Rachel: Making My Wedding Dress

When I was a little girl, I hated fabric stores. Hated them. It felt like I spent every Saturday in one fabric store after another while my mom and grandma perused pattern books, had fabric cut, and spoke a language I couldn’t understand for hours. Even though my mom made me tons of cute clothes when I was young, I just got so bored in fabric stores. It wasn’t until I was in need of a semiformal dress for my eighth grade graduation that I realized just how amazing it is to have someone close to you who can sew, and sew well. Since then, I have enjoyed going to the fabric store with my mom and grandma, because a trip there means I’m about to get an amazing Halloween costume (my mom’s specialty) or a fancy dress (my grandma’s).

I was on the fence about having my grandma make my wedding dress. I didn’t want to take advantage of her generosity or make her feel like she had to make it. Plus, making my dress when I was living twelve hundred miles away presented some challenges. At the end of 2012, I tried on a few super wedding-y wedding dresses to get an idea of styles I liked, and earlier this spring I tried on a short lace one that I actually thought about buying. But ultimately, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy a dress. This was due in part to the fact that I couldn’t really afford any of the dresses sold in stores and then there was the fact that I didn’t really love any of them. (Why doesn’t anyone make long-sleeved, off-the-shoulder wedding dresses?! Oh, wait, because it’s not 1989 anymore, Rachel…) But the main problem was that buying my dress just didn’t feel right. Because my grandma sewing wedding dresses for women in our family and even close friends (and now their daughters) is just…what we do.

So last week, on a very cold and rainy day (weather I have missed terribly since moving to Houston!) my mom, grandma, and I headed to Haberman Fabrics in Royal Oak, MI to get the fabric for my wedding dress.

I had ordered the circa-1990 pattern for my dress off of Etsy several months ago, in three different sizes because I had no idea what would fit. It was the only pattern I could find for a knee-length sheath dress with long sleeves and an off-the-shoulder-neckline—a silhouette that feels perfect for me and for a winter courthouse wedding. A few weeks before I flew home, my grandma made a prototype of it out of cheap fabric so we could see how it fit and I could find out whether this style looked the same on me as it did in my head. (Good news: it did.) When it came to the fabric, I knew I wanted something heavier, not terribly shiny, and not bright white. But when we walked into the store, I was immediately overwhelmed by all the shiny, white pretty things.

Because despite the awful weather, it was warm and cozy inside the store and the bridal section felt like it was lit by candlelight. Everything just glowed. There were bolts of gorgeous fabric in every shade of white, glass cases filled with sparkling crystal trim, and all different types of lace. Everything was just so pretty.

One of my New Year’s goals was to learn to sew, and I had been working on finding a sewing class in Houston before I left town; as I looked around at all the amazing materials at Haberman’s, I was so motivated to carry on the family tradition and learn to sew like my mom and grandma. I stood there just… petting all of the gorgeous bridal fabrics at the store, thinking about what a dumbass little kid I had been to hate fabric stores, until my mom zeroed in on an ivory silk dupioni and gently dragged me away from the tulle so I could see it. It was exactly what I’d had in mind, so we showed it to my grandma, who liked it too. (This is a huge change from the traditional bickering that usually takes place when my mom and grandma are working on something together.)

After holding the material next to the pristine winter white fur stole that my mom had bought me from an antique store in Holly earlier in the week (something old!), we were sold. We had it cut, chose a lining and a zipper, and that was it! After browsing the other parts of the store for a couple more hours, we left with a small stack of fabric that my grandmother will eventually stitch together for me using her mother’s sewing machine. Because in my family, that’s just what we do.

Photos from Rachel’s personal collection

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  • May

    I have no insightful comment to contribute. Just wanted to say how much I loved reading this.

    • BB

      Sorry! I meant to “exactly,” not report! Lovely piece! It makes me wish I could sew!

    • Samantha

      Love this! I cannot wait to see how your dress develops and how gorgeous it turns out! How exciting and what a fantastic and lovely tradition!

  • I conspired to get my aunt and a friend to make mine. Although I did not contribute to the labor, per se, the process of shopping for fabric, dreaming of visual details and trying things on was so fun. I definitely felt hooked into the visceral experience of making something, even though I wasn’t the maker. Very excited for your journey and this dress!

  • Sheila

    Love it! My mom sewed a lot of my clothes growing up, using HER mom’s old sewing machine – the kind that is built into its own table. I do know how to sew, and have made a few quilts, but I definitely feel like I should get into it more to carry on the family tradition. I wonder if there’s something simple you could sew yourself for the wedding? Like a little drawstring bag to carry the rings in? Or maybe a bigger one to put mementos in? Doesn’t have to be a bag… that’s just what comes to mind when I think of an easy sewing project.

    I’m sure your dress will be beautiful and I love that your grandmother is making it for you!

    • Era

      You could make a ring cushion out of offcuts from your dress fabric!

