How to sew your own wedding dress

Something sewing has taught me is that if you don’t give it a go, how do you know you can’t do it? That’s probably true of a lot of things in life as well but for me, when I’m sewing, it’s sort of become my new motto. If I haven’t tried something before I arm myself with as much knowledge as I can from books, the internet or other people and then I dive right in.

Actually if we’re being really honest, sometimes I just dive right in without the knowledge and then see what happens ;) It doesn’t always turn out badly. I think a lot of new sewers hamstring themselves by forgetting that simple sentence. They have heard, “zippers are hard” or “setting in sleeves can be really tricky” amongst other sewing myths so they avoid sewing items that require these skills when really what they should be doing is reading up a bit of advice and then just giving it a go.

So my wedding is over, I am Mrs Curious Kiwi, I had a wonderful day and I am really happy that I chose to make my own wedding dress, something I hadn’t done before (obviously) and wasn’t sure I’d be able to do but I gave it a try anyway. Sure there were times when I was pulling my hair out wondering what the heck I was doing. There were a few tears and one tantrum, a lot of stressing and some swear words but I also gained some new sewing revelations and a whole lot of confidence in my abilities.

One of the new sewing skills I came away with and had never tried before attempting it on my wedding dress was boning. Putting boning into a dress was a bit of an enigma to me, surely it was going to be difficult and require a little bit of luck and some sort of sewing magic. I had my first go on my muslin and it was nowhere near as difficult or mysterious as I imagined it to be. Boning is now added to what I call my “Sewing CV”.

There are plenty of other seamstresses who have successfully made their own dresses, they were a huge inspiration and my main motivation and I enjoyed seeing their journeys as much as I enjoyed my own. We all tackled our dresses in different ways to suit our wedding styles, budgets and sewing skills.
The first wedding dress I saw someone make was by sassymulassy on BurdaStyle, I was already engaged at the time and it definitely planted the seed. Since then quite a few more have popped up and they are all amazing feats of sewing skills.
My far my biggest inspiration was following Melissa of Fehr Trade. Her wedding dress journey (and in fact her whole wedding) was a huge motivation for me and you can read about her amazing dress story here.

Some other links I found useful were:

If you are thinking about tackling this scary but rewarding project why don’t you check out their stories for a little bit of courage. My wedding dress posts can be found here and I thought I’d jot down a bit more of my internal thinking below.

(WARNING: This may end up as another epic post, you may want to go grab a cup of tea first and a sandwich)

DISCLAIMER: I’m not going to pretend to be an expert at this since I’ve only made myself one dress (and certainly don’t have any intentions of needing to make a second one, well not for myself anyway) but I thought going through the steps I took to make my dress would help others who are considering doing the same but are maybe not quite over the line yet.

First things first: This project is pretty important, like me, it might be your most important project so far in your sewing life. There are going to be enough problems and hiccups along the way and the last thing you need is problems with your sewing machine/s so if it’s been a while or they aren’t quite running how they should you might want to book them in for a service. I regularly maintain my machines so they were fine but I still gave them both a through clean and an oil as per my machine manuals. Also don’t forget to sew some scraps after freshly oiling it to take away any excess and test it again if you’ve left it sitting for a while, the last thing you want is dirty oil on your pristine white fabric.

Service your machine/s

Next, do a bit of internet research, this can get a bit overwhelming but just gather a few images of dresses and details you like. Then edit and make a folder of your most favourite things.

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If, like me, you aren’t at the point in your sewing life that you can draft an entire wedding dress from scratch, don’t panic, check out all the great patterns available from the major pattern companies and don’t forget the independents too. One pattern might not cut it, you might need to use one as a base and make alterations or combine two patterns or more to create your dream dress. Also don’t forget to look at the formal dress patterns too, some of them would look amazing as a wedding dress in the right fabric.

Vogue 2842

Butterick 5462

McCalls 5321

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Once you are familiar with the patterns that are out there go to a dress shop and try on some wedding dresses. You need to do this, I know from experience that the dresses I had in my head (and millions saved to a flash drive) did not look as good on me as I imagined and instead I ended up going for a dress style that I initially thought I wouldn’t like.

