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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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.

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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Spew

So it turns out there are a lot of college students living in my neighborhood. I came home today to a pile of furniture in my parking space. That’s the kind of thing that only college kids do, when they’re moving. Outta sight, outta mind. Someone decided to put it next to the trash, in lieu of putting it in the trash. So the trash guys can come along and ignore because it’s not in the trash. Everybody is moving at once, which I’ve only seen in Isla Vista, that little college town that I used to live in next to UC Santa Barbara. The next door neighbor moved out and apparently was having a plumbing problem. All I know is I got a call today from the manager, and she said that she was sorry but that there was a plumbing issue and that I may come home today to a plumber cleaning up a mess in my bathroom. I called my friend Jenn, who lives up the street and has a key, and she stopped by to make sure the plumber hadn’t let the cat out. I got home while she was still there saying hello to my cat. She had some nice perfume on and she smelled SO MUCH better than my apartment. I am so glad that I keep my bathroom extremely clean, because otherwise it would have been so much worse. They cleaned it up, and I can’t even tell which was leaking, the toilet, the sink or the tub. If I hadn’t kept it so clean, I might know by which of those things was clean. But everything is unharmed with the exception of the floor, which looks like it’s been violated. EEuw, what if it leaked in under the walls??
I’m going to have nightmares about the trash compactor in Star Wars now.
Anyway, so, the kids. I was carrying out a bag full of gross towels out to the trash, and a car load of college girls had their car stereo cranked up and were singing along with it, “I wanna F**K every GIRL in the WORLD” and never have I felt so disconnected with today’s youth. In my day, we sang along with NWA, and it was only boy on girl action that we sang about. I envy their liberation.
Generally speaking, even though there are a lot of loud parties and random peals of screaming and yelling, it could be a lot worse. These kids are just letting off energy. In an area without a bunch of college kids, constant noise would only mean you live in a bad neighborhood.
And now I am inspired to play rap music while I clean my bathroom.
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I’m so high on health food right now

Have you been to Farmer’s Market lately? It’s great anyway, but the fruit I got yesterday was unbelievable. I went there specifically to buy eggs. I keep thinking about chickens lately and have had a strong desire to support places that treat them more humanely than places that mass produce. It means enough to me that I’d rather go out of my way to get my eggs, whenever I can. They also sell coffee 🙂
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My massively efficient mini food bin: walnuts, almonds, baker’s sugar, more almonds. My espresso maker is to the right, and that’s a jar of brown rice on top of the food bins, because… fuck yeah.
Anyhowww, I also got strawberries, oranges, lemons, and grapefruit. I did not know oranges could be so good.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how food-centric humans used to be, in comparison to how we are now. Yeah, I read my “Little House” books, and my “Caddie Woodlawns” and that quaint “Farmer Boy” book. I know it was out of necessity, but there’s a lot to be said for spending time with your food, planning out meals and spending parts of the day or week involved with food prep. My friend Ang is great at it. She’s always cooking or has some prep thing going on in her kitchen. And come to think of it, it was always that way when I’d visit her back when she lived with her parents. I got caught up way early on with meal convenience. I go on kicks where I get into cooking, but I still naturally fall back on convenience. I was listening to a podcast a while back with Paul Roberts, the author of “The End Of Food“, and he raised some pretty good points about how we think we don’t have time for cooking, yet we find hours to spend watching TV. He’s obviously spying on me and now I feel creepy, but he raises a good point. I think of good cooking/ healthy eating, or at least the eating of food with fresh ingredients, as something of a novelty, rather than as an important part of my every day life. And it’s hard not to. Meal planning is work. Shopping along the walls of the grocery store instead of in the aisles? That requires some planning ahead, and some note-taking while in front of our cook books. It’s a gradual transition, and one that will require a constant process of talking myself back onto the right track. Today, for example, I practiced being food-centric by passing out in front of the computer after eating celery with almond butter and raisins. Okay, during. I have almond butter in my hair. And that is a complete misinterpretation of the words ‘food-centric’. The point is, it took some effort. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some eggs to make a meal around and a bib to put on.

Summertime. Let’s keep it simple.

As Tim and I were picking out a storage shed, it started to dawn on me that this thing wasn’t going to be set up already, and that WE’D have transform it from a box of small parts into the thing we had meant to purchase. I don’t know how I managed to continue denying to myself that I was going to spend my Saturday night setting this thing up until I fell into bed, sweaty and exhausted. But I did stay in denial. Right up until about 2 hours into it, when it wasn’t even beginning to take shape and I’d already cut myself on the siding. We weren’t even done at bedtime, but we had to stop because we were making a huge racket. I just kept looking at the photo on the instructions that shows how to reinforce it for snow, which heightened my awareness that we were in a very comfortable and well-lit parking garage. Sure, we were sweaty, confused, discouraged, and tired, but it could have been SO much worse. Also, most guys I’ve known would have had a fit at least three times during that frustrating assembly. Tim freaked out zero times, and by late the next morning when we finished, I liked him even more than I had just a day earlier. We managed to get out the door in plenty of time to do what we had really wanted to do with our day, which was go to celebrate Chad Cooper’s birthday in Laguna, eat cheese and play with baby.
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Home

One of the nicest things you can do for yourself when you live alone is to make homemade meals. It really does make the place feel like home, and not just a crash pad. The cat is doing his part, with all the meowing and cuddling, but there’s something to be said for the aroma of garlic new potatoes wafting about the house, especially on a chilly winter night. And by chilly I mean 56 degrees outside, and that’s just too cold. I’ve lived in Southern California my whole life, and if it’s not at least 75 out, then I’m wearing double layers and thermal socks. How did I survive in Tahoe? I think it had something to do with R.E.I., and a willingness to pile on layers every time I so much as took out the trash.
I joked that the last two weeks were the all the time off that I need for the year, but it’s at least a little true. That was SUCH a vacation. I’ve never vacationed so hard in my life. I’m ready for structure, I’m ready to clean my house and get up way early in the mornings to a cat that’s pissed off about the noise from the alarm. I don’t know how he conveys that, but he does, unless every single morning I’m in such a sleepy state that I’m misinterpreting his behavior and sortof anthropomorphizing him. And that’s entirely possible.