Yes, that’s right, I decided to make my own wedding dress – how could I not?! I would have felt cheated if I had not had even a small hand in my special dress. And I would really like to share the process with you!
When I was in school still, and finding my way towards costumes and historical dress, my Granny gave me her wedding dress to study and then to keep! I have kept it tucked away in my cupboard in my mum’s house and as soon as I told mum that I was engaged she whisked me upstairs demanding I try Granny’s dress on!
It still fitted after all this time and it is lovely to think that I am a similar size to my Granny when she got married!
My beautiful Granny with her dad on her special day in 1945.
I knew I wanted to use her gorgeous dress, but thought it might be nice to upcycle it into something that is possibly more me. This was my first idea, of simply changing the bodice and adding an underlay as the skirt is a little on the short side.
However, after visiting a few bridal shops and trying lots of dresses on I started having new ideas, which actually just complicated the matter as now I am stuck between wanting to feel like a princess in a new one and desperately wanting to capture history!
I really liked the idea of having a top made of the lace from Granny’s dress over a plain bodice and with a flowing skirt, and a colourful sash to nip me in at the waist.
This was the idea I was ready to roll with until we went to India on a family holiday and we got Alex a tailored indian jacket made out there – mum said Alex was going to look so good, all we needed to worry abut now was making sure I looked just as good, and she suggested that we order an extra meter of his chosen fabric so I can make my bodice out of it – what a shock he’ll get when I walk down the aisle matching him!
Not the best photo, but an open jacket with a fantastic granddad collar – he loves it! I could really imagine me in a bodice made of it, so started designing the dress around it…
I may need to get some more lace to give the skirt more volume but it depends on what I do underneath – as a compromise I might purchase a bridal skirt from a separates collection, there are some really interesting ones out there and then I would get that gorgeous feel of beautiful fabric without the stress of having to sew it myself – especially if I am going to cover it with lace, it might be nice to have a given shape to work from.
I decided to start with the bodice – I had an old pattern that I actually used in my GCSEs!
I made it up and altered it to fit my design – felt like I was at uni again…
I am really pleased with the shape and now I can start thinking about boning and fastenings…
I was thinking about making an inner corset so that the top fabric does not need to be stretched out of shape and to give me more support throughout the day. I purchased some bra fastenings off eBay and created a little panel that could be sewn into the back side seams and pulled tight to give a corset effect.
Another reason for doing that was so I could have a button fastening for the top fabric, I’ve always loved those dresses with buttons all the way down the back but I don’t really have the time to that, so four or five buttons will have to suffice!
Starting to make the bodice out of the real fabric now!!
Once I had started on the bodice I got a sense of what sort of skirt I wanted…
So this is the final stage in the development of my wedding dress design ideas…I doodled on top of the image so I could get a sense of how it might look – I found this skirt online after a lot of hunting and researching – not too big and poofy but elegant and enough to make me feel like a princess! Ordered, slight delay on the despatch time, so I went back to the bodice.
Having left myself time to think and chatting to family members I decided to not add sleeves to the bodice. Since the back was quite low, I was concerned about how the sleeves would work and if they would stay up, etc.
So instead, I separated the bodice from the skirt on Granny’s wedding dress, cut down that the centre of the bodice and had a play with how it might sit as a bolero jacket…
I added two more darts at the back of the jacket to reduce some of the excess. Also two rows of top stitching around the new hem and cut the excess away. The effect is very feminine and romantic – perfect for getting married in and then slipping off for the reception!
Moving back to the bodice, I hand stitched the support panel to the completed bodice in for now, in case it needed moving back or forward a bit.
Once the bodice was together and I was satisfied with how it looked, I started adding boning to the seams – very simply by ironing the seams flat and sewing them down in the middle of the overlock stitch, creating channels which I pushed the plastic boning into. I only added them to the right hand ones as I didn’t want the bodice to be too stiff, but still to hold its shape.
And I am so thrilled with the outcome! Cannot wait to try it on when the skirt comes!
