Making My Wedding Dress

 

If you've wondered why The Better Sweater Project has been close to silent this past year, it's because, in addition to graduate school and summer research, I was working hard on my wedding dress! 

Let me be clear: I am no seamstress. On a scale of seamstress to delusional, I fall safely on the latter side. This project saw me cutting, sewing, groaning, and dismantling again and again.

But I am also an incredibly optimistic person. And in the end, despite my novice skills, I finished the project! 

The Story

So why did I make my own dress? Well, it all started when I tried on a Rue De Seine washed silk crepe dress that I could never afford but had to have. Actually, I was not a fan of the top part of the dress, but the skirt...oh man...it was perfect. And as I walked (in it) around the store, observing the construction and how it flowed, I thought to myself, "I can make this!" 

Or at least something like it! Thus began my crafting adventure.

The Process

Before I spent all my money on silk for the skirt, I bought some poppin' pink fabric of a similar weight and got to draping. [I just noticed that the note I have taped to my monitor reads: "uncontrollably compelled to do something unwise." Hah!]

Yes, this is real. Despite looking ridiculous, the beer-sized iterations really did help! I then made a few life-size versions, draped on my trusty dress form, and tweaked my "pattern" until it fit "just right." Wabi-sabi wabi-sabi! 

For the top, I decided on a simple sweetheart neckline. I was lucky enough to work with my dear friend Kelly's mom, Chris (she falls on the seamstress side of that scale I mentioned before), on a pattern that fit right on over a bustier I'd purchased from Nordstrom's. Chris lives in Portland, so my mom, Kelly, and I trekked on up to Oregon over Spring Break and got to work.

Though I'd found the perfect stone-wash crepe de chine silk for the skirt, I was still looking for the right lace for the top. Portland's gigantic brick and mortar Fabric Depot had tons of options and I was able to find an ivory lace that matched my silk.

Once the draping and pattern-making were complete, I got to sewing. For the skirt, I used my machine. Though I started out doing the same for the top, I eventually resorted to sewing by hand.

For the top's lining, I used scraps left over from my mom's wedding dress (made by her mom). Here she is on her wedding day (gorgeous!) and a close up of the lining on my dress. 

If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know that I completed everything but the hem in July. I then twiddled my thumbs for a few weeks, trying to figure out how to sew the hem so that I wouldn't trip.

In the end, Eric and my two best friends did almost all of the measuring, cutting, and pinning while I sat/stood in the dress (wait, this isn't how it's supposed to be done?).

Later, I dedicated a whole day to sewing (because of the skirt's draping it has a crazy huge circumference). At 2am on the Tuesday before our August 13th wedding, I finished the dress! Wahoo! 

Here are few images of the funky yet functional final product: 

Excuse the little crease at the base of the bustier. When I sat down I crushed it a bit and the weight of the skirt exacerbated the crease. In hindsight I would have bought a sash to cover it up, though from far away it kind of looks intentional. Ultimately, I didn't notice it until I took the dress off that night. Despite this little flaw I still love the dress! 

The Materials

If you are thinking about making your own dress, make sure you have plenty of the following:

  • Optimism (you can do it!)
  • Wabi-sabi mentality (embrace imperfection!)
  • Supportive friends and partners (to help pin, cut, etc.)
  • Time/dedication (werk werk werk werk werk)

In addition, you might also need these items if you want to make a similar dress (also, note that I am 5' 3"):

  • Lace - 1 yard (purchased at Fabric Depot in Portland)
  • Stone wash crepe de chine silk - 10 yards total and used for the skirt and layering under the lace top (purchased from Dharma Trading Company)
  • Antistatic polyester lining for the skirt - 8 yards (purchased at Fabric Depot in Portland) - Note: if I were to do this again, and wasn't so cheap, I would not have gone with a synthetic
  • Lining for inside the top (I used my mom's wedding dress scraps)
  • Silk pins
  • Bustier (mine was by Betsey Johnson purchased at Nordstrom) - Note: I had a Nordstrom tailor hem the bottom by about an inch so that it sat just above my belly button
  • Bustier pattern (Chris designed mine but there are plenty of patterns out there!)
  • Zipper (for closing the back of the dress)
  • Hook & eye closures (for ensuring the dress stays closed!)
  • Silk thread (three spools was enough for me!)
  • Really freakin' sharp scissors

I also made my own veil by gathering the tulle material and stitching it to a metal hair comb. There are plenty of tutorials for DIY veils online. Then, on the day of the wedding, two of my friends cut the bottom so that it flowed. Yes, really!

