Remember how I said that experience arranging flowers was not necessary for doing your wedding flowers? Well, when it comes to figuring out how to make a wedding dress, experience is a very very good thing. If you’ve never sewn a dress before, go out and sew a few. Figure out what you are doing, and then decide if you want to take on your wedding dress. It’s not an impossible project, not at all, but it’s complicated, and takes skill.
My sister, my mother and I (and yes, David too) tackled Project Wedding Dress over Christmas break. It was more complicated and more time consuming than we expected (of course). It lead to Project Runway like, down to the wire, midnight sew-offs. And, in the end, it was far more rewarding than I’d ever imagined. The dress isn’t quite done yet, and I reserve the right to complain about it later (remember that!) Sadly, you are not going to see the finished project till August, I’m afraid, just hints and whispers. But! I’ve had requests to walk you through the process, so here we go!
Step 1: Pick Your Pattern
My pattern is a vintage Vogue pattern. Pretty, no? Squee!
The key to picking a pattern is to pick something where you like the basic construction – this dress has princess seams, no true waist, and pleating. Those are elements of the pattern would be next to impossible to change.
Step 2 – Pick Your Fabric
Once you have your pattern, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what kind of fabric you need. I’ve already written about my fabric search, but I was looking for a mid-weight silk – and I found the worlds most beautiful blush-toned off-white silk. Swoon.
Step 3 – Decide On Simple Modifications
This is the time to decide what small tweaks you want to make to the pattern. On my pattern, we decided to take off the sleeves, adjust the neckline a bit, and remove the yoke around the neck. These small changes made the dress feel like it was mine, but didn’t change the fundamental construction of the dress.
Step 4 – Muslin Mock Up
While this step is truly a monumental pain, I would not, under any circumstances, suggest skipping this step. It’s where all the really hard work is done. At this point, you take your measurements, get the pattern out, cut and mark the fabric, make the small modifications you are planning (no sleeves for us!), and sew up the dress. What you now have is a weird muslin dress. It’s going to be HUGE on you (I’m a street size 4, according to Vogue I was a size 12, we sewed a size 10, and it was still pretty darn big at this point). It’s also, frankly, not going to be very flattering at this point (see below) but don’t freak out. It will be.
Step 5 – Alterations, Alterations, Alterations
This step takes an incredible about of skill. And unless you are a four-armed double-jointed sewing genius, you can’t do it for yourself. Put on your muslin mock up. Stand in front of the mirror. Try not to wiggle (ha!). Get a sister, or another wise seamstress, to get out her pins and pin that dress like mad, until it fits like it is supposed to. Now is the time to discuss the neckline (is it working? Should you open it up more? Do you want to change the shape a bit?) and the length. Discuss if the dress is comfortable and how you feel in it. discuss all the little things.
Next up. The dress comes off (carefully, it’s full of pins). The head seamstress takes out a needle and thread and bastes in all the alterations she’s made (another option: the seamstress can actually do the basting alterations while you are in the dress). After this, try it on one last time, to make sure it fits.
The muslin dress is carefully cut apart. The head seamstress laid it back out on the original pattern and carefully transfers all the alterations that have been made on to the paper (This step is half skill and half voodoo magic, if you ask me).
At this point in our process, we were running tremendously behind. My pattern looks simple, but BOY is it not. The alterations had eaten up two full days, and we were due back in San Francisco. So, David and I stayed up until midnight, cracking Project Runway jokes, and ever so carefully cutting and marking yards and yards of silk. Cutting your fabric is an exercise in precision. After the magic that has gone into altering the pattern, you want to cut extremely precisely, and make sure the fabric is laid exactly the right way on the grain of the fabric. After it is all cut, you’ll use thread to mark all the indicated points in the fabric.
Those who are weak of heart, do not even read this step! Because at this point, I swear to god, you will hand sew the entire dress together in medium-sized basting stitches (that’s me doing just that in the picture). It sounds crazy, and it sort of is, but I have to say, I enjoyed this part the most. My sister and I sat there, and in a true old world fashion, hand sewed my entire wedding dress. When it was done, I tried it on to make sure it fit, and we made final adjustments. B
ecause you have just basted the dress, if anything is still not working, you can pull the stitches out and fix it.
Step 9 – Sew That D*mn Dress Together
This is it. The sewing machine comes out, and you finally sew the dress together once and for all. If you are making a liner for your dress, you will cut and sew that now. We’re in the midst of this step and the next one at the moment.
Step 10 – Finishing
Still to go: My sister is building crinolines for the dress out of tulle, and will attach them to the liner. Then she will mail the dress back to me, and I’ll attach some lace trim, and some buttons on the back. I might embroider our names and the date on the inside, because if this dress isn’t a heirloom, I don’t know what is. A heirloom or a g-d-effing-heirloom, depending on the day.
And that, ladies and gentleman, is how you make a wedding dress. It takes lots of time and love and patience, but at the end of the process, you are so attached to the dress you have. It’s not something you saved up for, its not a dress that you tried on and fell in love with. Nope, its a dress that you dreamed up in your heart and head, bled over, cursed over, slaved over, and midwifed into being. And I’m not sure it gets any better than that.