  • Laura C

    Love this. We do not sew or craft in my family, but we cook and bake. My father is the guy who shows up with the best baked goods for all the political meetings. And I really, really wanted to find a venue where me and my parents could make the desserts. (Wasn’t going to be one cake, but a table of desserts.) Unfortunately, this dream turned out to be incompatible with the venues we could find that would fit our ridiculous 250 people. So we’re going to do that for the rehearsal dinner, which will be at my FMIL’s house. In fact, I’d sort of like to self-cater the whole rehearsal dinner, but A keeps pointing out that while I am perfectly capable of making excellent food for however many people are at the rehearsal dinner, doing so would entail at least one meltdown and I don’t want to be melting down the day before my wedding. And I’m like “no, I’d plan so well, it would be amazing, like half the food would be in slow-cookers, blah blah blah” but I have to acknowledge he has a point. My father, though, points out that for something you do at home there’s a middle ground, and if there are one or two dishes I/we want to make that work with whatever’s being catered in, that could be low-stress but also represent my family tradition.

    I already have lists of what desserts I’m thinking of, with a few fruit ones even though I don’t much like fruit but I know some people do, ones that I think will suit the array of dietary restrictions (maybe nothing vegan, have to think about that), all my favorites. Basically, going over those lists is going to be my happy place for the next year.

    • Caroline

      We originally wanted to self-cater the wedding, but after my parents offered to pay for catering, decided not to. We are planning, however, on making two dishes ourselves: our celebratory couscous and Sambousak ( little hand pies like empanadas). Also, my mom may make the cake. We’ll split the difference and make some food for our guests without doing it all and being quite so stressed.

  • DKTX

    How wonderful, and how lucky you are to have such a talented grandma. I can’t wait to see the finished dress!

  • Corrie

    Ohmygosh I have a White sewing machine that is that exact same turquoise color! It’s a model from the 50s but can only do one type of stich forward and backward. A little too simplistic to make a fancy dress probably, but she sure is a sturdy beast.

    That fabric store looks like a magical place and such a beautiful bonding experience for you, your mom and your grandma. I can’t wait to hear how the dress turns out. It will be such a lovely keepsake for you to cherish during and after the wedding.

    • LondonSarah

      I have my grandmother’s sewing machine, I think it dates from around 1962 and it’s a Singer, but it is also this colour – love it! As well as going forward and backwards mine also does a zigzag, now there’s technology for you!

    • rys

      Forward and backward is usually all you need for most sewing — garments and quilts! There are other stitches that can be helpful, but the basic metal mid-century machines are pretty amazing.

      • Corrie

        They really are. They seem so much more durable than the plastic ones that are available now. I’ve actually used mine to sew pillow cases, curtains, a nursing cover w/ boning, some lovies (stuffed animal blankets) and a dog bed for my Great Dane, and it has worked pretty well for the most part. Doing zippers has been really rough though, especially since I don’t have a zipper foot and have trouble finding parts for the machine (I only have one bobbin….it makes me crazy). Someday I’ll work up the ladyparts to try clothing, I hope.

      • meg

        Yeah, other than occasional zig zag on a scrap of fabric for entertainment, I’ve never used anything but forward and backwards, and I’ve made a lot of garments in my day. Sometimes you can’t do light stretchy materials (like jersey) if you can’t properly adjust the tension in your machine, but that’s it.

  • Hintzy

    That’s so wonderful! I was strongly considering making my own dress until I found a used silk shantung gown, for me there’s something about being used to having natural fabrics (I sew in a historical reenactment context, but not generally modern clothes) that made settling for a polyester gown really difficult to stomach, I’m just not comfortable in it, and the yardage of cotton/silk poplin fit into my budget. In the end, sewing is not something I am entirely confident in and my mom simply hates doing it, so it worked out right for us – so awesome that it worked out right for you!

  • Nora

    Thanks for this post! I’m just jumping into designing and sewing my own wedding dress- the design is done, muslin is made, and my fabric shopping trip with my mother is next Wednesday! I’m so excited. Like you, I grew up in fabric stores with my grandma and mother, although I thoroughly enjoyed every trip. I still get that “kid in a candy store” feeling when I go.

    Although I’ve been sewing for 20 years and worked as a costume seamstress at a theater for a few years, making my wedding dress is unexpectedly stressful. The stakes are so high… the fabric is expensive, the design is super complicated and time consuming, and… well, it’s my WEDDING DRESS. Yikes. I feel like I need a dress-sewing support group. If anyone has been through it and has wisdom to share, I’d love to hear about your experience!

    • Anne

      I don’t have any advice to give, but my mom made her own wedding dress and it turned out wonderfully. You can do it!

    • SLG

      I didn’t make mine, but I have made bridesmaid dresses (altering one 2 sizes up from the original pattern) and my roommate made her wedding dress. I hear you on the stress (the fabric is SO expensive) but you can totally do it!

      I don’t know if this would be meaningful to you, but throwing the idea out there just in case. My roommate’s wedding dress had large lace appliques at the hem. She invited a few good friends over to help, spread out the almost-finished dress on a table, and we all sat around the table hand-stitching this beautiful Italian lace onto the dress. She’s brave :-) but everyone did fine, and it became a lovely shared experience for her and her friends in those weeks before the wedding.

    • I made my wedding dress! It was 7 years ago already, but I remember how intimidating it was. I cobbled together my own pattern from two very different ones and the muslin was a GONG SHOW – the only place that fit properly was where the two patterns met up (thank goodness). I had to tweak and alter and tweak and alter like crazy. And then I forgot to mark the grainline on one of the panels and I was shaking in my boots while I cut into all that silk. But the result was absolutely perfect – I am so proud of it. So stinking proud. It’s the most comfortable piece of clothing I own, it was beautiful, and it was completely me, more so than anything I found in the stores. (And, since I’m over six feet tall, it was LONG ENOUGH too!) You can do it! Just take your time and try to enjoy even the frustrating finicky bits. It’s worth it.