 Materials used:

  • Metal hair comb (purchased on Amazon here)
  • Thread - whatever is left over
  • Ivory tulle - 3 yards (purchased from Fabric Depot)

All told, I spent under $400 on materials, though the labor/stress cost was thousands! Joking aside, making this gown was an incredible experience. What a thrill to take on a complicated project and complete it.

I also attempted to make a wedding shawl, which at the start I was super jazzed about (case in point this eager beaver blog post). I purchased the yarn, tried two different patterns, and in the end the whole project felt like a chore. While making the wedding dress was tough yet thrilling, knitting (a craft that I love) the shawl felt soul-sucking and brought me little joy. So I stopped. Now I have a bunch of beautiful Lerke yarn and am excited to see what else I can make without the pressure of a wedding deadline!

For more images of the dress and our wedding, check out this slideshow (pictures by the incredible Tim Coulson):

 

Dickey with a Modern Twist

 

We've been watching a lot of Big Bang Theory recently, which is where I learned about the dickey (see Howard Wolowitz), one of the stranger accessories out there. Then, the other day, I saw: 

Not only does Amanda Brooks have the best travel style, but she is also wearing the coolest knit dickey from Celine! And now I want one!

Well, sorta. I can't imagine wearing a dickey unless the back was as long as the front, and even then those flaps... At that point, why not just make a vest? 

Still, knitting a dickey is pretty darn easy. Says raynathompson on Ravelry:

Find a basic turtleneck pattern in the size you want. Cast on the same number of stitches as the armhole width. That’s the amount of stitches after decreases for the full sweater width and before the neckline shaping. Don’t overthink it! Knit the front and back as straight pieces for the length you want (knit a wide edging so the stockinette doesn’t roll), then follow the pattern directions for the neckline and collar. That’s it! Choose any pattern in the correct size to get you started. 

After a wee search, I found three patterns whose separate components, when combined, would make the perfect little Celine inspired dickey or vest. Similar cabling pattern meets vest pattern meets turtleneck. Wahoo! Could this be a future better sweater? MAYBE! Will I get a chance to actually knit this semester? Man, I hope so! And wouldn't this be perfect for a California summer?

1. Wicklow by Norah Gaughan (image by Orangewall), 2. Dalea by Berroco Design Team, 3. Pendleton by Wendy Baker and Belinda Boaden

 

Instagram Inspiration

 

Like many craft-loving individuals, Instagram is my social media of choice. So many people to follow! So much to inspire! Still, there are certain profiles that I return to again and again. I am always excited when I search for these folks and find several new photos that I hadn't seen before (it's the little things, eh?). So here are my favorite Instagrammers from the last while, sorted by the categories of Crafts, Family & Home, and (Life)Style, with notes on why I like them. Maybe you'll find someone knew who will inspire you!

Craft

Clockwise from left:

1. @thecraftsessions - Felicia Semple is a crafty genius and her Instagram profile inspires me every time I look at it. Whether she's sewing, knitting, or quilting, her pictures always make we want to run over to my craft corner and start making something (likely whatever she's crafting that day). If you don't already follow her blog, you should check it out. It's a great one to have in the maker-journal rotation. 

2. @karentempler - Another great craft blogger! Karen Templer is the owner and proprietor of Fringe Supply Co., my favorite knitting-related shop on the interwebs, and her personal Instagram is just lovely. Like Felicia's profile, I am often inspired to get crafty by Karen's posts. So watch out!

3. @wikstenmade - Jenny Gordy is an incredible pattern maker and the woman behind Wiksten, an online clothing and pattern shop. Her children's patterns are especially precious and I look forward to one day making little harem pants and smocks for my kiddos (if I have any energy at all...that parenting thing looks kinda tough). 

