How To Sew Your Wedding Dress (Part 1): Choosing A Pattern

The time has finally come! After lots of fretting, faffing, and decision making, I’ve actually begun the process of getting my wedding dress made. I had never anticipated being in a position where I would feel even close to confident enough for such a commitment. I started sewing 18 months ago – about a year and half after I got engaged. But it really wasn’t until recently that I started entertaining to possibility of using my (relatively) new found skills on my wedding dress. I won’t lie, I’m still pretty terrified! I’m so critical of everything I sew and when all eyes are inevitably going to be on you and what you’ve made, it’s bound to invite an extra level of self-scrutiny. However, I thought I could channel all of these anxieties and concerns in the most productive way by writing about the whole process on Sew for Victory.

Now, I’m more than aware that a series of posts about wedding dress making might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a very niche project. But I’m hoping it will provide insights that will extend beyond just a wedding environment. I think the same sorts of decisions and challenges that come with making a wedding dress are ones that accompany making garments for any kind of special occasion. The questions of ‘what pattern?’, ‘what fabric?’, and ‘oh my goodness, why do I hate everything I’ve done?’ are ones that pop up all over the place. So I hope that you’ll find something to gain from these posts. For my part, I’m so delighted that you’re here because it makes you a part of this really exciting time in my life!

This first post starts at the beginning, with the process of choosing a pattern.

1. Making an event-appropriate garment

When I started out looking at patterns, I had so many different ideas. I was looking at an incredibly diverse range of dresses: short; long; formal gowns; flirty and simple dresses. I was totally all over the place and desperately needed to narrow things down. I found that the best way to do this was to keep my mind totally on the nature of the event itself. Every wedding is different and your pattern choice should reflect that nature of the occasion, as well as your personal tastes. In my case, this meant making some compromises. Part of me was so inclined towards a full-length vintage gown. You all know that I have such a love for ’30s and ’40s Hollywood glamour. I came across some divine patterns, particularly the gorgeous Decades of Style 1930s Evening Gown.

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Picture from Decades of Style

But a wedding in Missouri, in the height of summer (it’s usually very well over 30 degrees Celsius), doesn’t lend itself so well to silk fabrics (hello sweat) or fitted, full-length gowns. The formality of this kind of dress would also run a little counter to the type of occasion we’ll be having. The visa process is (as with all bureaucracy) a complicated one and means that there is a huge amount of unpredictability about when the wedding will be. We don’t know when I’ll be in the US but, once I am, we have an incredibly short window to actually get married. Most people do a quick paper-work marriage and arrange a bigger, more formal event later. But we decided that we’d rather do it in one go. So to fit with the tone of this, we’re shooting for a fun ’50s vibe – small, simple, and with a lot of cute vintage detail.

Once I thought a little more about the sort of day we’d be going for, it was actually very easy to narrow down my pattern choices. I started looking at shorter dresses with a gorgeous ’50s silhouette – fitted bodices and full circle skirts. Not only does this sort of dress really suit the spontaneity that’s pretty inherent in our situation, as well as the time of year in which the wedding will be held (vital), but it also reflects my love for ’50s fashion. Any excuse to wear a petticoat really.

2. Finding Inspiration

Even after settling on the style of the dress, there are still SO many details to be decided upon. Think about ’50s dresses – while there are certain key features that we might identify as central to the fashion of the decade, there is a huge amount of variability. Remember that Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, and Audrey Hepburn were all key fashion icons in the ’50s, but all with incredibly different styles. The pattern choice will be impacted by the sorts of key details that you want to have be a part of your final design. For example, do you want a square, sweetheart, or plunging neckline? A full circle skirt or a more fitted skirt style? Sleeveless or sleeved? Even something like wanting buttons over a zipper might impact the sorts of patterns that you can work with. So even though I settled on a ’50s style, short dress, I still had to look around for inspiration in order to figure out the key details that I would need to have be a part of my final pattern choice.

The most valuable source of inspiration for me (aside from Google, of course) is ‘Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook’ by Jeffrey Mayer and Basia Szkutnicka. My fiancé bought this for my birthday last year and it is such an amazing resource. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in vintage fashion. I delved into the photos of the various ’50s fashions and, although it doesn’t feature any wedding dresses, it gave me a much more solid idea of what I was looking for.

Seriously, I can’t recommend this book enough. The chapters beyond the Visual Index (which the photos below are taken from) provide close-up shots of the various details of the garments. This is incredibly useful when you’re trying to settle on things like necklines, sleeves, or embellishments.

By the time I was done with my research and inspiration search, I settled on some key things. I needed a pattern with a square neckline, fitted bodice, and circle skirt. I also wanted something that would work well with longer sleeves. After I’d figured these details out, it was surprisingly easy to make a decision about the pattern I wanted!

3. The final pattern choice

Here we are. A relatively short post but a decision process that took me SO long. And the pattern I finally settled on…

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The Sweetheart Dress from Sew La Di Da Vintage! I’ve been lurking on their website for months – they have some incredibly gorgeous patterns. But this is the first pattern of their’s that I’ll be making. I was definitely nervous using a pattern from a company that I’d never sewn with before. But I was reassured by their great customer service and the fact that they run a sewing school (so I figured that with any desperate emergencies, I could just email or phone for advice).

Pictures from Sew La Di Da Vintage

As you can see from the photo, the dress comes with a sweetheart neckline option, in addition to a square neckline. Plus a gorgeous skirt and perfectly tailored bodice. It ticks all of my boxes!

So, to summarise, my key pieces of advice on picking that vital pattern…

  1. Always keep your event in mind (time of year, location, will there be DANCING?!).
  2. But don’t let your personality get lost!
  3. Look for inspiration wherever you can.
  4. Make a list of those key garment details that are important to you. What has to be there? Use this as a reference point while searching through patterns.
  5. Most importantly, really try to enjoy this part of the process. Look at some gorgeous patterns. Dream about yourself in beautiful dresses. And make some tea because I promise that will help when the stress sets in!

The next wedding dress post will be about choosing the right fabric. Mine arrived today and I am SO excited to share it with you. After a lot of searching around, I also have a tonne of resources to throw your way. Stay tuned for that and some other (non-wedding related) posts that I’ve got lined up!!

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