In between sewing projects in 2011, I’m going to recount the sewing projects that I completed in 2010. This post is one of those projects. As a disclaimer, this project wasn’t actually sewn by me, but I was intimately involved and learned a lot during the process – so it still counts!
My wedding dress was truly special and unique: it was handmade by Susanne of Fine Fabrics fame. Made of imported Italian silk duchesse, it beautifully caught the light as I twirled and danced the night away at the reception. It felt glorious to touch. And, I was transformed into a princess for the day by the magic of a dress made with so much love just for me.
Back when I got engaged, I couldn’t imagine anything more special than a handmade wedding dress. But, the process of making my dress pushed me into a world for which I was very unprepared. At that time I knew nothing of fabrics or design or even what I wanted in a dress.
My mom flew out to California and helped me begin my search for the right style of wedding dress. After trying on a few dresses, we drove together down to Santa Barbara to meet with Susanne and talk about our ideas. We looked at different kinds of fabrics and laces. We talked design and style.
I tried on a few more dresses after that weekend to continue evaluating what I liked and didn’t like. I learned that I wanted straps and a V neckline, that I liked an empire waist that was also fitted through my natural waist, and that I didn’t want a lot of dress in front of my legs but didn’t mind a lot of dress behind me. I’m not sure if all of these things added up to the “perfect dress,” but they’re what I set my sights on for my wedding dress. During the process I found a designer dress that I really liked, and we used its basic shape and lines to design something just for me.
Step one occurred in November. My now husband and I went down to southern California to see family, and we made the time for me to try on a simple dress that Susanne made out of muslin. It was the basic dress shape and confirmed that all of the measurements and sizing were correct.
In January, my now husband and I drove back down to Santa Barbara for another dress fitting. This time Susanne had pinned together the beginnings of the dress, and we discussed shape and ideas as we pinned and draped.
This version was green and purple. While I liked what I saw, but I wasn’t able to fully visualize exactly how this gown would look when made out of the white duchesse satin. I wasn’t yet aware of how many iterations were going to be necessary to create my wedding dress, and I couldn’t yet see how green and purple were going to make bridal. It took days for the dress fitting to sink in before I could verbalize what I liked and didn’t like, what I wanted to keep and wanted to change. Those extra days meant we were no longer together by the time I pieced together my thoughts on the dress. Ideally, I would have been able to discuss all of this in person when I actually had the dress on. Fortunately, Susanne has a world of patience.
The last weekend of February my now husband and I drove down to Santa Barbara for the third dress fitting. Like the dress made in November, this one was also made of muslin, and the neutral, pale color helped me see it as a wedding dress. I watched Susanne and her best friend drape and pin the dress on me, which helped me learn a bit about the craft.
It’s basically the green and purple dress with a little more structure and fine tuning.
Susanne and her best friend then used dress three to make a pattern for dress four. In March my now husband and I again journeyed down to Santa Barbara for another dress fitting. For this trip we had decided both Saturday and Sunday would be dedicated to dress fitting (and since my now husband wasn’t participating in the dress-making process, this meant he spent both Saturday and Sunday playing in Santa Barbara). It was a fun crafting weekend, and we got a lot done. I did my best to voice my opinions early, which meant we had time to work and rework the dress over those two days.
The major change that took place this round was to make a separate panel of fabric for the pleats that went across the dress. In the photo above most of the pleating is actually an overlay. Separating this section from the heavy skirt helped the pleats keep their shape since they were no longer being pulled down by feet of fabric. We kept a few of the lowest pleats in the main body of the skirt so that they would gradually fade at the bottom.
Also, we made sure the pleating on the back of the dress exactly mirrored that on the front of the dress. If you know me, then you’ll know that I really needed this symmetry. Susanne and her best friend worked hard to make each pleat match up at the sides, and I probably haven’t thanked them enough for putting so much time into this part of the dress.
We finally had a dress and a pattern that was going to work.
Before we cut into the fancy fabric, we had one more fitting to make sure that the pattern was in fact correct since we’d changed a bit of the skirt. When Susanne and her husband were driving up to the bay area, they brought with them the muslin #5.
After working out the last few details, we were ready to make the dress out of the Italian duchesse satin. I was very excited, but I was also very nervous – there were only two months until the wedding, and my now husband and I were so busy that we didn’t have many weekends to spare for more dress fittings!
In May my now husband and I fit a short trip down to Santa Barbara. I finally got the see the dress in the beautiful white fabric. Though it was mostly held together by basting and pins, it was a complete dress.
We hemmed, marked the fitting in the back, and talked about a few alterations. The quick trip was highlighted by the addition of a veil. Susanne’s best friend had brought some illusion tulle up from Los Angeles, and we pinned it to my head. Looking in the mirror at myself in a white dress and veil made me finally feel like a bride. I took a deep breath and enjoyed the moment. I’d been balancing so much at that point, I was taxed to my limit with work and all of the wedding planning, that I relished in this little joy.
With weeks left before the wedding, we snuck in one more fitting. My now husband and I headed down to southern California for a weekend of final touches.
The dress was put together with such care. Susanne had even had a button maker cover hundreds of little buttons with the satin fabric, and then she’d sewn them on, one by one, down the entire back of the dress. By hand. That’s love.
The final little changes we made to the dress during this weekend took a while because we were working with the complete dress. Every little alteration had to be well thought out because we had to open up quite a bit of the dress to do even the smallest thing. I learned a lot by watching how Susanne worked during this final stage. I’ve done my best to remember her techniques and tricks as I delve into sewing myself.
I thought I’d also share one little detail that Susanne added to the dress. She stitched a little white satin ribbon to the underside of each strap in a zig-zag pattern. This way I could wear a bra with straps during the wedding without having to worry about my bra straps showing in any of the wedding photos. It was a simple yet genius idea. It does require a bra with removable straps since you have to feed the strap under each zig and zag, but I already had such a bra so it worked perfectly.
I owe such a great deal of gratitude to Susanne, her best friend, my mom, my now husband and more for all of their help during this process. Everyone put their time, energy, and love into this dress in one way or another. I am such a lucky woman. Thank you, thank you, thank you.