Hi! Maybe you’re here because you want to make your own dress and are looking for other people’s stories, or maybe you’re here because I shoved the link to my blog in your face and you’re vaguely interested. Or maybe you’re another sewing blogger and just stumbled across this post. Whatever your reason, thanks for stopping by! I am so glad I made my wedding dress, and I had fun the whole time. Here is its story! Be warned, it’s fairly long-winded and photo-heavy.
After I got engaged I mused over the “ha, imagine if I made my own dress, that would be kinda cool” idea, followed by “don’t be ridiculous, you’ve never even sewn a simple dress before let alone a freakin’ wedding dress”, and promptly proceeded to book some sessions with various bridal shops around town. I absolutely fell in love with one of the silk georgette and lace dresses I tried on (after she had modified the straps a bit), and I literally stood on my little bridal pedestal and stared at myself in the mirror for ten minutes. I needed that dress.
Alas, it was $5,000.
I’m sorry, but there is no way I was about to spend that amount of money on a single dress that I would wear for one day. Hell, I know some people spend triple that on their wedding gowns and good for them, but that is just not for me. Yes, it’s a wedding dress and only the most significant event of my life so far, but I just could not justify that cost. That was when I started analysing carefully the fabrics that had been used and the construction detail, and decided.
I could totally do it. Yes, it would be kinda complex and yes, it would take a long time, but I had over a year until the wedding, and what is “complex” other than lots of individual techniques (that happen to be all on the one garment) and lots of practice?
So here is how I did it, step-by-step.
1. Choose a basic style.
After trying on heaps of dresses (including of course that one initial OMG-I’M-IN-LOVE-WITH-THIS-DRESS-dress) and googling like crazy, I worked out the style I really wanted. It turned out to be quite specific. I wanted a fitted bodice with a slightly dropped waist (super flattering), cap sleeves and a sweetheart neckline (super feminine) and a simple, gloriously drapey flowy skirt (super classic). None of that stiff, structured, meringue-pie stuff. I wanted ivory (rather than white), I wanted lace detail (so romantic), and I secretly wanted a lace-up corset back because SIGH… but thought it would be way too hard. So I left the back closure as “undecided” for now. I figured future-Katy could work that out. But it was quite fun deciding on all the elements that I wanted and putting them together in my mind to create my dream dress!
2. Choose a pattern.
After weeks of searching for a dress pattern containing at least the bodice shape and style that I wanted, I eventually found a “vintage” (1986) Butterick 3816 for sale on Etsy. It had a fitted, sweetheart, dropped-waist bodice (umm, perfect!) and a long skirt. Looked pretty good, although it had no sleeves, and I wasn’t convinced on the flowiness of the skirt. Not exactly what I had in mind, but definitely the closest I could find. I figured I could build from it.
3. See what you’re up against.
The first thing I did was to make a practice bodice exactly as directed, using the size straight out of the pattern. I just used random fabrics to do this as I was purely practicing the technique. As I said, I’d never made a dress before let alone a formal gown. This exercise showed me just how long it was going to take (I needed to cut each piece out four times for the bodice, as the pattern asks for a lining and an interlining, as well as the outer fabric, AND the interlining is also interfaced!). It was time consuming as hell, but here is my first attempt (without the lining and boning):
The boning part (not pictured, sorry) was actually super easy – it’s as simple as cutting the strips to the right length, sewing some kind of casing to your lining (I used grosgrain ribbon), and inserting the strips. Boning makes your bodice suddenly so much more structured and defined, and doing it is so much less scary than I thought it would be. I just followed the instructions on the pattern. So that was a cool development, and a first for me!
After this, I proceeded to make an entire dress using the pattern instructions (skirt included) to see how it all comes together. I’ve not blogged about it because I wasn’t ready to tell the world I was making my wedding dress, and now it’s kind of out of date because it is a Christmas party dress, but I’ll put it in here anyway because it is definitely part of the wedding dress progress (and perhaps I’ll blog about it later):
As well as learning some new techniques during these practice runs (such as sewing curved darts, inserting boning, lining and interlining – no, I’d never lined a garment before), I noticed the first couple of fitting issues with the pattern. It was too small around the bust and not quite fitted around the waist, slightly too short in the torso, and very tight to do up with the zip. The Christmas dress is exactly the same size as the pink bodice I’d made first, but I managed to squeeze into it better than the plastic dress form could! It wasn’t quite right though. Now it was time to do some proper fitting.
