I started looking for my Mother-0f-the-Bride dress in February and on the first day (after about a dozen stores) I found it. The price tag was $650. I tried it on anyway, loved it, and heard my mouth explain to my friend Susan that “I could make this.” Susan and I have been friends since grade school. We played with Troll dolls. I sewed outfits for the cat. How hard could replicating a designer gown be?
It was actually two dresses, one over the other. I figured the “under-dress” didn’t much matter because it would be covered by the kaftan that went over it. I could screw it up pretty good before anyone would notice. The kaftan was just a wad of fabric with a head hole and seams up the side. Piece of cake. I would use some of the silk my mother bought years ago, so the fabric would be from my mom and “free.” I was all goosebumply; it was meant to be. And I learned from the cat that if you moved really fast, it was the overall impression that mattered, not the details.
The first thing I had to learn about was silk. I’m all cotton all the time. There are more different kinds of silks than you can shake a stick at. I had no idea. Thick thin, nubby smooth, slick, rough. I decided the kaftan silk felt like chiffon. My mother had a whole bolt of it! Yipee! I was all set. Then I measured. It had to go from my toes, over my head and back down to my heels, and when I stuck my arms out, it had to hit me just above my wrists. Mom had the yardage, but not the width. Hello, Dharma Trading.
By now I’m several months into the project, without having actually done anything. I’m percolating. Thinking. I had the fabric (ordered generously, twice, in case I messed up), and I had the dye (also double what I thought I needed). I just couldn’t figure out how to dye it. What I do is technically “dye painting,” and the full piece of silk (all 6 yards of it, that’s 18 feet for you English majors) has to rest on a single, flat surface (no cracks, lumps, or bumps) or it has to be suspended. Who has a table that big?!
I wound up sewing the silk to old pole skrunchies from one of my booths at Quilt Market. I threaded them on to two sets of extra long (king size) sticks from my hand quilting frame. I duct-taped the short ends together creating an 18-foot x 54″ dying frame (trampoline) in the backyard with about 17 C-clamps, two saw horses, and several quilt frame legs. It fell over several times before I got the supports in just the right place.
(Note: squirt the hose at something else first so that all the little particles of crud that accumulated after a winter hanging in the garage go someplace other than on the silk.)
I loaded five different colors into spray bottles and hit the silk one at a time. Debbie, my fearless assistant, followed me around squirting water on the color blobs. Then I swooshed and mooshed the blobs with my gloved hands until they dried, picking off stray bugs, grass particles, and debris from the wind, which, if not removed, make spots on the silk. Of course the gloves leaked.
The next day I dyed the second chunk of silk and the silk for the under-dress, a small purse, and a pair of underpants.
I used a commercial pattern for the under-dress. Just my silhouette would show as the sheer chiffon swished around me. I made two “muslins” to test the pattern. Making them out of less expensive muslin saved my silk, especially since the sizing on the pattern was way off. Off-the-rack and tissue paper patterns apparently are not in synch. Plus, it’s hard sewing 6/8″ seam allowances when you’re used to a scant quarter-inch. Also note: if you’re going to replace your 35-year-old strapless bra, the one you wore on your own wedding day, do so before you make the muslin. Ten minutes before we walked down the aisle, Jennie had to safety-pin the back of my under-dress to keep the fabric under my arms from flapping.
I machine-washed the silk after I dyed it, and then I made the mistake of ironing it. Chiffon is a loose weave (which is why it is sheer). Washing the silk shrank it. (I was told as much as 15%.) Ironing it (so I could cut it) made it grow! Thankfully I did a test on a 45″ square and notice the difference when I ironed it and then squirted it with water to relax it. The silk sample moved so much I thought it was alive!
So, after I ironed the dyed yardage to get the wrinkles out I hung it and spritzed it, to relax it.
It took almost a week to work up the nerve to cut into the dyed chiffon, and to pick which chunk to cut. (Remember, I had two!) I used part of one piece to practice on the head hole. No pattern; I was flying without a net. Just finding the center (length and width) was a huge pain. Silk moves. You lay it down and it shifts and drifts. It refuses to line up against any line. I hung it over a quilt display rack, brought the selvages together, and the torn edges, and thread basted a center width and length!
Kaftans are odd. All they have is a head hole, side seams, and a hem. I didn’t want it riding back (and choking me) so I cut the head hole more to the front than to the back.
Ever a quilter, I stitched an applied binding to the neck instead of just making a hem. I sewed part of a cheapo necklace (that just happened to be metal and heavy and painted teal so that it matched really well) inside the binding around the head hole. Stuffing it with the necklace chain weighted it forward. I used the rest of the chain in the French side seams to weight the sleeves, and in the hem at the front.
The side seams tapered in, from 54″ at my wingspan to about 35″ at my ankles, if you measured it flat. The hem, because of the width of my body inside the kaftan, turned out to be curved which made marking the hem especially challenging. Thank you Mary, Ruth, and Anne for your help and advice.
The under-dress only came to just above my knees, something I thought might look really dumb with a long gown, but it was hardly noticeable. It sure was cooler and more comfortable. You can see knees through the dress in the picture of Steve and me.
All in all, it was a very comfortable garment to wear. When I got tired of tripping over the hem I just hiked it up. It was also easy to get the dress to the wedding. I just rolled the kaftan around a PVC pipe covered with an old cotton blanket. No ironing required.
I mentioned on FaceBook after I finished the dress that I had six yards of the chiffon left over. Inquiring if anyone wanted to have a scarf made out of the leftovers, I got a very positive response.
Trying to please as many people as possible, I cut up the silk into different size scarves. Click here to purchase. (http://www.amisimms.com/silk.html) You get to hem the scarves yourself and save lots of money. Learn how in the tutorial below. Enjoy!
PS: Because so many of you asked, yes, I did have a shoe issue. While packing the car the night before the wedding, I could only find ONE shoe. This was my “backup” pair, the toe-pinchers I’ve had since 2005 (very low mileage) that might give my feet some relief from the new 3″ heels. I finally found the missing shoe in Scooter‘s kennel. He’s only stolen one other thing in the year we’ve had him: a bag of chocolates which he didn’t eat; he just wanted them close. My left shoe didn’t fare as well.
I mended the hole with some stiff black felt, a hot glue gun, and a black marker.
All better. Just don’t look closely.Turns out I didn’t even need to wear them. Once my feet went numb there was no point. (It’s hard being a woman.)