Monday, January 30, 2017

My Sister's Wedding

My sister Angela was married in July of 2016, and (as per our long-standing agreement) I sewed her wedding dress.

All the wedding day photos are from Golden Hour Photography. They did an amazing job and were very nice people to work with. I definitely recommend them!

I made my own wedding dress back in 2006, and I made one for a friend a few years later, but both were in a Victorian style, and not much different from what I would consider historic costume. So this was my first actual modern wedding dress.

A wedding dress is a Big Deal. Even if you don't buy into the Cult of Weddings, even if you are keeping it low-key and casual, even if you truly don't care about having a perfect day, the wedding dress will still always be a high-pressure zone.

Her vision for her dress was, in her words, "Plain, Plain, Plain, and Simple." Short skirt, no lace, no beads, no veil, and definitely NO frippery. The first image she sent me was this one from Pinterest:



It's a cute dress, but didn't scream "bridal." We talked a lot about her options, and eventually settled on a dress design that was still simple, but had a few more details. 

The final design featured cap sleeves, a scoop neckline, princess seaming, and skirt godets. We added a veil and sash also, and purchased a floofy petticoat at the last minute (thank you, Amazon Prime 2-day shipping!) to enhance the silhouette.

The finished look was simple, flattering, beautiful, and very "her." 

The pattern I used was New Look 6299. It had the princess seams, cap sleeves, and godets we wanted, but I had to reshape the neckline. During the planning and mockup phase, we were cautious about how low/revealing the neckline would be, so it took many tries and revisions to get it to the "just right" depth while still making the shape flattering. Also when you start cutting up a neckline, there is a lot of potential for gaping. The neckline was probably the most challenging part of the fitting. The dress is fully lined, and I didn't use interfacing anywhere but I did stay-stitch the neckline very carefully!

One thing I realized during this process is how deceptively difficult a "simple" dress can be. At first I was like, "a knee-length dress in plain white satin? How hard can that be?" But it's like simple cooking: every ingredient and every process have to be perfect, and you can tell the difference. With a knee-length hem, each stitch had to be perfect. A slightly wobbly hem would go unnoticed on a floor-length dress, but not here! And without any lace or beadwork, I couldn't cover any of my errors. In that smooth plain satin, the fit has to be perfect or it's really gonna show.

I will never underestimate a plain simple dress again. And I will never sew with polyester satin again if I can possibly help it. The fabric she chose is pretty. And it's the nice polyester; a creamy, thick duchesse satin. But it's still synthetic, and the seams look a little puffy since it's impossible to press well. I wish I could have talked her into a silk, but she just liked this one best. 

The veil:

To make this I first made the lace assembly. I had 1/8 yd of beaded lace that I snipped apart around the motifs. I used Fray-Check anywhere I had to snip across a thread.

sisters lace (2)

I took three of my lace pieces and arranged them on a piece of buckram, then stitched them down (reattaching any loose beads as I went). Then I cut, shaped, and gathered the tulle and machined it to a piece of Peltex interfacing. I laid my lace piece over the tulle and hand stitched it down, then cut away any excess interfacing.

Finally I added the clips. 

If I were doing this again, I might skip the buckram step. I'm glad I did it because it gave me more time to play with the lace design before making it permanent, but the finished product doesn't really need it. And I might cover the underside with white felt before adding the clips, just to hide the stitches and make it prettier.

Here you can see the lace piece in action!

Here is the coordinating belt/sash thing. It is made from a wide piece of ivory-color ribbon with a lace piece like the veil's, but a little larger. It doesn't show up in many of the posed pictures because the bouquet is always hiding it.

In the back of the sash is a stitched, tailored bow with long tails. The sash actually fastens with hooks and eyes just under the lace piece.

One other challenge with this project was the distance; she lives in Seattle and I am in MN. We ended up coordinating all the dress stuff with visits. During her christmas visit, we chose a pattern and fabric, then she came for our birthdays at the end of February to try the mock-up. She visited again in May for a fitting of the actual dress. Then she flew in a few days before the wedding (which was here in MN, for various reasons) for the last (just-in-case) fitting of the finished dress. Other than that, we coordinated a lot through email and Pinterest!

As a sewist, there will always be things I will nitpick over, but I think we were both happy at how her dress came out. She was such a beautiful bride! I have never been happier for her, and I am so glad to have such a great new brother-in-law.

I made my daughter's flower girl dress from white cotton eyelet, lined in white cotton lawn, with a green ribbon belt and pink flowers. Here my daughter F is carrying a basket of small bouquets to hand to the mothers of the couple. She has her own bouquet also.

The crown is made of artificial flowers. I matched our real flower colors and taped the crown together with floral tape.

I loved seeing my little girl perform her role as flower girl so well!

I also made myself a bridesmaid dress in bright pink cotton stretch sateen, from the same pattern, but without the godets for a less full skirt. I also made my sleeves slightly longer.

My sister and I made the bouquets, and all the men's boutonnieres. We were pretty pleased with ourselves!

I was so honored to be a part of my sister's special day! Wedding dresses really are a labor of love and (despite all the technical challenges!) I was so glad to be able to make this dress.

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Little House Weekend: Day Three

On the Sunday of our Little House themed costume weekend, we took a short road trip to Laura Ingalls Wilder's birthplace in Pepin, Wisconsin, about 90 minutes south of the Twin Cities.

First up when we arrived in town was lunch! Winter is the off-season so a lot of restaurants and shops were closed, but the Pickle Barrel was open. Cheese curds, beer, and beer-cheese soup were consumed, among other things.

After lunch we walked outside a little.

There is a little spit of land surrounding a little harbor for boats. My daughter wanted to run ahead.

Her dolly came along.

Lovely ladies enjoying the view!

