Make your own vintage inspired wedding dress from a regular dress pattern.
Are you dreaming about creating your own wedding dress, but at the same time fear you are not really up to the task?
I’m going to guide you through making a 1950’s, vintage inspired, tea length wedding dress from an ordinary dress pattern. I have met a lot of lovely ladies who want to sew a wedding dress either for themselves, their daughter or a for friend, but they feel very reluctant to begin such a big project. They often wonder whether they can really manage to make a beautiful wedding dress. I understand it’s a bit daunting because it’s an important occasion and one of the greatest experiences in a woman’s life, so you want the dress to be perfect for either yourself or the woman you are sewing the dress for. On the other hand it can be very difficult to find a dress that fits you and is the style you want. I think sewing the dress yourself gives you more freedom to create the dress of your dreams. Things that are normally easy to change are necklines, sleeve and dress length and width, and that already gets you a long way towards achieving the dress you want and that fits your body type.
In this photo you can see the finished result of the dress I have created with very few alterations just from an ordinary Burda dress pattern.
Another issue I hear about a lot is, that fabrics such as silk and lace for a wedding dress can be costly, which makes it even more scary to even consider cutting into the fabric not to mention the fear of being able to sew it. It takes courage and confidence, but that can be obtained by finding a dress pattern that is similar to the wedding dress you want and then try it out in a cheaper and similar fabric first. In actual fact silk and lace is not necessarily more difficult to sew than other fabrics, for instance I find thin and slippy polyester fabrics much worse to work with.
In my experience a lot of danish brides want their wedding dress to be rather toned down, so it gives them the opportunity to wear it afterwards. I assume it might be the same for brides in other countries as well. That’s why I have chosen to make a tea length dress, and one of my future plans is to try and dye it, to make it less bridal.
The dress I’m going to illustrate in this blog post is Burda style 7034 with pockets (and no, I’m not sponsored by Burda style). I like working with Burda style patterns because they are without seam allowance and therefore in my opinion they are easier to alter. This dress is actually a very basic pattern, that can be turned into very different and stunning dresses depending on the fabric you choose. This dress also has the potential for various modifications that are easy to make. You can make the dress floor length, you can easily change the length of the sleeve, you can change the neckline go make the dress without sleeves. What makes the pattern perfect for this is, that it does not have any cuts anywhere that could make it very difficult to change even the smallest thing. I have chosen a cream lace and a cream Thai silk, as you can see in the photo above.
I had 2,2 m of silk 1,35 m wide and 1,1 m of lace 1,40 m wide without scalloped edges. Both fabrics were cut offs so I had to make do with what I had, true to my ‘use what you have philosophy’. Also I don’t know the exact composition for the lace, but I think it’s a cotton/nylon blend. I also used 2,2 m of acetate lining and an invisible zipper 60 cm. I used a vlieseline interfacing band for the neckline and the centre back seam. I also used 65 cm of lace trim for the bottom the sleeves.
First I start out by taking the measurements of the person for whom the dress is for, to find the right size. In this case the dress is for me, and my measurements are pretty close to a size 42 except I’m taller. Even though I measure the pattern pieces first and do notice a lot of ease in this model, I’m going to make it in a size 42 to test it. But I do have to make the pattern of the top 2 cm longer. Burda patterns have already put lines on the individual pattern pieces for making the pattern either shorter or longer. I add 1 cm at the armhole of the top and the same 1 cm to the top of the sleeve. Then I add another 1 cm at the bottom cutting line of the top. I made the skirt 10 cm longer, I would have preferred a bit more length but I only hand enough silk for 10 cm. Burda does have a cutting line for making the skirt longer, but I wanted more width at the bottom so I just continued the side seams. Be aware that if you make the dress longer this way it might take more fabric than Burda suggest. I haven’t tried to make the dress floor length yet, but I would definitely continue the side seams for more width at the bottom, and then make another fabric calculation.
For this dress I have changed nothing else.
