The Story of My Hand-Knit Wedding Dress

Recently, Green Wedding Shoes published a lovely blog post about our wedding. So I thought it was time to tell you the whole story about how I knit my wedding dress, step by step. Here it is:

The idea came to me on the ride home from the Observatory. Moments before, as we gazed out at the oscillating sparkle of the Los Angeles streets below, Corey proposed. I said yes. And as we drove down the hills of Griffith Park towards our Silverlake apartment, I turned to Corey and said, “I think I might knit my wedding dress.”

“That’d be cool,” he replied.

And this, among so many other reasons, is why we’re a good match. Because almost everyone else I told about my idea tried to dissuade me:

It will be too hard.
It will take too long.
Wedding planning is crazy already, why would you add this to your to-do list?
Making your own wedding dress is bad luck 🙄

Even people who had been there/done that said it was a terrible idea.

But you know how brides are always talking about how their wedding is their special day? I just knew in my core that knitting my own wedding dress would make my day the most special. I had no desire to go shop for a dress. But I did have a strong desire to cast on.

Our Wedding Date (a.k.a. “The Looming Deadline”) May 7, 2016

Corey and I got engaged in mid-June 2015. With a wedding date just 11 months away, I knew needed to get a move on. I was only slightly concerned about the time crunch. What I kept telling people was: “I knit that Obama sweater in under a week. I can knit a wedding dress in 11 months.”

What I was thinking was: can I really?

Fake it ’til you make it. Here’s how I pulled it off:

July-December 2015 Inspiration & Research Phase

First, I did a wee bit (::cough:: A TON ::cough::) of Pinterest research to figure out the style of dress I was interested in making. I settled on a knee-length, sweetheart neckline with lace overlay, very 50’s style:

I was playing around with the idea of a colorful petticoat, but I figured I’d cross that bridge later.

I then ordered every single fingering or lace weight bare yarn from Knit Picks.

Molly thought it was for her, though:

When I couldn’t find any existing dress patterns that were even close to what I had in my head, I realized I was going to need a crash course on lace design. I happily invested in Miriam Felton’s amazing Craftsy class on lace shawl design:

If you’re interested in lace at all, this is the class to take! Miriam is so clear and helpful, and I really don’t think I could have designed my dress without the skills I picked up in her class.

January 2016 Designing & Charting

In January, I started knitting up lace swatches and figuring out my gauge. (It was also very rainy in LA, which was a nice change after so many years of drought.)

Looking at those lace samples, I knew I’d need to wear some kind of slip or liner beneath my knit dress. I figured this was as good a time as any to break out my sewing pattern drafting skills.

I still had my binder from the pattern drafting class I took in college, taught by the brilliant Cara Carr. I knew I had held onto it for all these years for good reason. Inside, I found step-by-step instructions on how to make a custom bodice sloper, and I got to work.

In case you’re wondering why my sloper looks weird: I have a large bust and small waist, and I’m also very short-waisted. Also, I think I screwed up the armscye, but it didn’t matter because this dress was going to be strapless.

I drafted a sweetheart neckline bodice from this sloper, and cut a simple a-line skirt. After throwing together a test muslin, I realized this thing might actually work…

BTW, you’re going to be seeing a lot of mirror selfies of me, makeupless and disheveled, in my messy bedroom. In retrospect, I wish I had documented my progress in a more, ahem, professional way. I guess this way you get a real craft verité experience. 🙂

I got a little stuck on how I would construct the knit dress. The question was: how would I fasten the dress without compromising the look of it? Originally, I thought I could do a bunch of small buttons down the back, but I was worried it would weigh down the knit fabric too much. I wanted to have at least one seam at the waist to help stabilize the dress and give it structure, but I was afraid the seam would look really ugly. Should I add a knit belt to hide the seam? But I didn’t want to add bulk to the waist… that’s where I wanted to look small!

