Making your own wedding dress: Part I (or,why on earth did I decide to do this?)

I’ve always been a little unconventional.  I love planning, I love dreaming, I love doing everything a little different; different pace, different style.   So why not make my own wedding dress?  We’ll deal with the total lack of experience and time later!

Relationships, engagements and weddings always scared the hell out of me.

Until he proposed…


When we got engaged, I felt elated, but also sobered, I knew I didn’t want some superficial wedding full of stress and drama.  I wanted something that reflected how comfortable I’ve become with myself, how I’ve embraced the simple and good things in life, letting go of everything that was too heavy.

I am an incurable romantic.  I wanted soft, I wanted feminine, I wanted fairy tale, princess, happily-ever-after, simple, beautiful, inspiring. If I think about it now, I never even considered going to a shop and trying on dresses – even though every blog that I read about women making their own dresses insisted that the first step was to go to a shop and see what kind of dress suits your body type, which colours, etc – no, I immediately knew I wanted to make my own dress in my own way.

Firstly, to me it felt like no dress I’ve seen in magazines or online really did it for me.  I had such a specific idea of what I wanted, and I’ve literally (okay, not literally) been dying at my day job.  I needed creativity, I needed to make something beautiful with my hands.  I needed that growth.  It felt like if I worked on the dress everyday, it would be like a working meditation, something that would eventually also get me ready and calm for the big day.

Secondly, in some way I needed to prove that I could do it.  Yes, with no sewing experience except ONE YEAR in primary school doing cross stitching, I wanted to show the world that I could design and make a wedding gown!  I’d been protected so much until then, and I wanted to show to everyone (the lovers and the haters) that I could take a massive leap of faith and actually survive it. And I did.


So with that out of the way, what was step 1?

Step 1 began quite a while before I got engaged, even before I was in a relationship, actually, and step 1 was not specifically linked to the whole wedding thing at all! I used to go to a local fabric store when I needed some peace and quiet. I loved the smell, I loved people quietly browsing through pattern magazines and whispering as if they were in a library.  It was magical.  I used to walk through and sometimes I spent hours looking at every single fabric, touching it, imagining what I could make with it (had I the talent), and in doing this I once stumbled through the wedding gown section.  It was more of a cynical stumble, like ‘aha! let’s see how ridiculously expensive these are’, looking, touching, and having to awkwardly walk off when someone had asked me if I needed help, and for how long I’ve been engaged, and who my designer was. EEp!! But I saw what I liked, and I saw what I didn’t like.  And that was step 1.

Step 2.  The internet.  Oh internet, you beauty! I googled “making your own wedding dress”, “wedding dress tutorial” (haha!), “wedding dress dyi”, “how to wedding dress”, and needless to say, I didn’t find even one nice step  by step picture tutorial on how to make an incredibly unique and specific wedding dress!

But what I did see, was that there were crazy women like me, women with little or no experience (maybe some lucky ones with moms or friends with a little experience), that actually pulled it off!  And they had pictures 🙂  I used these pictures and stories to try and predict the next few months’ moves (I love planning, you see). How did they do it?  How long did it take? What did they use?  How much did they use? Oh, and most importantly… How much did it cost?  I refused to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a dress that I would wear only once, I’m romantic, but I’m not that romantic.

Take a look at this amazing wedding, this was my favourite out of all the weddings I looked at, follow the link to  Oh, and I have to mention, Claire Pettibone’s dresses stole my heart.

Here are also a few links to those lovely ladies who attempted it themselves:

Rachel Anne Robbins (a fellow South African I see now!) Grace Kelly inspired handmade wedding gown

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

A guide on how to sew your own wedding dress (also from APW)

Also a nice one from Restless Grace

Step 3. Dress forms.


Dress forms are used for draping.  Now to be very clear:  There is a MASSIVE difference between making a dress from a pattern, and making a dress using draping!  Any professional would tell you that, if you were to study fashion design, you would spend at least the first two years on patterns and garment construction, and THEN, once you have absolutely learnt everything you could, you would move on to draping!  Draping is incredibly skilled and difficult.  But I didn’t know this. As you can see…

dress form drape

My fiance and I googled dress forms, and since we were on a tight budget (I will expand on that in a later post), when we saw we could make one ourselves, using everyday things like duct tape and an old t-shirt, well! That was that!  We started straight away! You can find the tutorial that we used here.  It was one of the weirdest things we’d done, and we used SO MUCH DUCT TAPE!

Step 4. Freak out and consider buying a pattern instead.


Yes, this too will happen.  I went to my sanctuary and paged through every catalogue and eventually bought these two.  And eventually I decided against it.

I remember that I tried to adapt the Vogue dress to what I had wanted, but since the pattern was for a bias cut, I knew it would be asking for trouble (like just making my own wasn’t!).

Step 5. Muslin and internet (again).  I tried to find as many examples of how to make bodices on a dress form that I could.  The  skirt of the dress was fine for me, I decided very early on that I wanted a circle skirt, wide, romantic, something that could be scooped up by the wind!

DSC_2085_800x600For the bodice I played around, I let go a little of my perfectionism, I threw material onto the dress form and hand basted it, tried it on, changed it, basted it again, etc.  This went on for months.  At one point I bought lace shirts that I thought were beautiful, cut them up and used their patterns (do NOT underestimate the value of this if you do not know pattern making!!!) I made so many mistakes, I made so many things I didn’t like, but eventually it all came together.

Step 6. The details.  I went shopping for lace, for ribbons, pearls, anything that I found beautiful.  I stuck to an Ivory/champagne colour scheme, but since I’m such a romantic I wanted some pink in there as well!  I decided on a very pale rose/blush pink that I would either incorporate using ribbons or embroidery (yes, I can be very ambitious!).  But it worked.

dressbedA couple of weeks before the wedding I was still changing things, putting the dress on the bed and looking at it, cutting at its length (eek!), and even a day before I changed the front, but it all came out perfectly in the end. The trick for me was firstly not to give up, not to be afraid of messing up (i.e. use cheap fabrics at first), and not to skimp if there was something that I really really wanted.  Be prepared to spend all your spare time on this, if you do decide to go this way.  It took way longer than I thought! The other thing that I think, personally, saved me and my dress, was the fact that I kept putting it on.  I wore it almost every single day, adjusted it until it felt “just right”, and in that way I got used to it, I started loving it.



DSC_0320A_400x600There is not a single thing that I would change, I crafted and made this dress exactly the way I wanted, and when the time came, I actually did feel ready, like I’ve prepared myself by preparing my dress.  There were no nerves at all (a miracle!) and we had the best day ever. We kept it simple, and we tried to keep it fun, and eventually it was the most magical wedding day a girl could ask for. In my next few posts I will give more detail, more pictures and more dreadful truths! Hehe!

Love and peace