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Sewing Your Gown from Scratch

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I have not sewn a gown from scratch in many years. It can be a very expensive situation when you hire a sewing professional to create a custom made gown and most brides are on strict budgets these days. But I do get many letters from brides and Moms who are attempting the project and have questions as to the proper process.


added March 2011

Hi Leanna,
 
I am making my daughter's wedding gown and have concerns about the type of fastener to use.  The style is very similar to the one attached worn to the 2011 SAG awards although it will be a one strap dress rather than a continuation of the bodice).  She is determined to have the covered buttons down the back but I would rather not have the line of the dress broken by a zipper underneath the buttons.  I am thinking of two alternatives; using a side zipper and the buttons down the back or using the buttons alone - just not sure how much support that would provide.  I would appreciate any suggestions you may have.

thank you! sharon

 

Hi Sharon,
 
Fasteners do not provide support of any kind. You get that from boning. The fasteners you choose is done for purely esthetic reasons. A zipper would make a more secure closure, but buttons look really great.   

added October 2010

Hi Leanna

Wondering if you can please help – I am making a wedding dress with a multi-layered, very gathered tulle skirt over a heavy satin underskirt.  I don’t know how to finish the tulle at the back.  The bride does not want a lace up style back and is insisting on a zip  I am very experienced with zippers but I am confused about sewing the tulle into the zipper along with the underskirt. 

I have read a lot of conflicting methods on the net.  Some say to leave a slit opening in the tulle and just sew the zipper into the underskirt. This would be okay for a child but I don’t think it is appropriate for a bespoke wedding gown. If I do sew the tulle into the zip, I am concerned the skirt will pull in where the layers are sewn into the zipper and then flare out below it.  (I am assuming the tulle layers would not be sewn into the centre back seam of the underskirt but would swing free separately.)  I also don’t know how to finish the join at the bottom where the zipper would end and the centre back seam would start.

Any advice would be most appreciated.

Clare, Oz  

Hi Clare,
 
I would not sew the tulle into the zipper. I've seen it done that way a few times and I have not liked it. I think it looks much better to let the tulle fall gracefully of it's own accord over the zipper area unstitched. Once you see it I think you will like it.

added April 2010

 
Hello Leanna,
 
My daughter is getting married in June and I agreed to make the bridesmaid dresses.  I made the identical dress for my oldest daughter's bridesmaids four years ago with no problem. 
 
However I am having difficulty with the bodice fitting for a couple of the girls in this wedding party.  Several of the girls are quite busty but small in the ribs.  The dress is strapless with an empire waist, A line skirt.  The darts for the bodice run underneath the breast from the skirt seam.  I am having issue with gapping at the top even though the dress fits snuggly on the sides and back.  There is still a gap at the center top of the bodice in front.  In other words, the person wearing the dress looks right down into their clevage.  Boning is sewn in at sides.
 
Is this because the bodice is the wrong cup size.  Do you have any ways I could fix this problem?
 
Would appreciate any advice you can give.
 
Thanks, Sheri
 
Hi Sheri,
 
What I normally do for this situation is take in the princess seam at the neckline. By what you have said, your bodice has darts, not princess seams. You could try to extend the darts into princess seams so you can take the gaping fabric out of the neckline.
 
That's about all I can suggest without seeing the dresses.

added December 2009

Hi,

I hope you can help.  I am making my wedding dress and got to the fitting prior to installing the zipper.  The problem is that there is plenty of room at the neckline, and the waist fits well, but the stress point is across the shoulder blades, just above where the corset sits.  It is a ¾ sleeve dress with a portrait collar and a wrap front.  Is there a way to put a panel in at the zipper to give me about ½ to 1” more ?  My wedding is this coming Saturday, the 12th. 

Thanks, Lynn

Hi Lynn,
 
This area needs to be snug to support the portrait collar. If you add more the collar might flop in a funny way. It's hard to tell without seeing you in the dress. 

