Sewing your own wedding dress: mad or marvellous?

So there was one other thing I brought back from my Norwegian holiday that I didn’t tell you about.


OMG – me and my boyfriend Alex are getting married! (this card was drawn by my awesome friend Jenny).

I’m so excited and happy about it. He got me a beautiful ring from the lovely Sarah of Rockcakes, who we met at one of Zoe’s Brighton Craftaganza events, so there’s a nice sewing connection there.

So when you tell people that you’re engaged they ask two things. Firstly: ‘Have you got a date?’ and secondly ‘What are you going to wear?’ Well we have a date, and even a venue – next July in Edinburgh – but I have no idea about the second part of the equation.

I’m not keen on the classic strapless a-line behemoth costing the same as a second-hand car. I look terrible in strapless because of my weird bony shoulder blades, and white doesn’t really suit me either. But I’m not sure what I do want. I’m keen on the three S’s: sleeves, sparkle, and swishability (yes that is a word). And I’m thinking either home-made or vintage.

My favourite celebrity wedding dresses are all ridiculous ones from the 60s and 70s, when people seemed a bit less uptight about the whole thing. Check out Cilla Black’s mod-tastic wedding dress:

Surprise surprise!
Surprise surprise!

I’ve seen lots of seamstresses make amazing wedding dresses – Zoe’s emerald extravaganza, this gorgeous layered creation from Moonbeam, and Elisalex’s beautiful Jenny Packham-esque number for a friend.  And I’d love to make my own. But I don’t know if my sewing skills are up to it.

Let’s face it, unless you’re a celebrity or commit some kind of hideous crime, your wedding day is going to be the most-photographed, most stared-at occasion of your entire life. So you want to look at least half-decent.

I do have two possible styles in mind. Check out my Pinterest board for lots of little 60s lace numbers, which I love and think would be easy-ish to sew, but I’m not sure if they actually suit the taller pear-shaped lady (that’s me, if you hadn’t guessed).

This photo is from Rock and Roll Bride, by James Melia Photography
This photo is from Rock and Roll Bride, by James Melia Photography

The other dresses I like are the opposite end of the decade – drapey, silk crepe, 70s style. I think this would be deceptively tricky to fit and sew though. I’m no Ossie Clark, that’s for sure.

This photo is from Get Some Vintage-a-Peel (click to view), who is an expert on 70s fashion
This photo is from Get Some Vintage-a-Peel (click to view), who is an expert on 70s fashion

Neither of these would be much good for dancing, which is an important consideration for a Scottish wedding that includes a ceilidh. So the third option would be something with a huge, ballerina style layered skirt.

But where do I start? I’m feeling a bit stuck right now. Have you ever made a wedding dress, or any other important dress with a capital D? How did you do it? And do you fancy playing either Trinny or Susannah and suggesting what might actually suit me?

New 60s dress – Style 2472

I have a problem, and I don’t think there are any support groups that can help me.  I can’t stop buying vintage patterns on ebay and etsy.

It’s amazing how cheap they are – for the price of two pints or less you can get a pattern that’s 50 or 60 years old, often ones that have never even been used or unfolded.

This is a problem because I never get round to making half of the patterns I buy. There’s always another more exciting one just about to arrive in the post (I’d like to name and shame Miss Betty’s Attic on Etsy, for having far too many nice patterns, and very reasonable postage to the UK).

Anyway I did get around to making this one, Style 2472. It’s a mid to late 60s style, originally retailing for the bargain price of 30p. It’s a simple empire line dress, with a nice 3 panelled front skirt which matches up with the darts in the bodice.

Style 2472

I particularly enjoy the model in the middle, for wearing her hair in bunches on her wedding day, and stroking the knee of one of her friends (bridesmaids?) in a slightly inappropriate fashion.

Style 2472 retro 60s dressI made this dress out of some retina-searingly bright cotton from Dalston Mill Fabrics. It has a really nice soft feel and is a good weight – not stiff but not too flimsy. Dalston Mill Fabrics is definitely an interesting shopping experience, if you’ve never been. The fabric is all either squashed tightly together and reached by incredibly narrow aisles you have to inch along sideways, or resting on shelves 10 feet above your head. If you ask for one of these fabrics, they get a big pole with a hook on the end, and pull it down on to the floor, not really checking to see if the fabric could end up on top of your head/on top of another shopper’s head/on any small children that may be toddling around.

The print is probably a bit of an acquired taste. It was one of those fabrics you love in the shop, and then you get it home and think ‘Hmmm, this could either be nice, or really really hideous.” I actually used it with the wrong side outwards just to try and calm down the brightness a bit, not that you can tell in these photos.

The only problem with this print is that you can’t see the seam lines at all. I sewed on a length of black grosgrain ribbon to emphasise the empire line, otherwise it was totally invisible. Here’s me wearing it at a wedding – I’ve had to crop off my face as I was making a rather imbecilic expression.

Here’s the back of it. I actually fully lined it with black cotton AND did a facing which I sewed on top, as per the instructions in this brilliant book, which I found in Oxfam in Edinburgh for £2.50.

back of Style 2472

Here’s some beautifully shot (ahem)  photos of the dress hanging on the back of my bedroom door. I probably should have ironed it first, but anyway you can see that I put an exposed zip in the back, using a combination of this technique on the Burdastyle site, and this one on the Husqvarna site. You can also see that I didn’t exactly match up the ribbon perfectly either side of the zip, but the beauty of the exposed zipper is that it doesn’t really matter, as the seamlines don’t meet! (As long as it’s not about 10cm out, although you could probably pass that off as an innovative new style).

I didn’t make any other huge changes apart from lowering the neckline and making the bodice longer. I did actually draft up and sew a peter pan collar in black cotton, but it looked a bit odd.

Finished dress

The colours do look better in real life, honest. They remind me of this fruit-stand photo. Water-melon pink, oranges, and yellow apples.

Fruit stand