  • Gwen

    Annnnnnd your grandmothers name is Martha. Because of course it is! I loved this; it all just felt like goodness from beginning to end.

  • This is a lovely post. Nobody in my family sews, but my best friend does. She didn’t make her dress, but did make me a quilt for being her maid of honor. It’s prominently displayed in our living room and would definitely be one of my top five things to grab in case of fire.

  • This made me cry. :'( My mom and my new mother in law are both seamstresses. I just learned to sew this past year. Their tradition, however, is quilts. Following in that tradition I made my first ever quilt in April, to give to a friend with a new baby, and my mom almost hid it for a keepsake of her daughters first quilt. (Can you tell she was thrilled about the progression and continuation of our sewing heritage?).

  • My mom used to make us dresses all the time. And she hates to cook. I somehow got the genes twisted around as I am kind of super good in the kitchen (and enjoy it too) but not crafty at all when it comes to putting things together with my hands. I wish I could knit and crochet. Maybe all I need is some classes. Anyhow… we have a project since the beginning of the year, which is, making our own curtains. We borrowed my mom-in-law’s sewing machine. We bought a new needle. And between the hubs and me, we can’t seem to make it work, we have no idea how. I think I will find out about classes and figure it out, you just inspired me to it. It might be a good anniversary gift for him (as he actually wants to learn how to make his own clothes) and all I can think about is yeah, it would be nice, but I don’t see myself capable or motivated or enthused by the whole thing.

    Anyhow, thanks for sharing this. And Rachel, your dress sounds amazing.
    Bateau necks, off the shoulder looks and lace all sound like a dream (and so hard to find these days, or so expensive).

    • Laura C

      Yes, looking at the pictures of Rachel, I was thinking “see, she knows something that’s going to look good on her. Not just good but right.” But try finding anything approaching that in a store…

      • meg

        Ah, this makes me think of my long time dream business: actually hip wedding dresses in a variety of styles at an affordable price point (because the wedding dress markup is so absurd, there is so much room to make a living in there). Alas, my hands are full.

        • Class of 1980

          That’s a game we play around here. We think of businesses that are desperately needed in these small mountain towns … as if we had time to do anything more than what we’re already doing!


        • thislittleredcat

          I have actually been toying with this idea… if I follow through I’ll reach out to become an AFP vendor, yes?

        • That’s a really fantastic idea. I often wonder if I could actually make a dress for an affordable price though. Even making my own I still spent over $400.

          • Oh, you guys, it is so freaking hard to make wedding dresses affordable. Even something short and simple entails 10-20 hours of labor, at minimum, never mind fabric, and when you put a fair wage for skilled work on there (or add lace, trains, strapless foundations, etc found in most wedding dresses)… It seems to be impossible to make anything for less than $800 without being unfair to ourselves. It hurts my soul when I have to tell someone I can’t meet their budget for a dress because I am not mass-producing polyester princess dresses in Asian sweatshops.

          • Allie

            I have to second Cindy’s comment. When she says minimum 10-20 hours that really is bare minimum for the most simplistic dress. The reason is seems cheaper if you DIY is because you don’t have to pay for the labour. I agree the mass produced polyester dresses are obscenely marked up but if you’re going to a small designer and looking for natural fibers it isn’t going to be a $300 dress.

    • Amanda, I’ve learned a good bit by watching youtube videos on how to do certain things. (Like thread a needle, etc.) Good luck learning! :)

  • Ahh, this is so sweet to read. I love the tradition, the excitement of doing this big thing in the way that feels best and right to you, etc – and the dress sounds like it will be beautiful! Those traditions that we don’t really fully understand until we’re older and no longer get to participate in them the same way – so bittersweet.

    Side note, having gotten married in the 2006 strapless ballgown craze, I love seeing that other styles are gaining popularity again, and dresses with sleeves always look so fabulous (I adored my strapless ballgown, don’t get me wrong – sample sale Amsale at discount store price, holla! – but I’m also excited that I get to do it again and choose something that suits me as a more adult version of myself).

  • DairyCat

    This could be me! I knew from the day I got engaged that my mom was making my wedding dress, I just had to convince her it was the right idea! I tried on wedding dresses in a standard WIC store, and was totally underwhelmed. Found a vintage 50’s pattern on Etsy, made the muslin with my mom over Christmas, and was sold. I made the trip to Houston (!) to buy fabric and found a $90/yard fabric at a fancy store I liked, but in no way could justify buying. I convinced my mom to stop at Jo-Ann’s fabric on the way home and bought $6/yard crafters lace at 50% off.

    I had my fitting with her a few weeks ago and cried – like an idiot – because I was just so happy to wear something that had been crafted by my mom’s hands, on the sewing machine she’s had since she was a child and made her own wedding dress on.

    All of that history and personalization and family is what a wedding is about. Why would my dress be any different.

    • Rachel

      “All of that history and personalization and family is what a wedding is about.” YES to this. I found myself sort of taken aback by how much this shopping experience meant to me. Wedding planning has made me more aware of and proud of my roots for sure, but I think the WIC often frames it as “You have to have centerpieces that MEAN SOMETHING” rather than just reminding us that we’ll find meaning in unexpected ways as we go about the planning.

