutorial, but it might answer some questions about working with circular ruffles, creating a bodice, an overlapping texture, or how to approach a huge project (hint: steal a 12 year-old’s ADD meds.  Just kidding.  Quit drinking coffee and then start up again on the days you need to work on your dress).

The first challenge was to pick out the dress I wanted to base it on. I looked through a ton of dresses online and in magazines, but I kept going back to my first choice, which was Demi Moore’s dress from the 2010 Academy Awards, selected from the Atelier Versace Spring 2008 line.

My wedding was in a meadow, so I had to make a dress that was a little bit shorter than this one, or one that had a detachable part.

My next challenge was to get a usable dress form.  I ended up making one out of duct tape using one of the many tutorials on YouTube.  So far, it looks exactly like Demi’s dress!

While it was sitting around in my living room, I put a thrift-store wedding dress on it.  Then when I wasn’t home, my fiancé put a Stormtrooper helmet on it.  It’s really scary to get up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water and forget this is in your living room.  It looks a lot like a ghost in dim light.

In hindsight, I’m glad I did the dress form this way.  First, I saved money.  Second, even though the addition of the layers made the form a little bigger than my body, it was close enough to my shape that I was able to sculpt the dress onto it and custom make a dress to my exact contours.  Also, since the texture of the duct tape was so much different than the fabric, I was able to hand sew parts of the dress while it was on the form without accidentally stitching the fabric to the form.

Next, I bought a pattern for a prom dress so that I could use it to make the liner for the top of the dress:

The slant of the dress didn’t matter, because I pinned the skirt liner to it, pretty much ignoring the slant -The skirt does intentionally sit a little higher on the left side of my body where the fabric flower is.

Next, I made a basic skirt liner, following the pattern of a basic, boring ordinary skirt from my closet.  This was my first attempt, but I ended up making a slightly longer one.

Then I went to the fabric district in downtown LA and, over the course of 2 visits, I walked around feeling fabric until I found exactly the texture, color, look and weight that I wanted.  This turned out to be a crepe satin.  Then I bought ten yards of it, plus 3 yards of sparkly white Organza.  I used up every last bit of that ten yards, too.  To make the ruffles, I made a donut-shaped pattern out of the tissue paper you use to wrap gifts.  The middle was about 4.5″ in diameter, and the thickness of the ring was about 7″.  Once I started handling the fabric, I would start off every sewing session by washing my hands and then putting ‘Gloves in a bottle’ on my hands.  I can’t even feel that it’s there, and it puts a covering over my skin that keeps the oils in my fingers from getting on the dress and discoloring it over time with all the handling.  It kept the fabric sparkling-white and also qualified me for a spot in Neurotic Bride magazine.

These donut shapes got cut out and then slit down the middle and sewn to each other.  Each layer of ruffles took around 2 and a half donuts.

I also had to painstakingly hem each ruffle.  If you haven’t already, this would be a good time to develop a relationship with methamphetamines, because this part goes on FOREVER.  Just head on out to Elsinore or San Bernardino and start asking around.  Just kidding: espresso, and lots.  Seriously, put on a good movie, or a book on tape, and just settle in.  I gave this about 3 hours a day, almost every day, for several weeks.  I even took it to the beach with me.

I sewed each ruffle to the skirt, gradually higher at the point where the “Slit” was going to be.  This was never a slit, I just tacked the dress way up at the side of my left leg.  

The ruffles were about 4 inches apart, and I marked out the location of each one by drawing a line around the skirt with a blue fabric pencil.  I had to make an approximate length ruffle, then pin the ruffle to itself to close the circle, then pin it to the dress, then mark where it should meet, take it back off, sew it together, hem it, and sew it to the dress.  You think that sounds hard?  The last 3 rows were progressively longer, yet the same length in front as the upper ruffles, so a gradual change in length on each side as it went towards the back, and at that point I had to start using algebra.  Yeah, the thing from high school that I thought I’d never use.  I had to base each cut on the previous cut, and I ended up using that equation where you figure out the height of the building based on the shadow of the tree next to it and then I went crazy.  I had to set the dress aside several times and just let my brain get back to me on it.  Sometimes creative problems have to be solved that way.  You try and you try, and then you sleep on it and you wake up in the morning with a solution, or at least a plan that you can try out.  My sister Lisa did explain to me that this couture dress I was copying was carefully hand sewn by experts, who have time, experience and resources (and grunt-workers).  They probably made entire dresses and then scrapped them and started over, before getting the ones they wanted.  She was never skeptical about my ability to make it, because she’s seen some of the crazy tedious projects I’ve taken on, but she want me to understand that it was a ha-yuuuuge project.  I did start it far enough in advance of the wedding that I could switch to a plan B if the dress was turning out awful.  Plan B: any white dress from Forever 21.