I channeled my inner Laura Ingalls and picked up smooth, pretty pebbles.

Then we piled back in the car to go see the little log house, about 8 miles outside of town.

The house is a reproduction on the original site; the original cabin fell apart many years ago.

F wanted a chore to do.

Here we all are!

Playing Victorian Spy!

I loved Sabrina's big red shawl and her dress from 1867 - the year Laura Ingalls was born!

Well, then it was another long drive back to the city. I dropped our friends off and headed home. We were so tired!

The next day was Monday, and we went out for just a little more fun, but not in costume. I took the gals to Treadle for some shopping, then we walked down Grand Ave. for cake, then back home along Summit Ave. to admire all the big fancy houses. It was a nice, mellow way to end the weekend, before Rebecca and Sabrina had to get to the airport and all my local friends had to get back to their normal lives.

Our Little House Weekend, so long in coming, is over! But there are definitely going to be more costume adventures ahead, including an ice skating, house party, and formal ball weekend next winter!

Also see: A Little House Weekend: Day One and A Little House Weekend: Day Two

A Little House Weekend: Day Two

We started out on the Saturday of our Little House themed costume weekend with ice skating at the Landmark Center rink in downtown St. Paul. Sabrina, Rebecca, and I were joined by my local friend Erin. My daughter joined us as well. She loves to dress up and to skate!

I didn't bring my camera to the rink, so many thanks to Sabrina and Rebecca for these (and many other) photos!

I wore my old brown and blue wool again, plus my faux-fur trimmed muff and capelet and some new yellow gloves. 

I cannot tell if the yellow gloves are fun and bright or just look like I bought them at the Fleet Farm for doing my yard work

I like this one because it looks like we are going very fast!

Lots and lots of people took our picture.

After skating, we had lunch at the St. Paul Grill, part of the historic Saint Paul Hotel. Then I frantically drove home, then went to the grocery store, and started cooking. 

Our Main Event of the weekend was the Saturday night house party. Many other friends joined us! I hosted in my home, a 1918 bungalow, which I tried to make look less modern. Mostly this means hiding the toys.

I had never hosted a costumed event at home before, though I have always wanted to! I really enjoyed the experience and I think I learned a lot for next time.

My vision for the evening was lifted directly from the Dance at Grandpa's chapter of Little House in the Big Woods: a small house bursting with people, full of voices and laughter, the glow of oil lamps, simple wholesome food, and everyone dressed in their rustic country best. 

I re-oriented my dining table to make it go the long way, added an extra table from the basement, and covered them both with one long cloth (which Sabrina helpfully ironed for me!)

I felt the need to put doilies everywhere. The lamps came from Ace Hardware.

I brought up my homemade hard cider and we all had a toast to friends!

In advance (a few days before) I cooked boiled potatoes, cabbage with onions, vegetable pasties, and whole wheat bread. On the day, I roasted a chicken, baked two pounds of Lake Superior trout, and steamed some butternut squash. There was also apple butter, cheese, and butter, which I did a somewhat crappy job of molding in a measuring cup, so it wouldn't be stick-shaped.

Dinner was served at the table, very informally! My husband Marc carved our roast chicken for us.

Part of where I cheated: I do realize that the Ingalls did not have Pyrex. In the planning phase, I had hoped to get some prettier/more historic dishes and more decor, but in the end, the pans I already owned plus my plain white IKEA plates did the job. I had a few thrift store pieces for serving that helped round out the table. 

I had never tried to light my house with just candle and lamplight before. I had 12 candles and two oil lamps total, and it worked surprisingly well. The atmosphere was magical.

I loved the oil lamps and I can see why the were so popular. Compared to candles, they were so neat and clean - no spilled wax! - and gave a very bright light.

I did have some concern with all the open flames, especially with kids! That is why the bright red fire extinguisher makes a cameo in nearly every single photo here. I also had two windows fully open so I didn't give us all carbon monoxide poisoning, and of course I had the detector plugged in. The weather was unseasonably warm, probably about 40 F, so even with the windows open it didn't feel chilly.

At the end of the table you can just barely see my daughter and her best friend enjoying dinner with us!

I spent a lot of the evening running around getting things ready, but here I am sitting down and eating! I wore my 1883 green print dress, because it's Little House-y, comfy, and easy to wear for work and dancing!

After dinner, we moved the tables and got to dancing. I don't have any pictures of the actual dancing, because I was doing all of them! We had 8 dancers at the most (counting the 2 kids) so we couldn't do too many. I didn't have a program and made it up as I went along. My awesome dancer friend Amy was there to help guide people. 

Our amazing musician friends, Tom and Kathleen, brought the entire evening alive. I cannot thank them enough for being there!

My dance background is Irish ceili, which isn't exactly what Laura Ingalls would have done, but it's what I know and it's close enough! We started with an open waltz just warm up, then did a Haymaker's Jig and a Siege of Ennis. I can't remember the exact order, but we danced a Rustic Reel and a Bonfire Reel also.

Halfway through there was a dessert break. In advance I baked two pies, apple and pumpkin, and a big jar of sugar cookies with nutmeg and cinnamon. More drinks and treats!

Amy and I pieced together a modified polka set from a couple of our usual dances. It was amazing! I love a polka. We finished the evening with another waltz. Well, actually two, because as our musicians were playing the first one, we were all just talking. Oops. So we asked for one more!

Altogether I think we had 12 for dinner. In my over-a-year-ago plan I had expected a much bigger crowd, but many people were unable to make the trip and some local folks couldn't make it. However, I almost ran out of chairs for the group we did have, and I am not sure I could have fit more! We might not have been able to make it a sit-down dinner. My little house was full to bursting.

I hated to see the evening end. Nothing is ever perfect, but this was pretty damn close.

There was one more day of costumed adventures coming up, though!