I mulled over the closure issue for about a week. Night after night, I fell asleep imagining different construction methods. Seriously. I was a woman obsessed. And then I wondered, do I even need closures at all? Lace is super stretchy! If I just design the dress with enough negative ease, it should stay put. But what if I went through the whole process only to find the dress was too big? It was maddening.

I finally decided that if I needed extra cinching at the waist, I would just pick up some stitches from each side seam and knit an i-cord I could tie in a bow behind my back. That also allowed me to knit the dress and then make the decision later on. Done and done.

Of course, the final (and most important) step in the design was to create all my lace charts. I started with the skirt. After a lot of math (oh, so so so much math, you don’t even want to know), I landed on doing three tiers of panels. The first panel (cast on at the waist), would be repeated 6 times, the next 12 times, and the final panel 24 times.

At first, I was charting by hand with a pencil and a blank panel I had created in StitchMastery:

It was charmingly old-school, but tedious. People swear by hand-drawing lace patterns, but it was taking me SOOOO long. Then I realized: just use the computer, dummy. You’re a web developer, the computer is your safe space. After that epiphany, I was able to chart a lot faster:

As a test of my design, I mocked up what the 6x panel would look like in the round, and I was pretty stoked:

It was finally time to cast on for real…

February 3 – April 11, 2016 Knitting the Skirt

Well, this part was fairly boring. I just binge-watched a ton of TV and knit away for about 2 months. I only had to rip out a few rows at the beginning (I had screwed up some chart math, but nothing very serious). I never had to use the lifelines I placed every 20 rows or so. I did find a few errors in my lace where I didn’t properly balance my yarn-overs and decreases, but that was easily fixed as I went along.

What can I say? Sometimes things just work out!

I had decided on the 100% merino “Shadow” laceweight yarn, and used size 3 needle. The cats helped a lot. Here’s proof:

I cast on 114 stitches at the waist, and my final bind-off count was 720 stitches per row. It was essentially just a circle lace shawl with no center. Here’s how it looked before blocking:

But because it was an A-line skirt and not a true circle, the real challenge was HOW to block this thing without creating a fold or wrinkle? I had bound off at around 9:30 at night, so I couldn’t run and buy any supplies. But my wedding was in 26 days and I didn’t want to waste any time. I needed to block the skirt so I could see whether it was going to work at all — if not, I had to make an appointment at David’s Bridal ASAP.

So what did I do? I MacGuyvered my way out of it. I looked around my apartment and took stock of what I had: a tripod and some upholstery foam should work…

It ain’t pretty (that Frankenstein stitching on the foam wasn’t exactly my best work), but it did the trick. I used the dress muslin as a liner, and pinned away.

There’s 72 little picot points on the edge of the skirt, and I wanted to make sure each one was well-defined.

And once it was blocked, I could tell this was really shaping up to be something special. I fell in love with the skirt immediately. I couldn’t wait to finish this thing. (And I mean that literally: I had less than a month go — waiting wasn’t an option.)

March 31 – April 17, 2016 Knitting and Re-Knitting the Bodice

Here’s where I reveal that my tidy narrative of an easy-breezy knitting process is total BS. Notice that I finished the skirt on April 11, but this section header says I started the bodice on March 31? Yeah, about that…

At the end of March, I flew to New York for a bachelorette weekend with my best friends from high school. (We all grew up in California, but somehow they’ve congregated in New York City, so it was easier for me to meet them than vice versa.) I didn’t want to bring my almost-finished skirt — just the thought of accidentally leaving it on the plane (something I’ve done before), or spilling coffee on it, or having the TSA agents take it away still gives me residual anxiety.

So I decided to knit the bodice on the plane instead. I thought I could probably finish it on the trip — I had to design it still, but that seemed like a good thing to do on the flight. I also thought it was a good idea to have some whiskey on the flight because: bachelorette weekend. Right? Right!

There’s nothing wrong with designing delicate lace and very fitted garments while crammed into an economy plus seat and drinking hard liquor, right?