The next thing I do is testing the pattern. You can do this in an old sheet or use a mousseline. You will of course get the best result if you choose a similar fabric to the one you have chosen for the actual wedding dress. I’m pretty sure that I can get a nice dress out of this pattern so I chose to use a wool blend fabric for my test, so I get a dress that I can use for work afterwards. I sew my test dress according to the sewing instructions Burda gives, except I make this dress without the lining at the top, as this pattern suggests. Instead I make a facing that I cut 4 cm wide for the neckline. The wool dress turns out fine. It does have a lot of ease, but I prefer to work with ease so I have fabric to work with, I can always take it in. You cannot not add on what is not there, and the Thai silk does not give as the wool does. You can see my test dress below, and that also shows you what the dress will look like if you chose a fabric with a softer drape then Thai silk.
Then I go on to cutting the top and the skirt in both the silk and the lining, but not the sleeves. I want to line the skirt of the wedding dress and that is not in the Burda pattern. I cut the lining for the skirt 4 cm shorter than the silk. A fully lined wedding dress has a nicer finish and it adds more puff to the skirt which is what I want for this dress. Then I cut the lace for only the top and the sleeves. Be aware that lace is often cut across the fabric to make use of the beautiful scalloped edges it has. This can change how much lace you need for your garment. My lace does not have that nice edge, but I still cut it across the fabric because that’s how the flowery pattern works best for this specific lace. Have a close look at your own lace before you decide how to cut it, and remember that if your lace has a scalloped edge on both sides they may not look the same. I then tack the lace and Thai silk for the top together and treat them as one fabric as you can see in the next photo.
Then I tack and sew the darts. Be very careful to have both the silk and the lace in place. I cut down the seam allowance to 1 cm, as I am going to put a lining in this dress, and since this dress has only one big dart from the waist it’s a lot of excess fabric. (I also cut down the seam allowance of the dart on the lining.) See photo.
For most parts I sew the dress as described in the Burda pattern sewing instruction. Be careful with steam on both silk and lace as they are delicate fabrics. I prefer to only iron without steam . I do make a french seam in the lace sleeve, as it finishes off the seam beautifully. You make a french seam by sewing the wrong sides of the fabric together first 0,75 mm from the edge, then cut it down to 0,50 mm. Fold the sleeve so the right sides are together, iron carefully and then sew together the right sides of the fabric with 0,75 mm. I have used my 1,5 cm seam allowance and the seam will be folded nicely around itself. Depending on the fabric you can make the french seams a bit more narrow, but for this lace I chose 0,75 mm. Although not super clear I tried to show the finished french seam in the photo.
As I have lined the whole dress, I sew the lining of the skirt onto the lining of top. I sew the seam allowances of the dress and the lining together from the one back dart to the other, making sure the seam allowance is turning into the top. Only doing it between the back darts will leave you room to turn around the lining whilst sewing it onto the zipper by hand all the way from the neck to where zipper ends. I have cut a 4 cm seam allowance at the bottom of the skirt, and I do this hem by hand. The lining for the skirt I fold 1 cm twice and I stitch that hem on the machine. The lace I have used didn’t come with a nice scalloped edge. So to finish off the sleeves nicely I have bought a lace trim that I can sew on. You can do this by hand or using a close semi-wide zig zag on your machine to sew the lace trim onto the sleeve. After sewing on the lace trim you cut down the lace underneath the lace trim along the zig zag. Do a little test first on some of your cut offs, to see which works best for you. I often find the machine zig zag best at the bottom of the dress or sleeves where the seam lines are more straight, while the hand sewing works better for armholes or necklines where the seam lines are curved.
After having made this dress twice, I ended up taking in the wool dress by 3 cm at the centre back. The wedding dress I decided to leave as it was, but it is definitely not as close fitting as many brides want their dress to be in my experience. The thing is though, when I have made custom dresses for women they also expect to be able to move their arms, dance, eat, get in and out of the car etc. and for that you need wiggle room. So to be fair the dress fits if you want free movement in a dress made of fabrics with absolutely no stretch or even a bit of give. So in my opinion it is always a balance between free movement and how closely fitted you want the dress to look. I will leave that decision up to you.
I personally love this style of dress and it is definitely not the last time I have made it. I feel very feminine, it’s easy to wear and I love the pockets. I had a lot of compliments on my wool dress already, which is always a bonus. Next up will be trying to dye this lovely dress so I can wear it as a cocktail dress, then all I need is a cocktail party to go to!
Dear reader. This is the first blog post I have ever done about sewing a dress, so please let me know if you have any questions, so I can try to answer them and so I know how to improve in the future. If you do try this out I hope you will make a beautiful vintage inspired wedding dress.