Step 1: Find a Cheap Dress + Make It Fit
Doing all the fitting took more skill than I have, so I took it to my friend Miss Bombshell in Oakland. She cut away the excess fabric, sewed up the centre, gave it a V-back, and put in some boning. I found some matching silk in a fabric store bargain bin, and she sewed that into a sash.
(Remaking dresses is challenging, but here are a couple of Instructables that involved some impressive surgery: Custom Wedding Dress and Upcycled Dream Wedding Dress & Accessories.)
Step 2: Assemble Fabric Paints + Markers
I bought a series of blue textile paints and pens, on the expert recommendation of amazing textile artist Carol Larson. I picked these up at Dharma Trading; you can order from them online. I used Lumiere & Neopaque paint (~$3.50/bottle), an ideal paint for synthetics, and FabricMate Permanent Superfine Fabric Markers (~$1.65 each).
I used regular paintbrushes and old ceramic dishes as a palette. Ideally, you have some fabric that you can use as a test, as I did in this photo.
Step 3: Sketch Out the Drawing
I laid the dress out on an ironing board that I had covered in plastic, since the paint will leak through and stain whatever's below it.
Step 4: Deep Breath; Then Paint
I mixed the paint with water in some areas to get a watercolour effect. The sash was made from silk, so the paint reacted slightly differently to it than it did on the synthetic: it's a natural fibre and absorbs water more - you can see this in the second image. Water also darkens the silk, so you don't know the exact outcome until everything dries. The synthetic resisted water, so it was easier to guess the final outcome. The markers worked best on dry fabric, and blended great with the paint.
I was running behind, so I took the markers along with me to the wedding and worked on it on the floor the day before. Finished it up by ironing everything, so that the paint was set and wouldn't run if it got wet. It's a good idea to cover the fabric with some cotton and then use the iron, rather than having the iron placed directly on the painted fabric.
Step 5: Wear It
Our tiny outdoor wedding took place at Channel Rock, on a remote island archipelago in British Columbia. My dad paddled me to the ceremony by canoe. Rain threatened. We scrambled around on rocks and played music until 2 in the morning. That dress held up just fine.
(Thanks to Kris Krüg for the wedding photos. He shot a whole set.)