The Wedding Dress: the prologue (planning)

I am getting married on Saturday 21st June 2014, so my big project for this year has to be my wedding dress. Obviously this will be a big deal, and the culmination of everything I have learnt about dressmaking over the last few years. I haven’t actually done anything tangible about the dress yet, but I have done a lot of thinking and planning. I should clarify that I am not the kind of girl who has been planning her wedding since childhood – I haven’t even been planning it for most of my engagement!

Firstly I have a few requirements and specifications for the dress:

  • it will be a summer wedding, so it needs to be relatively light and cool, but I live in Scotland, so I also need a plan to layer up if the weather requires
  • We are getting married outside in the woods so the dress I make must be practical enough to take for a short walk in the woods – it will need to be max. ankle length, and no train – nothing dragging.
  • We are having a ceilidh in the evening, so I need to be able to dance in it, or be able to hitch it up in a way to make it suitable for dancing – I don’t want another dress for the evening when I am putting so much effort into making this one
  • I want to wear a pearl necklace I inherited from my Grandma, so the neckline needs to work with this.

Those requirements get me started, and they do actually rule out quite a few common designs including trains and huge puffy skirts.


The ideas board.

So to get some ideas and inspiration me and my mum went for a trip to the high street to have a look at what dresses were on offer and then have a look at some pattern books. What we found is that I already have some firm ideas about what I wanted, and it was actually just the details (sleeves, decoration, fabric, neckline etc) that I needed to make decisions about. Based on this I made an ideas board. I felt very proud that this was progress, and proceeded to do nothing else further several months.

These were the things I had made decisions about:

  • For once in my life I will wear white(ish)
  • A princess seamed strapless bodice
  • Some sort of lace overlay on the bodice (and the skirt??)
  • Some sort of sleeve/strap detail
  • A dropped waist
  • Button detail down the back

However, after a few months to consider matters I started to have doubts about whether the dress I was designing would be the right one for me. This was not helped by an article someone pointed me to which detailed one bride’s search for a RTW wedding dress where the dress she eventually ended up with was completely different to the one she had in mind. Now my doubts were pretty strong – what if the dress I was thinking of didn’t’ suit me? I wouldn’t know until I finished, and then it would be far too late.

To assuage my doubts I booked an appointment at a wedding dress boutique with my mum to try on some wedding dresses. When we got there I surrendered myself into the hands of the assistant and tried as many different types of wedding dress as possible, including one which probably contained more fabric than all the dresses I have ever made all together. The final dress she decided suited me best surprised me…

It was identical to the one I had been planning – strapless sweetheart neckline, princess seamed boned bodice, dropped waistline, full skirt, lace overlay on the bodice. Hilariously identical to the one I had been planning! Turns out I should have had faith in my instincts. The other amusing thing was the price – £2500!!!! Even using expensive fabrics, I am pretty sure I can make my dress for a tenth of that.

Having established what I wanted to do, by chance I stumbled on a couple of very useful books:

sew a beautiful weddingFirst, Sew a beautiful wedding by Gail Brown and Karen Dillon this is a little A5 paperback book. It is VERY dated  – you might be able to tell this from the picture on the front cover. It is also VERY judgemental and patronising – especially chapter 3 “Choosing the most flattering style”, which is about ‘figure problems’, for example suggesting ‘busty’ women should wear a minimising bra. Read this chapter for amusement only – I would not trust a word of such patronising rubbish. To be honest the first 6 chapters are not especially useful – the style advice is from the 80’s, if you want advice about colours look up a book by colour me beautiful, and if you want advice about altering patterns for fit look up a more detailed book (try Real fit for real people or the perfect fit). However chapters 8 through 14 redeem the book, and make it worth buying – they are all about the practicalities of sewing specialised weddings fabrics, lace, making undergarments, and making veils and headpieces – these are details that don’t date, and they make this book well worth getting (I only paid about £5 for this, which was a steal).

bridalcoutureThe second book is Bridal Couture by Susan Khalje – this is at the other end of the price scale, having been out of print for a number of years, and new copies go for £100+. I bought a second hand one for £30 which was also a steal – if you can’t find a cheap (ha!) copy online Susan now sells CD’s from her website. Considering the cost I expected this book to be thicker, but it is still a gold mine of useful information. While I am not planning to sew my wedding dress by hand, the construction techniques used in couture dresses with underlining, and boning are really what I need to make my dress work, and made so much sense to me. every part of this book is fabulously useful, and I ended up unable to put it down, like the best fiction. When I had finished I knew how I was going to make my dress – I could see it all laid out in front of me; so many things I had never been clear about made sense.


New look 6454

So, my plans. To illustrate this I am using the ‘traceable bride’ from Sew a beautiful wedding. I mocked this when I first saw it, but now due to my lack of drawing talent I am actually finding it useful. The basic pattern I am basing the dress on is New look 6454, although I am planning on changing the neckline to a sweetheart, dropping the waistline, and splitting the side front panel in two (in addition to my usual long waist and FBA alterations). I like the skirt on this pattern and I think it will suit me, but I am not totally sure, so I am going to hedge my bets slightly and make a full skirt too when I make my muslin so I can chose between the two styles.


Skirt options

Bodice options

Vogue 2842

I also need to make decisions about the sleeve detail for the top. As you will see, when I drew this I had three ideas in mind, however once I had drawn in I realised A (a see-through lace overlay above the neckline) would not work with my Pearl necklace, so I have ruled that out. Option B is some decorative strap style sleeves using my lace – I have no pattern for this, but I will make something work on my muslin. Option C are lace sleeves taken from Vogue 2842 which I think could also work.

So now, onto pattern alterations.

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