How I Sewed My Own Wedding Dress (And Only Cried Like Four Times)


How I Sewed My Own Wedding Dress (And Only Cried Like Four Times) | A Practical Wedding
by Stacey Kigner

At first, thinking about the theme of “Risk,” I wasn’t sure that sewing a dress was really “risky,” but then I thought, “Nope, that’s actually risky as f***.” A lot of people tried to dissuade me, including people whose opinions I deeply value, but I guess that’s kind of how taking risks work—if everyone thinks it’s a good idea, it’s not a risk.

Sewing my wedding dress was always an option when I was first thinking about how not to be naked on my wedding day. I even went so far as to draw up some sketches for what it might look like (Hint: a lot like that amazing green dress Kiera Knightly wears in Atonement), but eventually decided to play it pretty safe and wear my grandmother’s dress because A, everyone liked it; B, it fit; and C, it was free!

After six months or so though, I began to have wedding dress related nightmares—the kind where I was showing up naked, or the dress hadn’t been altered—you know the ones I’m talking about. I had my mother ship me the dress because I was no longer confident in my decision and wanted to try it on again. I was worried it wasn’t me. When the enormous, me-sized box arrived, I waited until my fiancé got home so we could open it together. Open it we did, to find that the cleaners (the cleaners who specialize in restoring antique wedding dresses, no less) had turned it yellow, and not just a little bit.

My fiancé made me try it on, wanting to salvage the situation, and it was a humiliating experience, not only because it was yellow and so-not-me, but it no longer fit. We peeled off the dress, stuffed it back into its enormous box, and for twenty-four hours I just. Did. Not. Think. About. It. I didn’t cry either. After the twenty-four hours were up, I called my mom and said, “I’m going to make my dress.” And that’s when the doubting began.

How I Sewed My Own Wedding Dress (And Only Cried Like Four Times) | A Practical Wedding
I was pretty confident in my decision; others were not. A veritable sub-committee was formed to offer opinions that I wasn’t sure I wanted or needed. Some of them were positive, glowing even. Others were less so. It was demanded that I go try on dresses in the new style I wanted to sew (vintage inspired, tea length, super different from what I had), which was an excellent idea. My friend and I went to David’s Bridal and we had a great time. I even found a few dresses that I really liked. What wasn’t great was having my mom (sorry, Mom) see the pictures and say that I should buy one of them instead.

That’s the point when I realized I just needed to listen to myself and block everyone else out. I knew I could do it, and that was all that really mattered. Was I a master seamstress? No, but I’m pretty close now. I had enough experience, and the skills, and the time, and people to ask for help, and I knew that was enough.

So I found a pattern. I found charmeuse that I wanted to take a bath in, it felt that good on my skin. For a little while, things were smooth sailing. My muslin toile was a breeze. Altering the pattern with my fiancé, though time consuming worked well and I was pleased with the fit of the second toile. I read books on alterations and couture sewing techniques. I thought, “I will finish this in a week.” Whoops.

I sewed the bodice together, and something was very wrong. Actually, several somethings were very wrong. Somehow, even though I had done everything the pattern told me to do, and everything the old guy who sold me my fabric and “knew better than me” told me to do, the bodice was an unwearable hot mess. I took it to some sewing friends whose judgment I trust and they said, “Hmm,” and my fiancé, who can sew very well said, “Hmm,” and I said, “Hmm,” and a lot of other less nice words.

Then, family emergency struck, and I found myself, in the span of twenty-four hours, driving from Vermont to Connecticut, flying to Cancun, to flying in an air ambulance to the Mayo Clinic, thinking, “Wow, I really don’t give a crap about this dress right now.” When I returned to Connecticut several weeks later, the emergency not resolved but less…emergent, I went back to staring at the dress. A stroke of fate brought me to a helpful Reddit user who was using the same pattern as I was for a project, but happened to be a master seamstress, and was willing to help me out to boot.