      PS I can’t believe how much our experiences have in common! Virtual fist bump!!

      • I think the WIC often frames it as “You have to have centerpieces that MEAN SOMETHING” rather than just reminding us that we’ll find meaning in unexpected ways as we go about the planning.

        Yes yes yes! I commented in the open thread yesterday, about how I’ve been relatively and surprisingly uninterested in the decor details of the wedding, and I really haven’t been able to put my finger on why that is. And then you just did it for me. Thanks, Rachel.

        I cannot wait to see your wedding dress! It sounds divine; I love reading about the process.

      • DairyCat

        I have a feeling we are two of many. Breaking my SO of the “but it’s tradition!” habit has been hard, but as he’s come around, he is really getting into creating meaningful memories and thinking critically about why and how we are doing things.

        I know that’s just anecdotal, but I feel like he’s been primed by a seismic shift in how our generation is consuming and producing. We’re definitely looking to be more connected with the things we make and consume and I think it’s finally trickling over into wedding traditions.

        I’m so looking forward to see how yours and my dresses take shape! I’m only 3 months out and am most excited to see if finished more than anything (well, other than getting married).

  • I can so relate to this! I didn’t necessarily hate fabric stores when I was a kid, but I was frustrated by them. They were overwhelming, and because while my mom and grandmother sewed, they didn’t bother to teach me, which meant that fabric stores were boring. There was nothing for me in them.

    When I got involved with my first serious boyfriend, my mom was terrified that I’d do something stupid like get married and get pregnant and not finish my education (because that’s what our people do), so she promised that if I waited to get married until I finished college, she’d make my dress *and* a Baltimore album quilt. That relationship ended, and our joke became that she meant after I completely finished college (PhD two and a half years ago).

    So when it finally came time to get married, she said she’d make the dress if I still wanted her to. I tried on dresses to get an idea and found one I liked. That mom said she would buy, but at right around $1000, I couldn’t justify it. Particularly since when Mom used all of her coupons and discounts the over $600 worth of fabric wound up costing us around $200.

    We too did a cross country process. She made a muslin mock-up. And then because she was nervous because she hadn’t done that kind of sewing since she made me that rocking strapless, ruffled & tiered skirted peach satin with cream lace prom dress in 1992, she made the entire dress….the lining, the underlining, the boning, the satin, the lace overlay…in blue. Lots of shipping back and forth across the country.

    I actually got to fly out to see her about 6 months before the wedding and we spent our afternoon in the fabric store…picking out the right satin, deciding which lace I wanted (she was honest, what I really wanted, she was afraid to work with so we went with Chantilly. And really…can you go wrong with Chantilly lace? Really?). We also picked out the fabric for all the vests that my husband, his father, and the 9 groomsmen wore because she made those as well.

    Everything turned out very well, and there were several people at the wedding who said that they couldn’t believe my mom had made my dress…they didn’t think “homemade” could look that good.

    Mom was just here this weekend, and she was helping me with a sewing project. I’m not one of those learners who can get something by reading, and patterns are incredibly foreign to me. So we spent Tuesday go through the pattern, cutting things out, pinning. She’d show me how to do one side and then I’d do the other. I do all of my sewing on my grandma’s machine, and I’m hoping that as I get more comfortable, as all that stuff starts to make more sense, the sewing machine will see more use than the occasional curtain or hem.

  • rys

    What a lovely experience! As a quilter, I am so so so impressed by seamstresses who make things that, you know, fit actual bodies.

    For learning to sew, you may want to check out the Houston Modern Quilt Guild. If it’s anything like my local modern quilt guild, members there will know where to direct you. And they’ll be super nice and generous and excited to have a new sewer join in!

  • Lindsey d.

    Oh! Lovely!

    I’m currently seriously considering wearing the wedding dress my grandmother and mother were married in, but with major alterations (to update it and to make it fit, since I’m six inches taller than my grandmother, four inches taller than my mother and heavier than both). I’d love my 91-year-old grandmother to do the alterations, but we’ll see about that. In the meantime, my desire to learn to sew, which my grandmother does beautifully and my mother does passably, has returned. I have a sewing machine. Time to stop letting it collect dust.

    • Meghan

      I’m not a sewer (seamstress?) but I AM wearing my grandmother’s wedding gown for my wedding in October. I just wanted to offer you some encouragement – go for it!! I am both taller and larger than grandma was when she got married (also taller/larger than my aunt who wore it for her wedding too). I found a talented local seamstress (after many interviews with others!) and believe me, it can be done. Best of luck! :)

      • Lindsey

        Yay! Thanks for the encouragement! The gown has been altered for each bride who wore it after my grandmother (my aunt and mom), so I see it as just continuing tradition. The great thing is that it gives me an excuse to buy killer shoes since I’ll have a bit of peep toe if we can’t let the hem out.

  • mimi

    I love Haberman’s!!! It’s a beautiful store with an amazing selection of fabrics, particularly for weddings. It’s also about 2 blocks from where I’m sitting right now. I found an amazing seamstress from their recommended list and she is remaking my grandma’s and mom’s wedding dress for me (originally my grandma’s in 1958, and my mom wore it in 1979). I’m sure your dress will be amazing! Can’t wait to see pictures!

