Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sewing Ashleigh's Wedding Dress

When Ashleigh asked me to sew her wedding dress, I experienced a mix of emotions. First of all, I felt honored that she trusted in me so much that I could do the job. Secondly, fearful in that I could potentially make her look bad on her wedding day. And lastly, overwhelmed imagining the steps it would take to make her dream a reality. 

The Bridal Shop

The first thing we did was to visit a bridal shop. We wanted the experience of her trying on bridal gowns to see if the style she liked looked good on her. (I also wanted to make sure that she wanted me to sew the dress - wouldn't it be easier to purchase one?) She immediately gravitated to this dress. This is what she wanted, a simple A line dress. Well, it looked simple enough, right?! No frilly lace to work around. "Why can't we purchase this one?" I asked. She said that she wanted the skirt to be another color, like beige or blush. "No store will have what I want," she said. "So you need to sew it for me." Well, ok then.

Getting Started

I learned to sew when I was a young girl. My mother taught sewing classes at the Singer Sewing Machines store. I consider myself a good seamstress, but I have never designed a piece of clothing, much less a wedding dress. I sewed my own wedding dress but it was completely done with a Vogue pattern with no changes whatsoever to the pattern.

The first thing I did was to purchase a dress form, a 50-yard bolt of muslin and a couple of dress patterns. I wanted to sew a muslin dress before I worked with the expensive fabric. That way, I could take the muslin dress apart and use the pieces for the dress patterns when I cut Ashleigh's dress fabric.

We put Ashleigh's shirt on the adjustable dress form to see how it fit.

I remember the first day Ashleigh and I worked together on the dress. I had cut the muslin pieces and was trying to fit them to Ashleigh. After 6 precious Saturday afternoon hours, I realized I had the wrong type of pattern. I needed to find a different style pattern for the top of the dress. This happened many times throughout the process. I ripped seams and started over. I cried. I worked on the dress a few hours a week. That's all I could do because I was so overwhelmed and needed time to think through the process. Thankfully we had several months to complete the dress.

After I fitted the top to her with the new pattern, I had no idea when I attached the top of the dress to the skirt that the seams would line up so perfectly. I didn't plan that at all! I found several times throughout the process that things just worked out without my knowing enough to even plan that way!

After the top was was sewn to the skirt, we explored whether we wanted to add sleeves or not. We decided to make the dress sleeveless. I pinned some fabric around the waist because we knew we wanted to add a belt later.

Upper Back Design

Then we had to decide how to make the back of the top. The lower left photo shows a triangular shape to the upper back according to the pattern. Then I changed it to a square back, shown in the lower right photo.

But Ashleigh wanted a rounded back, so I took the scissors and cut the muslin on one side and matched the other side to it. I felt like I was a real dressmaker when I did that!

This shows the back of the satin fabric after it was cut.

I really hated to take the muslin dress apart, but that was our next step. Ashleigh was so appreciative throughout the whole process and I could see how happy she was with the direction we were taking.

One of Ashleigh's special requests was to have pockets in the dress.

Sewing with the Good Stuff

The muslin dress was ripped apart to be used as the sewing pattern pieces.

Here I am getting the fabric ready to apply the muslin pieces so they could be cut.

I had never worked with a dress form before. It was a necessity!

Ahhh. This was a good point where the top and bottom were sewn together!

Ashleigh was genuinely thrilled with the progress of her dress!

Her matron of honor, Chelsea, cheered us on the whole way!

Finishing the Dress

I still needed to figure out how to finish off the armholes, hem the dress and decide on the belt. We also needed to add a bustle and have the dress ironed. 

I sewed facings onto the armholes, which is the old fashioned way that I learned many years ago. I wasn't happy with them. You can see the lining in the photo below and the arm facings on each side. They had to go! I wanted it all to look professional. I saw in stores how the linings of the top of dresses included the armholes, minus the armhole facing. How did they do that? After searching the internet, I found a couple of ways to sew the armhole facing to the inner lining! I was so happy! But before I finished the armholes, I had to take a break and put the dress away for awhile. I had to get ready for Ashleigh's bridal shower. I was at a good place and the dress just needed some finishing touches. We still had 3 months until the wedding!

