further thoughts on a slow wedding dress

Our wedding was on 1st August, and by early February this year, I had some sense of what I wanted the overall shape of my dress to be. I bought this pattern from Etsy (it came all the way from Las Vegas!):

McCall's 7081: a vintage 1963 evening gown dress patternMcCall’s 7081 is a 1963 cocktail dress pattern, and I chose it because of the unusual bust seam lines and boat neck on the front bodice, and the v-neck on the back. The only size I could find was a bust 34, and I spent the next few months working on muslins, trying to refine the fit for my slightly smaller bust, and much narrower back. I invested in a dress form (something I’d wanted for a long time – this project was the excuse I needed!), and with Hanna’s help, adjusted it and added padding around the bust to approximate my dimensions. Although this bodice looks uncomplicated (its sleek simplicity was what had most appealed to me), the front curved seams proved deceptively tricky to alter, and in the end I left them alone, and achieved a better fit by, essentially, removing fabric at the side and back centre seams.

This was the first time I had incorporated muslins into a dressmaking project, and this part of the process was certainly slow, and at times frustrating. It goes without saying that for such a project as this, muslins were entirely necessary, and I would never have cut into costly silk without being fairly sure about the final result. In the end though, I did enjoy this particularly slow stage of the project – rather like when honing a long piece of writing, the repeated, careful revising  eventually left me with a sense of satisfaction and pride, in knowing that I had produced a thing well-crafted.

By late June, I hadn’t yet decided how one or more pieces of the antique lace would be incorporated. I knew that the lace was definitely going to be part of the skirt, and on the back of the skirt (a full-length circle skirt), where it would be most striking. I can’t remember exactly when it was that I finally chose to use just one piece: a tambour net flounce, over 3 metres long, dating from the 1880s, which is coincidentally the same decade in which the church where we were married was built.

IMG_1843I think many people would be shocked that I was still making some quite crucial decisions about my dress with just over a month to go until our wedding day. The timescales prescribed by the wedding industry are often terrifyingly long – it’s not unusual to make practical arrangements and lay down substantial deposits years ahead, and in my experience of others’ weddings, dresses are sourced months, if not also years, in advance. Hanna and I often talk about the disturbing aspects of contemporary wedding culture, in which people are lead to believe that their wedding has to be a day on which everything is ‘perfect’. Women in particular are put under the pressure of ‘perfection’, and not least when it comes to wedding dresses – as the world of bridal magazines would have it, it’s acceptable to spend thousands of pounds on your ‘dream’ wedding dress, a garment which will be worn only once (and is probably made entirely from synthetic fibres, in a factory in China – but that’s a post for another day…).

So in a context in which brides-to-be are expected to plan every little detail of ‘their’ day very far in advance, my wedding dress was in many ways last-minute. As I said in my last post, some people were clearly surprised and concerned that my dress wasn’t finished when I mentioned I was working on it in July. The dress was completed three days before our wedding, without any rush – just the satisfying pleasure of a project thoroughly executed, in the finest of materials (and without an eye-watering price tag). I was delighted with the finished dress, but much of my joy in wearing it came from the slow experience of making it, and the memories of that experience.DSC_0258IMG_2140

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Slow Fashion October: Loved

This week’s Slow Fashion October theme of Loved appeals to me for one big reason in particular: earlier this year, I made my own wedding dress. This was one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve ever worked on, and not just because it was for such a happy event. I especially enjoyed designing, planning, and making the dress I wore for our wedding because all of those stages happened over about a year, so it was a sustained, slow process, with intermittent bursts of activity, but plenty of time to think.IMG_1953Among the other factors that contributed to my pleasure were that it was a sociable project – it was fun to chew over design ideas with some of my closest friends – and that I worked with some very special materials, specifically some nineteenth-century lace given to me by a dear family friend, and silk crepe de chine of the very finest quality. Sharing creative ideas with those I love, and receiving a gift of beautiful lace for such a momentous occasion certainly made me feel loved – and of course, being surrounded by so many friends and family members on the day of our wedding, when I wore the dress, was pretty much the ultimate in feeling loved!

IMG_2009I’m going to write more about this dress in later posts, but for now I have just a few thoughts on the ‘slow’ nature of its making. As I’ve already said, this project was about a year in the planning, and although I’ve been making my own clothes for years, this was obviously a more serious sewing project than most! After eight months or so of reading up on couture sewing techniques and antique lace, and quietly musing over possible styles, I finally decided on an overall shape, sourced the pattern I would use for the bodice, and set about drafting and redrafting muslins, and cleaning the lace.  I bought the fabric on the last (and memorably sweltering) day of June: seven metres of silk crepe de chine from a trade supplier in east London, and probably the most beautiful stuff I have ever worked with. (While I was there, someone from Alexander McQueen came to collect an order – I knew I was buying pretty much the best!) Cutting and basting the pieces started in early July, and the dress was finished on 29th July, three days before our wedding. In that final month, I worked steadily – by which I mean a day or so at weekends, and an evening here and there in the week – but I didn’t really feel rushed, much to the evident concern of non-sewing friends, who couldn’t believe that the dress would be finished in time.IMG_1997At all stages, this was a satisfyingly slow project – I can vividly recall the quiet, focussed feeling of making sure that everything was done properly, and thoroughly: basting a piece here, and a piece there, while listening to the radio (the gentle lull of Test Match Special came into its own here, as it so often does with sewing!). Following tips I picked up from Claire Shaeffer’s books in particular, I was very conscientious about working on top of an old white sheet at all times, and wrapping the dress pieces in the sheet when I stopped sewing. I had never been quite so careful or methodical with a dressmaking project before – and I was intensely struck by how this enforced slowness was liberating, not confining. More thoughts, and picture of the finished dress, to follow…