(My version. I made the dress with 3/4 sleeves instead of long sleeves, and buttons down the back instead of a zipper. This photo was taken right before Mass when The Carpenter and I were with our priest in the sacristy.)
(The Carpenter and me, February 17, 2012. I wore my mother's pearls that she wore on her wedding day - they were a gift from my father as a wedding present.)
(Loved my dress!)
1. You are going to need this book by Susan Khalje, "Bridal Couture". It is out of print, so beg, borrow, or steal it. VickiW loaned me hers. If your sewing friends love you, they will do the same.
2. To gather a skirt, you really do need three rows of basting to control those gathers. I never before did this - I thought one row, possibly two was really all you needed - and then wondered why my gathered skirts were so hard to make. But I followed Susan Khalje's instructions and lo, and behold, the three rows of basting did the trick. I'll never do it any other way again.
3. You are going to have to resort to hand basting your invisible zipper. I've tried every way I know to pin an invisible zipper so I wouldn't have to pull out the needle and thread, but I'm here to tell you there is no other way. I hand basted the invisible zipper on my wedding dress and it went in with no trouble the first time. Didn't even have to do it twice.
4. Buy way more fabric than you need. The last thing you want is sewing stress because there is no extra fabric if you make a mistake. I bought my silk shantung from NY Fashion Center Fabrics and was fortunate that I was able to buy extra when I discovered my cutting layout was going to require more fabric. My lace, amazingly enough, came from Joannes for a very reasonable $ 7.50 per yard, so I bought nearly a half a bolt. That amount of fabric gave me peace of mind that should a mistake be made, it could be rectified.
5. Choose your fabrics carefully. I went with silk shantung because it is one of the easiest silks to work with. If you have never worked with gauzey silk sheers before, your wedding dress is not the place to start.
6. Similarly, choose a pattern that fits your skill level. It's okay to stretch (I had never used boning in a garment before), but don't overreach. Ideally, choose a pattern you have made before, but if that isn't possible, make sure its not "advanced" unless you are an experienced seamstress. The pattern I used was the same one my grandmother used to make my mother's weddding dress in 1962. This was a fairly simple pattern, as it was not uncommon for women to make their own wedding dresses 50 years ago.
7. Ask for help. VickiW came over to help me fit the silk underdress before I attached the lining. She suggested lengthening the bust darts a half inch and that worked. And in the end, I hired a woman who did wedding alterations to hem my dress. My dress was really two - a silk underdress and a lace overdress. That was a whole lot of hemming that I really didn't have time for the last few weeks before my wedding (we only had three months from the time we were engaged until the wedding). Also, I asked her to sew on the button loop elastic and buttons (38 of them!) for me down the back of the lace overdress. The original pattern called for a zipper in the lace overdress, which I didn't care for, although that is how my grandmother did it. I can't imagine how much time I saved by hiring the seamstress do it for me.
8. Be willing to start over. My usual M.O. when sewing is to forge ahead, no matter what - I hate re-doing. My usual rationale is that no one will notice. And usually that is true. But with a wedding dress, you can be sure people will be looking at you, and your dress. So there were several times I started over. I originally used silk organza for the bodice underlining, but while I was cutting and marking it, it was slipping around and my gut told me it wasn't going to be accurate. I scrapped that, and went with a firm cotton/poly voile as my underlining and I believe it worked much better than the organza. And while making the lace bodice, I discovered that I put in a sleeve completely wrong, which I found out only after I had double stitched and trimmed it. I just started over (I had plenty of lace, remember) and re-cut the bodice and sleeve, re-marked it, and re-sewed it. It didn't take as long as the first one, and my second effort was much better.
9. There is no other way to mark lace other than thread tracing. I tried. The washable marker I used simply would not wash out of my lace. Another reason to re-make that lace bodice. : )
10. Have a Plan B. If your dress doesn't work out, keep an eye out for that consignment shop dress, the one on Ebay, the off the rack dress at Davids, your mother's dress, a good friend's, etc. Having a Plan B will help reduce the stress that all is riding on your skills as a sewer. I know what I am talking about here as I had no Plan B. Really didn't. Somehow I just knew it would all work out. But do as I say here, not as I do. Get a Plan B.
I ended up buying my veil. I just ran out of time and in the end I just "clicked and added to cart". I got the exact veil I wanted, and quickly too.
The conventional wisdom is that you should never make your own dress - too much stress, not enough time, etc. The conventional wisdom is correct, but I am very glad I was able make this dress that was so special to me. My advice is, sew your dress if you want to, and have a Plan B so you can enjoy it. One of the biggest payoffs is that your dress is your ace in the hole when playing the "my wedding was so stressful" game with other brides. Any time you can say, "I sewed my own dress," they always say, "You win."
Happy sewing y'all!