My Hand-Knitted Wedding Gown: Part 3

I’m back! Sorry for neglecting you for the past few months. When your husband plans your European holiday, turns out you don’t see as many spinning wheels or embroidery. But here I am again, back in Australia, back telling you about my knitted wedding dress.

This is part 3 of my posts about designing and knitting my wedding dress. My previous posts on the topic can be found here and here. I’m going to be referring a lot to the lace stitch patterns which I mentioned in my second wedding dress post.
Designing a new knitted project can seem daunting. Really though, it’s not that hard. Believe me? Maybe not, but I’m telling the truth, and here’s my secret: I am lazy. I wash my clothes in cold water primarily because it means I don’t have to separate them. I eat the same pre-packaged breakfast food everyday in the car on the way to work because it means I don’t have to make a decision. I wasn’t going to get stressed by designing a complicated wedding dress.
Being original is great, and there’s an elaborate way to do it and a lazy girl way to do it. And for my wedding dress in particular, well, we set the date of the wedding to be 8 months after the engagement, so I didn’t have time to design something complicated. So here it is; how I designed my wedding dress based on existing stitch patterns (lazy, remember)and made a wedding dress I was thrilled to wear down the aisle with no frantic rushing to get it finished.
First Step: Gather Your Supplies
Before I had a pattern at all, I selected a yarn to use. I had an idea of the dress in my head already, so I knew what kind of yarn would be good. It had to have a sheen to it and not be woolly. It had to be fine because I wanted an open-work knitted gown. Because I’m a vegetarian (and also cheap), I didn’t want it to be silk. That actually leaves you with lots of choices: mercerised cotton, bamboo, certain kinds of acrylic. In the end, I selected a 2 ply mercerised cotton thread called Satin, by Milford, in white.

To find the right needles, I began by swatching, trying out stitch patterns with different sized needles with the yarn I had selected. As you might have read in my last post, I had sneakily started planning this gown before we were officially engaged, so I actually started swatching six weeks or so before there was a ring on my finger. My now-husband (who had no idea about the wedding dress until the wedding day) saw the swatches on my couch a couple of times and asked me what I was doing. “Just playing around with stitch patterns,” I’d said, “I might make a skirt or something”. Kind of true. I did make an “or something”. I started with biggish needles, in the region of 4.5mm (bigger needles mean faster knitting mean less work), but that compromised the definition of the leaves in the main pattern I used. The swatch I liked the best used 3.75mm needles, so in the end that’s what I went with.
Yarn and needles selected (and official engagement in the past), I then had the task of fitting the stitch patterns to a pattern.

Making the Pattern
My last post gave a bit of an overall description of my gown, but in short; it was an off-the-shoulder dress with full length sleeves and a short train. It was made of five separate pieces:
  • Left sleeve: worked bottom up
  • Right sleeve: worked bottom up
  • Dress: worked top down
  • Bottom front trim of dress: worked sideways and knitted as I went to the bottom of the dress.
  • Shoulder strap (worked by picking up stitches from the sleeves and the dress): Worked bottom up.
Diagrams were very useful in helping me place all my measurements


To go into the finer details of the whole gown’s construction would be a monster post, but here are the basics for me making a pattern for the sleeves and the dress.

Step 1: Take Measurements.
I took measurements around various points in my body and also measured the distance between each measurement. So for each arm, the measurements I took were:
  • Wrist circumference
  • Arm circumference around elbow
  • Distance between wrist and elbow
  • Arm circumference at armpit
  • Distance between elbow and armpit.
For the dress, the measurements I took were:
  • Body circumference at armpits
  • Bust circumference (widest point)
  • Distance between armpit and bust
  • Circumference just under the bust
  • Distance between bust and just under it
  • Waist circumference (narrowest point)
  • Distance between waist and just under bust
  • Hip circumference (widest point)
  • Distance between hip and waist
  • Knee circumference
  • Distance between knee and the floor

Let’s now take the sleeves as an example of how I calculated stitch numbers for a pattern. I applied basically the same principle to the dress, except for the dress was partly knitted in the round with eyelets on either side for lacing up, and the rest knitted in the round. The sleeves were just knitted flat, so it’s easier to explain.

The stitch pattern I used (Willow Leaves - see my most recent wedding dress post) had a very convenient tension. One pattern repeat was 10cm stitch-wise and 5.5cm row-wise, and it was 16sts across. Let’s split up my working into length and width.

Length:
I determined that my arms were 50cm long (wrist-elbow = 23cm, elbow-armpit = 27cm). That meant I needed 50cm worth of rows, and to make things simpler, I rounded it to a whole number of pattern repeats, and so worked 9 repeats (9 X 5.5 = 49.5cm). I did 4 repeats from wrist to elbow, and 5 from elbow to armpit. This becomes relevant when we start looking at width.

Width:
My width measurements were as follows:
Wrist: 14 cm (=1.5 repeats)
Elbow: 24cm (=2.5 repeats)
Arm at armpit: 28cm (=3 repeats)

So, between the wrist and the elbow, I cast on enough for 1.5 repeats (stitch-wise), and as I knitted, increased (by half a repeat at a time) the number of stitches so that by the time I got to the elbow, I had 2.5 repeats stitch-wise. Then I followed the same process from the elbow to the armpit. To simplify things, I only increased stitches by half a repeat or one repeat at a time, and only did so once a full row-wise repeat had been completed. I didn’t do anything fancy to make the increases flow on from the previous bits of the pattern. Had I more time to design, I might have, but for a wedding dress, it’s the big picture that’s going to get noticed and I don’t think my dress suffered for not making sure the pattern flowed perfectly throughout.

I worked the rest of the dress more or less as I did with for the sleeves, but with more additions. From the top of the dress until the hips, I worked it flat, adding in a garter stitch border with eyelets. I did this so I could deliberately make the dress too small so that when tightened with a ribbon, it would fit perfectly. This was both because I was losing weight and because knitted items do stretch.

From the hips to just above the knees, I knitted the dress in the round and quite fitted to my shape. Where the eyelets had been, I knitted a simple mesh panel. From just above the knees, I flared the dress out, firstly using pi shaping, and then when the number of stitches got too large to manageably do that, by increasing the number of stitches by a third. Where the dress hit the floor, I separated the front and the back. For the front, I knitted the Grandmother’s Lace Edging (see my last post), attaching it to the dress by knitting the last stitch of each right side row with a live stitch from the skirt. For the back of the dress, I used short row shaping to make a short train (a semi-circle with the back of the skirt being its diameter), not in the Willow Leaves pattern but in the simple mesh pattern I had running down the back of my dress. I edged this with the Willow Leaf edging from the Heliotaxis shawl. When that was all done, there was some fiddling around to find a stitch pattern that would work for the strap which went round my shoulders (I tried the Grandmother’s Lace edging at first but it didn’t work out), but once I found one which worked, I sewed the sleeves to the top of the dress, picked up stitches around the body and shoulders and knitted for a cm or two, then worked the selected stitch pattern for the shoulder strap.

And there you have it: My pattern design process, in brief. In my next post I’ll talk about how I went about my process of actually knitting the dress.

Now, did that sound too complicated? Maybe but it really wasn’t. If you can measure, add, and multiply, you can design a wedding dress. See, school maths does come in handy.

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