How I Sewed My Own Wedding Dress (And Only Cried Like Four Times) | A Practical Wedding

An hour-long Skype call later, we had diagnosed the problem literally, but also existentially. The problem, at its core, was that I hadn’t trusted myself enough. When the pattern, and the guy at the fabric store told me to do things a certain way, I did them that way, because they “knew more,” even though I thought there was a better way. Turns out, if I had just done it the way I thought was best from the start, a lot of problems would have been avoided.

So I started over. Completely. It was the one thing I really hadn’t wanted to do, but I did it anyway. I did things my way, with the help of a surprise serger from the fiancé. And you know what? I rocked it.

I rocked it so hardcore that the dress almost started to make itself. What I mean is that the dress I was initially going to make and the dress I actually made ended up being two completely different things, even though they used the same pattern. When I first started, the dress was going to be very simple—a layer of silk charmeuse with a chiffon overlay. I ended up with a dress with a fully draped bodice and a waterfall of chiffon pouring over the skirt with floaty gathered straps and one purpose above all else—twirling like a badass.

Once I fully committed to the risk I was taking (“What will you wear if it doesn’t work?” “Something, I guess.”), the risk became fun; it became okay to experiment, because if I messed up, so what? The worst thing was that I’d have to start over, and I’d already done that. And I did make mistakes on the second go round, but I either rolled with them or fixed them, and then I moved on.

And now—now I have a wedding dress that I love, that I’m damn proud of. I proved to the doubters, and more importantly myself (who was perhaps, the prime doubter), that I could do it. I have a dress that may not be a perfect representation of myself in dress form, but it’s pretty close. Most importantly? I can put it on any day and twirl away.

Photos from Stacey’s personal collection.

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  • KH

    Oh my god, I absolutely adore your dress! I love the idea of making your own, although I’m more of the commission my mom (AKA personal seamstress) to do it for me type. Congrats on sticking with it!

  • http://www.superfantastic.blogs.com Superfantastic

    So twirly! Way to trust yourself and make it happen.

  • honeypie

    Love the dress and the shoes. “Twirling like a badass”…that should be on a t-shirt.

    • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

      Or put on a corner of an underskirt. Hmm……

  • ISLA2

    Oh, wow! This is gorgeous, and I’m so impressed!

    This post is particularly helpful to me today as I’m currently having arguments with my loved ones about making my own (like, incredibly freaking simple) centerpieces. They keep arguing that it’s not saving that much money and what if the flowers die on the car ride there, and all these PERFECTLY REASONABLE arguments. But you know what? When it comes down to it, it’s something I want to do because I think it will be fun, and pretty, and I really WANT to spend a couple hours with my bridesmaids plopping flowers into vases, and if it doesn’t work and we end up with zero centerpieces, I will just sort of shrug and go, “Well, THAT didn’t work,” and the wedding will not be ruined. I think non-crafty people have trouble grasping these things sometimes.

    Power to you for pushing through!!

    • Jessica B

      I just plopped flowers into vintage bar cups as a practice run to show my mom and aunts that it will look nice–if we do it how it’s done in my head. They went from skeptical to supportive in less than two cuts of a flower stem. I think doubt from DIY is that these folks are not mind readers and it can be difficult to share a vision. Good luck!

    • Martha

      Girl, make your own centerpieces. TRUST ME. The flowers not only won’t die in the car on the way there, they won’t die sitting in your mother’s sunroom over night.

      Also, it won’t take a couple of hours – my mom and I hot-glued bows to 30 mason jars in one afternoon, months before the wedding. Then on the morning of my 5 bridesmaids, the flower girl and her mom, my mom, my brothers, and a gaggle of aunts put them together in under an hour at the reception site. With all the hands it went so quickly. We filled the jars with stones for weight, water, flowers, and arranged them on tables lickety-split.

      And not all of the above named people are “crafty people,” just regular people willing to help!

      • Laura C

        How did you transport them? I wanted to make my own centerpieces, but two big concerns came up: one is that all the flowers I want are poisonous to cats, which screws up my ability to do dry runs. The other is how I would transport like 30 centerpieces without renting a van or something.