4. @folkfibers - When am I going to make a quilt? Who the heck knows! In the meantime, I'll just salivate over Maura Grace's Instagram which is full to bursting with images of the beautiful quilts she is working on.

My other favorite craft-related Instagrammers include @blockshoptextiles and Blockshop's two super cool owners, @lilystockman and @hopiestockman.

Family & Home

Clockwise from left:

1. @courtneyadamo - Courtney Adamo, her husband, and their four children are spending a year traveling abroad and her Instagram is full to bursting with posts of their travel and homeschooling adventures. I am living vicariously through her photos and growing so excited for my own trip to New Zealand later this year, a place they visited a few months ago. Also, Courtney's family wins the "best-dressed family on Instagram" award, hands down. So much linen!

2. @barnaclebags - Lissa Snapp lives on Lopez Island with her husband and young son, and every time I see her profile I feel a strong urge to move north! Lissa's cabin home, built by her husband, has lots of Waldorf-inspired elements as evidenced in this photo (I think I spy some Lyra pencils!). She also makes beautiful bags!  

3. @practisingsimplicity - I've been following Jodi's blog Practicing Simplicity for ages and love her photography. Her Instagram profile is filled with beautiful photos of her simple and functional home decor and of her three adorable and, like Courtney Adamo's brood, very well-dressed children. Definitely check out her blog if you want to read more about purposeful simple living (and see more photos!). 

4. @juneletters - I first started following Jess's Instagram because our moms are close friends and her graphic design posts were always awesome. Years have passed and now she has a young baby boy and a very cool loft in Oakland. I enjoy her pictures as well as her refreshingly reflective captions. Instagram doesn't often feel very real or down-to-earth, but Jess' profile does. 

(Life)Style

Clockwise from left:

1. @clarevivier - Clare Vivier is the eponymous designer of an increasingly popular purse and accessories brand, and is definitely one of my fashion idols. (And yes, I looked up the "precise use" of eponymous to write that last sentence.) Her style appears effortless, classic, and simple. Bonus, to me anyway, she's also Martha Stewart-approved (Vivier's Echo Park home is in the June issue of MSL, which I've been reading [i.e. looking at pictures] religiously since my youth). I own three of her bags thanks to eBay's generously reduced used prices but, if I'm ever financially solvent enough to purchase an item in her shop, well, I think I will. 

2. @witblog - Laura Fantacci is an Italian stylist living in London and probably the chicest person I follow on Instagram. To me, her style is one part Jenna Lyons (J.Crew) and two parts some fashion house I don't know and can't afford. Still, I find the looks she puts together very accessible (i.e. I could find similar shapes and materials in my own closet) and am often inspired by her Instagram. 

3. @taza - While Taza's Instagram (Naomi Davis) would probably fit better in the Family & Home category, I first started reading her blog before she had children and was immediately attracted to her sense of style. Color! Patterns! Shiny things! Three kids later (the cutest kids), she still looks effortlessly chic! Definitely one of my favorite bloggers

4. @beatricevalenzuela - A shoe designer by trade, Beatrice Valenzuela's general style (clothing, accessories, home) is very "current bohemian," which sounds like a thing but may or may not be. Like Clare Vivier, she is another one of the hip Echo Park set, which also includes @heatherbethtay@simoneleblanc@jleighwms@jessekamm, and @jeanasohn (whose Closet Visit photoblog got me started on all these ladies in the first place), among others. If you're looking for even more Instagram (Life)Style inspiration I definitely recommend checking out those folks. 

 

Wedding Shawl

 

I'm getting married this summer and recently found the perfect wedding shawl pattern: In the Garden by Ilga Leja! The weekend before last I spent time in Southern California and while I was down there I visited the cutest little yarn shop in Pasadena. The staff were so patient with me while I compared all the white fingering-weight yarns and even let me take my favorites outside to see how they looked in natural light. And lo and behold, I found the perfect yarn: Lerke ("Lerke" means "lark" in Norwegian), a fingering-weight 2-ply from Dale Garn of Norway. It's 52% fine merino wool, 48% Egyptian cotton and super duper soft. So excited to begin this project! See images below for my fit inspiration.

