Sew Your Own Wedding Dress - or Your Daughter's

by Sheri_Oz

Buying a dress is fun - and expensive! Sewing one is fun, challenging, nerve wracking, scary, less expensive, a great creative endeavour, and absolutely satisfying.

On my own, I discovered ways to deal with the challenges (problems, near disasters) that arose while I was building (that is the operative word here) my daughter's wedding dress. I figured out how to make the perfect wedding veil (and I share that with you in a separate article), how to make a pleated bodice, how to make those cute little cover-ups for the ceremony that make the dress modest enough for the religious part of the wedding, how to work with chiffon - and how to make a dress when you cannot find a pattern for what you want.

In this article, I will show you the problems I faced and how I solved them.

Let me be honest - this was the second wedding dress I made. My younger daughter married about two years earlier and asked me to make her dress. We picked out lovely beaded-lace material and she asked it be made using a dress pattern with which I had already made her a dress. It was an easy pattern and the fabric was what made the dress magnificent. Therefore, when Keren asked me to sew her wedding dress this year, I happily agreed. I was unaware at that point that she would plunge me into a project that would challenge my skills beyond what I ever imagined possible.

I loved every minute of it.

What Do You Think of My "Little" Adventure?

I set out to turn a few meters of white cloth (the beaded lace quite expensive cloth) into a dress in which my daughter would stand under the wedding canopy with her husband-to-be and his family and hers before about 250 people focused mainly on her, her wedding dress under their gaze for the entire ceremony.

Most people said they thought it was quite brave of me to sew my daughter's wedding dress. I think they actually thought it was rather foolhardy, to be polite, or rather stupid, if one is being somewhat less polite. I am not a professional dressmaker. I never took classes in sewing or in pattern-making, What did I think I was doing?!

What do you think of someone who is only a sewing hobbiest sewing her daughter's wedding dress?

The Birth of the Pattern

Or, How We Decided on What Kind of Dress She Would Wear

The wedding date was set for December 19, 2011. In July, my two daughters and I went to a wedding dress salon to see what kind of style fit her best. Of the several dresses she tried on, one looked particularly good on her. It was somewhat challenging but I felt up to the task.

However, during the week I felt uneasy. Something didn't feel right. I looked at wedding dress galleries put online by some salons here in Haifa and told my daughter we have to go to one more place. She didn't understand why as she had already told me what dress she wanted. I told her, "Keren, I need you to come for ME. So that I will feel totally confident of our choice. Please, just come for me."

We made the appointment and the third dress she tried on was spectacular. She came up to me all excited and whispered in my ear, "I dreamed about this dress, that this was my dress." Done! That was the dress. "Can you make this dress?", she asked. Of course I answered in the affirmative. Wasn't going to let my little girl down, was I?

The challenge was enormous. I could see it right away. The dress was fitted to the waist and had two pieces - a short skirt for dancing in and a long skirt that hooks onto the bodice over it for the ceremonial part of the wedding. We had our dress, I gulped hard, and we went to buy the fabric.

Up till now the easy parts.

The Structure of the Wedding Dress

This dress had, at the beginning, three major sections: the bodice, the short skirt and the long skirt.

The bodice and short skirt were to be made from chiffon, with a thick waistband made from the beaded lace.

The long skirt had three layers: tulle for fullness, heavy satin lining and the beaded lace. The waistband of the long dress was also made from the beaded lace and was meant to hook into place over the waistband of the short skirt for the reception and nuptials, after which it would be unhooked and she would have a free-flowing dirndl skirt in which to dance away the rest of the night.

The final section, which was added after the first fitting was her request that the dress have sleeves and not just straps.

There was no single pattern that fit this description. I ended up using parts of different patterns, some from the Burda books and some from old Simplicity and Butterick patterns I had collected over the years.

My First Mistake

Keren wanted the dress to be attached to a bodysuit (girdle). I thought that a good idea - it would provide the shape of the bra and would form the foundation of the dress. While it was true that it made making the bodice a bit easier at first, the biggest drawback was that I couldn't pull the dress over the dressmaker's dummy I later bought when I needed to make more serious adjustments to the dress.

I ended up pinning the bodice to the front of the dummy so the whole value of the dummy was lost for that part of the work.

Making the Bodice

Keren wanted a pleated bodice from chiffon fabric. The bra part of the girdle made it easy to begin building the bodice. In order to create a smooth and opaque background upon which to make the chiffon pleats, I made a lining from white satin fabric that I had left over from another project. The Butterick pattern shown in the sleeves section gave me the perfect fit but if you want a strapless gown, you can use any strapless bodice pattern you find such as the two I added on the right.

With the lining pinned in place onto the girdle bra, I began to pin the chiffon into pleats on the front. I can't tell you how many times I pinned, unpinned and repinned these pleats until I was pleased with the size, spacing, and alignment of the pleats.

wedding dress bodice pleats

Continuing the Wedding Dress Bodice

wedding dress bodice completedOnce I was satisfied the pleats were even and a good width (and had Keren's approval as well), I set about sewing them in place. I sewed through the underlying pleat, the satin lining and the girdle bra, making the stitch just inside the pleat that would lay over it. This way the stitches were invisible from the outside. In places, where the curvature of the bra necessitated, I made extra stitches to hold the shape. Stitching through the bra makes this bodice strong and ensures it will hold its shape.

After stitching, I cut off the extra fabric and covered the whole mess in the center of the bra with some lace flowers cut from the long dress fabric. Later, when I was not happy with the way the pleats looked under the left-hand bra (and it was too late to fix), I sewed some lace over this are as well, making sure it was well integrated with the belt.

At this point, I was feeling confident and sure everything would turn out great.

Making the Short Skirt

At first, this was the easiest part of the entire dress. I cut out two dirndl skirts from a Burda pattern. I cut one out longer than the other and both were quite long as I did not know yet what length my daughter wanted them. I sewed together first the front and back sections of each skirt and then sewed the two skirts together with a wide elastic band at the waistband. I did not encase the elastic or add a separate waistband, as this skirt would be attached to the body suit and lie under the lace belt.

Here you can see it on the manikin, with the waistband under the bodice lining.

Making the Short Skirt of the Wedding Dress
Making the Short Skirt of the Wedding...

Making the Long Skirt

The long skirt is actually quite easy to make. The hardest part is the scariest part - cutting out the lace fabric. If you make a mistake in cutting it out, it can be an expensive mistake. I pinned the pattern to the lace fabric one day and only cut it the next day after looking at it many times and making sure it was right.

The main thing to remember is to position the pattern pieces such that you are not cutting into the edging on both sides of the cloth. The selvedges of wedding lace material is usually a thick densely laced row that looks like a ribbon. In this case, the edging was about six inches wide. It will be used later in the process and it is important to preserve as much of it as possible.

I used the same a-line skirt pattern (part of a dress pattern) to cut out all three layers of the long dress: the tulle, the satin and the lace. I chose this pattern partly because I had already made this dress and I knew the skirt part would come out full enough yet not too full. The pattern I used is pictured above. Instead of having a front seam, I placed the center front on the fold.

First I sewed the side seams on each of the three skirts. Then, I sewed the back seams on each to a level about 6 inches lower than I would have were I just adding a zipper. Then, pinning the three skirts together I tried it on my daughter, over the partly made short-skirt-bodice part of the dress. I marked the waist with pins and then sewed the three skirts together at the waist.

Making the long skirt of the wedding dressAfter this, I made the waistband. I cut out a piece of the selvedge - that band along the edge of the lace fabric that is densely laced - a bit longer than the waistband had to be according to Keren's measurements. I made sure that the waistband was symmetrical, such that there was a large lace flower centered in the center of the waistband. Then I cut out a piece of satin of the same length and width as the lace waistband. After folding in along the lengthwise edges of the satin (on the inside), the satin came only to the edge of the fluted edge of the lace, so that the wavy part of the lace was not lined. After basting together the satin and lace, I pinned them to the long skirt with the right side of the dress against the wrong side of the waistband and along the mid-line of the waistband.

I put the long skirt onto the sewing dummy to make sure that the dress was evenly pinned to the waistband, as you can see in the photo above. Another fitting with Keren to adjust the length of the dress at the waist (since the lower hem was already done) and I was able to sew the dress layers to the waistband.

After this I sewed two ribbons to either edge of the waistband. The ribbons were the width of the waistband and will be used to hold the long dress together at the waist. The upper back seam was left without a zipper for easier dressing and undressing.

Adding the Lace Trim to the Hem of the Wedding Dress

I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the project. With the dress held into place with pins on the sewing dummy, I hand-sewed the ribbon from the selvedge of the lace fabric onto the bottom of the lace layer of the dress. The first task was to pin the edging to the hem, making sure it was even all around. Then, using white thread (of course), I sewed by hand with small stitches. There is no need to worry about the visibility of the stitches because the edging is at floor-level and besides, with all the lacy flowers and sparkling beads, nobody is going to see them.

Making the Sleeves

To make the sleeves I used the Butterick pattern below. I used both the sleeve itself and the front and back bodice patterns.