Next for the facing – I actually ran out of the top fabric, I used the off cuts to make pocket squares for the groomsmen! (see blog link!) So decided to choose a very simple, soft white cotton to face the bodice with.
I machined it to the front of the bodice and then flipped in to the inside, cut the edges and pressed the fold flat so no white would show on the front.
I was going to top stitch the facing down, but I didn’t want to ruin the effect of the facing, so I herringboned the edge of the facing to the calico, so hopefully it will not slip and be seen from the outside of the bodice.
I finalised where the support panels needed to be and machined them to the bodice.
Now the majority of the bodice is finished I could have fun with the detail of adding buttons and elasticated hoops to finish off the bodice!!
BACK TO THE SKIRT:
I am very lucky to have my head bridesmaid who actually works at a bridal shop! She very kindly helped me to take up the skirt so that the skirt worked with my chosen shoes…
Once I had done this, I started playing around with how I could apply my Granny’s lace to the skirt. I love the simple look of the bodice and skirt here but…its my wedding day and I want to look spectacular!
I really like the idea of having a long jacket and although it looks beautiful like this, it is not really me…
Now this really IS me! I love ruffled skirts!
I popped the skirt on my mannequin and played around with how I wanted the lace to work, but it actually looked a bit too much so decided instead to apply some of Grandma Rosemary’s lace to the skirt to tie the rest of my wedding outfit with my headpiece.
I hand stitched this gorgeous belt I made out of the lace, once I had worked out the arrangement of the lace I machined it on to a piece of silk with some iron on interfacing to give the belt structure…
I then cut away the excess silk, leaving a belt of lace!
This I hand stitched over the waistband with some fastening to complete the effect – this will hopefully give the look that the bodice and the skirt being one rather than separates.
I also added the rest of Grandma Rosemary’s lace to the bottom of the skirt train…
To link in with my head piece, I applied beads to the lace flowers to add a little glitz to my dress!
With Granny’s wedding dress I went back to mum’s idea of creating a long jacket out of the gorgeous lace – now I have another layer and have included something so meaningful in my wedding outfit.
For my lovely three bridesmaids, I was able to find three dresses from Two Birds company in the sale at one of the bridal shops I visited – they were perfect, different shades of blue and ones which they could design their preferred bodice style!
I let them choose their shoes as they needed to be comfortable on the day but I was able to purchase some beautiful faux fur shrugs for them from dazzlingladieswear on Etsy – they were perfect as a cover up on the evening. I also got a navy version for myself which really worked with the blue in the indian fabric!
Following my bridesmaids instructions carefully, I began taking up the layers of this gorgeous skirt. It is quite hard to tell from the photos but I took the inner most lining up to around my knees to get it out of the way entirely and then turned the netting over slightly to make them rest on the ground.
I had to unpick the lovely hem on the top fabric, iron the new hemline and reinstall the horsehair in that fold. I tacked the horsehair to the inside of the new hem for ease when stitching the lining down.
- Since writing the above I have changed my mind about my shoes…I know, typical bride. And since my lovely bridesmaid is back at her home in Huddersfield and I feel too awkward to ask her to come down just to help me with the hem! So I contacted a few people to see if they might be able to help, Cynthia from Oui Madame in Cookham turned out to be the one! She was unbelievably helpful and knowledgable – totally over qualified to just fix my hem! She was able to give me suggestions on design and also assist with taking the excess of the train up for dancing later on!
It was a mammoth task and I’m not sure if I would ever feel comfortable making someone else’s wedding dress but I loved every minute of making mine. I loved the personal touches and historical lace I was able to incorporate.
Alex had no idea that I would be in the same fabric as him, in fact he knew next to nothing about what I was wearing – he said, the engagement was his little secret that he had to keep, so this was like my version. And what a surprise!
It was the perfect day, and I feel truly blessed to have been able to celebrate with all my loved ones – here are some of the official photographs, I’ll add more when I get them!
Images with thanks to David Scammell!