I made my own wedding dress. I have sewed dresses for myself since I was a teenager, moving from frustration and seam rippers to calm satisfaction in watching the pieces fit together, just so.
My wedding dress was of simple design, its only stab at “fancy” a floor-length skirt and pleated sleeves and a wide belt gathered in several places. Simple or not, it took me hours to complete, and when I had finished, I was inordinately proud. I loved to see it hanging in the light, its shiny swirl design shimmering, white on white, the trim tan boots Ivan bought me perched just below.
When people ask how conservative Mennonite weddings are different from “regular” weddings, I usually give them a list of don’ts. We don’t exchange a wedding ring. We don’t have a flower girl. We don’t kiss publicly after the ceremony. We don’t serve alcohol. We don’t dance.
Maybe, though, the difference between Mennonite weddings and those of mainstream Americans could best be summed up in this sentence: I made my own wedding dress.
Several summers ago, I worked with a young woman who was planning her wedding. She scrolled through wedding dresses priced at over $1,000. “What do you think of this one?” she would ask. I didn’t want to tell her that to me, all of them seemed ridiculously pricey.
When I went wedding-dress shopping last summer, I paid probably $20 for the fabric, a few dollars more for the thread and zipper. And that’s all it took, besides three days of my time.
I’ve sewed dozens of dresses in my lifetime and hadn’t expected this one to mean much beyond another job on my wedding task list completed. Instead, I felt viscerally connected. I’d made this dress for a marriage I would also build — sentence by sentence, deed by deed — with my very own fingers.
Ivan and I, like many conservative Mennonites, tapped into our own resources and those of our friends to furnish the wedding. Ivan put together a soundtrack of our favorite songs. Mom and I spent a day making dinner rolls and a hamburger topping to be served at the potato bar. Ladies from church provided desserts. Family and friends set up the reception hall, acted as ushers, led congregational singing, collected gifts, served food, moderated open mic and cleaned up afterward. We gave our helpers small gifts, but nowhere near what we would have paid if we’d hired a wedding planner, a catering service and a DJ.
Maybe the DIY mentality of the people I grew up among contributes to the large size of our weddings. Ivan and I hosted 250 guests, a fairly small wedding in my circles. One can afford to have a lot of guests if a large percentage of them plan to pitch in and help.
I love this connection to the people — my people — love that we do it together, and so it becomes not just my wedding but our wedding. When I think of the Bride of Christ adorning herself for her Husband, I think of that same sense of closeness. We are not many brides, but one.
Today, in my new home in Oakland, Md., I saw that illustrated. At a sewing circle hosted by the New Order Amish women of the area, Amish and Beachy and Mennonite and Grace Reformed and Lutheran women sewed side by side. I was accustomed to church sewings in my home community, but my church and other local churches each had a sewing. We never thought of doing it together.
Our Bridegroom is coming, and his Bride must make herself ready, wearing the robe he purchased for her at a very high price. We cannot buy our adornment ready made, for no store could stock such priceless goods. In times of frustration and seam rippers, remember this:
Many stitches, one bride.
Lucinda J. Kinsinger, since her marriage on Nov. 23, lives in Oakland, Md. She has fallen in love —with her husband, yes — but also with the rolling hills, the windmills and the open-hearted people of Oakland. She is the author of Anything But Simple: My Life as a Mennonite and blogs at lucindajmiller.com.