4. Get the fit right. Practise, practise, practise!
This part took patience and a lot of time. I began by cutting the exact pattern pieces out of calico, so I could write on them and easily see where I made adjustments. I knew I would need to make adjustments (this was only the third time I’d made this damn bodice by now!).
I found Tasia’s “how to make a muslin for a dress bodice” very helpful here.
I sewed it together and inserted a zip, just so that I could put it on. It was super tight. I knew this would be the case, because of the Christmas dress, but I wanted to start the fitting process from scratch.
I don’t have photos of every step of the bodice adjustments, but here is how I ultimately modified the pattern after multiple nips and tucks and several new bodices being sewn:
- Added 1cm to each side seam and to either side of the zip closure
- Added 4cm length to the entire bodice
- Increased the depth of the point in the sweetheart neckline
- Narrowed the front side seams at the waist, expanded them at the boobs, and narrowed them again at the very top
It’s kind of hard to explain all that so I tried to draw it. Imagine the black lines are the original pattern pieces and the red lines are my adjustments. Basically it allowed for bigger boobs, smaller waist and ribs, and longer torso than the original pattern:
So! After making these adjustments to my pattern pieces (I did it properly and traced the pattern pieces and everything!) I came up with my final, properly fitted bodice pattern. Here is some of the fitting evolution, where hopefully you’ll agree that the fit and shape improves each time (and please excuse the dodgy phone pics!):
With that part done, it was time to stop stuffing around and get started on the real thing!
5. Choose your fabric.
I knew roughly what I wanted for my bodice – a lace overlay on ivory satin, and a breathable cotton lining. As for the skirt part, I knew I absolutely had to have silk georgette over the top of a lightweight satin. I fell in love with georgette when I first tried on that wedding dress, with its heavenly flowiness and the way it just hangs so beautifully. It falls like a waterfall. It’s like magic, seriously. So I definitely needed georgette. Then the satin I wanted to use was actually from my mum’s wedding dress from 1989 – she had a full circle skirt made out of the perfect colour, which meant HEAPS of fabric, and mum was happy for me to use it. (My original idea was that I would wear my mum’s original wedding dress slightly modified and updated, but the dress I really wanted was going to be just too different.)
I went to my local fabric boutique and found some duchess satin in the same colour as mum’s skirt, so bought some of that for my bodice. I got a matching invisible zip in case I decided to use that for the closure. I picked up some plain white cotton voile for the lining. I also specially ordered six metres of silk georgette in the perfect colour for the skirt. I grabbed some thick fusible interfacing for the bodice and some narrow ribbon for the hanging straps, and I’d already bought enough boning for the lining. I hunted around online and came across some gorgeous, ivory, corded lace on Ebay.
I had what I needed. It was time to get real.
6. Make the straps.
I still hadn’t decided on what straps or sleeves I wanted, but I really couldn’t put it off any longer since they needed to be sewn into the layers of the bodice. I played around with a few ideas and came up with these:
Basically, I made these by gathering the rounded edge of a vaguely semi-circular piece of scalloped lace, attaching it to the inside of a tube of satin, then pressing it over to the outside and handstitching in place. It took me several attempts to get the two straps relatively similar to one another, and I just about used up every inch of the scalloped edge of my lace.
7. Make the bodice.
Since I had cut and sewn these shapes so many times before, I knew exactly what to do and I smashed most of it out within a day. I sat down on a Saturday and got cutting, pressing, basting and stitching until I had pretty much finished that part of the dress.
First I cut out all four layers of my beautiful fabrics:
I couldn’t resist assembling the pieces on my dress form to get a sneak preview of what it was going to look like:
So off I went!
After I’d stitched the pieces together, I needed to stabilise the bottom of the bodice to prevent it from warping out of shape. I used navy blue ribbon here as a sneaky little “something blue” (as well as navy being the colour of my bridesmaids’ dresses), as it is completely hidden inside the layers of the dress. No one knows it’s there but me, and you can’t see it at all!
So here is the inside of the bodice, with all its difficult curved seams pressed open and just waiting to be lined:
Because all the layers of the bodice starting getting quite bulky when they were sewn together, I decided to use Tasia’s trick of cutting and pressing the darts open like she did here and here. (Can you tell I was slightly obsessed with Sewaholic?)