Wrong.

Haste makes waste, and whiskey-designing makes a cat-sized bodice.

I thought I could fix it by steeking:

I thought I could pick up and knit lace panels along the sides to fix it, but I quickly realized it wasn’t going to work. I’d have seams running vertically down the front and back of my garment. It would look like garbage.

I faced the hard fact that I would just have to knit the bodice again. And this time I’d account for my actual measurements, not whatever size 000 pixie sprite I had originally charted for.

It was April 7th… I had exactly a month remaining.

I took a break to finish the skirt, and then reworked my bodice calculations. I cast on for the new-improved bodice on April 14, and was able to finish in just 3 days. You can’t tell from my facial expression in this photo, but I’m thrilled to be finished!

I blocked it on my Dritz My Double dress form (I had been coveting a proper dress form for years, and finally used this project as an excuse to get one. It was a great decision.)

My wedding was in 20 days and I was finally done knitting the dress! Woohoo!

April 8 – May 6, 2016Finishing Touches

I went shopping in the downtown LA fashion district for the slip fabric and petticoat. I found some beautiful ivory silk for the shell at Michael Levine’s, but I couldn’t find a petticoat to my liking. So what did I do?

If you’ve read this far, you can probably guess: I decided to make one myself.

I knew it might take a while to construct. But with Corey away for his bachelor weekend, I knew I could stay up as late as I wanted sewing, which is exactly what I did.

That picture is from 1:14am on April 18th. I think a tulle monster was eating my sewing machine.

I finished around 1:30am (I think I spent 4 or 5 hours wrestling with that damn tulle), and put it on my dress form while my bodice was still blocking:

Uhhhhh….hmmm… If I was going to cosplay Madonna it might work. But for an elegant wedding dress? Forget it.

So I ditched the petticoat idea altogether, and just moved on to the under-dress.

I already had the pattern created from my muslin, but it turns out sewing with silk is TRICKY. That stuff is slippery AF. I struggled a little with the stitching, but it was an under-dress, so I didn’t get too nitpicky with how it looked.

It had to serve two purposes: cover up my naughty bits and not detract from the knit dress. A first draft of the dress included some foam cups in the bust, but they showed through the delicate silk, so I scrapped that idea.

I thought it looked kinda schlubby when I first tried it on. But after I steamed out the wrinkles it was passable. I left the skirt extra long so I’d have lots of wiggle room for hemming.

Finally, I had to seam together the knit bodice and the skirt. I was nervous about lining up the front and back centers properly, so I waited until I had some bright sunlight. So after a good night’s sleep, I holed up in my bedroom, and very, very carefully took almost 2 hours to seam it together:

I also weighed the final dress to figure out how much yarn I had used:

Only 177 grams! That’s less than 2 hanks of the Bare Shadow Lace from Knit Picks. I had ordered 20 hanks, which I knew was overkill (it was on sale if you bought in bulk) but I didn’t realize it was 10 times as much as I needed! 😳

Later that night, I tried it all on for the first time.

I’m not great at emoting, guys. That’s a happy face. Just trust me.

In order to provide structure to the silk underdress, I knew I needed some better foundation garments. This Maidenform strapless bodysuit was at my local Target and it worked great.

And the final final step was hemming! On April 21st, I asked my dear friend Emilie to help me with this step. Emilie and I met in the college pattern drafting class where I learned how to design, so I knew I could trust her with this step! After she pinned up the underskirt, she snapped this photo of me where I’m ::gasp:: actually smiling! (kinda)

And then when did I finally do the hemming?

The day before the wedding.

I hemmed while my brother (who was my “dude of honor”) and sister-in-law worked on other last-minute wedding things.

I shudder to think of what I would have done had the sewing machine gobbled up my dress the day before the wedding. I was playing with fire here, and somehow managed to avoid disaster. But it all worked out great, and the next day was the BIG DAY.

May 7, 2016Wedding Day!

