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!

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Oh the freaky-deaky things I’ve been eating

I got into raw food around Thanksgiving time last year. And let me be clear on this: I’ve never gone exclusively raw. I’ve just added a lot of raw food to my diet. I don’t know what it is, I just couldn’t walk past the raw food cookbook in the book store and not stop and look at it. It was just as simple as that. I find it fascinating. So I made a few of the patés, the ‘Not Tuna Rolls’ since I had so recently gotten into Korean food and had a lot of Nori at the time, and the zucchini pesto. I was put off by how long it takes to soak the raw nuts, but other than that, I loved it. Since I got the cookbook back from my sister-in-law, I have gone on another raw food kick. I don’t know why I couldn’t just go on a vegetarian kick. But then again, like I said, I’m not exclusive with it. I tried the veggie sandwich this time. You use romaine lettuce where the bread would go. I found it was a bit untidy, but it would probably be better to use extremely fresh lettuce. I made ‘Not Tuna Rolls’ again and still don’t know what I think of them, other than they are nicely filling. I also made avocado boats, tomato stacks, date-almond cookies and cream of zucchini soup. It was after the zucchini soup last night that I began to get a little discouraged, at least for the moment.
Here are a few of the conclusions I’ve come to:
It takes a lot of effort at first, but tapers off quickly because there are only so many ingredients you would use in a raw food diet. There is a nice variety, but you can still get them all in one cartload.
The unexpected surge in energy is a welcome bonus. SO welcome.
It seems to make me sensitive to subtle flavors in things. I could never have sat around chomping on carrots, celery, broccoli and cucumber. That is, however, exactly what I’ve been doing for the last two days.
You have to soak the nuts for at least four hours. Otherwise the patés don’t come out creamy enough to dip veggies in, or spread on anything.
When the zucchini soup came out with way too airy of a texture, I felt frustrated because I’d gone through all that work for nothing. However, it turned out that it just needed to sit in the fridge for a while.
So I’m sitting here happy and full after a dinner of zucchini soup and spinach. I never thought I’d say that.
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This message brought to you by Tweek Coffee

I decided to try the book recommended by Jeannie that was recommended to her by Nathen, “Speed Cleaning” by Jeff Campbell and the speed cleaning team. I think what I like about it, as much as the time-saving, is that it makes cleaning into something fun. It never occurred to me to put 409 and Windex in cute little spray bottles and put them in holsters at my side.  I know this is the second time I’ve mentioned holsters and their convenience in the past week, and let that be a lesson to you if you feel like approaching me from my blind side.  Anyway, it’s also compelling me to make my own apron, but that’s not in the works yet. Maybe a little “S” on my shirt, for Superclean. But you know me, I’ll make a fun sewing project out of the apron and have a totally customized one that’s CUTE, and that’s just one more thing that makes it fun. It’s the speed cleaning aspect of it that makes it the most appealing, because in reality, I put off chores like crazy, in favor of leisure time. So yesterday afternoon, I got the book, an Ostrich-feather duster, most of the supplies that they list, and set about getting my speed cleaning groove on. A little while later, I was sufficiently grimy and dusty, wearing an apron, shorts, tank top and a do-rag, and I got a knock on my door. It was a magazine salesman, only he said he was in a contest, trying to earn enough points to go to Europe and bla bla bla.  I don’t slam the door in people’s faces anymore.  Instead, I asked him about the company he works for and got him to admit he was, in fact, a magazine salesman, and then heavily encouraged him to take his skills to another company because the economy isn’t THAT bad, is it?  I asked him if they’re making sure he’s well fed and taken care of, and tried my best to get him to consider changing jobs.  He showed me that he’s well dressed, which must mean something, and assured me that he’s happy and well fed and that they don’t keep big chunks of his pay.  I wished him luck and told him that I was glad he was at least in a good neighborhood, and we parted as friends.

Having imposed my maternal instincts on someone not much younger than me, I I happily got back to cleaning.  I bathroom monkeyed my bathroom in half an hour!!  I swear, the corners of the sinks and showers had sparkles.  It’s kinda hard to get into the swing of things when you have to keep going back to the book, turning pages with your wet, gloved hand, and then flipping back to the previous page.  It’s SO worth it, though.  I feel like I flat didn’t know what I was doing before.  You can waste a lot of time backtracking, and I didn’t know you shouldn’t use cleanser on anything that isn’t on the downward slope towards a drain.  Now I know.

…Now I know.

My cache

Since my apartment didn’t come with a garage and has almost no storage, I had to do a lot of thinking ahead with my space planning. I was surprised at how much I was able to get in and shove out of my sight, but I’ve been planning to reorganize what little space I do have and see if I can get better use of it. I’ve always wanted to have some kind of Earthquake preparedness kit, and have been eyeing an area of my living room that I can use for that. Up until yesterday it had been so long since there’s been an earthquake in California that whenever I would bring up the idea of earthquake preparedness, people would look at me like I was crazy. It’s not like I’m miss over-organized or anything. I just know how bummed I’d be if I found myself stuck at home without any food, water or electricity. I have to at least set aside some extra water, and while I’m at that, I might as well set aside some other supplies. So yesterday at the store I realized I could at least buy some of the stuff I’d need, and just set it aside until I can make space for it. I picked up 2 gallons of water, some evap milk, some canned goods, some applesauce (mmm), and some things I could make with my camping stove and evap milk. I spent the whole shopping trip feeling like I was walking a very fine line between being overboard and being naively under-prepared. I mean, I have to keep in mind that I’ll have to turn over my kit every 6 months, so I have to get things that I would consume, but not things that I would be tempted to consume. You know, things like canned fruit cocktail, canned soup, potatoes au gratin in a box. I would not object to packing those into my lunch in 6 months. When I got home I looked up earthquake safety and got this interesting video on CNN. I also realized that with my complete cache of camping equipment, all I really need to do is keep my pantry more full. They say to set aside enough for three days, and if you look at it the way you’d look at camping, it’s easy. 3 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 3 dinners, and 3 days worth of snack food. And make it comfy snack food, because you might be a little stressed out. Mmm. EZ Cheese.

