Tuesday, 27 August 2013

My Tie Bride

Before I met Deborah, the last bit of sewing I’d done was as a 5 year old in primary school using that large gauge needle and cloth combination that resembles sewing into a potato waffle using a crossbow bolt threaded with climbing rope. But in the last couple of years, Deb has taught me the black arts of sewing.

We started off making a v-shaped pillow cover out of curtain fabric. Although the two pillow cases are of significantly different size (making one pillow mellow and floppy, and the other rather uptight and aloof), the overall impression was better than I’d ever hoped.

We’ve not had time and energy for many textile projects, but with the wedding approaching there was one rather major task needing a firm grasp of the needle and thread - Deb wanted to make her own dress. And not just any dress - years ago, she saw a dress made entirely of ties. She has searched the wide old internet high and low, but even between us googling in tandem, we just cannot find that original image of inspiration. But it was always just that - an idea, inspiration. The true design was more than that; a thing entirely of Deborah’s mind and heart.

Thistle flowers and tie-covered-corset
The design started with a corset top. How exciting! A sewing project requiring a hacksaw! And a couple of rolls of duct tape! On reflection, that sounds a lot less like textile design and more like an episode of Dexter. But no, thankfully the only thing to be dismembered was a rather elderly t-shirt. Let me explain. We started off dressing Deb in said old t-shirt and then wrapped her in the tape, nice and tight. She had put on an not made-to-measure corset underneath, figuring that, although it would add thickness, the appropriate shaping would more than make up for this. Fully wrapped in tape, we then cut down the back of the t-shirt (severing the corset ribbons on the way - woops!) and we were left with a perfect duct tape-cast of her torso. We were then able to cut it into sections (which we’d marked and numbered while it was still on her) which would later become the panels. The joins of each panel would also be the point where each steel bone would be sewn.

This was a tricky job and required a lot of hand-sewing. Which is a good thing, as I discovered that I enjoy hand-sewing a lot more than using a sewing machine. Sewing machines are evil creatures which I still don’t fully understand. Also, given the nature of fabric (clothes-making would be a lot simpler if we wore things made out of sensible materials like, say, oak) sewing the curves into the shape on a machine would have been tricky to say the least.

The boning was fixed using the padding material found inside ties. Have I not mentioned them yet? Because by this point we’d unpicked thirty-six ties, removed the padding and labels and I had then ironed each and every one. The trickiest aspect of that? The smell! Imagine thirty-six different gentlemen, all after-shaved to the hilt. Then add heat, steam and an enclosed space. But straight away, seeing the mix of colours and patterns, you could see where the dress was going. Deb really did do a great job picking them all out (from a store of maybe fifty - a mix of eBay finds along with some from our wonderful friend Victoria who helped by picking some up from charity shops).

Tie patterns and hands
So yes, padded bones in place and with the lining cut and tacked, it was then time to affix the outer panels.

The outer panels were made from the tie fabric, carefully sewn together (by Deb on the machine, thankfully) and then ironed onto interfacing. This not only gave more strength, it helped us to deal with the complicated shapes. Once again these were sewn together to make effectively another corset, and this was then all hand-sewn together, doing our best to keep everything aligned. Bias binding was used to finish the inside edge.

That might sound a little complicated. It was, and you can see from my lack of clarity that even now I don’t fully understand what we did!

However, I’m very sure how we dealt with the lacing. In good time, we’d ordered a wonderful hand press tool from eBay which we felt would make the setting of eyelets considerably easier. It was still a tough job, as we were punching through layers of tie, , interfacing, heavy twill cotton and lining material. However, we managed to fit eyelets every inch down the ends of the corset. It was simply tied with ribbon.

After all that, the skirt seemed like a much easier project (especially as I had very little to do with it!). The skirt was effectively made in three pieces - there’s a short pencil-type skirt with narrow pieces of tie running vertically (two panels sewn together and then shaped), a dividing horizontal single tie, and then a second skirt running down to her ankles, made by just sewing the bottom parts of the ties together, and so naturally flaring with the tie shape. The skirt was finished at the last minute with a zip and some elastic. 

Finished dress
And there we go - that’s all there was to it. It took us many months, working when we were able. But we were both really pleased with the result. And I think I love it all the more for it being both our creation and also a demonstration of our ability to work together, pooling our different abilities and ideas. And, of course, Deb looks amazing wearing it!
Deb and I standing together, her wearing the dress, me in my suit.


  1. The dress is beautiful! Congratulations :)

    1. Thanks Imogen! We were really pleased with how the whole day went and the dress summed up the general theme, being something personal, generally home made, and rather lovely :)