Once I’d sewn up the lining and attached the boning, I inserted the straps where I wanted them and attached the lining to the top of the bodice. I then under-stitched the lining to the seam allowance of the bodice, which was a really simple and effective way to make it sit right and prevent the lining from peeking out the top of the neckline.
Once that was done, the bodice was pretty much finished! All I had to do was make the skirt up, attach it to the bodice, and decide on a dress closure before I could hide all the unfinished edges.
8. Make the skirt and attach it to your bodice.
After I worked super hard on the bodice that day, I proceeded to do NOTHING on my dress for weeks. I was putting off doing the skirt because I hadn’t decided how to do it, really. I wanted to make the most of the beautiful georgette, but I just wasn’t happy with the skirt that came with the Butterick pattern. It wasn’t full or gathered enough. Plus, it had no train and I hadn’t decided whether I wanted a train or not. I was leaning towards yes, just a little one. But crafting a pattern that included a train was a challenge I didn’t feel up to. Plus, once I took apart mum’s dress and laid the skirt piece out, I realised it was going to be tricky to get the pieces that I wanted out of mum’s pieces.
I then had the brainwave that I could use mum’s skirt as is, and use that as a pattern for the georgette. A full circle skirt would definitely show off the gorgeousness of the silk, and I wouldn’t have to worry about finding more fabric to match mum’s.
As for the train, I decided I would make the train to consist of only the georgette and flow behind the satin layer. So I traced a pattern piece from one eighth of mum’s circle skirt and cut out four of those from the silk. The remaining four pieces needed to be slightly lengthened to accommodate the train. So more headscratching and scribbling later, I came up with this plan:
Basically, I just needed to add some sort of wedge-shaped pieces to the back half of the skirt pattern. Easy! I made those pattern pieces up and cut them out (after an emergency run to the boutique for more silk – I’d underestimated just how much fabric a floor-length, full circle skirt requires! I ended up using nine metres in total, but I probably definitely could have cut the pieces out more economically. At this stage, though, I just wanted to get the damn thing done and I’ll admit that I was rushing that day. When will I learn, Do Not Rush!? Honestly).
Anyway, I sewed the skirt pieces up using French seams all around – no one can see them but I felt better knowing that I’d done a proper job.
Then I had to attach my silk overlay skirt to mum’s satin skirt. I laid the pieces out on a big sheet on the floor to pin them together. Giant, silly skirt! Look how much space that takes up! There’s the bodice in the centre, for comparison!
When I actually sewed the two skirts together at the waistband, I altered the inner circle shape to be slightly tapered in the centre front, to match the tapering of the dropped waist bodice. Otherwise, because mum’s original skirt was straight across the top, it would have dipped in the middle at the front and the length would have been way off.
Once the skirt was in one piece, it needed to be gathered. That was a big job! It was actually so heavy! And gathering it evenly and to the right size to fit onto the bodice was quite tricky. I ended up draping it over the back of the couch and pinning it in a million places to make sure it was the right size.
So then I just had to attach the skirt to the inside of the bodice, which was straightforward enough. It simply consisted of one long line of stitching, pressing toward the bodice, and trimming the excess fabric.
Hemming the skirt comes later. As with all circle skirts, I had to leave it hanging for a while – the dress began to stretch on the bias, like, REALLY badly, to an unbelievable extent. Maybe that’s part of the beauty of georgette. Anyway, I left the hemming for at least three weeks.
9. Close the dress.
Eek. I’d been umming and ahhing about this part for months. I was leaning towards doing a simple invisible zip up the back, and had even made extra allowance for this back when drafting the bodice pattern. But just doing a zip seemed like a cop-out, and frankly, kind of boring. Way back at the start of my planning stage, I came across this tutorial and finally, two weeks before the wedding, I decided to bite the bullet and Just Do It. It was my wedding dress, after all, and a corset back was really what I wanted. Thanks to these amazing instructions, this task was surprisingly easy and so satisfying. Here are some photos of me diligently following her steps:
I had the corset back extend down to the point where the bodice meets the skirt. I would need more of an opening to be able to get in and out of the dress, so decided to insert that invisible zip after all. I had never done an invisible zip before and was so nervous about wrecking the dress this far into it, so I simply handpicked the zip in and pressed it. It turned out beautifully! Because the zip is on a highly gathered, loose part of the dress, I was not concerned about it being pulled and ripped out. To protect the top of the zip, I stitched in a hook and eye. Although it’s practically invisible anyway, we decided to leave the long ends of the tie out in a bow when I actually wore the dress, and this also served to cover the hook and eye. Win win!
