Re-purposing an Entire Wedding Dress (And Not Wasting Any of it!) – by Jessica

This post was written by my sister Jessica. Since we all just loved what she was able to do with our Mom’s wedding dress, I figured there might be others that would want to read about how she did it and possibly be inspired to tackle a project like this themselves. So I asked her to write a guest blog post for me and document the process and I am so glad she did! Enjoy! 

It all started the day my parents decided to downsize and move into a more appropriately sized house for the two of them.  They began getting rid of things, slowly at first, until suddenly my Mom was saying to me (in passing as if it were nothing) that she was taking her wedding dress to Goodwill.  Now I’m all for “one man’s trash…”.  After all, I do spend every Saturday morning going to garage sales in search of adorable clothes for my 1 year old son!  However, something about her dress going to Goodwill bothered me.  My parents have been married for almost 42 years now (you can read about their wedding here) and I know I speak for their other 3 children when I say that their love, friendship, and partnership is the holy grail of marriage as far as we are concerned.  They seem to love each other more with every day that passes.  So the 4 of us regard their wedding day as one of the most important days in the history of the world!  After all, if that day hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t exist.  So the dress couldn’t go to Goodwill.   And that was that.  I asked my Mom to bring the dress to me and she agreed.

What a pretty Bride!  The Happy Couple
Now, I am not a crafty person.  At all.  Ask anyone.  Particularly, my husband, who will tell you that the craft store JoAnns is like my kryptonite.  I walk in and immediately my energy level plummets.  I walk around in a stupor until I finally leave without having bought anything – and it takes an extreme amount of chocolate and/or caffeine to get my energy level back up after that!  However, it was important to me to re-purpose the dress.  After all, simply transferring the dress from her closet to mine seemed as foolish as taking the dress to Goodwill.  So to Google I went.  I started with “re-purpose wedding dress” and saw some neat ideas about turning the dress into a christening gown, baby doll dress, or a bassinet/crib cover.  All great ideas, but none that I would find useful.  Then I saw a Christmas tree skirt.  BINGO!!!  That was it.  I wasn’t sure how it was going to happen, but it HAD to happen.  Then I remembered my sister Jennifer telling me how useful a site called “Pinterest” was.  So I went to the site and searched for the same thing “re-purpose wedding dress.”  Here I found a few more ideas – pillow (another BINGO! moment – my Mom LOVES pillows.  Whenever she’s sitting down, she always has one in her lap!  So does my sister Jennifer.  So I loved the idea of making us 3 girls our own pillows), Christmas ornaments (BINGO! again!!!  I could make a Christmas ornament for each of her children’s families so that everyone could have a piece of her dress), and a ring bearer pillow (the biggest BINGO! moment of them all – I could make a ring bearer pillow that could be passed around our family for whoever wants to use it for years to come).
Unfortunately, nothing I found actually came with instructions on how anyone accomplished these ideas (and some had no proof that anyone actually had accomplished them – they were just on lists of ideas that people had).  And since I have no crafting talent or knowledge of my own, I was in a bit of a pickle.  Luckily, my mother-in-law is the very definition of a “crafty person” and she actually gave me a beginner’s crafting kit for an early Christmas present.  Bless her heart, the woman has been trying to encourage me to try my hand at certain “crafts” ever since we met – and I have fought her every step of the way…. until now.  I have no idea whether she was thrilled that I was actually wanting to do something ‘crafty’ or if she was completely horrified at the sheer volume of crafts that I was trying to accomplish all at once.  But she came to town with a smile and totally dove into this project with me.  She, like any good mother, made me do it all myself and stood by to show me and encourage me every step of the way.  None of this…  and I mean none of it…  would exist without her!
Step one:  Prepare the dress.  My Mom’s dress was covered in beautiful embroidery (lots of daisies and beautiful trim) that had unfortunately yellowed over time.  I knew I needed to clean it and at least attempt to get the yellow out.  But I was afraid of putting the entire dress (chiffon and satin) into a cleaning solution.  So I decided to take the embroidery off the dress first (since the dress itself hadn’t actually yellowed – just the embroidery).  I thought I would be using the seam ripper my MIL gave me, but instead I found that it was mostly glued on.  So I gently ‘ripped’ it off and I soaked them all – first in Woolite which didn’t change anything at all and then in oxygenated bleach overnight.  I was happily surprised that all of the yellow came out just from the oxygenated bleach soaking!  No scrubbing required!  Next, I took the seam ripper and ripped all of the seams out.  We wanted to use as much of the dress as possible since we weren’t sure exactly how much fabric we would need.  Next, I separated the chiffon from the satin on the dress.  Time to begin…
photo 1photo 2
Step two:  Go to JoAnns.  Oi vey.  I had a giant breakfast and mustered up all the energy I could and walked in.  Luckily my MIL was with me to figuratively hold my hand and show me where to go.  My 22 month old son was more patient in the store than I was!  I bought fabric scissors (best purchase ever…  I bought the cheapest pair they had and it’s still the best pair of scissors I’ve ever used!), 4 inch Styrofoam balls for the ornaments, pearl pins for the ornaments, pillow forms for the 3 decorative pillows, and the closest match I could find on the embroidery for the Christmas tree skirt (ivory daisy trim to fill in on the Christmas tree skirt and give it a more finished look).  I already had ribbon for the ornaments, fabric glue called Unique Stitch, and straight pins in the craft set that my MIL gave me.  So the trip to JoAnn’s was complete.  Then it was time for a nap.
Step three:  Make the ornaments.  The first thing I needed to do was find patterns for ornaments (my MIL found this one online:  http://www.marthastewart.com/287200/tinsel-trading-ornaments?search_key=FABRIC%20ORNAMENTS).  The Martha Stewart plan was a great starting point and it definitely had some good tips, but we ended up needing to change the dimensions of her pattern for our 4 inch ball since it wasn’t working otherwise.  Martha’s patterns either weren’t correct or they weren’t a good fit for the satin fabric that we had.  Either way, there was a lot of trial and error to figure out exactly what size the diamond cut outs should be.  Luckily, my husband is an engineer and used Auto CAD to draw up exactly the template we needed.  It was time to cut up the dress.  I have to admit, I did this part with tears in my eyes the entire time, completely freaking out that my Mom and sister would never forgive me if I cut up the dress and had nothing to show for it!  My MIL taught me that I needed to cut the fabric on the bias – Cutting fabric on the bias involves rotating the fabric 45 degrees, and cutting where the fabric has the most stretch.  I wanted to make 5 ornaments and I needed 8 “diamond” like cut outs from Martha’s pattern for each one.  So that meant 40 cut outs.  This was intimidating.  Not only because it was a lot of cutting, but also because I was nervous that there wouldn’t be enough fabric for the pillows.  Luckily it all worked out!  The first ornament took awhile and definitely required hands on help from my MIL, but after that, the rest of them came together really quickly.  After the fabric covered the foam, I just began “decorating” the ball with the various pieces of embroidery from my Mom’s dress.  I used the Unique Stitch to glue most of it on, and then used the pearl pins to add the ribbon on top.
photo 6

