Ordering Your "Dream Wedding Dress"

Somebody just asked me about "dream dresses" the other day, so I thought I'd share the process with you.

Okay.  You just got engaged, or you're graduating, or going to a Rennaissance Festival, or you have some other special occasion that you really need an awesome dress for.  Great!  (However, I'm going to talk about this as if it's a wedding dress, simply because I just did one over the winter so it's fairly fresh in my mind.  Some steps will not apply for other outfits.)

Step 1:

 Collect ideas.  These may be drawings you did when you were little of your ideal dress, a picture of Cinderella, a copy of a painting, a Bridal magazine, a picture of your grandmother's dress, of a flower, etc., etc.  All well and good.  You may like the skirt of one dress, the sleeves from another, the neckline from somewhere else, and that is fine.  I can work with that!

The other thing to do at this point is to go to a bridal salon (bring a white T-shirt or blouse so you don't feel exposed) and try on dresses that have features you like.  This will give you a good idea of what silhouettes look good on you, what kind of fabrics you like, whether you like laced backs or zippers, etc.  Unfortunately they can't give you much idea of sleeves....


These then go in your file of "likes."  Try sitting, kneeling, walking, and crouching in these dresses and make sure the styles you like are comfortable, too.  You don't want to have to stand all night!

Step 2: 

Call first, or email me if you have email, or send copies of your pictures in the mail.  Email works great long distance because you can send pictures.  Please number the pictures or name them something distinctive, whether you're doing email or regular mail, so I can tell what you will be talking about. 

On the first call, we will discuss your timeline of when you need the dress, your budget, fabric preferences if you have them, and what kind of person you are style and personality-wise.  I will request a couple pictures of you in non-bulky clothing so I can get an idea of your figure, and while I wait for them I will start doing some preliminary sketches using what you have told me/already sent.

Step 3:

Measurements and figure type.  These are EXTREMELY IMPORTANT.  It is advised that you get somebody who knows at least the basics of sewing to measure you.  I will also need the following pictures:
  • Straight on from the front (standing up straight, in fairly tight clothing - clothespins work great for this)
  • Sideways with your hands at your sides (again, I need to be able to distinguish your figure)
  • Straight on from the back (same rules).
I will need the following measurements for a wedding dress (simpler styles or less fitted ones do not require all of these - I will tell you which ones I need):
  • Bust - around the fullest part (keep the tape measure level with the floor)
  • Waist - at your natural waist (if you bend sideways, the tape measure will settle in the crease that forms at the right spot)
  • Hip - this is usually 7 to 9 inches below your natural waistline, around the fullest part.
  • High Hip - around the top of your hip bones
  • Back of Neck to Waist - this measurement is tricky.  Measure (while standing up straight) from the vertebra that sticks out at the base of your neck to your natural waist.  This measurement is almost impossible to get accurately by yourself.  It tells me if you are long or short-waisted.
  • Armhole - make a loop with the tape measure and find out what a comfortable size is for you.  You don't want it huge, but too tight isn't good either.
  • Arm Length - This is for a long sleeve.  You measure from the pointy bone at the tip of your shoulder down over your elbow to your wrist.  Put your hand on your hip while you do this to make sure it is long enough.
  • Shoulder to Elbow - This is for a shorter sleeve.  Measure from that bone in your shoulder to where your arm creases when you bend it.  Bend your lower arm to a horizontal position while you do this. 
  • Sleeve Length - this is how long you want your actual sleeve to be, for a short sleeve or a 3/4 length sleeve. 
  • Finished Length - from the bone at the base of your neck to where you want the hem to fall in the back.  For trains, measure from your neck to the floor, then add to that for the train length.
  • Neckline Diagonal - this is very important to make sure the neckline is not choking you but is not too low.  Put your hand flat on your chest, right below your neck.  4 fingers' width down is the depth limit, and 2 fingers' width on both sides of your neck is the width limit.  You need to measure from your center front at your pinkie finger up to the top of your shoulder where your second finger falls.  Larger people have a longer neckline diagonal, smaller people have a smaller one.  This can make the difference in having your dress be too low or not!
  • Front Length -  I will need this if your dress will not be able to be hemmed due to a lace skirt or other embellishment.  You measure from your "hollow" at the base of your neck in the front to where you want the dress hem to fall, then subtract the neckline space.
Then depending on the style I may ask how long you want the bodice in the front and back and other things.  Don't be scared by the huge list.  It helps to make sure your dress fits you the way it should, and everybody likes that!