Thanks for getting back to me so quickly.    It does fit well at the collar, bust, etc. and the waist.  It’s just too tight at the ribcage on the back bodice, and I’m thin, so it doesn’t make any sense.  I’ve thought about taking the back off and re-cutting it and re-installing it, but thought there might be a way to add something at the zipper to give it a little more to work with.  I only need ½ an inch or so, but the fabric unravels pretty easily.  I’m an experienced sewer, but this is perplexing me to no end.

Lynn

Well, you can put a piece in the zipper or the side seam but it won't look very good. If you have the time and are willing to recut the back panels, it will look much better. 
 
Are you sure it's the dress and not the corset that is feeling tight? Try leaving the top few hooks on the corset undone or on a looser eye.

No, it’s the dress.  I can’t move my arms very far forward or up.  Thanks very much for your help.

Lynn

This is typical for a portrait collar design. They look real great as long as you keep your arms down. This design definitely makes hugging loved ones at your reception very difficult.


added September 2009

Hello-

I just discovered your website recently and am amazed.  My question seems simple, but I am looking for advice.  I am making a homecoming dress for my daughter that has layers of tulle on top.  The pattern says to cut the tulle before sewing, but a lady at Joann’s who has experience said to cut after the layers are sewn on the dress.  Can you tell me which works best?  I am concerned that if I do it afterwards, I won’t be able to cut a clean line and also I’ll be cutting into the seams.  Thank you for your help, Elaine Thiel

Hi Elaine,
 
Hems are usually done last because you need to see how the dress falls on the body and how the shoe height effects this. But, if you are sure about the length, there is no reason why you can't do a nice clean cut of the tulle before sewing it to the dress. 

added September 2009

I am looking for a gown pattern that is fitted and ruched from bodice to low thighs then flares into a "mermaid" bottom.  I can't find a pattern in like this in any of the main pattern books.  I see lots of these dresses in bride magazines now.  Do you know where I might find a pattern or could you tell me how to do the ruching?  I have patterns that are the same shape of the dress I want to make but without the ruching.  Also, the dress will be in silk taffeta.
Thanks,
Jennifer
 
I really enjoyed reading all of the questions and answers on your website.

Hi Jennifer,
 
I have not looked through any pattern company's books lately so I do not know of anything off the top of my head. If you know how to add length to a pattern, then you can figure out how to add ruching to a pattern - it's the same method. You just add as much length as you want the gathers to be in fullness and do it several places down the length of the pattern piece so the seams stay in the body curves.

added May 2009

One question: I have been searching all over the web. I can't find a pattern to make a chapel length mantilla veil? Do you have any patterns for sale on this? Or, do you know how wide I should cut the tulle and what shape? Oval? round? Thanks you, thank you thank
 
Marlene
Roanoke Virginia

 

Hi Marlene,

 
I don't have any patterns for sale. There is a nice list of patterns and some good tips here: http://weddings.lovetoknow.com/wiki/How_to_Make_a_Wedding_Veil
 
Leanna

added October 2008

Hi, I’ve searched the fabric shops here and tried to google this subject but end up in hardware land, pipes and construction!!!  I’m making a ball gown for ballroom dancing, which is to ankle length (traditionally so that the dancer doesn’t trip over the skirt) with a lightweight satin lined shot voile circular skirt.  I want to enhance the bottom by fluting the base so that when it hangs, it hangs in flutes as opposed to just straight down.  I don’t know what that stuff is but it’s nylon (I think) extremely thin, like very wide fishing cat-gut but stiffer and you simply zig zag it to the bottom of the fabric which also hems the dress in an overlocked appearance.  I do hope you understand my explanation of this wire as I need to get some urgently and obviously until I know what it’s called, I’m stumped.  I have explained this to the habi departments in my town but no one knows what I’m talking about.

Please advise and if I can’t buy anything off the shelf, perhaps I’ll go to the fish tackle shop and try some of their 3 tonne shark weight breaking strain cat-gut.