10. Sew the lining down.
Now that the dress was all in one piece and the back closure had been finished, I was able to sew the lining down on the inside. It was here that I learnt how to slipstitch!
In doing so, I hid the blue ribbon that I used to stabilise the bodice. During this step, I also added a long, narrow piece of ivory ribbon on either side of the waistband to act as hanging straps for the dress. Look how nicely hidden everything is! Yay for lining!
So that was the bulk of the dress done. Now all it needed was to be hemmed.
I was so nervous about making the dress too short, or wonky, or something terrible. Hemming was the last step of the dress construction, and would be such a horrible thing to muck up. I kept dreading it and put it off for so long. I had spent ages reading people’s advice on how to deal with georgette (slippery sucker, beautiful though it is) and I learnt that a rolled hem was apparently the way to go. Once again, I am eternally grateful for the existence of overlockers, and of their rolled hem function! It made hemming the dress an absolute breeze. I don’t know what I was so worried about!
When I’d finished, and hung the dress up again, I was thrilled with the way it floated down and curled around just the way I’d imagined it. I didn’t get a photo of mine, and now the hem is all muddy from traipsing around getting photos taken, but this is basically what the rolled hem looked like (photo is one of the early gowns I tried on, from when I realised I had to have georgette):
So once I’d hemmed the dress, it was done. Whew! I couldn’t really believe I’d finished it, and it didn’t really feel finished until I put it on on my wedding day with my make up, shoes, stockings, hair accessories and a hoop skirt underneath. Then I felt like a princess!
So, for those interested, here is a list of all the materials I used:
- 9m ivory silk georgette
- 2m ivory corded lace
- 3m ivory duchess satin
- My mum’s ivory wedding dress skirt
- 1m thick fusible interfacing
- 1m white cotton voile
- 1 x ivory invisible zip
- 1 x hook and eye
- 1m ivory grosgrain ribbon
- 2m narrow satin ribbon
- 1.5m plastic boning
- 1.5m ivory satin cording
- 3x ivory overlocker spools
- 1 x invisible nylon thread
- 1x ivory thread spool (Güttermann)
So was it worth it? I spent less than $500 total on all the materials. Totally worth every cent, to have a perfectly fitted, dream wedding dress just the way I wanted it! Considering that I wanted that $5000 dress that wasn’t even perfect to begin with, I think $500 is pretty damn good. As for the time and effort it took me, I had fun the whole way and it was a huge learning experience for me, so yes! Still worth it!
Would I do it again? Heck yes! Not for myself, duh, but I feel like now that I’ve knocked one wedding dress over, I could do it again and much better.
What did I learn? Heaps! So many new sewing techniques, some that I have already applied to other garments since then, including the following:
- Inserting boning
- Curved darts
- Making a rolled hem
- Using georgette… Beautiful, but seriously difficult!
- Inserting an invisible zip
- The real value of making a mock-up (or five!) to get that Perfect Fit.
Best tip for making your own dress? Give yourself heaps and heaps of time. I started mine a year before the wedding. I went for weeks and months not doing anything on the actual dress, but the ideas were always ticking away in the back of my head and I was always on Pinterest and Google for inspiration.
So if you’re thinking about making your own dress, go! And then tell me all about it. I love stories. It’s totally doable! All it turned out to be was stitching a bunch of stuff together in certain ways that gave the product I wanted. The best thing about sewing is that if you do stuff up, you can always just unpick and start again (another reason to give yourself heaps of time), and you just need patience. And, of course, the ability to get more materials if you really badly stuff up!
Finally, the best thing about making my own wedding dress, apart from the fact that I was able to incorporate mum’s dress into it (aww, sentiment!), was the massive sense of self-achievement! I had a goal and I stuck to it and I pulled it off and that was big for me. Personally, I absolutely thrive on completing tasks and ticking things off lists, and this is a big one that I will remember forever.
Phew! That was a long story. Well done, if you stuck with me all the way. And please, share your own. Now go forth and sew!