        • Martha

          Hmm, my Mom has a mini van and the flowers were in big buckets full of water. My jars were in large rubbermaid containers, also transported in Mom’s mini van. The flowers would have fit in the trunk of a regular car, but the jars maybe not? Can you do a dry run at a friends house?

          To be honest, we didn’t do a “dry run.” We ordered cut flowers through our ceremony florist (so super cheap, at cost) and figured out our arrangement the day before. We used hydrangea because they are so full – you get quite a lot of flower for little money – and babies breath and a small daisy-ish flower I don’t remember the name of. We already had the jars done and figured arranging some flowers wouldn’t take too much thought and figured we would wing it.

          • Laura C

            Hmm. Yeah, our problem is we don’t get access to the reception site until fairly late in the game, so we’d have to have them all pre-assembled or else literally be running from table to table in our wedding clothes shoving flowers in jars. Oh well. I’m either going to find a florist on Craigslist who works from home for cheap, or my FMIL will talk to the florists she uses at her job and try to get a decent deal on some very basic centerpieces.

      • Ariana

        I DIY’d my centerpieces and loved them. Instead of using live flowers I used dried ones. They were still super pretty and it meant I could make them months before the wedding. No day-of stuff needed at all! Plus super cheap. I also included a dried rose from the bouquet my husband gave me when he proposed in each arrangement. I loved it!

        Here’s a photo of our centerpieces: http://tinyurl.com/lzx9xvp

        • Sara P.

          Gorgeous wedding! The centerpieces are a great idea, and your whole wedding looks so lovely.

    • AG

      Yes! I am also planning on doing my own flowers and have been met with plenty of doubt. A DOC I was thinking of hiring was appalled and told me that if I can afford a band I can afford a florist (and this is why she was not hired). Anyway, I’m determined. Flowers are pretty almost no matter what, and I have a very helpful, willing and crafty family.

      Good luck to you!

    • anon

      I hated making my own centerpieces. BUT I did it only as a cost-saving measure, I don’t really care about flowers, and I have very little creative vision/very few DIY skills. Just know yourself! If it’s something you’re excited about and you have a realistic vision for, do it!

    • Hintzy

      I am right there with you, I’ve committed myself to making paper flowers for all the center pieces, bouquets, and boutonnieres in lieu of hiring a florist…. and many of my family members have commented with their doubts on my abilities to do so. It’s frustrating, but it’s what I want. I like to make stuff, it’s what I do, why would this event be any different?

      We’ve got this!

      • ART

        YES, why do weddings make your family and friends go crazy and forget everything about who you are?

    • Jen

      I know you’re talking centrepieces but I just need to chime in… My wonderful bridesmaids and I DIT’d our bouquets the day before the wedding (best decision ever, I would never take that back. so much fun and such great bonding time too!). During bridal party photos (mid afternoon/early evening, our ceremony was at noon) I felt like they were starting to get a bit droopy…my wonderful photographers assured me that our bouquets actually looked better at this point in time than many of the “professional” bouquets that many of their clients had had, and that it’s actually common for bouquets to start wilting before the ceremony (eek!!)…so I’d say be confident in what you want to do for the centrepieces! Go for it, make it happen, it will be awesome, and if it doesn’t work out, well, at the end of the day you’ll still be married!!

  • Jenny

    That is the dress I wanted and was looking for! Very Very impressive! Congrats!

  • Abby J.

    Yay! And seriously, that dress does have a totally bada** twirl!

  • AK

    You are all sorts of awesome. And you are obviously marrying Mr. Right if he buys you a serger!

    The is the one and only wedding-related thing I’ve been dreaming of since I was a little girl: making my own wedding dress. Your story definitely gave me some reassurance that there’s nothing wrong with that dream! I’m sure I’ll have the doubters too, but I loved reading your story.Your dress turned out with some of the best twirl I’ve seen! Way to go!

    Random side note about sewing equipment (more for the people who haven’t yet sewed their dress): I can’t tell in your picture if you have one or not – but the best invention I’ve found for those rolled hems is a special presser foot designed specifically for rolled hems. It doesn’t always work (like if you’re rolling a chiffon hem on the crossgrain – lesson learned while screaming at my prom dress), but 9 times out of 10 it makes your life super easy (lesson learned from hemming way too many bridesmaid’s dresses).

    • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

      Amen on the rolled hem presser foot. I love mine. Having the right equipment makes any job easier.

  • Annemarie

    Your dress is stunning! I made mine from the ground up – mashing two completely different patterns together. When I made the muslin, the only part that fit was where the two patterns joined together. I tore my hair out making four tiiiiiny straps, and I forgot to mark the grainline on two of the pieces so I was terrified that I’d botched my silk (and I couldn’t get any more). It took me a week to hem the darn thing. But it’s the comfiest piece of clothing I own and I’m ridiculously proud of it! I loved reading your story – the idea of trusting yourself to do this crazy thing resonated so much.

  • Emmy

    Wow, that dress is just lovely! I can’t sew very well, but I bake a lot so I decided to bake my own wedding cake. I definitely understand what it’s like to hear a veritable cacophony of no’s from friends and family!

  • http://www.hiveandhoneyphotography.com Sarah

    This gives me such a happy heart. My mom is making my wedding dress for me and even though she’s an amazing seamstress I’ve been slightly worried but I’m just going to own it and be fabulous in my dress.

    • http://www.piercedwonderings.com Lynn

      My mother made my dress ;) She got herself into a bit of a pickle back when I was in high school and with my second serious boyfriend. She was terrified I was going to get married and pregnant before I finished college, so she promised that if I waited until I graduated from college, she would make my dress. Three degrees and 15 years later, I held her to that. She wanted to back out, but I told her that I’d held up my end of the bargain; it was time for her to do hold up hers.

      She turned out a beautiful dress, although she was sewing right up until the morning of the wedding. she was so nervous about it! She sent me a muslin mock-up and then she sewed the whole thing…in blue. Just to be sure she could do it. And then did it all again in the material and lace I’d picked out. (she was across the country from me) She also took on sewing all the vests for all the men in the wedding party, and those turned out beautifully too.

  • https://twitter.com/SnippetsofSarah Sarah E

    I was going to comment on how deliciously twirly your dress is (so gorgeous!) but then I clicked on the link in your name and can we talk for a hot second about how you are a TRAPEZE ARTIST?! You are a Total Badass, lady.

    • Martha

      WHAT? A TRAPEZE ARTIST? Badass for sure!

  • Corrie

    Wow! That is impressive! Mad props to you for attempting it, and sticking it out when the going got tough. It turned out amazing!

  • SJ

    DAT DRESS.

    OMgggg. The TWIRLING possiblities.

  • http://writemeg.com Megan

    So fantastic. And as a fellow vintage-inspired, tea-length girl (who did, in fact, find her dress at David’s Bridal!), I’m totally in awe of your talent and appreciative of your style. :) I’ll be rocking red heels instead of blue, but regardless, we’re dress sisters!

  • http://anniecardi.com Annie

    Alternate titles for this post:
    “How I Sewed My Own Freaking Amazing Wedding Dress (OHMYLORDSOPRETTY)”
    “Watch Out, Vera Wang”
    “That Time I Was a Total Wizard”

    Seriously though, that dress is freaking amazing.

    • Kate

      Amen. You’re a wizard, Stacey.

  • Laura C

    So gorgeous. Makes me wish I could sew even a little bit.

    • Laura C

      Honestly, your dress is making me rethink everything I thought I wanted.

  • Karen

    “Twirlability” is high on my criteria list for my dress. You absolutely nailed it!

    • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

      I’m a firm believer that little girls have created too much of a monopoly on twirls and we need to take it back as adults.

  • Becca

    I can’t tell you how much I longed to be able to do just this! Or even to find someone else who could do it for me (living in a small, isolated town, finding a master seamstress is pretty difficult). You are so rad for making your own dress. And it is so gorgeous!

  • Ake

    My husband and I are sitting here in Sri Lanka in transit on our own risk adventure checking out a practical wedding for a break. This came up. This is our reactions: FREAKING GORGEOUS. SHE MADE IT! IT’S AMAZING! back and forth to each other etc. Except in calmer voices than usual cuz jet-lag will do that to a girl. :) He says he likes your shoes too. You definitely nailed it lady. All the best for your family emergency too.

