About two years ago my lovely friend M got engaged. The first of all our friends, the excitement quickly escalated and within months my friends and I were whipped up in a frenzy of bridesmaid dress hysteria (slight exaggeration, but we were excited!). What oh what would we wear on this special day?
A maxi dress, a midi, over the knee? Satin, silk, lace? Pink, green, yellow, blue? The options were seemingly endless. When off the rack either proved too expensive, too unagreeable or too ill fitting my fellow bridesmaids commented over a classy Wetherspoons dinner that it would be great if I made the dresses. I accepted the challenge, the biggest challenge of my sewing 'career' so far for several reasons:
1. Although I love to sew for others this is very often as a gift and the fit is very often 'forgiving' with lots of ease. The bridesmaids decided on pencil dresses, a whole lot less forgiving as far as fit is concerned.
2. The dresses would be photographed a ridiculous amount and needed to look amazeballs from every angle.
3. The bridesmaids vary in dress size from 6-12, and in height from 5'2 to 5'10. Proportions I found to be the most challenging part of fitting as some lucky bridesmaids combine a size 12 bust with a tiny size 8 waist and this would need to be graded in. Fittings would be essential and they all live on the other side of London, and one bridesmaid lives in Cyprus.
4. The most important reason this challenge was so challenging was the fear of letting down M on her big day with bridesmaids who looked like they had been dragged there on the back of a bus in homemade potato sacks. Luckily this fear, which kept me up at night, was not realised, hoorah! And the dresses were confirmed by many to be as lovely as I too felt they were.
The bride kindly let us make our own decisions which we of course ran by her to ensure continuity with the rest of the wedding.
In the end we agreed on this Coast dress being our inspiration for the dresses:
Initially the girls wanted mint green but it turns out it is pretty much impossible to find nice mint green fabrics which don't look cheap and nasty. This is especially true of mint lace. But the maid of honour chose a navy blue dress so we decided to go matching and make our dresses navy as well. I chose a bengaline suiting fabric with two way stretch from Fabric Land and bought extremely expensive but beautiful corded navy lace from a lovely little shop on Goldhawk Road. The girls paid me for the materials (including zips, thread, hooks and eyes etc) and each dress came to £17.
Our original intention was to create different dresses for each maid and I did lots of sketches as variations on the theme of the chosen dress. But they all chose the same version so that ship quickly sailed!
However I do actually feel this was now a really positive thing as it was really nice to 'match' on the day and stand out as the 'maids and I really did feel, and I hope the other girls did too, very special. I also realised on the day that it was the first day we had all matched since the school days of yesteryear, which is you are wondering is a whole 9 years ago.
I used a combination of pattern pieces to create the dresses from two of my tried and tested patterns and one new pattern which was a total experiment. Personally I am a pear shape and decided to make mine with a fuller skirt instead of a pencil skirt, but kept the bodice exactly the same.
To test my 'Franken-pattern' I made a toile from hideously shiny fabric. If it could work in this it could work in anything.
They combined surprisingly well and the next step was gathering each bridesmaids measurements, which I am sure they will not deny took bloomin ages! But once I had them all I set about drafting an individual pattern for each bridesmaid using the (very professional) grease proof paper method. This took AGES as each bridesmaid needed a different length, hip, waist and bust size in different proportions. However, when the time came for each girls fitting this step proved worth while as apart from one bridesmaid who had lost weight the rest fitted like a dream and required very few alterations. For anyone thinking of attempting a project of this scale I would highly recommend this step of drafting an individual pattern for each girl based on the exact measurements of each pattern piece- NEVER rely on the commercial pattern size listed on the back. I will use my own measurements for an example why:
Bust 34, waist 26, hip 38. I wear a commercial size 8 on top and 10 on the bottom but needed to grade down to a 6 for the waist as the pattern ran large and, if I had made the pencil skirt, grade out to a 12 on the hips as the skirt pattern runs smaller than the top (as I was creating a mash up of two different patterns). So, to conclude this boring part of this post, ignore all the numbers for sizes on each pattern piece and go by actual measurements, of course allowing for ease and seam allowance.
At the first fitting stage I did not do things like insert the zips or hem the garments as I knew that this would be the best way to alter simple issues of the dress being a little too tight, too loose or too long. I simply increased of decreased the amount of fabric allowed for the zip to take in or let out the dresses. For the fitting I pinned the bridesmaids into the dresses down the back (often wearing it inside out) and then pinned any alterations necessary.
Sorry S I forgot to take a pic of you! X
Alterations I had to make varied from raising the neckline at the shoulders, allowing for a sway back, shortening at the waist and taking in the darts further to allow for a smaller bust. I also narrowed the skirt on the bridesmaids request to give a more fitted, 'pencil' look. The fittings were especially fun as the bridesmaids and I had lots of lovely days out catching up before the wedding.
Following the initial fitting one bridesmaid dropped out and we missed her lots on the day :( sadly she could not get out of work.
But the show must go on and my sitting room resembled a sweat shop for the last few weeks before the wedding as I powered on through inserting zips, making necessary alterations, sewing hems and finishing seams.
The bit that was most terrifying was the ironing and I had nightmares of melting a hole in a newly completed frock. But we made it! The girls came to collect their dresses and we made any last minute necessary little tweaks to the fit and (in some cases) drank cocktails!
Then, after two years of hard work and planning on the part of the bride and groom, the day was finally here! And on Sunday 16th August we had a truly wonderful day full of love, flowers, cake, tears, handkerchiefs, hitting people in the face with cash, live music and Greek dancing. Oh, and fergalicious, obvs.
Here are the maids in their frocks and finished looks:
Many thanks to fellow bridesmaids Jo for these beautiful photos.
I am immensely proud of M for the job she did on her wedding day. The attention to detail was incredible and everything was beautiful from start to finish, and it was a genuine joy to be a part of her awesome day. To make your own dress for an occasion as special as this is wonderful, but to make them for all your girlfriends really is an honour and a true labour of love.
That's all for today, I guarantee that any further posts of mine will be less cheesy but I cannot guarantee they will be as special :)
Thanks for reading and happy sewing x o x o