Having your wedding gown custom made

Make sure you check out the seamstress with the Better Business Bureau, and ask for references and photos of his/her work.

Get style description, price, fabric description, and details in writing along with a fixed price. "It won’t be too much" is not acceptable, as only YOU know what is "too much". Any experienced seamstress will be able to know exactly how much time is required to make your dress, and exactly what she will charge. Also you must expect to pay an additional fee if you change designs after the garment is begun, or if the changes require more time than the original design.

Picking out your own fabric is better than allowing the seamstress to select the fabric, because they may give you a fixed price for fabric and labor, and attempt to cut corners, by using less expensive lace or fabric or by being "skimpy." For instance if you say lace covered bodice, and you present a photo of a dress with handmade French Alencon lace, you will not be too happy if your dress comes finished with lightweight nylon lace. Or if you say you want a long train, put it in numbers ...1 yard on the floor or 6 yards on the floor... your seamstress may think 6" is a long train. Communication is the key to a successful venture. By insisting on a detailed written description and exact price, there will be no surprises.

Allow yourself plenty of time, to make changes if necessary. If you order a dress, you must do so 6 months in advance as a rule of thumb. Contract with your seamstress 6 months in advance, and insist that it is to be made immediately, not 2 weeks before the wedding. Include date for first and second fittings in the original contract if it is feasible, and the date the dress will be delivered. You should INSIST on having the finished dress 2-3 months before the wedding, but you must be available for fittings when scheduled, arrive on time wearing the correct undergarments, and not need to rush out after only 3 minutes of fitting time. Once you have accepted the dress, you are stating that you are satisfied, and gaining or losing weight is your problem not that of your seamstress. ANY alteration needed after accepting the dress will probably result in additional charge.

For each fitting you should ALWAYS wear the same undergarments that you plan to wear to the wedding. A new bra may totally change the way your gown fits. A different petticoat may lengthen or shorten your gown.

There are definite advantages to having a dress made locally; custom design, custom fit without paying for alterations, greater choice of fabric selection, color, and type of lace for your specific style. You are also able to compromise with cost. The dress you fell in love with may only come in silk satin, and your budget may only cover acetate satin, so the gown style and look may be duplicated at a much lower cost.

It is often wise to pay a little extra for a "mock" dress out of muslin or other inexpensive fabric to insure the design is to your liking, the fit is what you want, length of train correct and so forth. It is hard and expensive to change designs on dresses made of silk or satin, and often you may find that what you thought was perfect... wasn’t, or that what you thought you had described was not what was communicated.

Listen to your seamstress about types of fabric to use. If for instance you want a soft, flowing, wispy dress, but have always loved organza, don’t insist on organza, because it won’t flow no matter how much you love it.

If your mother (or grandmother) has always sewn for you, then by all means ask her to make your dress, BUT allow her plenty of time to at least almost finish the dress 6 months before the wedding in order not to be rushed with all the other wedding plans. Mom can probably fit you better than anyone else, and may enjoy making the gown. If she really does not want to, don’t insist, because she may not need the pressure at this time.

In selecting style it would be well to consider some of the following points. The wedding and reception will only last a few hours, but your photographs will last a lifetime, so select your gown with a camera in mind...how will it photograph? How will the style fit your movements on that special day... can you kneel or climb steps gracefully in a straight fitted dress? will your dress allow for adequate movement in dancing? are you comfortable in a strapless bra? The back of the gown will be seen as much, if not more so, than the front so select your gown with this perspective in mind. If you want a portrait with the train swirled to the front in order to see the detail there, then you will have to be sure the train is long enough on the sides and full enough to "swirl." Many of today’s dresses have rather narrow trains than can only be viewed from the back, and are difficult to photograph. It takes very little additional fabric to create a fuller, more manageable train. This can be easily seen if a "mock" dress is made.

Insist that no glue be used on your gown. Glued on pearl or other embellishments are not as secure as sewn on, and most often come loose in dry-cleaning.

Try to not wear make-up for your fittings in order to protect the dress as you may have to put it on and take it off several times.

Once the dress is finished, ask the seamstress to sew ribbon to the waist seam allowance on the sides, front and back. Use these ribbons to wrap around the neck of the coat hanger so the weight of the gown is not being supported by the shoulders but is distributed at the waist. These can be pinned in before the wedding, removed for the wedding and then sewn for storing. You should have little or no metal touching your dress for long term storage.

Ask for all left over fabric, no matter how small the pieces (within reason). If your daughter should want to wear your dress, and it needs repair or altering, you will have fabric that is exactly the same. Many times only 3" of fabric would have made a great difference in altering a garment, but the exact color could not be found. Store the leftover fabric/lace/trim with the gown. For tips on storing your gown for a long period of time, please see our "Practical Tips" chapter.