Fun fact: Almost 10 years ago, I started as a seamstress designing gowns in a boutique in Vancouver. The idea of Weddingful actually came from working extensively with brides on their creations!
Overwhelmed by the thought of custom designing your own gown? Let me explain how the process works!
Step 1) The Big Idea
This is probably by far the most difficult step. I would suggest visiting gown shops to try on as many styles as you can to narrow down the styles that fit you best. Be sure to focus on how the fabric drapes on you, how the fabric feels on you, and what necklace looks best on you…etc. These details will give you great insight on what to include in your own design.
Step 2) The Sketch
Once you have an idea of what your gown should look like, it’s now time to communicate it. Whether you are designing your own gown or working with a designer, it’s important to share the vision. So the sketch of the gown is where the communication takes place. You can start sketching your own gown, by piecing the neckline you love, or the mermaid bottom that you’ve been dreaming of. Don’t worry too much about the details of the gown during the sketch stage. What you want to accomplish is the overall shape of the gown, so just emphasize the neckline, the bodice, the bottom (dress), and the train. The sketch is not meant to be detailed or precise, it is merely the framework of the gown that you will be building, the overall bigger picture.
If you are working with a designer, he or she will provide you the sketch until you are happy and they are sharing the same vision as you. Most of the time, you will even get to keep the stylish sketch too!
Step 3) Picking Fabric
Now that you have the framework of your gown set up and how the bodice and train will look, the next part is choosing the fabric. Sometimes this step goes together with step 2 because a style will usually dictate what fabric you can have. For example, if you want a strapless top, then you likely will have stiffer material such as satin because it needs to hold your boning and bodice up. Or if you were wanting a halter that drapes to your body, then you will have to choose a material that’s drapy and falls on your body like jersey or chiffon.
Step 4) Creating a Pattern and a Muslin
Now that you have a style designed and fabric determined, you or your designer will now create a pattern and a muslin. A muslin is much like a prototype. It’s made out of a cheaper version of a similar fabric, so that you can try it on and see how it fits you. Your designer will create the pattern, cut the fabric (which in this case will be your muslin fabric), then invite you to try it on. This process feels much like trying on a sleeping gown. It’s white, in a very simple fabric, but it will give you a feel for how the gown will shape and wear on you.
From this stage, you can modify your design, or modify the pattern. If you don’t like how the bodice looks on your body, let him/her know. This allows the designer to change and improve the fit on you without wasting or ruining the fabric.
Step 5) The full gown
Once you are happy with the muslin, your designer will be making the gown. During this process, you probably will still visit your designer multiple times to try things on. They may want to try the bodice on you first, and then the skirt part, and then extending the train. A gown is a delicate item to sew and put together so a detailed designer will likely want you to try on each component separately.
Once you are happy with all the components, they will be sewn together. Lastly, the finishing touches will be added on; such as sequins, crystals or beadwork. Any final alterations will happen BEFORE the final beadwork is on. So be sure to take in, or let out any seams that you find not so perfect.
Week 1) Every designer is different but from my experience, it usually takes a week to consult with my clients about their ideas and then create a sketch for them. I will usually include fabric samples of what I think would be suitable for their design so they can pick one that they love. Then it’s iteration time, I will either improve on the sketches based on their feedback, or change the fabric to the one they like.
Week 2-4) It usually takes me about 2 weeks to create their pattern and create the initial muslin. Then I will have her come in to try it on and give me some feedback.
Week 5-8) Once she’s happy with the muslin, I will create the separate components for her gown. I will usually start with the bodice, which can take a week, and then the skirt, which is another week, and then the train or other details. So in about 3 weeks, I usually have the first version of her gown done. I will have her come in one more time to try the components on separately.
Week 9) I put the gown together with all the components that she’s happy with. She will come in again to try on the full gown now that it’s altogether! During this trial, she will meet her gown for the first time and it’s usually super exciting! 🙂
Week 10 – 12) This is when all the alteration of the gown happens, from nipping in some seams to letting out the skirt or extending the train longer.
Week 13) Depending on the beadwork or final touches, this is when it happens. You’d be surprised how long beadwork can take! I put down one week now but some intricate beadwork or details can take up to 3 weeks by hand!
So there you have it, a step by step guide to custom designing your own gown, plus a general timeline that you can expect. It’s about a 14-week process but it is hugely rewarding. I know it sounds like an overwhelming process but it is actually very enjoyable, you really get to realize your dream and it’s a great collaboration.