    • irene

      yay for Michigan! I got married in Metro Detroit two weeks ago!! :)

    • E

      I was totally just coming here to say that I live about 2 miles from Haberman’s, and it made me so happy to see it on here! Yay Metro Detroit!

  • Maria

    Rachel – this was beautiful and moving to read. Thank you! I can’t wait to see your dress.

  • Emilie cont.

    Can Rachel please stay an APW intern forever?

  • Angela

    What an amazing tradition! Please, please write a post after the fact where we can see the finished product! On a side note, it’s good to know I’m not the only one who goes shopping looking for a particular style that just doesn’t seem to exist.

    • Caroline

      Nope, you aren’t. I’ve had multiple people tell me that the style I’m looking for just hasn’t been made for a long time, since the 50s really. (Tea or ideally ballarina length, fitted/boned drop waist modest bodice with at least straps, maybe sleeves, and a twirly skirt like a circle skirt). I eventually found another dress not in that style (but still twirly, still with straps and I’ll hem it to ballet length) that I really like and think I might get.

      • Class of 1980

        That’s my mom’s dress from 1957 (with long lace sleeves). Man, it was glorious too. She looked like a movie star.

      • Anne

        Sounds similar to the pattern my mom put together for my dress. It’s so bizarre that something so (relatively) simple is completely nonexistent.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Totally not alone. I looked at lots of preowned dresses before paying to have mine custom-made. By looking at dedicated vintage clothing sites, etsy, and preownedweddingdresses, I learned that what I wanted was popular when I was 4 years old, and had disappeared since.

      I recommend the custom process for those who have a clear “vision” of what they want (like I apparently had since I was 4) but can’t find it through regular retail outlets.

  • Ahh, this whole process sounds divine! My mom sewed all sister’s and my clothes when we were little and I loved it. She doesn’t sew anymore but both of us knit (we learned after our respective divorces) and it’s great to talk patterns and wander the aisles of a yarn shop together.

    On a related note we are knitting blankets for my wedding (held in the winter, natch) to keep people warm. I’m super excited to have these creations strewn about the venue.

    Bonus: I starting to teach my nephew to knit. And so the tradition will live on.

    • one more sara

      so glad that you are teaching your NEPHEW to knit! I feel like sewing/knitting traditions are only passed down by the women in a family, so HUGE FIST BUMP for busting through traditional gender roles!!!!!

  • Amanda

    Oh this is lovely. I also had the BEST Halloween costumes growing up, all sewn by my mother. My grandmother made my mom’s wedding dress (and all of my mom’s three sisters’ dresses as well, I believe). My mother offered to make my wedding dress but made it clear she wouldn’t be offended if I choose to buy one…I told her I’d probably buy one, just because I’m pretty set on lace and I think it would be difficult to find a good quality around here, and also difficult to work with. This post is seriously making me reconsider though. I hadn’t really put much thought into the tradition and how meaningful it would be.

    • Rachel

      Maybe she could make something else for you, like a veil or clutch! That’s what my good friend’s mother is doing for her simply because she wants to give her something meaningful that she made.

      • One More Poster

        My mom is a fantastic seamstress and designer. We found my dress on clearance and knew that she couldn’t even buy the fabric for the $300 I paid. I’m paying for alterations because I want her to enjoy the process and not be stuck hemming yards and yards of fabric. So instead, she’s designed her own dress. A two piece dark brown satin dress with a slit in the skirt on the bias. It reveals–a bright lime green lining. Coupled with 4″ lime green pumps, my 70 yr old size 6 mom is going to look rockin’! (maybe even better than me–and I’m fine with that!)
        We decided that she would make my veil and the straps for my dress. She found lace that matches the pattern on my dress. Total cost for an elaborate elbow length veil with lace AND beading? ~$40. I’m thrilled for BOTH of us.

        • Your mom has some serious style. I want to see that dress. And maybe wear it.

    • AmandaS

      I was set to have my mother make all/most of the dresses for the wedding. But it ended up that she’s making all but mine. We went shopping to see what I’d like to wear and I ended up falling in love with something on major clearance. I think my mom was relieved, she said she paid an extra $100 to save her sanity from all the labor and worry about making my dress.

      She’s still going to make my veil and do the alterations. We’re also making nearly everything else for the wedding. So it will still be very homemade.

      • Ris

        The women in my family are all excellent seamstressess too, but a dress would have been a lot to ask of my mom at that time. So instead I asked her to embroider the date of our wedding in blue inside the front hem of my bought dress. My something blue! (Thanks Pinterest for actually giving me a meaningful idea…)

    • Amanda

      These are great ideas! I’ll definitely look into her making a veil. And, I’ve got a simpler dress idea floating around in my head if my all-lace plans don’t pan out, so maybe the dress is still a possibility :)

  • Kestrel

    Shout out for Royal Oak!

    I’ve honestly been thinking about making my own wedding dress, despite the fact that I haven’t sewn anything beyond one shirt and boxer shorts. I think my mother will either talk me out of it, or sew it herself. My Saturdays were also spent either in the fabric store or at yarn stores, and all my Halloween costumes were homemade (I honestly didn’t really conceive of the fact you could buy them until I was about 13).

    My mom made her own wedding dress with my grandma, and I believe my grandma made her own wedding dress with her mom. Being 7″ taller than both rules out any hope of fitting into either of those dresses though.

    It really does feel like a tradition though, and one I’d love to uphold.