 

2015 TBSP Year in Review & Plans for 2016

 

Happy first day of 2016 and happy two-year anniversary to TBSP! To welcome this new year of knitting, I thought I'd share a little review of last year's (whoa!) projects and my knitting plans for 2016. 

2015 was a slow but steady year for TBSP. It saw the knitting of Better Sweater No. 7 and No. 8 (plus Epistrophy)! While that's quite a few fewer than last year, I really enjoyed the process of knitting my 2015 jumpers. Cabling and meticulously following charts were central themes in both Moroccan Nights and Ondawa, and I am now pretty darn good at both. I'm also super great at unraveling small sections to fix twist direction! Huzzah!

Top photos: 1. Moroccan Nights // 2. Ondawa

I currently have two sweaters in my queue for 2016. On the left: Backbay by Jared Flood. This Aran-style pullover was also in my 2015 queue and is at the top of my knit list. On the right: White Pine by Amy Christoffers (Savory Knitting). I absolutely love the fit of Christoffers' patterns (Campus and Acer are two of my favorite Better Sweaters) and White Pine looks like a fun project to sink my teeth into. Yay for more cables!

1. Backbay by Jared Flood // 2. White Pine by Amy Christoffers

Looking forward to knitting the Better Sweaters of 2016, once again transforming meh into yeah!

 

Ondawa is Complete!

 

After seven long months, I can now say that the second and final better sweater of 2015 is complete! Hurray! It's been quite a long journey. I cast on in May and slowly chugged away at the first panel over several months. Once grad school started in August I stopped knitting completely (sadness!), but over the Thanksgiving break I started up again and made steady progress on the second panel. I finished the sleeves over Christmas and sewed up all the pieces when I got back to the Bay on Monday. In my impatience to finish the sweater, I skipped the blocking phase...eh I know. I may block it now that it is in one piece, but honestly it fits (and looks) just fine without blocking.

If you've seen the Ondawa pattern, or other folks' Ondawa projects, you'll know that this sweater was designed to be oversized (like 10-20 inches of positive ease) in width and slightly short in length. Concerned about fit and inspired by the mods made by Raveler grimfrosties (who added two more repeats of the central cable to her sweater), I decided to do 8 total repeats of the central cable (16 twists). I achieved the suggested gauge with a size 7 needle but must have knit rather tightly because my panels are 20.5 inches across rather than 22. My length is also 21 inches rather than the suggested 17¼. I also modified the sleeves as my arms are rather slender and did just 3 increases, resulting in a total of 52 stitches on each arm before casting off. 

All said and done, Ondawa was such a joy to knit! I absolutely loved the pattern and experienced zero cabling fatigue! Knitting without a cabling needle changed my life and the chart repeats flew by. If I were to tackle this project again, though, I think I would try out a modified front and back panel. Perhaps skip the twisted rib along the sides, thereby removing some of the excess ease? I'd also use a lighter (read: softer and not 100% wool) yarn. The Ondawa pattern produces a rather dense material. Add a robust wooly yarn to the mix and, well, this is a pretty heavy jumper! But hey, it's winter! I'm very content, cozy, and warm. 

 

Yarn Bowls

 

Looking for a last minute gift? This yarn bowl from Twig & Horn popped up on my Pinterest feed today and would make a fabulous holiday present. From the shop:

Yarn bowls are the solution to keeping your yarn from rolling away and falling to the farthest corner behind the sofa (where it inevitably falls in with the no-good dust bunny crowd). Guide fine- or heavy-gauge yarns down the slot to the opening, where it will stay safe and secure while you knit, yet ready to release the yarn without breaking if needed. Turned by hand in Maine from American birch, and finished with natural oils for protection. Each sturdy yet light bowl is unique—no two are alike.

I am a big fan of my own yarn bowl and use it all the time. Made from reclaimed ash and finished with a natural wax, mine is from Mountain Street Arts on Etsy (who doesn't appear to be selling them currently). I've compiled a short list of other Etsy yarn bowls at the bottom of this post.

My yarn bowl: The perfect size at 6 by 2 3/4 inches.

My yarn bowl: The perfect size at 6 by 2 3/4 inches.