The year I spent making “The Dress”

Tuesday 11 April, 2017

This post isn’t travel related, so you’ll have to forgive me for that; but I wanted to record this very special memory, and share it with others.

In October 2015 I decided to go along to a sewing class that my friend from work had previously attended, through Risingholme Community Centre, in Christchurch.

A bit about Risingholme…

Risingholme is a not-for-profit organisation in Christchurch, which allows people to take classes (mostly night ones) in a huge variety of activities, from cooking to languages, computer skills to calligraphy, wood work to sewing… you name it, and Risingholme probably offers it, or something similar. 

Anyway, I started going to sewing classes on a Monday night, taken by the wonderful Carolyn Coghlan. I started out making cushions (which, by the way, is not as easy a feat as it might sound, by the time you add in invisible zips, piping and other fun bits) – I made a couple for myself, a couple for my mum and before I knew it, we were into the second term. By this point I had gotten to know most of the class members quite well, and we all knew each others’ life stories; as such, Carolyn was dying for Craig to ask me to marry him. I had told the class all about our alphabet dating antics, and we were coming up to ‘E Date’ in March. The week came around, and the girls joked that maybe this was it, and surely enough it was – a romantic proposal at a lovely venue north of Christchurch. 

It was Easter weekend, so there was no sewing on Monday night, but when I went back the next week, there were plenty of oohs and ahhs, and that’s when Carolyn convinced me I should make my dress myself. Me. The girl who only makes cushions, and hadn’t even attempted a simple clothing pattern yet. But I accepted the challenge, and the journey began!

I had already been searching online for what I thought would be the right style of wedding dress for my body shape, and had one particular dress in mind, though the closest store to stock it was in Wellington… which called for a girls’ weekend away. So I booked flights for myself, my mum, and two of my three bridesmaids, to go to Wellington in June and try on the dress. Craig and I had set the wedding date for 01 April, so plenty of time.

In the meantime, another girl in my class, who was also getting married and making her dress, had recommended I check out a local store for materials – Grace and Lace, a bridal fabric and accessory store, which had been open for over 20 years. I did some research on the store, and to my horror I saw that the shop was closing down the week before I was due to go to Wellington. What a bizarre coincidence! 20 years open and closing a week before I needed them. So, I took another look st the dress I liked, and with a bit of a gamble (as they do say that usually the dress you think you will like is not what will suit you), one of my bridesmaids and I went in to Grace and Lace and ordered some fabric based on the picture. 

The store was run by a husband and wife team with incredible experience. The husband, Rhys, took one look at the picture and said I needed 6 metres of lace and satin. We looked at the lace, and in my mind I wanted something that wasn’t beaded, but when Rhys went out the back and brought out “Kate”, I fell in love. He unravelled her from her bolt, wrapped me up in satin and then held Kate up to me in just the right way to make her appear like she had a skirt and a train, and I was sold. 

While I was in there, I also picked up some accessories – a hair comb and bracelet. Because of the closing down, everything was heavily discounted, so I got a real deal. 

Now it was just crossing fingers and toes that the dress I liked in the picture was going to suit my short, and somewhat curvy, body! 


June rolled around fast enough, and the girls and I were off to Welly! We were super excited – it’s not often these days that we get to go on a trip away together, much less somewhere that requires a flight! 


We got to welly and checked into the hotel I had arranged – my all time Wellington favourite; The Bolton. We met up with our friend who had recently moved back there, and then went and picked up my mum, who was flying in directly from Invercargill. 

When we walked into the bridal shop, I was blown away at how lovely it was – set up to make Brides-to-be feel like princesses. The attendant showed me the different styles of dresses and I told her which one I was most interested in, and amazingly they had it in my size. I tried it on and it was everything I had hoped it would be – it suited me perfectly, and I was so happy (albeit horribly sick with a cold). Afterwards the girls had me try on some princess dresses… big poofy ones that just made me feel a bit overwhelmed, but it’s definitely a rite of passage to do so! 

We celebrated with dinner, and our friend had arranged champagne to be waiting for us when we arrived. 


From there I started working on constructing my dress! 

I started with making a calico mock up, because it would be a disaster to do it wrong with the actual fabric, especially with the supplier being no longer! 

First was putting together the bodice, which I used a pattern from an evening gown for. This was adjusted until it fitted me perfectly. 

Next was figuring out the panels for the skirt – now this part was tricky, as the dress had seven panels in total, and they started out hugging the hips and then flared out into a mermaid style. For this I used a very old pattern for a skirt, which was shin-length, and adjusted it to be longer. Simba really enjoyed helping with this part – it may have been his favourite part. 


Once this was all out together, it was time to cut the bodice out in the satin – the extremely scary first cut! 


The bodice, believe it or not, is that part that takes the very longest! It has the satin, interfacing (a thick material to add stiffness and structure), boning, binding to insert the boning into, and lining! With Grace and Lace closing down, and never having made anything like this before, I had to do a heck of a lot of research into what to use for the interfacing… everything I found in Christchurch was far too light. I ended up ordering some stuff from Auckland, from a shop called Centrepoint, which had a huge bridal range as well – it worked a treat! 


Around this time it was December (so I had been working on the dress for around 5 months already), and we were going to Auckland to a friend’s birthday party, and I thought I might pop into Centre Point and look at some veiling tulle. I had decided I wasn’t going to have a veil, but I knew I would have a decent amount of lace left over, and what better way to use it? So I popped in a got enough of a beautifully soft Ivory tulle to make a finger-tip veil. As my sewing term was over until February (albeit I did catch up with the class tutor a few times over the break), I worked on appliqué-ing (hand stitching) lace motifs onto the veil (which I had picked up a plastic comb for, and taken a bit of a stab at cutting the tulle out). I estimate that this took me around 50-60 hours in total, using a transparent nylon that is invisible to look at once used. Simba also enjoyed helping with this. 

Come January, I had cut out the lace and satin panels – just cutting out the lace took four hours – sewn the panels together (not an easy task with the beading – I must’ve broken about six needles), and attached the lace bodice panels to the satin bodice panels. Things were starting to get a bit exciting, and I was starting to believe it would look like I’d imagined it to. 

 


When class started back again in February, I was doing some seriously late nights (which I had all along, but this was full on because I was busy at work, as well as trying to pull the final wedding details together, and there was pressure to get a lot of work done on the dress) – I was working on the dress until midnight a couple of nights a week with my tutor, as well as working to midnight most other nights on my own appliqué-ing scalloping to the edge of my dress, so that the lace would overlap the satin with a pretty effect, and I was getting nervous. But we nutted it out and attached the lace to the satin skirt, and then the bodice to the skirt (this was tricky and took several attempts), and shape the sides of the bodice down to be a low scooped back. 


The last jobs to do were to cut out a pattern for the lace illusion back, then cut it out in the actual lace, make button loops out of satin, sew on the buttons, and then hand appliqué scalloping along the edges of the straps and underarm. Easy, right? Did I mention I’d never sewn a button on before? I had to learn to do that first!  


I finished attaching the back five days before the wedding, which left me about four to finish the hand sewing and add in a bustle – my bridesmaids helped me figure out where this should go, because it’s not something I could do without having the dress on. We added the bustle on by making a button-stitch loop with cotton – it was pretty much invisible and quite hard for the girls to find – and on the inside of the back of the bodice we sewed on a hook normally used for men’s suit pants, and the girls just had to undo a couple of my buttons to hook it through. We also added in a loop under the skirt, to put my wrist through as back up. 


Carolyn was dubious as to whether the bustle would hold, but it worked out perfectly – I used the loop when walking around for photos, and then I bustled it just before the first dance, and it held for the rest of the night. 

I lost track of how many hours were put in all up, but it was hundreds. 

The dress wasn’t perfect, but it was perfect for me and I am incredibly proud of my achievement – it is something I will remember fondly, and treasure, for the rest of my life ♥️

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4 comments

  1. Wow Laura I am absolutely amazed at your skills! When Holz told me you were naming your dress I thought you must have had some serious sewing experience behind you, but to read this and find out that it was all pretty new to you amazes me!!! I am really enjoying reading your blogs and I think this one is my favourite. Seeing the dress from start to finish and the process involved leaves me in awe. Well done, the dress looked so beautiful and you can tell everyone on your 50th wedding anniversary all about how you made your own wedding dress. Such a cool thing to do!!!

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    • Hi Dom! Wow, what a lovely comment… thank you so much, it really made my day when I read this. I’m glad you enjoyed reading about the dress… when I was writing it I was thinking Man I hope this doesn’t bore the heck out of anyone who looks at it. Thank you – I’m pretty proud of it, and definitely have a few plans for it foe future anniversaries and things. I hope everything is well with you! XXX

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