Thanks, Zoe

I use 30 pound regular fish line.  


added January 2008

Hi! I have been reading your site and am going to recommend it to any and all future brides to read before they purchase their wedding dress. I am making 5 bridemaid dresses...they are strapless with 4 gore skirts. It has been recommended to me to make them one size large than their current sizes to allow for weight gain, etc. The wedding is December 2008, but I plan to make them the end of February and alter them in August when all the bridemaids and my granddaughter (the bride) plan on spending a get together at the lake for fittings.....do all the bridemaids hems need to be the same height from floor......these are tea length dresses.....appreciate any and all comments on this endeavor! Thanks, darlene

Are you doing this as a job or as a favor to the family?

Thanks for your response, I am making them for my granddaughter's bridemaids as a favor to my granddaughter. I am also purchasing the material for the girls.

Darlene

I would not make them one size larger. You are only creating more work for yourself. I would make them the correct size and leave extra in the sides seams in case the girl gains a little. I always leave at least 1" for each side seam. Also - do not tell the girls you are doing this. Tell them they will not gain or loose weight once you have started sewing on the dresses. I never sew for a girl who is dieting. They must agree to not be trying to loose weight if they want me to sew their dress. This sounds cruel but it saves your sanity.

Since this is a favor for family and not a paying situation, you may not have as much control over circumstances as I do when I sew for a client. This is something you are doing for love. So, it is your choice as to how much work you are willing to do.

Thank you sooooo much for your advice.......being in the business you should know. One more question....should all the dresses be same length from the floor, think the girls range from 5'4" to 5'9".............or does it make that much difference?
They are tea length dresses.

Thanks, Darlene

It used to be that the bride would give me a measurement from the floor that she wanted the dresses to be, but that has not happened for many years. Now a days there is no rule. You have to ask your bride what she wants.


added November 2007

Hi!
I am making 3 dresses for my daughters for my little sister's wedding in January. I found a pattern that I love, but I want to change the skirt a bit. I saw some dresses that had puckers in the skirt that I would like to add to these dresses but I am not sure how to go about it. I have never seen a pattern with these and can't find how to do it anywhere. Is there a specific way that is best, or is it something that I should experiment with? I don't have a lot of time to experiment with 4 kids under 5, so, if you have some methods to help me, I would appreciate it! Here is the link to a picture of the dress I am making and then a picture of the dress with the puckers. Do you know of a book or magazine that gives instructions about how to make these and other less common embellishments?

VoguePatterns - V7681 - Children's / Girls' Lined, Evening Or Lower Calf Length Dress - 7681

Wedding Dresses and Bridal Gowns | Brides.com

Thank you!! Melanie

There's got to be a pattern at one of the companies because this is such a popular style. I have altered many of these. I have not made one from scratch, but it's not complicated. The tuffs are gathered bits of fabric that are sewn to a lining layer of fabric to keep them tuffted.


added July 2007

Your website has some wonderful ideas, thank you so much for posting such great information. I am sewing the bridal dress for my God daughters wedding. I have sewn many prom dresses and my own wedding dress but this is my first attempt for someone else. Especially for someone so important to me and I want her day to be perfect. The gown will have a tufted skirt which I must say is very very difficult to find a pattern for so I am having to wing it there. The bride is extremely petite and while I've made strapless dresses for her in the past, I am concerned with the weight of the tufted skirt that there will be an issue of the dress not wanting to stay up no matter how tight I make it at the waist. The dress will not have a seam at the waist as she wanted the satin to fall straight to the area where the tufting begins. Any suggestions on ensuring that the dress stays up? I know an underskirt will help some. I do plan on putting boning in.

Also, the hem that she wants is not a standard hem and I am not sure how to approach this hem where it appears to almost be a tuft to the lining. I have attached an image of a dress where she really liked the skirt. We would have bought the dress except we were quoted almost $800 to pay for the alterations that she would want and she did not like the top that much. And I did not get a good feeling for the person at the store doing the alterations. I am confident in my sewing abilities but just can't find any information on how to make the tufted skirt or that hem. Any suggestions or if you are aware of a link/book that would have the information I would really appreciate it.