Step 4:

So now that I know what your figure is like from the pictures you sent, and I know what types of dresses you like, I can really get to work helping you design your dress.  Based on the pictures of you, I will incorporate the elements you want (I will tell you if something just will not work for some reason) and I will start sending sketches to you via mail or email.  Once you get them, we can talk on the phone and discuss things you liked and didn't like in the sketches. 

I will also be sending you fabric samples and/or pictures of different fabrics and their prices so you can start getting some ideas in that direction.

Once you decide which fabrics you want, either you can buy them (I will estimate yardage for you) or you can delegate me to buy them.

Step 5:

So once we finalize the design and you are sure it is the one you want, with the fabrics you want, I will make a mockup.  Wedding dresses from me always have mockups - it is a muslin "rough copy" of your dress that I make and either schedule a fitting with you or mail it to you to be fitted where you live, if the distance is too far.

The mockup allows me to work out the pattern, do any draping/ruching, and get a better idea of the shape and construction.  There is no lace or trims or fancy stuff on it - I may mark where those would go with a marker.  They have very wide seam allowances, so if adjustments need to be made they are no problem.

If you do not live within a couple hours drive of me, I will mail you the mockup and you will need to take it to a local alterations specialist. 


Then the alterations person can take it in with pins or even sew it to adjust for the perfect fit.  Make sure you can move your arms, sit, kneel, etc. in it.  Dresses should not be skin tight, just comfortable.  Do not assume you will lose weight!  Give yourself just a little room to "grow," especially in the stomach and hips, unless you are very good at maintaining your weight.


Then mail the altered dress back to me.  I will mark all the seams, folds, pleats, and whatever else needs to be marked.  Then I will take the mockup completely apart and use it as a pattern for your actual dress.

This way, your real wedding dress never needs to be altered.  Yippee!!!!  Mockups are somewhat expensive, with all the postage and time involved, but they are much cheaper and easier than trying to alter your real dress.  You want your wedding dress to be perfect.

Step 6:

The real dress!!!!!!!!  Congratulations, you made it this far!  I will now begin cutting out your real dress in the satin, taffeta, velvet, brocade, organza, or whatever other fabrics or combinations thereof that you have specified.  I leave a normal seam allowance to reduce bulk, since we know it fits you now.

I try to send pictures as I go along, to let you know how it is going...email is great for this.  Or I can mail some pictures too, but I will send fewer because it is more expensive that way.

Once the dress is finished, I will call you or email you to let you know that your dress is finished.

Step 7:

Payment.  I do not accept credit card.  Payments must be made via cash, check, or Paypal.  I will request payment for materials as soon as I buy them (If you buy your own materials and send them to me then you skip that part).  The rest is due once the dress is done.  You can pay me in installments, but the dress does not go to your house until it is paid in full.  Once it is paid in full you can either pick it up in person (preferred), I can deliver it (I will charge you for gas), or I can ship it to you (this is a good way to wrinkle your dress - you will most likely need to have a bridal salon steam it once you unpack it, unless you have a steamer yourself).

I will put the dress in a long garment bag for delivery to you.  Once you get it home, hang it up high and let the train down to minimize wrinkles.

Timeframe for all this:

For wedding dresses, it is good to start all this at least 6 months in advance of your wedding.  I may or may not be able to do rush orders, depending entirely on my schedule and how busy I am.  Rush orders will be more expensive.

If your dress if extremely simple, 4 months may be sufficient. 



Wedding dresses are probably the most expensive gowns we purchase.  Estimates for mine start at $500, they can run as high as $2000 or more.  Each dress is different, and style, fabrics, and details play a huge part in cost. 

If your dress is simple but made of brocade, it could be very inexpensive because the fabric does all the work.  If your dress is satin and has tons of ruching/beading, it could cost a small fortune due to the labor involved.

So know your budget, know your style, and know yourself.  I will try to work with your budget as much as I can, but I do not make dresses for minimum wage.  Sorry!!!

The End:

Okay, ranting finished.  It is a long, time consuming, (hopefully not headache-inducing) process to get a custom wedding dress, but it is totally worth it.  You will have a unique dress that fits well, is modest, and is beautiful; and I will have lots more pin pricks and scratches and snippets of fabric and thread all over my sewing room floor, but we will both be very happy.


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