  • Class of 1980

    Off Topic: I don’t know if the lady with the white hair is your mother or grandmother, but I could look at her hair all day. Beautiful under those lights.

  • Anne

    My mom made my wedding dress (and her own, but that’s a whole separate level of crazy), and while the process was a bit ridiculous, it was super, super awesome. I got to have a dress that actually looked like what I wanted, without having to try on wedding dresses, and spent a lot of time with my mom in the process. She, in turn, learned how to fit lace sleeves, design a bodice to fit over a corset, and created an amazing pattern out of a few different ones. If you have someone in your family who offers to do this for you, I highly recommend it. And even if you don’t, there are pretty great people out there who will design a dress for you (if you can’t find what you’re looking for).

  • Also, completely off topic, but Rachel I am 100 percent stealing your haircut. I’ve been looking for an example of long layers and side swept bangs forever. Just thought you should know.

  • My family’s crafting traditions were more around babies; every pregnancy in the family was followed by a room full of women knitting and crocheting little bitty baby things. Sewing was only ever a peripheral art in my family with one grandmother teaching me embroidery as a child and the other making two quilts then quitting.

    Of course with all that I never became more than passable at yarn crafts (though I can make a mean scarf) and spend most of my free time doing all sorts of quilting and cross stitching. Of course since my family’s crafting is all about babies, when my sister in law got pregnant the first thing I did was make her baby a quilt.

    Next on the list is learning how to actually make clothes.

  • alyssa

    I loved reading this story! My mom, aunt, and grandma all wore the same wedding dress (long sleeved, lace, from the 50’s. Swoon!) I desperately wanted to wear the same, but it required some alteration, and my grandma just didn’t want to change the dress. And my mother felt really strongly about purchasing me a dress, since she didn’t really have a choice when she got married. It’s funny how each generation feels something different, but strong. I love the one I was married in, but I had such an emotional connection to the other dress. When my grandma offered to let me wear her old garter as consolation, I declined. HA!

  • Thank you for posting this! My mother handmade my wedding dress, and while reading this, I felt like she was telling a story about my life! I went through the same motions, tried on wedding dresses to get a feel of what I wanted, but none of them were “the dress.” My mom made her own wedding dress, my sisters wedding dress, and growing up, she made all my costumes, school clothes, and even my prom dresses. So I felt it was only right and tradition to have her make the most important dress of my life.
    I heart APW, all these stories, women, weddings, they truly touch my heart:)

  • pixie_moxie

    I love this!
    My sister wore our mom’s wedding dress that her mother made her. It was stunning. Then when it came time for my wedding my mother and I took the dress I had purchased from a previous engagement and altered it from a strapless A line to a tea length with pick ups and added crinoline. It turned out amazing! I flew up to ID for 3 days and she and her best friend worked together altering it and I made the crinoline skirt. I love having that experience and memories. I was also able to make my facinator flower for my birdcage veil from cut offs from the skirt!

    My mom taught my sister and I to sew on her table machine with a knee presser once we were old enough to press the bar. We all three still sew and call each other for advise on projects. Our current project, with our grandma and aunt too, is teddy bears for my BIL’s ambulance company.

    Thank you for sharing you story! I hope you share final photos of the dress!

  • KM

    Beautiful story.

    In my family, my gram quilts but I’ve been more involved in the tradition that we preserve and can produce. My gram’s canned peaches are famous with all my friends from all stages of my life – and my favorite. So my mom, gram and I canned peaches to present in pint mason jars as the favor at my wedding. All of my family members were “eh, we get these delicious gems all the time” but my friends were THRILLED and I’ve really enjoyed passing on to my gram the stories from my friends enjoying their wedding peaches with ice cream, in a pie, upside down cake, etc.

    And to prove themselves overachievers, my mom and gram also made us a wedding quilt in our shades of green from the bridal brigades’ dresses and presented to us after the wedding.

    I’ve long been hoping to find time develop my own skills quilting because these are arts that bring so much joy and fond memories.

  • This is SUCH a beautiful post. I loved every word of it, and I can’t wait to see your dress!

    Also, that is the most gorgeous fabric store I’ve ever seen. I might have to check it out next time I’m visiting the in-laws in Michigan.

  • Laura

    This was quite touching-a lot of the language Rachel used I would use to describe my family’s plan to bake approximately 600 pieces of pastry for our reception. I come from a line of Eastern European women who have done this throughout their lives, and I can’t wait to see if my Grandmother can make it from CA with wrapped up strudel in her carry like she did for my brother’s wedding. If you’ve got the talent in your family, I say use it-and at least with a dress you can enjoy it afterwards!

  • My mom made my wedding dress too, with a little help from my BFF and, somewhat awkwardly for me but probably no one else, an ex-boyfriend’s mother who is a good friend of my mother’s and lives around the corner. We were having last minute sleeve issues and they were lifesavers. Because I live far away from home, I had to pick out the fabric myself, but still enjoyed planning all the details with my mom and wearing the end result. I plan on working on my own sewing skills so that one day I can do the same for my daughter(s)!

  • Sara

    I love everything about this.

  • Justine

    I just wanted to let you know that this post had me tearing up with a lump in my throat. My family doesn’t craft much with fabric, but it’s something I’d love to do. (Well, my aunt has made me several halloween costumes, and my deceased grandma made the basic skirt I’m wearing today for my aunt about 30 years ago.) But I didn’t grow up longing to know how to sew.