Sincerely, Theresa

I have worked on dresses with hems like this. The edge of the skirt fabric is sewn with gathers to the lining edge a few inches under the bottom of the hem forming a bag, like Hong Kong hemmed pants, only fluffier.

I have not had a problem with the skirt being too heavy even on very short brides. The only thing you can do to make the skirt less heavy is to take out some tufts to lessen the fabric amount of the skirt. The tufts don't create as much weight as you are fearing. Beads and other trims are much worse.


added June 2007

Dear Leanna,

I've been recommented by my American friend to write you.

I'm going to sew my sisters wedding veil - its going to be chapel length and the tulle has to be gathered as its not wide enough - so my question is do I make to half circles? and what seam do I choose to gather it - serger? or what do you recommend?

Also what do you recommend as she does not want a raw cutted edge at the bottom. Any suggestions? My idea is to use binding - but how do I stitch it around the tulle without getting it torn as its very fragile.

Your ideas and suggestions are very welcome. Many many thanks in advance for your help, Jeanne

Yes, sewing on veils is very tricky. That's why they are expensive.

Veils are never seamed. The fabric is available in wider widths. You need to buy a width that works for the look you are making.

You can practice sewing the edging on a scrap of veiling until you find the stitch settings for your machine that work best on what type of binding you are using.


added April 2007

Hi Leanna

I was wondering if you could advise me on the beading of a wedding dress bodice. I am making my future sister-in-law's wedding dress, the material is a dupion backed satin which I intend to sew a lovely lace over the bodice. I have made wedding dresses and bridesmaids dresses in the past for family but have never beaded a bodice.

What I am unsure of is whether the beading is sewn onto the lace alone, prior to attaching to the dress. Or, whether it is sewn through the lace and the dupion backed satin at the same time prior to attaching to the dress.

The bodice will be lined with an antistatic lining, calico and boning inserted. The bride is quite big busted, do you think sewn in cups would be required as well as boning? The boning I am using is a covered Rigelene nylon boning approximately 8mm wide.

I look forward to hearing from you, you seem extremely knowledgeable in the making etc of wedding gowns and I'd really appreciate your advice.

Regards, Irene

The beading can be done either way. I find it easier to sew the beads on the lace first.

If she is a C cup or larger she will need a bra. Cups will do nothing for her. Cups are for comfort and modesty. They do not support at all. Boning is a good idea for the support of the dress, but it also does nothing to support the bust.

Thanks for your prompt reply. The information you gave me is a great help and I can now begin to bead the lace. I shall take your advice and bead the lace prior to fitting to the dress. I am really looking forward to starting it now that I have the know-all how to do it.

Also, thanks for the advice re bra. I forgot to mention that the bodice is strapless. Do you think a strapless bra will give the support needed whilst still boning the bodice.

I really appreciate your help.

Thanks again, Irene

Generally, it is a difficult task to get a large busted lady to feel comfortable in a strapless gown.

The larger the cup size the less a strapless bra gives support. If the gown is high enough in the back neckline to let her use a longline bra that hooks across the back she will get more support. If the neckline is low in the back and she has to get one that hooks down near the waist it will give little support.


added April 2006

I'm hoping you can help...

My mom is making my wedding dress. We purchased beautiful organza lace and it is causing my mother nightmares. She's tried everything to get the wrinkles out before beginning to sew, including taking it to 2 different cleaners and the home remedies of just about everyone in Mississippi. The bridal shop she went to initially thought that steaming would quickly resolve the problem - but apparently not. What should we do?

Sincerely,
rebecca

Some laces do not lay totally flat. It's just the nature of the lace and steaming or ironing the heck out of it won't change that. It's sounding like you have to either accept the way the fabric is or buy something else.


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