It recently occurred to me that I never really finished up the series on making my sister’s wedding dress! This was easily the project that dominated my sewing this year, so it feels fitting to finish blogging about it in the last days of 2015. So, without further delay, here’s what I used to get the job done.
How to start: make some decisions and set some boundaries
My sister was drawn to feminine formal styles and lace, and I was willing to incorporate some couture-style construction. I was also willing to see the project through, no matter how much time it took. These factors – along with my utter inexperience – led to a project that took well over 200 sewing hours to complete.
That said, a wedding dress can be whatever you want it to be – more or less formal, more or less labor-intensive. Feast your eyes on this Valentino-inspired gorgeousness by I Made This! that took 600 hours, for example. On the less formal side, check out this amazing short wedding dress by Dixie DIY or Meris’s re-wearable red dress! That’s the route I would go if I lived in an alternate universe where I was getting married again – although maybe it’s to say that because I already got to wear the floor-length weddingy wedding gown…?
Considering style, time and budget requirements will help you figure out what you’ll need for you or your loved one’s dress and whether or not you’ll want to sew it yourself.
I talked a bit about patterns in this post, so I’ll just say this: if you are at all influenced by current bridal trends, you may have a difficult time finding a pattern that looks anything like what you want. Get ready to exercise your imagination, your pattern mash-up skills and perhaps even your pattern-altering or pattern-making skills. I needed all three to achieve my sister’s vision. Also keep in mind that when you alter a pattern, you’ll also need to feel reasonably comfortable making your own instructions.
I used a couple of indispensable resources created by Susan Khalje. The first was The Couture Dress class on Craftsy, which helped me make my muslins a lot more useful and usable. The second, purchased for me by my sister on eBay, was the out-of-print (whyyyyyy?) book Bridal Couture. The sections on bridal fabrics, lace, common necklines and structural reinforcements were key for me. The book isn’t long but it’s densely packed with most of the information I needed. Khalje also addresses some of the challenges of working with white fabrics, which are not to be underestimated.
I also used Claire Shaeffer’s Couture Sewing book. Her section on different hand-stitches and their uses is incredibly useful, and she has more information on stays of all kinds than anywhere else I’ve seen.
Last but not least, I scoured sewing blogs for any posts on home-sewn wedding dresses! I had a lot of fun curating this Pinterest board of all the beautiful creations I found. (This board is by no means exhaustive, so if you’ve created a wedding dress I’d love to hear about it!) I also created another board with tutorials or images of formal dress construction.
Fabrics & notions
Sourcing supplies was less difficult than finding a pattern, and most of what I bought worked fine (with some exceptions, noted below).We chose the lace first, which I recommend if it’s part of your dress! It can be pricey or harder to find and Mood, NY Fashion Center and other fabric stores that cater to formal sewing should have formal fabrics in many colors that coordinate with your lace and each other.
Here’s what I used, organized per piece:
- Lace overlay: Alencon lace, purchased semi-locally from Mill’s End in Portland
- Bodice fabric: Duchesse silk satin, from Gorgeous Fabrics (online)
- Bodice underlining: Silk organza from my stash (wish I’d chosen muslin instead for added weight and opacity)
- Bodice lining: Cotton voile, purchased locally from Pacific Fabrics
- Twill tape for stabilizing the neckline purchased locally
- Quilt batting from my stash for the bust cups
- Bra cups from Felinus Fabrics (Etsy)
- Spiral steel boning pieces, purchased locally from Stitches
- Spiral Steel by the yard (from an Etsy shop I do not recommend – the boning had damaged and dirty sections)
- Spiral steel boning tips from Cherington MetalCraft (Etsy)
- Hook and eye tape, purchased online from Susan Khalje’s shop
- Silk ribbon for hanger straps, purchased locally from Nancy’s Sewing Basket
- Skirt overlay: Silk chiffon, from Mood Fabrics
- Skirt: Silk charmeuse, from Mood Fabrics
- Skirt underlining: Silk habotai, from my stash / Mood Fabrics
- Skirt waistband: Duchesse from the bodice for the waistband
- Skirt underlining: Canvas, from my stash for the waistband underlining
- Hook and eye from my stash
- Button from my grandmother’s stash
- Invisible zipper from my stash
The bulk of the skirt fabric came from Mood based on their color variety and the wide widths they sell. My experiences ordering from Mood have been inconsistent, but this one was mostly positive – I got what I ordered, the yardage was correct and there didn’t appear to be any discrepancy in fiber content. The charmeuse was on the thin side, however, which required me to buy extra habotai.
(As an alternative to all this sourcing, consider Alex’s method of harvesting fabric and notions from an existing wedding dress – how cool is that?)
Additional supplies & tools
You’ll most likely need some of the following supplies and tools:
- Muslin fabric
- Trial dress fabric (I didn’t go this route because I ran out of time)
- Silk pins
- Fine-weight thread for fine fabrics
- Microtex needles for fine fabrics
- Beefy wire cutters, if you use spiral steel boning
- Pliers, to apply new spiral steel boning tips
So, is it worth sewing a wedding dress? My (admittedly lame) answer is, it really depends! You should give yourself some time to consider it carefully. If you are the bride in the equation, ask yourself if such a large project will fit with your increased social and planning obligations leading up to the wedding. If you’re sewing for someone else, will you resent the number of hours taken away from your personal sewing projects? In my case, this was a gift I’d long wanted to give to my sister and it dovetailed nicely with my personal sewing goals.
I will say that my zest for sewing has only very recently returned to 100%, a full 6 months after I finished the dress. It pushed me way beyond my skill level in terms of fit, construction and project management, to the point where I felt like my brain and hands were turned to mush and haven’t fully reformed themselves yet.
So this, my friends, is my final wedding dress post! Are you considering sewing a wedding dress?