I packaged up the dress and put it away for awhile. You can see it still needed to be hemmed.

So after the bridal shower, we got the dress out again and my Mother helped me decide where the hem should be. It was frightening to cut fabric from the bottom of the dress. What if I messed up?

In the above photo, you can see the lining under the dress. Under the lining, I added a petticoat. That's another story...when I got to the petticoat stage, I remembered how my friend who collects wedding dresses had a closet full of them. I asked her if I could take a look at them to see how the petticoat was sewn in. Long story short, she let me purchase one of her gowns so I could use the petticoat and sew it into Ashleigh's dress. That was a such time saver and I will be forever grateful to my friend for allowing that to happen! I was soooo tickled to see the petticoat in this professional photograph that was taken on Ashleigh and Kyle's wedding day!

Roxana Snedeker, Ashleigh's wedding photographer, magnificently captured the wedding.

The hem was completed!

We decided to use lace with ribbon behind it for the belt. There was plenty of ribbon left for the flower girls to use on their dresses.

But then, how should the belt be attached and finished in the back? I knew that Ashleigh did not like bows. What were we to do?

A few weeks before the wedding, I took the dress to the dry cleaners so that they could professionally iron it. What a wise decision that was! It only cost $25 to have it professionally ironed! I researched online how to add the bustle and it looked relatively easy, but since I had never done it before, I decided to have a dressmaker help me finish the dress. It really helped me to relax the last few weeks before the wedding!

The dressmaker not only sewed the bustle; but also she attached the belt and sewed it into the zipper. Ashleigh chose this vintage pin from my collection to add some bling to the back of the belt. She liked that the pin was a leaf for a Fall wedding and had a pearl in it. 

The Wedding Day

With the dress completed, we were ready for a beautiful day!

My most memorable moment on Ashleigh's wedding day was when Chelsea and I slipped the dress onto her. Finally she could wear the dress that we had tried on so many times in the last nine months! I remember thinking as I was working so hard on the dress, experiencing difficulties, crying at times when I couldn't figure something out, that when it was all done, I would enjoy watching her wear it on her wedding day. Boy was that an understatement! The joy I felt watching her wear it cannot be put into words! And do you know what was the icing on the cake? When she told me how comfortable the dress was to wear. Not only was it the dress she had hoped for, but also she felt beautiful in it and enjoyed wearing it. What more could we have asked for when we decided to sew Ashleigh's wedding dress?!


  1. Wow pretty! I can sew too, but would never be brave enough to attempt a wedding dress. But you can tell it's made with so much love!

  2. That was a true labor of love, Patty, and it turned out to be a unique one of kind dress for a special day. I taught Home Ec for 35 years and I am not sure I would have taken that on. I made my own wedding dress but that was the early 70's - muslin and flowers in my hair! You should be very proud of yourself!

  3. Patty, I read every single word of your story. What a wonderful outcome and how BRAVE you are! I am so proud of you and I know that will be a forever memory in your daughter's heart. She is blessed and so were you by the whole experience. She looked beautiful!!! xo Diana

  4. Wow! It's absolutely beautiful. And I love the pockets. As someone who doesn't sew, I'm impressed that you made the dress and I know your daughter felt even more special knowing her mom made her wedding dress wish come true. I have a friend in Sri Lanka who makes very intricate wedding dresses. Takes her months and months to finish one. I just can't imagine. Congrats to your daughter.

  5. Pockets in a wedding dress what a wonderful idea but I love pockets they should be in everything.

  6. I couldn't be happier or more proud of my amazing mom!

  7. What a lovely experience you shared with your daughter. Beautiful!

  8. You did an amazing Job, I am sure your lovely daughter is so proud of your and your skills :)

    What an amazing day to celebrate their love.


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