Here are my Wedding Dress (pretend) Shopping tips:

 

  • Start early, especially if you are shopping on the weekend, the shops get really busy fast. I began at 9am and still had to wait inline for about 30 minutes before I could start trying on.
  • Don’t mention to anyone in the shop that you intend to make your own dress, I don’t think they’d really like that.
  • Take at least 2 un-related females with you (they’re more honest – although the girl next to my change room had her brother helping out…weird) and make a fun day out of it, dress shopping in the morning followed by a yummy lunch, you’ll need it, it’s quite hard work!!
  • Don’t look at the price tags, remember you aren’t buying so don’t let those little tags deter you from trying anything on.
  • Start by choosing some dresses that you think you will like (they usually start you with 6) and try them on, eliminate the ones you don’t like as you go and get more if you need too.
  • While you’re getting laced up send your girly minions out to pick a wildcard dress each, something they want to see you in, this is fun and will get you trying on styles you might not have thought of.
  • Keep going until you love what you see in the mirror.
  • Most dress shops aren’t too keen to let you take photos of the dresses because a lot of people do this and then get the dresses made overseas for cheap. You can try asking but if they say no then get them to write down the dress(es) you like and you might be able to Goggle them (although I had no luck with my favourite, the name was too generic) but if you girly minions are clever you might be able to get a few sneaky pictures.

Once you’ve made up your mind stick to it. You will get a lot of suggestions from a lot of different people, don’t let them stray you off the path to your perfect dress.

Everyone’s got an opinion but you don’t have to take every suggestion on board, I know this sounds cheesy but listen to your heart.

Having said that, when it comes to buying your fabric, the ladies at your local fabric shop can be pretty expert at helping you with fabric selections, listen carefully to their advice

Now go back to those pattern websites and look for a pattern or patterns that closely resemble your dream dress and buy it/them in your size.

Simplicity 3878

Lekala 2003

BurdaStyle 7539

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If you are short on time don’t forget you can always buy a downloadable pattern.

If you have never made one before or never make one ever again in your sewing life this is the time you MUST make a toile/muslin.

I started by making my pattern up as per the envelope out of a good weight calico, the kind of weight I imagined my final fabric choice to be made from. If you want to use some fancy fabrics then this is also the time to do a little pre-dress fabric investigation so you know what’s out there and whether you need to buy fabric and notions online.

Once you have your first trail dress finished you can start making any alterations. I hit this using two different methods. For the pleat, corset back & neckline I worked my changes in the calico dress directly and the transferred my changes to the paper pattern pieces. For the internals I altered the paper pieces and created new ones based on the ones I had. You could also combine two or more patterns to create your masterpiece as well. Use whatever methods that suit your skill level and are familiar with. This can take a bit of time and be frustrating but now is the time to learn if what you want to do is achievable.

If you set a budget make sure you allow some contingency for sewing mishaps, or that amazing trims you saw and MUST have but is more than you thought it might be.

Get your shoes sorted so you know if you need to add extra length into the pattern (I added 4cms!).

It sounds obvious but allow yourself plenty of time, you don’t want to be hemming your dress on the morning before the ceremony. Once I chose my pattern I gave myself one month to sew the muslin and one and a half months to make the actual dress. I probably didn’t need nearly that much time but I was generous because I work full-time so that meant my sewing time was limited to evenings and weekends. I work better under a little bit of pressure so I found myself slacking off procrastinating early on and most of my dress got finished in the last few weeks.

Believe in yourself and your sewing abilities because you truly don’t know how much you can achieve until you’ve tried.

Don’t forget to share your amazing dress with me when your done :)

Good luck!

24 thoughts on “How to sew your own wedding dress

  1. Thank you so much for your blog! It has really helped me gain the courage to sew my wedding dress. My wedding is almost 18 months away but I’m starting my toile today because I’m doing my dressmaking in Melbourne with my Mum but I live in Sydney so I’ll have limited opportunities to work on it. I am also documenting my journey on a blog – http://mylifeinpatterns.blogspot.com.au/ if you’re interested in following my. I’d love to get some feedback from you but even if I don’t you’ll probably end up with questions from me on here
    Thanks again for such a great blog, and well done on your dress!

  2. This is fantastic! I am planning to make my own wedding dress from the same pattern you used, the Butterick B5325. I have some questions about the calico mock-up. Did you also sew in the zipper for the calico? And was the calico just one layer of fabric, even though the final dress is several layers of fabric? I’m off to read all your posts about making your dress, it’s beautiful! I hope mine will turn out even half as nice.

