By Nikki Owens
Some months ago I learned of this fabulous wedding dress made by Nikki Owens for her own wedding. Not only was it absolutely gorgeous, but Nikki, a practicing M.D. in Dublin, was a beginning crocheter! I had to find out more about this great story, and here is an interview we did by email. BRAVA NIKKI – you are an inspiration!! – Dora
DORA: Clearly you have design talent — what have you designed before?
NIKKI: I once designed a one shoulder, silver, evening dress based on 2 purchased patterns, which did finally work but only after my Mum came up and helped me basically remake it! I was 21 and it was for a university ball. I had done a little dressmaking since I was about 13 and studied Textile Design for my GCSE’s (age 14-16, one of 12 subjects), but had never really tried something by myself before. The idea was fabulous, a bias cut, backless (laced), one shoulder, floor skimming number in glossy silver fabric, but unfortunately I didn’t anticipate the skew of the bias and the one shoulder without a back to stabilise it, so it twisted dramatically. But anyway, a bit of help from Mum, who actually knew what she was doing with a sewing machine, and it was fabulous in the end.
My main project at school was a pair of tie-dyed patchwork dungerees (bit of a hippie) — they WERE fabulous but unfortunately now sit unworn in the fancy-dress box!!
I don’t get to be nearly creative enough in day-to-day life, though I adore doing anything remotely creative. I LOVED making all the stationary bits for the wedding.
We don’t really have room at home to spread anything out so any project has to be easily put away!
DORA: What possessed you to take this on as a first crochet project? Did you teach yourself crochet? Did you consult any sources for the design? And how awesome that it was for your own wedding!
NIKKI: My friend Trisha and I had been debating about whether knitting or crochet was better for a few months. Mum had taught me to knit when I was young but I had never crocheted. Trisha had done both but only crocheted now, as she found it quicker and more flexible. As I had no idea about crochet I agreed to learn, and we arranged to meet on a Saturday afternoon in March 2010 in The Library Bar in the Central Hotel in Dublin – a lovely quiet room with old comfy armchairs and lots of books! We called ourselves the Drunken Crochet Club. We met at 3pm and had a couple of pots of tea while I got to grips with making a chain. It did get a little complicated as I am left handed. By 7pm we had moved onto Guinness and little basic circles or different stitches. Four pints of the black stuff later and it was 1 a.m., the bar was filled with the usual central Dublin Saturday night crowd, who were fascinated with us in the corner. One Irish man came over and asked what we were doing. He had 4 business colleagues over from New York, and as it was their first trip to Dublin, they were delighted to find it was exactly as they expected with women drinking Guinness and crocheting in the corner!!!
I had knitted a little for years but remain VERY SLOW so I only ever made mittens and booties when there was a baby in the family, since anything else took too long. Having knitted a bit though, I found I picked up crochet very easily and loved the quick results. I started a string bag for my wool the next week and then made another one for my sister.
I then tried something more daring. My sister-in-law Claire was pregnant and I saw a pattern for a lovely lacey blanket on ravelry (which Trisha had introduced me too) and decided to go for it. I used a nice cashmerino wool and was just amazed by the drape of the blanket. The heaviness of the yarn with the drape from the shells – I was smitten. Connor had proposed in February 2010 and we were hoping to get married in March / April 2011. It was now April 2010 – I had a year, I could always go and buy a dress at the last minute, but why not try to MAKE my wedding dress?
My mother Rosemary, who was my closest friend in the world, made her wedding dress and all the bridesmaids dresses when she married my father in 1969. She passed away in April 2006. I wanted her at my wedding more than anything, and when the thought struck me about making the dress, it suddenly became very important, as it could be my way of having her there. She was a funny lady, had a tough time growing up and was never very confident. But, she had this amazing way of getting things done: she would say YES, I’LL DO IT and then work her way through all the obstacles and get it done. She taught herself to make wedding cakes and decorate them with the most beautiful sugarpaste flowers, and later in her lif, she set up a charity in Ghana, West Africa using the same attitude. Not only was my dress representative of her on my wedding day, but having admired her fearlessness my whole life, I finally realised I had a lot of her in me.