In reality, I will probably be with Tim at the bar/restaurant that he invested in last year and we’ll be living large off of that pantry.

MRI

I just got an MRI at the Polak Imaging Pavilion in Torrance, and it was the most relaxing thing ever. I had googled it the night before so I could know what to expect, and I expected it to be uncomfortable, claustrophobic and loud. Something I had to hold still for and survive. It probably helped that I only got a few hours of sleep the night before, and therefore I drifted off to sleep easily.

The Polak Imaging Pavilion was funded by the husband of Anna Maria Polak, who died of cancer. Before I went in I sat in the car for a little bit and thought about all of the women who have to go in here and get treated for breast cancer. I decided to try and leave behind any stress I had and not bring it with me into the building. After all, I’m just here for my ear. Everyone was calm and very helpful. The building seemed like it was designed around putting people at ease. I went in wearing 100% cotton clothing so that I wouldn’t have to take off anything other than my jeans (I left my bra in the car), and by the time I had my iv holder in me, I was ready to start doing ballet in the waiting room. The pajama bottom scrubs they gave me were so comfortable. My IV holder, because I don’t know what else to call it, puts a tiny plastic tube into my vein so that they could inject dye into my veins about 2/3 of the way through the MRI to help find things inside of my head.

During the MRI, they put you into a cylinder and apparently you have a giant, extremely strong magnet around your head like a donut. I decided to close my eyes before I got slid into the MRI machine, and this made it so that I never felt like I was anywhere but at the opening of the machine, like I was when I first lay down. I was warned several times about the machine gun like noise of the MRI, but here’s what it was like for me: it sounded like I was inside of a porta-potty (let’s say a brand new one), with somebody banging rhythmically on the outside. Then it sounded like somebody was holding some kind of vibrating mechanism on the walls, that banged on the walls like a vibrating massager will do if you put it up against a hard surface. I thought of performance art, and then I became more and more relaxed, because I was so cushioned. I had my head in a padded cradle-like thing, with pillows under each of my elbows, and a large pad under the lower half of my legs. The technician gave me a ball to squeeze that would alert him if I was having any problems in there. I also had a blanket on me, so I was warm and comfy, and drifted off to sleep. This could be because I grew up in a house with no walls and there were four of us kids. I don’t know. I tend to fall asleep at concerts, too. Anyway, I twitched awake a few times, but other than that, It went very smooth. I felt like I was in some kind of trance when I left, like I feel after a massage. I sat in the car and texted Christyne while I slowly woke up, so that I was alert enough to drive.

Now I’m at home, my vegetables for dinner are marinating and I’m walking around humming. I think I want to build myself a bed that’s shaped like an MRI machine.

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In between cupcakes

Last night my roommate and I decided to look into eating raw food.  And by that I mean I picked up a book on raw food and then looked at it during dinner, oohing and ahhing over the novelty of creating completely satisfying meals without any cooking, and reading bits of the book to her and showing her the recipes.  Just think, the food will be fresh and healthy and much easier for the body to process!  My roommate just looked on silently and nodded a few times. I think she’s on board.  Either that or she’s not interested at all.  The book I bought is called “Raw Food Made Easy” and has recipes such as Olive Tapenade, Garden Wraps, and Zucchini Pasta al Pesto.  I wouldn’t do a strict raw diet, I’m just interested in adding more raw food to my world.  They have sandwiches that have only lettuce in place of the bread!  For some of the recipes, you have to soak nuts, and I find that intriguing as well.  I think that you’d really have to get used to grazing, if you were to want to eat only raw food.  You’re never going to feel really full like you might be used to, but you’d be surprised at how good you feel after a meal.

The author has a website here.

Float on

I just had a very boring week.  It was so boring, it could win awards for how boring it was.  It outdid itself.  I had a lot of insomnia, which I don’t actually mind.  What I do mind is how it makes me have to sleep in, and then I go to work much later than I wanted to.  Then I come home and try it again: go to bed early so I can get up early.

See, I usually fall right to sleep when I stick a movie on, or a TV show, on my laptop.  It puts me right to sleep and I love it.  Then it ends, and the computer screen goes black after ten minutes or so, and I’m able to stay asleep without the interruption I might otherwise get from falling asleep in front of a TV.   Lately I haven’t been falling asleep very easily, and it doesn’t bother me at all because I can just lay there happily watching TV, or a movie.  I’m sure TV is not the best way to put oneself to sleep, but I come from a family of insomniacs, and I’d rather just accept it as a part of life, rather than struggle with it.   I have seen 3 a.m. way more times than I’d ever care to count.  I hate lying there staring at the darkness with only my thoughts.  It’s fine for the first half hour, but then it gets boring.

On the up side, in an effort to keep myself from getting too bored, I dialed myself into the free podcast thing on i-tunes.  I am now subscribed to like 5 different podcasts, including spanish lessons, A Prairie Home Companion, This American Life, Hip Tranquil Chick, and James Lilek’s “The Diner”.  A Prairie Home Companion is my favorite, because nobody in the world tells a story like Garrison Keillor tells a story.