I’ll just let these brilliant photos by The Campbells speak for themselves:

It was the best day.

If you’re interested in seeing more photos, check out the Green Wedding Shoes post about our wedding!

TL;DR Stats, FAQs & Final Thoughts

People ask me these questions a lot, so I thought I’d try and answer them concisely here:

How much did the dress cost to make?

Simple answer: $71.40

Complicated answer: The cost of the materials were anywhere from $52 to $204, depending on how you calculated it. I ordered 20 skeins of the yarn, at $5.70 per skein, but only used 2 skeins in the end. The silk was $20/yd and I bought 3 yards, but only used 2 yards in the dress. I spent about $30 on the tulle I ended up scrapping and not using in the dress. And of course, that doesn’t include any labor costs. If I had paid myself California minimum wage for all the hours I worked on this dress, it would have easily exceeded $1200 in billable hours. (That’s ignoring any overtime laws I would be violating by knitting late into the night.)

How long did it take for you to knit the dress?

Simple answer: About 3 months.

Complicated answer: Well, read the blog post above. You’ll see.

Would you do it again?

Simple answer: Absolutely!

Complicated answer: I’m very glad I don’t have to plan a wedding again. It was a lot of fun but also a lot of work, and it definitely hijacked my life for about 6 months. That said, if I had a do-over, I would absolutely knit my wedding dress again. It’s cheesy, but it truly was a labor of love. And I’m super proud of how it turned out.

Have more questions for me? Leave them in the comments below!

Thanks for reading this epic tale!

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15 Comments

  • Arella says:

    Absolutely stunning! Thank you for the blog post. I loved to follow your journey.

  • Joanne says:

    Awesome! So glad you took the leap, both marriage and knitting your dress, and the shared with all of us in the virtual world. The dress is stunning and your tale is wonderful.

  • Susan says:

    Thank you for posting this Laura! I am so glad you went with what YOU wanted! You stayed true to you!
    I so enjoyed reading about your creative process…design process…technical challenges…and creative solutions!

    Well done!!👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

  • Kristina says:

    It’s a beautiful dress, you look gorgeous in it, and it was interesting and fun to read about the design proces 💝

  • Camille K Lewis says:

    Amazing. I love everything! But I think I really love the hem. That just makes it look like a fairy tale.

    Congrats!

  • Steph says:

    Great post. I’m so impressed!

  • Thanks for getting back to me via email Laura. I’m now following! Absolutely love this post, thanks for taking the time to record your wedding dress adventures. Beautiful! Julie

  • Ledonna Olinger says:

    Just imagine the joy of showing that dress to your very own children and having one of them say “Can I use your wedding dress for my wedding?” That is an heirloom and you should be very proud of yourself for such an undertaking! Congratulations on your dress and on your wedding. May you have many years of happiness.

  • Go you! I think it rocks and I loved reading your process! You do realise of course is the next question you’ll be getting asked by others…. when are you going to write the pattern for sale!!

    • Laura Birek says:

      The problem is the dress is extremely well-fitted for me, but grading it out to other sizes is going to be tricky! So I have to figure out if it’s worth doing that work or not? I’m not sure there’s enough demand for me to go through the process of writing it up for everyone? I guess if I get enough requests I might! Or maybe just the skirt?

  • Leah says:

    Amazing dress and talent (great story!). Such a beautiful bride. Wow, what a special wedding and details. I love the future letters and promises. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • LC says:

    Your dress is beautiful – the lace pattern work in all the right places! And you look fabulous; that guy is one lucky…
    I would love to see you write out the pattern for the skirt – it could be used for many things. Congratulations!

  • KimJ says:

    Absolutely stunning along with amazing knit design and construction! You looked beautiful! Congratulations!
    I’m thinking of knitting a similar garment.

  • Kathryn Duchene says:

    Wow! So beautiful and beautiful on you. What a daunting challenge you took on and the result is lovely and so personal.

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