  • Katelyn

    Love this post. When I said “I want to make fabric flower bouquets,” everyone went “Hmmm… that’s different…” My first response to that reaction was to doubt myself, but I just couldn’t get it out of my head.

    Once I sat down and really started working on it, sending photos along the way, people started getting on board. I’ve made 2 different types of flowers so far and am pleased as punch with the results. Each time I sit down at the craft table, the ideas just bloom (haha bad flower pun).

    Even though I’m not a crafter (but I *am* naturally crafty), I have loved almost every second of this DIY so far. For me, it’s been therapeutic to physically interact with wedding stuff. Otherwise it’s all just out there in a metaphysical, hand-waving sense.

    Plus it’s a great outlet for my wedding energy instead of looking through Pinterest for the millionth time.

    • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

      Our flowers were all ribbon or fabric. I kept a pencil box of supplies with me at all times and made them on the bus during my commute, during office hours (because nobody goes to see their professor during office hours), just wherever I was. I loved that it kept my fingers from twiddling with stress. And I love decorating and using them to this day (I pinned one to the hat our daughter wore home from the hospital).

      Go fabric flowers!!

  • grace b

    LOOOOOVE IT.

    My boyfriend sews and has altered and made me things that I love, it is such a labor of love.

    Hats off to you for doing it.

  • GA

    I just have to say that I love your mention of the green Atonement dress… because that is exactly the dress that I’m modeling my bridesmaid dresses off of. (One of my bridesmaids and I read the book together, saw the movie together, and flipped out over the dress together.) So. Freaking. Excited.

    • Lena

      I’m trying to type out the sound I make when I think of that dress and I just can’t. It is so gorgeous.

  • One More Poster

    If I could have made my own dress, THIS is what I would have made. I love the structured, flattering bodice and straps. Yeah for straps!!

  • Starry-eyed

    Good for you for making your dress and ignoring the doubts/doubters! It looks amazing!

    I dreamed of making my wedding dress, and between my skills and my mom’s (much more advanced) skills, I’m pretty sure we could have done it. Unlike you, I listened to the naysayers and bought an off-the-rack dress. It was beautiful and reasonably priced. Almost a year post-wedding, one of my top two wedding-related regrets is that I didn’t even try to make my dress. I sometimes consider making a dress similar to what I wanted, just to prove to myself that I could have done it. (Of course, where would I wear such a dress??)

    Anyway, mad props! And the shoes are awesome too!

  • MK

    Gorgeous. You did an amazing job and I wish I were a smidge more confident in my dress-making/stress-managing abilities to try–your dress is almost exactly what I’d like to have!

  • ART

    Wow! Another case of APW timing these posts so well for a particular reader’s needs :) That dress is beautiful! I have found that looking for a dress has been 95% stressful and only about 5% fun. I have a bunch of doubters, too (normally supportive people gone crazy over wedding stuff, I guess). I don’t really *want* to sew my dress necessarily, but I just haven’t seen a single dress that does it for me yet, and part of me thinks well, we’re making everything else for the wedding, why not that? I’ve had my share of doubters about the rest of our DIYs, and so far I’m straddling the divide between proving them wrong (“look, we made this awesome thing a year in advance”) and saying f**k it and going to the county courthouse. This post is both inspiring and reality-check-ing!

  • Allie

    Are you living in VT? It’s great to find another APW Vermonter

  • Claire

    What a fantastic dress!!

  • Jade

    1) OMG I love the dress and you kick ass!

    2) Dress dreams. Holy c*@p. No nightmares yet (although since the FHs aunt is making the dress I fully expect full on panic attacks) but I’ve been having dreams where the FH walks down the aisle in the skirt of a dress by the designer I’ve been looking at lately. Weird dreams.

  • Marie

    I THOUGHT I recognized your dress from Reddit! Yeay! I’m glad you got it to work :D

    Side note, we really need an APW subreddit. Because I need a forum of sane-minded brides. For realz, guys.