    The emotional power of you wearing a dress your grandmother will make for you touched me deeply, because I find that when grandmothers and weddings come up, is when I miss both of my grandmothers the most. What a wonderful gift to have from your family, and a beautiful tradition to carry on. I can’t wait to see your dress.

  • Meghan

    I can relate to this! I spent so much time in fabric stores and my mom sewed tons of clothes for me. I moved 1800 miles away from home (Michigan) and wasn’t sure how my mom would be able to make my wedding dress. After trying on a bunch of dresses and not being able to bring myself to buy one, my mom and I made it work. During Christmas before my wedding we made a trip to Haberman’s, which is magical. I spent a long time drooling over wedding fabrics.

  • Suzzie

    I can’t sew anything but a straight line or sew a button on by hand and I kick myself for not paying more attention when I was younger to learn from my mom (along with cooking but I have learned to cook really well since!). But I do drool when I go into fabric stores and spend time imagining what I could make with some of the fantastic fabric in there but then remember I have no clue how to sew! When we were looking at making versus buying a dress, we found this fantastic boutique lace/fabric store in Denver, CO. I hadn’t been to any store that had the amount of lace they had and in colors, sizes, etc. (The hubby says I’ll go nuts in India). And some of the fabric was just to die for – ivory with lacy/dreamy flowers floating on the fabric, yes please! We ended up buying my dress, but gosh I still wish I could sew!

  • dragonzflame

    I did make my own wedding dress – no grandmothers to help, and a mum with minimal sewing knowledge (and even less interest in it!).

    And oh, I’m so glad I did. It was a massive amount of work but worth it in the end. I got a dress that fitted like a dream and was exactly what I wanted (50s style, lace, tea-length – pretty much like nothing you can buy in shops).

    My advice to ANYONE going down this road: figure out, realistically, how long you think you’ll need to make the dress, and double it. I thought I’d need about three months, so started three months out. What I didn’t factor in was having to order my lace online (New Zealand sucks for fabric shopping if you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars a metre, or buy cheap crap), my pattern alterations taking longer than I thought (pattern drafting isn’t my forte) and my landlords deciding to sell our house two months out from the wedding, so having to work wedding dress sewing with viewings and the massive stress of not knowing if we’d have to move. Be prepared for unexpected curveballs – because the last thing you want to be doing is crying over a thread jam, late at night, three days out from your wedding!

  • Sami Sidewinder

    Yea for homemade traditions (whatever they may be). My mom is making my dress and I am nervous/excited. I am nervous b/c she is making her first ever pattern (read: four muslins and counting), I live 600 miles away, and we are both procrastinators and not time management pros (though she has been great so far (see number of muslins). Assuming I have a dress at the end of it, it will be so amazing and worth it to have something crafted by her hands!

    Now I can’t wait to go fabric shopping! Thanks for the post!

  • Del

    I love sewing and get compliments on all the things I make. So when I got engaged I thought people would be supportive of me wanting to make my own wedding dress. After all, it’s the way it was done ‘in the old days’, it’s personal, it’s traditional. But my mother was completely against it. Everyone was sceptical. No one was encouraging. I was recommended a sewing ‘teacher’ by the fabric store to support me … even she didn’t believe I should do it and wouldn’t send me a lesson timetable. Needless to say I didn’t make my wedding dress. But I’m making every other gosh darn thing I can myself!

  • Laura K

    Love this post! My mom made her wedding dress, and it’s my dream to make my own dress too (with a lot of help from her). She taught me to sew when I was really young, and now every time I go home to visit, I bring sewing projects so my mom and I can work on them together. I also had the BEST halloween costumes growing up.

  • Pamela

    Your post made me cry, and I’m so happy that you’re able to have this experience with your Grandma! I, too, dreamed of having my Grandma make my wedding dresses – she was an amazing seamstress who made my Mom’s wedding dress, my aunt’s dress, and wedding dresses for various relatives and friends. In fact, my Mom’s 1978 wedding was held in Grandma’s back yard, so she did all the gardening, cooked the food (for 150 people – the menu was roast beef, jello salad, and a noodle casserole), and made her own dress to boot!

    Sadly, when I married, Grandma’s Alzheimer’s meant that she no longer remembered how to use a sewing machine. But, she was able to be at my wedding, which was th emost important thing to me. She died just over a year ago, and I miss her every day…

  • This post made me cry. As someone who sews, not well like your Grandma, but is trying to get better, this post meant the world to me and I am so happy for you (and jealous, but mostly happy).

    Thank you so much for writing this piece, it made my whole day and made me proud of my sewing craft.

  • CII

    You are so lucky to be part of a family with such beautiful traditions. And what beautiful photos, too. Thank you for sharing!

  • Awww! Yes! I’m getting married next August and want to make my own dress. But, I just so NERVOUS!! This was a wonderful post and helped get my resolve back up :)

  • When I finally decided to make my own dress, I knew it was the right decision because my grandma made her own dress (burgundy velvet) and my mom made her own dress for her second wedding (navy blue) and my aunt made her own dress (navy and white). It wasn’t just the making of the dress, but when I accidentally chose navy blue, it just fit perfectly with the tradition of my family. I’m so happy I made my own dress!
    Rachel, I know your dress will be amazing and filled with more love than any store brought dress could ever have for you.