My daughter wanted the top to be very open both in the front and the back. For the sleeves I used the chiffon fabric and for the bodice I used the lace edging. That meant that I had the perfectly fitting bodice into which to sew the sleeves and at the same time an upper bodice piece that was more substantial than spaghetti straps yet delicate and coordinated with the lace of the long dress and the waistband of both the long and short dresses.

The Finished Sleeves

Wedding Dress Front TopI only have a photo from the front of the dress. You can see here how the bodice of the sewing pattern actually forms wide lace straps for the dress. I first sewed two shoulder seams of the lace bodice and then sewed the sleeves onto the bodice on each side; finally, I sewed the seams: the side seam of the bodice and the underneath seam of the sleeves. Then, I pinned the bodice into place on the pleated bodysuit foundation while my daughter was trying on the dress. In this way I could ensure that the bodice was perfectly symmetrical and fit her form exactly. Since the lace is a bit stretchy, I was able to pull it firmly into place so there would be no loose fabric.

You can see how using the selvedge of the lace fabric provides a lovely finish to the wide straps.

You can also see the beautiful necklace and earrings her mother-in-law bought for her. A better match to the dress could not be imagined.

Making a Modesty Cover-Up

When looking through my old patterns, I suddenly realized that the poncho pattern was perfect for the small cover-up I wanted to make for the nuptials. A bodice that is quite acceptable for the wedding party may not be modest enough for the religious ceremony. I used the armhole slots as a guide for the hemline as they were elbow-length. Then, I cut out the hole meant for the head and opened the front of the cover-up along the fold-line so that the bride would not have to pull the cover-up over her hair.Poncho pattern for making wedding dress modesty cover-up

I made the cover-up from the same chiffon used for her dress. I hemmed the neck opening and bottom edge using the overlock-serge machine and added a small button to the front at the neckline. In less than an hour, there was a cover-up.

In the photo below you can see the finished product. The cover-up provides the modesty necessary for the religious part of the ceremony (at least modest enough for secular people - for religious Jews, this is far too revealing).

Wedding Dress Modesty Cover-Up
Wedding Dress Modesty Cover-Up

I also made a simple shawl out of white fake-fur fabric and lined it with satin. It was a simple 55 x 160 cm (about 20 x 62 in) rectangle to which I added a single button and button-hole in the middle.Simple Wrap-Around to Keep Warm Outside

Finishing the Wedding Dress

The dress was essentially made. I had to sew hems on the sleeves and the short dress and make sure the long dress was the proper length and would stay up over the short dress.

I was having a terribCompleted Wedding Dressle time with the hems of the short dress - there were two layers of the dirndl skirt and one layer that I added later as a kind of apron because the two layers were not opaque enough. I cut the apron layer diagonally for extra interest. Sewing the hems was impossible with my regular machine. I decided to go to the next step of professionalism (sic) and buy a serger. That saved my life.

I love my serger - I was able to make perfect hems with so little effort. The short skirt was done! I hemmed the sleeves with the serger and all the hems on the cover-up as well.

At this point, I hand-sewed clasps onto the waistband both of the long dress and the short dress in order to hook the long dress onto the short in a way that would be simple to remove after the ceremony. The hooks will be easily detached after the wedding so that she can use the short dress for going dancing on the town.

Dancing After the Ceremony in the Short Version of the Dress
Dancing After the Ceremony in the Short Version of the Dress

Well! There you have it! The project from start to finish. I enjoyed every minute of it, even when I suffered because it sometimes was very complicated (making your own pattern from three different patterns WOULD make it complicated, I guess) and at times I wasn't sure I was going to make it. I was tempted once or twice to say: "Let's go back to the wedding salon and buy the dress from the professional". I didn't and it was a hit. The wedding itself was great fun.

Thanks for coming along with me for the ride.

Please tell me if this helped you at all.

Updated: 02/06/2015, Sheri_Oz
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Sheri_Oz on 02/07/2015

What a lovely thought, Pam - that my granddaughter will one day will the dress as well. Thanks.

dustytoes on 02/07/2015

I hate sewing! I am so amazed that you were able to create such a beautiful item as your daughter's wedding dress. It turned out so lovely - what a cherished keepsake. I hope she has a daughter who will wear it too...

Sheri_Oz on 02/07/2015

It must have made you very proud to be wearing clothes your mother sewed for you herself.

WriterArtist on 02/06/2015

Wow - that's amazing. I cannot imagine myself stitching my own wedding dress but yes my mother was very talented, she used to sew our clothes including my sisters as well.

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