How I made my own green Victorian-inspired wedding dress

June 27 | Guest post by Rowan

We'll be featuring her wedding in full next week, but for now let's find out the backstory behind Tribesmaid Rowan's amazing custom dress.

8757509127_0f26431607_zThe journey of my dress began in a fabric shop where I discovered a luscious, sage green velvet embroidered with leafy vines and flower buds. I left the shop and went home, but couldn't stop thinking about that cloth. The next day I went back to look again and buy a small sample of the fabric. The salesperson told me it was the last of the fabric, there would never be any more, and it was 20% off that day. I took a deep breath and decided that rather than try in vain to find the dress of my dreams, I was going to make it. I bought 8.5 yards of the fabric, everything the store had on hand.

I sew for a living, but I make accessories, not garments. I don't follow patterns. I had never attempted a complicated multi-piece garment like what I ended up with. I teamed up with my good friend Sarah, a fabulous Victorian costumer, and haunted the Pinterest boards for examples of awesome Victorian garb. We sat down to check out my Pinterest board and figured out what was possible, given the patterns she had on hand and my figure. We used truly Victorian patterns for all of the pieces of this dress.

8757554543_0f423feb1d_zI purchased lace for the removable bustle train, and cotton fabric for lining. The lace trim of my train was recycled from vintage lace curtains. With Sarah's advice, I made the bustle train.

There were several mishaps along the way, included making the wrong sized pattern and having to add an additional layer to the train. And later ripping out hours of hand-stitching when one side of the lace trim started five inches higher than the other side. In the meantime, Sarah was making my overskirt from the embroidered green velvet. We discovered that I had a piece of my costume already made — a long formal silvery-sage ballgown skirt. This would go beneath the velvet overskirt. Sarah gifted me with some gorgeous cotton trim embroidered with morning-glory vines and flowers, over 100 years old, and hand-stitched them around the edges of the overskirt. She also hand-stitched green velvet ruching around the edges of the skirt to tie it in with the overskirt and bodice.

I was on the lookout for a corset that would fit me. I'm an F-cup, so fitting something to my bust was very challenging, especially considering my tight budget. I custom-ordered a civil-war era corset, but although it was made to my measurements, it was all wrong for my figure and the dress. I didn't know what to do at that point.

A month before the wedding, with lots of work still to be done and a million wedding tasks to complete, we realized that we needed some extra help for the most complicated piece, the bodice. We contacted Sarah's friend Bethany, a talented seamstress and Victorian costumer. She agreed to take on the project. As it turns out, she worked at a nearby costume shop, which had Victorian-style corsets for rent, and in my size! They even agreed to purchase my custom civil war corset for store credit, so it only cost me a few dollars extra to trade corsets.

Well-fitted corset in hand, we met for measurements and planning, and she got to work. Fourteen working hours later, she had completed the bodice and I went in for the final fitting. It was a bit loose in the back, and she hemmed in the back to make it fit right. She'd made cloth-covered buttons with dress fabric for the front of the bodice, and trimmed the sleeves with more of the antique morning glory lace. And, as a wedding gift, she had also made me a little bag that matched my dress to tie around my waist, which was a life-saver on my wedding day (lip balm, pocketknife, lighter, phone, cabin key, and vows — except I forgot my vows! But that's another story.)

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In the last days leading up to my wedding, Sarah hand-stitched ruching into my velvet overskirt, giving it an organic, earthy feel. My custom green knee-high elf boots finally arrived in the mail.

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I finished my headdress. It was built on a headband and included peacock and rooster feathers, faux pearls, vintage silk flowers and leaves, and a few real dried flowers from the first bouquet my husband ever gave to me. I decided on earrings (ginkgo leaves) and a necklace (vintage faux pearls) to wear. My gown and headdress were busy enough that I wanted to keep my other accessories simple.

It was completely nerve-wracking to have so much planning and labor to do, right up until the last minute. About two weeks before the wedding, I didn't think it was going to get done. Disaster loomed. And then somehow, through magic, community and sheer will, everything came together and created this.

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  1. I remember seeing this on the tribe a while ago- so beautiful! And to think it all started with a bolt of fabric.

    I love how may different pieces went into making the final product- especially the use of curtains. Genius!

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  2. That fabric is to die for. OMG. Such a lovely dress…and those elf boots!?!?! I think I just had a nerdgasm. So much like!

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  3. Oh my god! That dress is AMAZING! I love every detail (including the ruching, headdress and boots).

    LOVE!

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  4. Wow! Sounds like quite the extensive project and lots of stress but boy was it worth it! That dress is absolutely incredible!

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  5. Also, it takes a village! Good advice for everything.

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  6. this is all so inspiring! you not only created your own dress, but crafted an entire outfit that is so original and expressive.

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  7. That is an amazing dress! It's just the balance of off-beat and formal that I'll be looking for when I finally force myself (or mom does) to start the dress hunt. You did a fantastic job.

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  8. Psst – Truly Victorian is a brand name and both words should be capitalized. Their site: http://www.trulyvictorian.net/tvxcart/ They are high-quality indie patterns made by a one-woman show – I've used several myself. (I'd highly recommend their TV110 corset pattern as a first corset project!) If I sew anything Victorian-y for my wedding, I'll be heading to that shop first.

    This dress in the post is GORGEOUS and I'm green with envy. ;) I love hearing stories of how complete ensembles come together. Just looking at the pictures, you'd never realize the amount of work that goes into it! It's amazing how things add up – a bolt of fabric, an existing piece, construction accidents leading to awesome collaborations…

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      • No, I looked for it and couldn't find the "fix typo" button for some reason – actually, I still don't see it. Weird. I thought you guys must have removed it.

        I did want to toss in the recommendation and general exclamation of awesome, though, so I figured a comment would be okay.

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  9. Natural greens are my favourite colours and leaves are my favourite motif on fabric, so I am about to expire from envy! When I make historial costumes for myself I usually go medieval (gates of hell style), but I think this design works so much better with that fabric (sorry, just thinking about what I'd do if I got my grubby little paws on some similar…). I think the fact that it's genuine rather than ersatz Victorian reproduction really shows; embroidery, gathering, all of it just works so perfectly. I hope the rest of your day was as fabulous.

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    • Jan, that fabric made me swoon . I knew that whatever I made from it would be my perfect dress. I originally thought I would go with a medieval-style gown, but I fell in love with the Victorian style. I just love the shapes and all of the fussy details. The visual theme of our wedding was Victorian Fairytale, inspired by the dress style and the adorable wedding invitations. Check out http://offbeatbride.com/2013/07/washington-beltaine-wedding for the full story of our wedding!

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  10. Can I say how cute this dress was! Round of applause for the very excellent sewing skills of the bride!

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