The design evolved! I wanted to use a doily type pattern like the blanket, but obviously with a hole in the centre for me! I am relatively slim so figured if I could fit it just below my bust and it was heavy enough fabric with good drape, it should just hang. I remember seeing Romeo and Juliet the Ballet at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden many years ago and for the wedding scene, Juliet wore this amazing dress. It was calf length and at rest just hung straight down but when she danced, there were metres and metres of fabric to the skirt. The movement and the drape were amazing, and I thought at the time that was how I wanted my wedding dress. I looked at various patterns on Ravelry and searched through Google for patterns or examples of what I wanted to do, but came up with very little. The closest I got was a skirt pattern by Doris Chan and I ordered the book “Crochet Lace Innovations.”
I bought balls of different wools and cottons from different places but was stuggling to find the right yarn until I hit upon the 100% Silk Louisa Harding Mulberry from This Is Knit in Dublin. Then it all started to fall into place. I started the dress but tried to make a lacey pattern on the front, working in rounds with increases and decreases like the Doris Chan Skirt pattern, but it just didn’t hang right. I got from bust to mid-shin but pulled it all out and started again. I used simple shells, with a V at the back to enable me to get into it, and this turned into the first increase point. I tried it on every couple of rows, bought a dressmakers dummy, and started to add increase points as they were needed, the aim being to have more increase points at the back so that it was longer for the train. When I reached the desired length at the front I added 4 extra rows at the back for more length on the train, and then finished it all the way round.
The first time I finished it, the circumference at the bottom was actually 11.5m (38ft) including the train — I didn’t believe it so I measured it 4 or 5 times to make sure! That was too much, so I took it back a good few rows, redid it with fewer increase points, and ended up with a circumference of 9.5m (31ft). Then I crocheted up from the bust using a belly-dancing top pattern I found on Ravelry. After that I made 25 little crochet flowers to stitchon, along with 700 Swarovski crystal stitched on the flowers and in the shells — for the ones in the shells I actually used my suture equipment for as it was quicker!. The train could be easily bustled by tying up a ribbon that was running through the increase line in the middle of the back and there was then just a little train on the underskirt at the back.
The crochet and embellishment was a delight and I loved doing it, but the lining was a nightmare – I am not a very good dressmaker and I lack the skills and patience for working with fabric. I took measurements, made a mock-up lining in basic fabric, and stitched it in and altered it to fit so I could use it as a pattern. It was so difficult to know if it was working, and no matter how careful I was with adjusting the dummy, we were not the same shape and I just could not see how the back fitted in the mirror without twisting. I made up the main lining in Silk Satin fabric I had bought, but was just so unsure of what I was doing that I took the whole thing to a dressmaker. The fit of the lining was actually fine, so she overlocked the seams and neatly hemmed it for me, then made up and sewed in the lining for the train from the mock-up. She also lined the lining for me. I’d been at the sewing for about 3 months and was fed-up with it!!!! I was delighted with her work, as she finished the lining much more neatly than I could have done, but I do feel a bit guilty saying I made the dress completely myself as I did have a bit of help with the lining.
DORA: Tell us a little more about you.
NIKKI: I’m 33, a GP in Dublin. I was born in Watford, just outside London but moved with my parents to rural Devon when I was 3. I then went to Medical School in Birmingham in the West Midland from the age of 18-23. I then moved to Taunton, Somerset to do my General Practice training which I completed in 2005. My mother was diagnosed with lung cancer (having not smoked for 35 years) in May 2005 and I married my then fiance Matt in November 2005 on her 57th Birthday (we separated shortly after her death). I cared for her at my parents house for the last 3 months of her life and she died peacefully at home on the 28th April 2006. I remember the night she was first admitted to hospital and Dad phoned to say they had found a lump on her spine but she’s fine, but I knew immediately what that meant and my heart broke. I couldn’t go down until the next morning so, having not knitted for years, I got out my old knitting bag and knitted solidly for 12 hours (my brothers girlfriend was pregnant) until I could get in the car and race home.
I met Connor in late 2007 and then moved to Dublin in October 2008. We live in Sandymount in Dublin with my two 9-year-old cats, Evie (aka ‘Grey Cat’) and Livingstone (aka ‘Black Cat).
I’m working pretty hard at the moment and most of my spare time is now taken up by crochet!!!!
Dr Nikki Owens