 

Step four:  Begin the 3 decorative pillows (I thought this would be the hardest project).  These 3 pillows came together so quickly.  I want to say it took maybe an hour or two at the most to make 3 pillows.  We decided to make an envelope pillow so that if anyone ever needed to remove the pillow cover and wash it, they could.  We cut out 3 squares from the satin part of the dress, and 6 rectangles from the chiffon part of the dress (those would be used for the back part of the pillow to create an envelope).  We used Unique Stitch glue to glue the pillow cover together while it was inside out, let it dry for 30 minutes, then flipped it right side in.  It went something like this – http://realpurdy.com/2012/08/17/envelope-pillow-cover/.   Then, I glued all of my chosen embroidery from her dress back on the pillow.  SUPER easy.  I was feeling pretty awesome!

photo 4

Step five:  Time for the ring bearer pillow.  I cut out the two rectangles of satin fabric and glued it together on 3 sides while inside out, then turned it right side in and prepared to stuff it.  I decided to stuff it with the tulle from my Mom’s veil (I’m not sure whether this stemmed from a desire to save $2 by returning the pillow fill we had bought at JoAnn’s or from a desire to use every last inch of the dress and avoid throwing the tulle in the trash…  Either way, the tulle made for a good filling on a ring bearer pillow since you want it to be more sturdy than your average pillow anyway).  Then we put glue on the 4th side and I held it together while it dried for 30 minutes.  Once the glue was dry, I added the fabric/embroidery that I had removed from my Mom’s veil to the outside of the pillow (I ran a ribbon through two of the holes so that rings can be tied on one day).  This was my favorite part of the project.  I cannot believe I didn’t think of this until 3 years AFTER I got married!!!
photo 5
Step six:  The Christmas tree skirt.  For this part, I used her train.  I used a seam ripper to rip out the seams at the top of the dress.  Once I did that, I laid it out and my husband Brad and I tried to determine how to fold it up.  See, once the seams were ripped, it didn’t exactly make a circle.  But I wanted to keep this as simple as possible.  So we decided how far down the middle to rip the seam (for the hole for the tree) and I started ripping.  After that, I glued the seams back down individually and then added the semi-matching embroidery trim I found at JoAnns for a more finished look. Then  I steamed the skirt to get the wrinkles out. All total the skirt took maybe 3 hours.
photo 2 photo 2

 

I’d say from start to finish, we probably worked on the dress for 20 hours.  The seam ripping and fabric cutting took the most time.  But there was no sewing involved.  Just fabric scissors, fabric glue, a little bit of craft glue (when the fabric glue didn’t work on the chiffon), and a seam ripper!  I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.  I wrapped everything up and waited the longest two weeks of my life before getting to reveal it all to my family! I felt a huge sense of accomplishment not only in doing something I didn’t think I could do, but also in re-purposing something that was just taking up space in a closet.  I’m the last person on earth that anyone would ever think could do something like this, so if I can do it, ANYONE can!!!

 

In case you were wondering, here is what is left of the dress –

photo (10)

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