It’s a beautiful thing — making a wedding dress at home for yourself or someone you love.
There are thousands of wedding dresses on the market, so why sew the gown yourself? Many brides love the idea because they will have a one-of-a-kind original. Others are hoping to save money over the retail cost of a gown. These days it is also a source of great pride when you can say that you “made it yourself”.
The first step is to find a suitable pattern. This might be a wedding dress, an evening gown, or any dress pattern that has the shape you are looking for. You might also combine several patterns into one dress. Sometimes it is best to start with your chosen fabric and then look for a pattern which seems right for the drape and formality of the fabric.
When cutting out a wedding dress, you may need to lay out the pieces on a clean sheet or blanket placed on the floor. The pattern pieces are usually large and a table might not work. Never cut the bridal fabric until you have cut and sewn a sample garment from an inexpensive fabric such as muslin. When the fit is good, cut and sew the bridal fabric.
Constructing a Wedding Gown
When you are ready to cut your dress fabric, layout the pattern pieces, inspecting both layers of fabric for flaws. Cut out the pattern pieces leaving a 1-inch seam allowance on the center back, shoulder, side seams, and along the bottom of the bodice pieces if there is a waistline. This will leave you something to let out if the pattern is too small. Sew the seams and try on the garment. Wearing proper undergarments will help to get the fit right.
You must also know how high or low the foundation is compared to the neckline, both front and back (so it won’t show), and how wide the straps are. Pin the back seam.
Then assess the fit. Move around. Raise your arms. The garment should retain its shape yet allow for freedom of movement. Seams should not pull or pucker. Darts and princess seams should lie smoothly over the bust. Boning, underlining and lining will also add bulk and must be taken into consideration, especially with a highly fitted bodice like a wedding gown.
If the skirt is separate you may make a muslin of it also, or just pin the pattern pieces onto the bodice to assess the length and fullness. Remember, for a full skirt there will be petticoats underneath which will push it away from the body. If major design changes are required, you may need to do several muslin fittings. At this stage, you can safely take apart the pieces, mark, and sew again without fear of leaving stitching marks as is often the case with satin and other dressy fabrics.
The Dress Begins to Take Shape
Once you are reasonably satisfied with the fit of the muslin, proceed to cut the bridal fabric and the underlining, again leaving 1-inch seam allowance on the critical seams. Then schedule another fitting. Fine tune the fit of the bodice, taking in small increments at a time. This is also the time the bodice should receive whatever structural elements it will require such as boning or a custom undergarment for support.
Lighter weight allover lace yardage is usually cut the same as the outer fabric, then basted onto the fabric and sewn into the seams. Wedding gowns usually employ heavier weight laces such as Alençon which can be adjusted to fit over the bodice with no visible seams. Lace may be applied as individual appliques or cut as one piece which is shaped to the curves of the bodice by hand. Ask the fabric store personnel for assistance in choosing the right lace for what you have in mind.
Normally, lace doesn’t require pressing, but if you do need to press, never touch the hot iron directly to the face of the lace. You could destroy both the sheen and the three dimensional quality of the lace. Instead, lay the lace face down on a thick towel and cover with a pressing cloth. To add a bit of bling to your dress, sew crystals and beads around the cording in the lace. It’s time-consuming, but the pattern in the lace will give direction and structure to the beading and it will look really professional.
Swarovski crystals, beading, and sequins follow the pattern on Alençon lace, giving a great deal of sparkle and interest to the bodice of this classic Empire dress.