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How I Sewed My Own Wedding Dress (And Only Cried Like Four Times)

by Stacey Kigner

At first, thinking about the theme of “Risk,” I wasn’t sure that sewing a dress was really “risky,” but then I thought, “Nope, that’s actually risky as f***.” A lot of people tried to dissuade me, including people whose opinions I deeply value, but I guess that’s kind of how taking risks work—if everyone thinks it’s a good idea, it’s not a risk.

Sewing my wedding dress was always an option when I was first thinking about how not to be naked on my wedding day. I even went so far as to draw up some sketches for what it might look like (Hint: a lot like that amazing green dress Kiera Knightly wears in Atonement), but eventually decided to play it pretty safe and wear my grandmother’s dress because A, everyone liked it; B, it fit; and C, it was free!

After six months or so though, I began to have wedding dress related nightmares—the kind where I was showing up naked, or the dress hadn’t been altered—you know the ones I’m talking about. I had my mother ship me the dress because I was no longer confident in my decision and wanted to try it on again. I was worried it wasn’t me. When the enormous, me-sized box arrived, I waited until my fiancé got home so we could open it together. Open it we did, to find that the cleaners (the cleaners who specialize in restoring antique wedding dresses, no less) had turned it yellow, and not just a little bit.

My fiancé made me try it on, wanting to salvage the situation, and it was a humiliating experience, not only because it was yellow and so-not-me, but it no longer fit. We peeled off the dress, stuffed it back into its enormous box, and for twenty-four hours I just. Did. Not. Think. About. It. I didn’t cry either. After the twenty-four hours were up, I called my mom and said, “I’m going to make my dress.” And that’s when the doubting began.

I was pretty confident in my decision; others were not. A veritable sub-committee was formed to offer opinions that I wasn’t sure I wanted or needed. Some of them were positive, glowing even. Others were less so. It was demanded that I go try on dresses in the new style I wanted to sew (vintage inspired, tea length, super different from what I had), which was an excellent idea. My friend and I went to David’s Bridal and we had a great time. I even found a few dresses that I really liked. What wasn’t great was having my mom (sorry, Mom) see the pictures and say that I should buy one of them instead.

That’s the point when I realized I just needed to listen to myself and block everyone else out. I knew I could do it, and that was all that really mattered. Was I a master seamstress? No, but I’m pretty close now. I had enough experience, and the skills, and the time, and people to ask for help, and I knew that was enough.

So I found a pattern. I found charmeuse that I wanted to take a bath in, it felt that good on my skin. For a little while, things were smooth sailing. My muslin toile was a breeze. Altering the pattern with my fiancé, though time consuming worked well and I was pleased with the fit of the second toile. I read books on alterations and couture sewing techniques. I thought, “I will finish this in a week.” Whoops.

I sewed the bodice together, and something was very wrong. Actually, several somethings were very wrong. Somehow, even though I had done everything the pattern told me to do, and everything the old guy who sold me my fabric and “knew better than me” told me to do, the bodice was an unwearable hot mess. I took it to some sewing friends whose judgment I trust and they said, “Hmm,” and my fiancé, who can sew very well said, “Hmm,” and I said, “Hmm,” and a lot of other less nice words.

Then, family emergency struck, and I found myself, in the span of twenty-four hours, driving from Vermont to Connecticut, flying to Cancun, to flying in an air ambulance to the Mayo Clinic, thinking, “Wow, I really don’t give a crap about this dress right now.” When I returned to Connecticut several weeks later, the emergency not resolved but less…emergent, I went back to staring at the dress. A stroke of fate brought me to a helpful Reddit user who was using the same pattern as I was for a project, but happened to be a master seamstress, and was willing to help me out to boot.

An hour-long Skype call later, we had diagnosed the problem literally, but also existentially. The problem, at its core, was that I hadn’t trusted myself enough. When the pattern, and the guy at the fabric store told me to do things a certain way, I did them that way, because they “knew more,” even though I thought there was a better way. Turns out, if I had just done it the way I thought was best from the start, a lot of problems would have been avoided.

So I started over. Completely. It was the one thing I really hadn’t wanted to do, but I did it anyway. I did things my way, with the help of a surprise serger from the fiancé. And you know what? I rocked it.

I rocked it so hardcore that the dress almost started to make itself. What I mean is that the dress I was initially going to make and the dress I actually made ended up being two completely different things, even though they used the same pattern. When I first started, the dress was going to be very simple—a layer of silk charmeuse with a chiffon overlay. I ended up with a dress with a fully draped bodice and a waterfall of chiffon pouring over the skirt with floaty gathered straps and one purpose above all else—twirling like a badass.

Once I fully committed to the risk I was taking (“What will you wear if it doesn’t work?” “Something, I guess.”), the risk became fun; it became okay to experiment, because if I messed up, so what? The worst thing was that I’d have to start over, and I’d already done that. And I did make mistakes on the second go round, but I either rolled with them or fixed them, and then I moved on.

And now—now I have a wedding dress that I love, that I’m damn proud of. I proved to the doubters, and more importantly myself (who was perhaps, the prime doubter), that I could do it. I have a dress that may not be a perfect representation of myself in dress form, but it’s pretty close. Most importantly? I can put it on any day and twirl away.

Photos from Stacey’s personal collection.

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