    • Katelyn

      I would totally return to reddit in full regalia for an APW subreddit.

    • marbella

      YES!!!!

  • mimi

    Beautiful! Well done!

  • Heidi

    I loved reading your story, Stacy, and I was definitely with you for the ups and the downs of making a dress.

    I made my wedding dress using fabric from my grandmother who bought herself ivory satin and then the engagement was called off. The risk of using this fabric was that I did not have extra to start over if I made a mistake. It was super stressful at the time, but the risk was worth the payoff of having my grandma’s fabric finally sewn into a wedding dress some 90 years later.

  • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

    LOVE the dress!

    As someone else who made their own dress, this part rang true for me – “Was I a master seamstress? No, but I’m pretty close now.”

    Sewing my own dress taught me things I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. At the very least my sewing has definitely improved.

    • rys

      I also found that sewing a dress (not a wedding dress, just a regular one) taught me how to see garments — I am so much better at assessing what will look good on my body after adjusting a pattern to it.

  • Ariana

    Your dress looks awesome! I also had a shorter vintage inspired dress. I was going to make mine as well but then I remembered I work for a bridal designer who offered to custom make me a dress. So that solved that. But I think the fact that you made yours is not only brave but makes your dress so much more special. Twirl away lady, twirl away.

  • Shannon

    Ok, I just burst into tears after I finished reading this, because I’m a professional stitcher, and I’ve always wanted to make my dress, but my best friends, my mom, and my fiancé have all tried to talk me out of it. The worst part was I WAS LISTENING TO THEM, and excusing the lack of excitement I was having gown shopping as nerves or not having found ‘the one’ yet. So thank you thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me the courage to trust my gut and make my gown.

    And yours looks FABULOUS! Congratulations on your beautiful twirly dress and your nuptials, and thank you again, sincerely, for helping me ignore the doubters and trust myself.

  • Riah

    Gorgeous. Internet high five!

  • SCM

    Dear amazing seamstresses who sewed your own dresses: Do you have photos? Do you have blog posts sharing your wisdom/methods/pattern numbers with those of us who are facing the same onslaught of (loving) doubters? Please, post! Light the way!

    Stacey, you rock.

  • megan

    I made my dress as well! Yours looks beautiful!

  • Valerie Day

    I LOVE your story, and your courage. Weddings take a lot of courage I think. I won’t be making my own dress, but I will be using your story in my head over and over!

  • Monica Cegelka

    Stacey, when you told me you were making your wedding dress, I didn’t bat an eye. It never occurred to me it would be anything but spectacular (just like your wedding turned out to be). I didn’t cry when I saw Nicholas in his self-created wedding attire and I didn’t cry when I saw the beautiful bridesmaids sauntering down the hillside, but I began to well up when I saw you appear in that magical wedding dress. When you met your dad at the bottom, the sobbing began. You are the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen, and I’m so lucky to have you as a daughter-in-law.

  • http://www.threadtracings.wordpress.com Ana

    I’m getting married in six weeks, a quickie wedding for visa purposes, although we’ve been together for nine years. I’ve been looking for a dress for the last two weeks after I was convinced by others that I didn’t have time to sew my own (along with packing up to move, getting passports and visas sorted, getting my drivers licence..), though it’s always been my dream.
    However, through all my searching I haven’t been able to find a dress to buy that I like! Everyone thinks I’m nuts to try and sew my own dress (similar to yours – tea length, twirly skirt but with an illusion neckline in chiffon), but your post totally makes me want to attempt it! Do you think it’s possible?

  • Virginia

    Ditto to another poster’s comment — I’ve gone a-searching for more information about the pattern you used, but can’t find it! Can you post a link to the pattern, please?

  • Erika Tsang

    Stacey, you looked beautiful in your dress! Your story of what you had to go through to make the dress is absolutely inspiring. I’m a huge fan of designer dresses and boutique dress shopping, but after seeing your DIY and practical wedding ideas, it certainly has opened my mind to these unique options. I can’t wait for your other posts and keep on rocking this practical wedding blog!