    • Hi, and thank you! :) I did not put a zipper into my calico since I always intended to lace the back and I did a full mock up of all my internal layers using a light weight calico. I used two different weights to try and simulate the thickness of my final fashion fabric. Good luck and please feel free to message me again if you’d like any more help :)

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  5. Thank you sooooo much for sharing, it’s been very helpful and very supportive to those that don’t know much about sewing ( me) but have the heart to do it! I love sewing and would love to know better! I made my own wedding dress and didn’t know how I did it but I ended up with beautiful day and a great success! Thank you :)

  6. Thankyou so much for this post. This is the first article on this topic which has not said “you need to be an expert seamstress to make your own wedding gown”. I am new to sewing but I am fastidious and really proud of the few garments I have made… The dress of my dreams retails for $6000 AUD – not exactly what I have to splash around – so I’m going to do it myself, slowly and with the help of some very knowledgeable relatives :D

    The only thing I would add from my own research is the duct-tape-dress-form tip. It makes a huge difference if your dress form is a clone of your actual dimensions, fewer catastrophes and it’s much cheaper than a commercial form!

    • Hi Tanya, thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed my post :) A duct tape dressform (or any dressform really) is definitely be super helpful for fitting. I was lucky that my dressform is a good match for me or you can pad out an existing dressform to suit your body shape too.

      Best of luck with your dress, it sounds like you have given yourself plenty of time and have some helpful relatives to back you up if need be. I hop you have an amazing day xx

  7. Before you started this how much sewing experience did you have? How much money did you spend on material and the other items needed for your dress?

    • Hi Samantha, thanks for your comment and for checking out my blog.

      I have been sewing since I was quite young, on and off until my 20s, then I took a break when I moved countries but have been much more serious about it in the last 5 years. I would consider myself intermediate in sewing experience, meaning I have made at least one of each type of garment (trousers, dresses, blouse etc) so am comfortable taking on any pattern and have a small amount of self-taught drafting experience but I am hardly an expert. I do own a lot of books and am very active in the online sewing community, I also try to read as much as I can about sewing techniques and tips that are new to me. I just give anything a go, that’s how I learn.

      I think even a beginner seamstress could tackle her own wedding dress but the key is to pick a pattern than you can handle for your experience level and give yourself plenty of time, making up a draft/practise dress first. Fabric and trims can make all the difference, even a classic pattern can look glam and weddingy with the right selections :)

      Have a look at my comment reply below to Lora for costs. You can pretty much spend as little or as much as you want, obviously higher quality fabric/trims = more $$$ but you can also get good fabric at reasonable prices too, it all really depends on your dress style :) I found boning and underlining is really cheap so I splashed out more on the main fabric and trim.

      I hope that helps you out, best of luck xx

  8. I’ve just recently started thinking about making my own dress and then I read this post and now I really want to do it! I was just wondering roughly how much it cost you, if you don’t mind sharing? My wedding is on a seriously tight budget and I want to see if this will fit in it.

    • Hi Lora,
      Congrats on your upcoming wedding xx I’m so glad I have inspired you to give making your own dress a go, it is so rewarding! I think it’s important not to go over the top on wedding budgets, you can still have a magical day without a ridiculous price tag.
      I didn’t really worry too much about the cost as I was making the dress, I didn’t add up receipts and stress about every little thing I bought but I do have a rough idea. My fabric was a pretty good price (about $30/m if I remember correctly) and I made my test dress out of super cheap calico ($5/m). My trim was the most expensive of everything, I kind of splashed out on it but it really made the dress. If I had more time I could have gotten the trim and fabric cheaper online but I was worried about the quality. I think I spent maybe $250 – $300 all up including the pattern and test dress which I think is pretty good (I am talking in Australian dollars btw, since I was in Australia when I made the dress). Compared to the prices of the dresses I tired on at the bridal shops I got a bargain! ;)
      I’d love to hear how you get on if you decide to take on the challenge and best of luck for your special day xx

      • That is a bargain! Luckily, my wedding won’t be for another year or two due to financial constraints so I have plenty of time to plan and find sales. I will definitely come back with a story and pictures after it’s finished though :) Thanks!

  9. Thank you so much for this post, I have been thinking about making my own dress but was having difficulty getting started this helped a lot!

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  11. What a great and comprehensive post! I am so SO happy I inspired you!!

    The only things I’d add is that Susan Khalje’s “Bridal Couture” book is hands down the best money you’ll ever spend. And in terms of time, I gave myself 2.5 months for the whole process and that seemed a pretty good pace for me (I was working 4 days a week then). But add in much more time if you’re working with lots of lace, beading, or embroidery!

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