SO, the next thing I needed to do was texture the bodice.  This is where the organza came in.  I cut this on the diagonal because this is non-stretch fabric, and I needed it to have a very slight stretch in order for it to hug the dress form as it came around the sides.  Lisa said this is called ‘cutting on the bias”.  I made several strips of the Crepe Satin and Organza at about 18 inches long, 4 inches wide -just long enough to extend past the edges of both sides when it’s on a 30 degree angle.  Each strip was ironed right before it was used, and then folded in half.  I did a few test runs to make sure the fabric was going to look right:

After the test run, I decided I should make longer strips so that they reached each side.  I then took it back apart, pinned the front liner of the bodice to the dress form and hand sewed the bodice liner to the skirt of the dress, keeping the side seams open so that they could be sewn together after the texturing was applied.  Meaning: the front of the dress was not sewn to the back of the dress until way later.  I Then started layering the bodice.  I had to start over a few times, because I really wanted to lay down the two different fabrics in a random order, and that proves to be challenging after a while.  Some pattern always starts to develop, and any repeats in the layering order started to make it look factory made and prom-dressy.  I had to hand sew each strip, one strip at a time, putting the stitch as high up as possible so that it would always be hidden.

This process took another couple of days 😦  But at least I could start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel!  I repeated the process with the back of the dress.

When I’d made all the adjustments and was ready to sew the sides together, I took the whole thing to my sisters’ houses.  First my sister Asia helped me make sure all the pieces were sewn down and weren’t going to move.  Then we added a layer of crepe satin to the bustier, so that if the top of the dress was going to be at all see-through (and it was) then all that would show through was more white satin.

After that, I took the whole thing to my other sister, Lisa’s, house.  I was afraid to sew it together inside out because the organza and crepe folds on the bust might become askew in the process.  I was stumped.  Lisa, who has been sewing her whole life and also took tailoring classes, explained to me how important basting is.  so we ran some basting stitches down each side before sewing them together.  The zipper was added to the side that would have the rosette, and when the zipper was sewn down tight, we took out the basting.  This took 3 whole days and many bloody fingertips.  Lisa put her life on hold for 3 days and just sewed with me.  Note: when you prick your finger, stop and walk away.  It’s a white dress and you don’t want a disaster on your hands.

The final part was creating a rosette out of the top ruffle just over my left hip, and then tacking the top part of the ruffles so that they didn’t just look like tiers of curtains on top of each other.  We put the dress back on the form to do this.

And….. done!  I was lucky enough to have Steph at Stephfowlerphotography.com as my wedding photographer.  She’s an amazing photographer and has also been one of my closest friends since we were fifteen, so I am double lucky.  But more about that on my wedding post.

My brother’s girlfriend, Melissa, took some great Instagram pics that day, too, so they will be sprinkled throughout my wedding album.

I’ll be back soon with my wedding post!

Late fall and feels like winter

I just realized that if I don’t post soon, i will only have a few posts between last Christmas’s Truckee post and this Christmas’ Truckee post. We’re supposed to go up there for Christmas with my family, and I can’t wait.
I also picked out an internal frame backpack as my Christmas present. Tim was about to buy me a coat at REI, and I was like, why buy a coat at REI when I can get a backpack? Tim already has one, and I was all jealous.
So yeah, I’m going to need to plan some backpacking trips.
In the meantime, I’m hosting Thanksgiving at my place this year, and so I’m planning out my shopping list. I’m hoping to be a little more organized than that one year when I was so busy cooking that I forgot to shower and get ready, and I spent the evening hiding from the cameras.
Tim is in NorCal this weekend, so I’m using the time to get my place ready and to play Black Ops (just kidding, OMG!).
I’m going to be making Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Apples with Thyme, Mashed Potatoes with Garlic and chives, Pecan Sweet Potatoes, Roasted Cauliflower, and hopefully some kind of rolls. Lisa is bringing up the Turkey, and helping me with stressing, I mean cooking. We can stress together. And if it gets to be too stressful, well there’s always a jacuzzi for after dinner.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try to make a paper corsage for a prom I’m attending tomorrow.

Cake

I’ve had a thing for cakes this past year. Not so much eating them, I just like looking at them. Well, both. But the looking at them part is probably because I work at a wedding photography place, and I’ve seen some pretty interesting ones. I discovered this blog called “cakewrecks“, that has some amazing, and awful, cakes. As in some are awful, but some are amazing, and all of them are interesting. My favorite recent one is this Alice In Wonderland cake, via cakewrecks, via cakenouveau:

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Halloween pics

This year I decided to dress up as a Genie for Holloween, based on the I Dream of Jeannie Genie. I started with a sour cream container:

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I cut the bottom half off, padded it with gauze and masking tape and then decorated it like this:
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I completed the outfit using a rather nice bra and a pair of knee-length sweats from Forever 21, and a lot of fabric. The bra was a slow and tedious project, but I fastened it around a picture frame, propped my feet on the table, and settled in with a Stephen King audiobook and some needle and thread. On Holloween evening I finished the outfit:
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Then I drove through a sea of zombies, because my neighbor was having a really big Halloween party,
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And spent the rest of the evening celebrating Halloween with Sarah Palin beauty contestant and the rest of the gang in Playa:
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What I got out of all of those art classes

I studied studio art at Cal State Long Beach. Before that, Orange Coast College, and a string of other Junior Colleges. I learned early on in the studio art classes that I should really take what the teacher says literally and treat each new class as an opportunity to learn something new. It’s not that I was such a good student or had such a good attitude about learning, it was that this approach at first had the effect of writing with the wrong hand and made me produce really crappy work in the beginning, whether it be drawing, sculpture, painting, whatever.  As the semester wore on and I gradually incorporated my own methods to the class, it really looked like I was benefiting from the teacher’s instruction.  The result was usually an A, a happy teacher, and I accidentally learned something. Lesson #1: don’t be afraid to change your approach.

My favorite teacher was this guy named Doug at Cal State Long Beach. He seemed like he lived in his own world, and that his whole life was an art project. Whenever I was around him, I could glimpse a little of the world through his eyes, and it was a much more interesting world. He usually listened to my ideas and debated with me a little, and then supported my decision and just threw some rhetorical questions at me now and again. He also had the solution to any technical problem I had, ever. Before I had him as a teacher, I honestly didn’t know that (Lesson #2:) being an artist is as much a way of thinking as it is a way of doing. Mr. Buis presented these ideas to me in a way that I understood, and was very fond of saying that you don’t want to beat your audience over the head with the meaning behind your work. I always wrestled with that one, because I don’t like being misunderstood when I’m trying to express myself. It also bothered me to walk into a gallery and look at something that made NO sense at all. I like things a little more overt, like the slightly Picasso’d female reproductive system made out of yarn that I saw in a gallery on campus one day. I knew he would have hated that, but I smiled and inwardly thanked the artist for making their point make sense. And as a consequence of not wanting my teacher to think I wasn’t cool, I held back on so many questions. I should have implored him to go with me to the on-campus galleries with me when I didn’t understand the exhibit. I went into a gallery one time and it was full of round yellow smiley-faces, you know, the ‘shit happens’ smiley face? I walked out of the gallery feeling confused and irritated. Maybe that was the artist’s intention.

I took Art History from at least 4 different schools. I don’t remember why, because I think I only needed to take 3 classes, but I think I must have dropped it at least once. I got the most out of the last one, the one that looks at how art history is taught to us, and how our experience is subject to how things are presented to us, and how an exhibit is curated. In fact, that made me question how everything is presented to us, and I always stopped and took that into consideration. In other words, Lesson #3 was to examine what goes into your “pipe” before you “smoke” it

There are also two interesting classes after Art History called “Art criticism” and “Art Theory”. The guy who taught this was great, and I should have been paying an entrance fee right there at the door in addition to the tuition. He put together these amazing slide shows that I’ll never forget. He seemed to be able to sort out what we would really be interested in. Have you ever seen that image of the guy who is painting by shooting paint out of his butt? I don’t want to try to Google that, or I would add a link. That teacher was also the one who introduced me to one of my favorites of all time, the guy who spend 21 days in a gallery with a coyote. Because how can you think of that without looking at it from the coyote’s point of view? This teacher, however, told us that you don’t have any chance of getting your work into any important gallery unless you had a master’s degree in fine arts. That didn’t make any sense to me and never has. Whatever. Lesson #4: don’t limit yourself.

I’ve been reflecting on this because even though I had all these great classes and all these great teachers, going to school to study art took a lot out of me, and took away a lot of my creative energy where there had once been an abundance. I miss it, and am slowly waiting for it to come back. I got the urge to draw the other day, and was so taken aback by the urge that I almost didn’t pick up a pencil and draw. I used to have that urge all the time, and spent hours in my room in front of an easel, just sketching away. Drawing is mostly about seeing, my work has me retouching photography all day and therefore looking at images only in terms of dark and light and abstract shapes. I’m really curious to see how that has affected my drawing style. I never got past the headaches that were induced by the Betty Edwards method, and I really should have just maybe followed lesson #5: find your own style. I mean I had this drawing teacher who was so against the “drawing on the right side of the brain” method, and I just looked at him blankly because I honestly didn’t know there was another method of drawing. I thought that would be like skipping the eleventh grade. You just don’t do that, kid. It’s sad, too, because I miss how stimulated I’d get in a good art class, and how worth it it is to find the good art out there and to strive to be a part of it.

Finally, Lesson #6: get out there and look at art, and you will come home twitching with inspiration.

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Joseph Beuys in “I like America and America likes me”, 1974, Rene Block Gallery