  • What a treat to read your blog! You are ‘spot on’, adding a personally meaningful aspect, an immeasurable value, to your wedding dress, and very fortunate to have a grandmother and mother to help. Anyone can buy a dress. But simply shopping misses the point of making this element of your wedding day truly special.

    I am so pleased you came to Haberman Fabrics with your mom and grandmother to select materials for your perfect wedding dress, and honored that you took the time to write about it and to share your story here. Thank you so much.

    It’s always fun for us at the store to guide brides planning their wedding dresses, teaching them about fabric and lace, how to make the best choices from our sometimes overwhelming options for their intended styles and budgets, and adding lots of sewing and design tips too.

    When a bride is not lucky enough to have a good sew-er in the family, or a fairy godmother, to create a one-of-a-kind. personalized bridal dress, Haberman Fabrics offers an excellent list of talented, dressmakers. For your readers who live far from us, I suggest contacting a fabric store, dry-cleaner, or neighborhood newspaper for seamstress recommendations AND to read our how-to tips for working with a professional seamstress: http://www.habermanfabrics.com/the-bride-s-guide-to-working-with-a-dressmaker.

    If your readers’ cities don’t have good fabric store options, they may want to visit our website to see a bit of our fabric, lace and trim options: http://www.habermanfabrics.com/bridal-bride-white-gown-diamond-dress-lace-ivory-beaded-fabric-wedding-veil-satin. Or use our personal shopper service by email at ContactUs@habermanfabrics.com.

    Rachel, I hope you post a photo of you in your beautiful wedding dress. We’d all love to see it. Best wishes for every happiness in your marriage.

    Toby Haberman, Haberman Fabrics, 905 S. Main St., Royal Oak, MI 48067, (248) 541-0010.

  • Hannah

    This is so encouraging to read! My mom is making my dress out of my paternal grandmother’s dress (all alencon lace from the late 1940s) which her own mother in turn had made for her. We just bought the pattern, one with lots of possibilities, so that we can use the entirety of the skirt and train and hopefully re-fashion the sleeves as cap sleeves for me. The bodice will have to be made new, because I’m an opera singer and have a huge rib cage. Tiny 1940s women did not have large rib cages. I had gone to a bridal salon to have that experience but it was all just so…inauthentic. Lots of pretty, shiny, flowy things, but none that felt like me. My mom made her own wedding dress, several of my formal dresses, and, most recently, several christening gowns out of other family gowns that weren’t going to be re-worn, so I trust her skills completely. My ring was my mother’s and her mother’s, as well. Three generations of women on both sides of my family are going to be with me in that dress, and I just know that because so much of their love is in it, it will be perfect for me.

  • Helen

    Rachel, this piece made me smile. Thank you for sharing this. I am also in the process of making my wedding dress, for the same reasons you write about. My mom taught me to sew and I too want to continue this family tradition. I was just thinking about how I need to call my mom and thank her again for making me a gorgeous prom dress–now I know just how much work and care it takes! At the time I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have. Good luck with your dress!

  • I really enjoyed reading this.

    Since getting married, I have learned how to sew. It’s been three years since I started. It’s weird because I feel connected to my family heritage in a way I didn’t expect.

    I had never had any interest in sewing and only started when I did because my husband and I found two sewing machines on the sidewalk on trash day (one turquoise vintage one and one that was broken, but that we later ended up using for parts), and then a friend gave us a practical beginner (plastic) machine (which is what I currently use), and then another friend gave us her great-aunt’s vintage singer (and table). (Machine #2 amazingly had the right size parts to repair the vintage Singer.) When all this happened, my husband taught me how to do the basic sewing things like thread the needle, go forwards/backwards, adjust tension, etc. And I watched some youtube videos. And I started experiment by sewing stuff out of all my old t-shirts, and last summer I started making my own patterns for some dresses and other stuff for me.)

    As I was making things, I started feeling connected to my grandparents. My grandfather and grandmother were excellent at sewing. They had a whole sewing studio in their basement with about 6 different sewing machines. It was pretty amazing…only I didn’t know it at the time. It’s a shame that I was never really interested. Even when they passed away and my parents were cleaning out their house and selling things, I had no interest in having any of their machines. I am truly sorry now, but I had no idea it would ever interest me. At the time, I only knew how to hand sew on a button, how to hand hem pants (thanks to my father teaching me those things).

    But the good thing is, as I make things now, I feel connected to my grandparents on my dad’s side, and also to my granny (on my mom’s side) who also sewed a little bit, all of whom have now passed away. But I am proud to be participating in something they used to do so well, and I feel a bit like I inherited it from them. I feel like I am carrying on a family tradition. Better late than never, right?

  • I have no insightful comment to contribute. Just wanted to say how much I loved reading this.

  • Congratulation! I love your last picture. Your dress is very nice. Thanks for sharing!

  • That really is a gorgeous dress! and the style you will like it too.

  • Amy

    I have a picture ad the the wedding dress I would like is it possible you could give me a price and see if you could make it thank you x

  • Rachel, thank you for sharing your experience. My daughter is currently planning her wedding, and she has asked me to make her dress. It is nice to know there are others out there who cherish their family traditions. It’s so easy to get caught up in the commercialism associated with planning weddings today. Your post affirms our decision to create her dress together.

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