Behold the 120-Hour Wedding Dress I DIY'd Myself

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
image

(Photo: Bethany Kohoutek)

For this indecisive shopper, the prospect of succumbing to bridal-salon nerves and fatally choosing the wrong wedding dress was terrifying. 

I thought that if I stepped foot into a shop, a well-meaning, but overly enthusiastic salesperson would convince me that I’d found the perfect dress—but as soon as I left, I’d be filled with doubt. So for the first few months of my engagement, I stuck to pinning pretty pictures of wedding dresses to Pinterest.

Then one day, I learned that Alabama Chanin had a bridal collection. As a sewer and quilter, I greatly admire and respect the company, which is known for their intricate stitching and beading. Their garments are incredible. I was quickly priced out of their more elaborate designs, but after emailing with Natalie Chanin, the founder of the company, I realized that I could afford a weekend workshop at their studio in Florence, Alabama if my wedding dress was my workshop project. I could make my dress! And I’d bring my mom along to share the experience with me.

Related story on Yahoo Makers: Something Old’ is Made New: Wedding Dress Upcycles

image

(Photo: Bethany Kohoutek)

A full eight months before my wedding date, my mom and I road tripped from Iowa to Alabama for a weekend of sewing. I brought images of dresses that I liked, but in actuality, the only thing that mattered when we got to the studio was the rack of stunning hand-stitched white samples. The first one I tried on was completely lovely in every way but the neckline, which gaped a little on me. I tried on a second sample with a more fitted neckline and we quickly decided to combine the two dress styes so that I could have exactly the parts of each that were most flattering. It was shockingly easy.

Choosing the stitch and beading pattern, on the other hand, almost derailed the whole plan. I looked through stacks and stacks of pattern books, each one seemingly more gorgeous than the last. Filled with anxiety about the decision, I basically closed my eyes and picked one. I vaguely remember someone telling me that the medallion pattern I chose went back hundreds of years, which I took to be a positive sign.

The pieces were cut, the pattern was sprayed on, and I learned their stitching technique, which included a process for hiding the ends of the thread between the double-layered panels of jersey cotton. It was a little different from how I normally quilt, but since sitting and sewing is one of my very favorite things to do, I quickly became enamored with the process—even if I secretly gave myself permission to buy a dress from J. Crew if things didn’t work out.

Related story on Yahoo Makers: Take Yourself On a Crafting Vacation

image

(Photo: Bethany Kohoutek)

For the next two days, I sat and sewed—and talked and ate—with the group of women who had come from around the country to also participate in the workshop. When we wrapped up on Sunday morning, I was nervous to leave the experts, but I felt ready to get to work. I stitched nearly all the 14 hours of the drive back home, and then almost every night after dinner for an hour or two, and more on the weekends. Thankfully, I got faster with my work as it became more familiar under my fingers. I even figured out how to use the incredibly thin beading needle without cramping my fingers.

Each panel took about 12 hours to stitch and bead, and after about three months, I had finished all 8 panels. (Actually, I did 10 panels because two of them weren’t as uniform as the others so I redid them. Yes, my fiancé thought I was a little crazy.) It was at that point that I completely understood why an Alabama Chanin dress costs what it does.

I sent the panels back down to Alabama by the most nerve-wracking Fed Ex shipment ever, where they put it together into a dress and added beading to the neckline and hem. It was perfect.

Related story on Yahoo Makers: An Illustrated Guide to Gemstones

image

(Photo: Bethany Kohoutek)

A lot of friends commented about how they expected ours to be a full DIY wedding, but in truth, I felt pretty strongly that if I had put about 120 hours into making my dress, I was off the hook for making anything else. I recruited a family member to help with our invitations and we skipped most other decorations because our ceremony was in a rose garden and the reception was in a restaurant. But it is true that when I found myself facing the spring without a sewing project, I decided to embroider my sister’s dress as well.

image

(Photo: Bethany Kohoutek)

But those elements, the ones that I did with my own hands, were safe from logistical challenges, contracts, and vendor fees. They helped me focus my energy on projects that I really enjoyed. I didn’t care so much about sending save-the-dates or making elaborate centerpieces, but I did care deeply about wearing a dress that made me feel like me. And on my wedding day, thankfully, those elements—and the experiences that went into making them—were also the ones that mattered most. 

image

Also on Yahoo Makers:

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting