16 May 2018

Five Tips For Making Your Wedding Dress

Five Tips for Making Your Wedding Dress - Tilly and the Buttons
Bride + dressmaker: Allie
Photographer: Meg Runion Studios
Wedding season is upon us, and this year (at the time writing) is a particularly exciting one as there's a certain royal wedding coming up! We are eagerly anticipating Meghan’s outfit, with the press a-buzz with predictions.

The wedding dress is such an important part of the big day, and the right dress can make a bride feel truly special. As a sewist, have you ever considered making your wedding dress?

Five Tips for Making Your Wedding Dress - Tilly and the Buttons
Bride + dressmaker: Jasmine
Photographer: Claudine Rosendale
I’m Jasmine, an intern at Tilly and the Buttons. When I got engaged, there was one thing that I really wanted to do, which was make my own wedding dress. At the time, I was a true novice. I had only sewn one outfit before this, a T-shirt and matching shorts when I was six! But sometimes ignorance is bliss, and not knowing that it was supposed to be difficult meant that I just went for it rather than over-thinking things.

It was the best experience, I learnt so much and ended up with a customised dress that fitted me perfectly and had all the details that I wanted. It was one of my proudest achievements, and even won Make It Today magazine’s Dressmaker of the Year, Occasion category! This just shows what is achievable when you put your mind to it. Where there’s a will, there’s a wedding dress!

If you’re thinking of making your own wedding dress, where to begin? When I started out, I spent ages trawling the internet for advice. Here I’ve compiled a list of top tips from my own experience and those of other home sewists who have made their own fabulous and varied wedding dresses. Hopefully this will save you a bit of stress and encourage you to go for it!

Five Tips for Making Your Wedding Dress - Tilly and the Buttons
Bride + dressmaker: Jasmine

1. Leave yourself plenty of time

Part of the reason I was able to make my dress was that I knew I had time on my side. I had about a year between deciding to make my dress and the wedding day. I spent the first few months developing my sewing skills before planning out my dress, and finally bought the fabric to start sewing the final dress about four months before the wedding.

It meant that I could take my time and get that perfect finish. I was able to work on intricate details like hand stitching the bias binding of the neckline and armholes, and making rouleau loops which was rou-lly fun!

It also makes the process much less stressful. One thing you don’t want to be doing the day before your wedding is unpicking a rushed wonky hem!

Five Tips for Making Your Wedding Dress - Tilly and the Buttons
Bride + dressmaker: Melanie
Photographer: Todd Hunter McGaw
2. Make it your own

One of the best aspects of making your own wedding dress is that you can make it truly unique to you and your style. I browsed many images of wedding dresses, but none of them had quite the right neckline that I was looking for. Making my own dress meant that I could modify the pattern to exactly what I wanted.

Why not take the opportunity to express your personality and come up with something non-traditional? Melanie wasn’t afraid to add a bit of colour to her stunning wedding gown. Her gorgeous peach and gold dress was inspired by an Elie Saab design, and she found two Marfy bridal patterns – one for the bodice and another for the skirt – that, combined, would create something similar.

Five Tips for Making Your Wedding Dress - Tilly and the Buttons
Bride + dressmaker: Allie
Photographer: Meg Runion Studios
Allie expressed her unique style and love of vintage when she chose a Simplicity 5343 pattern from 1963. She also went for colour and made the dress in a beautiful pale pink silk/cotton. Several years after her wedding, she still receives emails from women who wore the same pattern on their weddings. What a wonderful way to connect with other generations of women through a love of sewing!

Five Tips for Making Your Wedding Dress - Tilly and the Buttons
Bride + dressmaker: Alice
Photographer: Marlena Gibas
3. Practise practise practise!

My mum always told me that practise makes perfect, and I hate to admit it but she’s right. Fit is so crucial, particularly for most form-fitting wedding dresses.

The best way to achieve the perfect fit is to start off by making a toile. A toile (or muslin) is an initial mock-up of a garment made in cheap fabric so you can check and alter how the pattern fits your body before cutting into your nice fabric. I have a big roll of cheap unbleached cotton in my fabric stash that I use for this purpose.

My dress was fairly simple, so I only made one toile. But for more tricky designs, it is definitely worth making a few until you’re 100% happy with the fit. Alice (pictured above) started off with a Simplicity 2959 pattern, and then over the next ten months made toiles with numerous adjustments before she settled on her final design. While it may seem like a lot of work, it's worth the extra effort to end up with a bespoke dress that's exactly tailored to your shape.

Five Tips for Making Your Wedding Dress - Tilly and the Buttons
Bride + dressmaker: Yasmeen
Photographer: Justin Harris 
4. Don’t be scared, it’s not rocket science

Making your own wedding dress can seem incredibly daunting at first, but you’ll soon realise that it’s just a dress. At the beginning of my dressmaking process, I found it really difficult looking at a wedding dress and visualising how it was constructed. But once you break it down, all the individual components are fairly straight forward. My dress was basically a half-circle skirt, strapless bodice, and lace tank top overlay. Simple!

You can do the same with something more complicated. Yasmeen had an excellent strategy where she broke down the process into smaller steps. Her dress used a combination of three patterns: one for the skirt shape, one for the under bodice, and another for the bodice lace overlay. She made sure to adjust the patterns so the seams all matched up at the waist. She then made lists and ticked off each step as she completed it. And as you can see, her excellent organisational skills paid off!

If you find yourself struggling with a technique, there’s no need to panic as there is a wealth of knowledge out there. Don’t forget that before the dawn of fast fashion, everyone had to make their own clothes, so it’s not rocket science. I started off by signing up to Craftsy classes and buying sewing books, which gave me a good knowledge base to start from.

Alice was also a self-taught novice sewist when she embarked on her wedding dress. She recommends searching online sewing forums such as patternreview.com, where you can get great advice from experienced dressmakers who are more than willing to impart their wisdom on us lowly novices.

Bride + dressmaker: Allie
Photographer: Meg Runion Studios

5. Have fun!

Remember, it’s just sewing, and what’s the point of sewing if you’re not enjoying it? Because of the delicate materials usually used and the pressure to achieve a special finish, a wedding dress is always going to come with challenges. Chose a pattern or style that you know will be achievable, something you know won’t stress you out. It is a wonderful experience, so make sure it doesn’t become a burden.

Allie chose a Simplicity 5343 pattern that was similar in style to previous sewing projects that she had worked on. The individual components of the dress she was familiar with – a scoop neck bodice, a pleated skirt, and a little three-quarter sleeved jacket – so she felt confident that she could make it. The biggest challenge for her was constructing the jacket, which was sewn entirely by hand for a seamless, couture look. It took many late nights, and she had to be careful not to prick a finger and ruin her lovely jacket, but she got there in the end and enjoyed the process as well as the amazing sense of achievement at the end.

So those are our top tips on making your own wedding dress! If you've got a wedding on the horizon, I hope you feel inspired to get sewing. It can certainly be a challenge, but that is part of the fun and a great way to learn new skills. If you do decide to make your own wedding dress, I know you won’t regret it.

Have you made your own wedding dress? If you have any more tips, please share them in the comments!

Here are some resources you might find useful (some of these are affiliate links):

Bridal Couture by Susan Kaljie 
Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire Shaeffer 
The Sewing Book by Alison Smith 
Sew Many Dresses, Sew Little Time by Tanya Whelan


Craftsy classes:
Couture Finishing Techniques by Alison Smith 
Couture Dressmaking Techniques by Alison Smith 
The Essential Guide to Sewing With Lace by Alison Smith

Burda courses:
BurdaStyle Academy Wedding Dress Courses