How to Make a Wedding Dress

November 2nd, 2010

I recently had the privilege of attending the wedding of one of my custom clients, Jessica, at the Boathouse in Central Park.  Jessica and I started working together on her completely custom gown over a year ago!  As this process is one that generally has a lot of ambiguity surrounding it for most people, I thought it would be fun to share a summary of the steps involved.  The process of wedding gown shopping is not normal in and of itself, so the idea of making one from scratch can be pretty foreign.

Like most of my custom clients, Jessica came to me with a lot of specific things that she wanted in her gown…dramatic, but not overwhelming.  Full, but not heavy.  Structured, but with a lot of movement.  Fitted and body conscious, but still elegant and feminine.

We spent several meetings looking over inspirational photos she had gathered and talking about fabrics and details.  Once the general direction was developed, I presented Jessica with several sketches to choose from.

We started with a muslin fitting, during which I fitted her with the base foundation of muslin and made a few design changes based on how the design actually looked on her body.  During this step, I actually drew the new style lines on the muslin and tweaked the fit.  The dress was built upon a structured bustier of duchess silk satin that reflected those changes.  Fit is the cornerstone of good design, so these initial steps are crucial.

Once the base was ready to go, I began draping the bodice of the gown in satin faced organza, a light and airy fabric that marries structure with flow.

Each pleat is hand draped and pinned down, then steamed into place once the area is finished and perfected.

After steaming, I hand tacked the pleating over the curves to ensure that it would stay in place.

The excess fabric is trimmed off so as not to create bulk.  Bulk and extra seam allowances can show through, especially in white fabrics.  They can also add weight and create a bit of frumpiness if not trimmed out correctly.

Sometimes you make discoveries of new styles you’d like to pursue during this part.  You may see this little number below again in the future (minus the wing on the right)!  Draping always leads you down interesting roads, and can be an important part of developing new but related styles for a collection. My custom commissions often become part of future collections in some way, so I like to document it when I reach an “ah-ha” point like this one.

The front bodice is now finished, so you repeat the process for the back while thinking about how the draping will meet up at the sides and the center back.  I’m big on continuous design and am obsessive about how things match up at seams.  This is particularly important when the bride will have her back to the room for a good bit of the ceremony.

The bodice is now ready to be attached to the skirt.

Layers of gathered fabric make up the skirt, which are then trimmed proportionally to create flouncy, dramatic layers following the angle of the bodice seam.

A structured facing is interfaced for structure and boned for support, then attached to the bodice and lining.

After one of Jessica’s fittings, we decided that the skirt needed a touch more ommph to it, so we added layers of gathered tulle to the lining to kick out the skirt for a bit more drama.

One year, four fittings, and a styling session later…TA-DAAA!

A giant thanks to Jessica for letting me be part of this process, and for letting me share your experience!

Thanks as well to Craig Paulson Photography for sharing your beautiful photos! Be sure to check them out if you are looking for a NYC based photographer!

Happily Yours,

Carol Hannah

21 Responses to “How to Make a Wedding Dress”

  1. November 3rd, 2010

    So interesting, and so beautiful! I love seeing the in-progress shots!

  2. November 3rd, 2010

    Beautiful!! Thank you for sharing the process!

  3. Thanks for a peek into the gown design process! It was fun to see it come from inspiration to reality and all of the little details you put into it. The end result is flawless!

  4. November 4th, 2010

    I think it’s awesome that you documented and posted this! It’s very interesting to see your process and I think you make beautiful gowns (I am in love with your Hasell Street Gown)!

  5. November 6th, 2010

    the gown’s gorgeous! i really want YOU to design my wedding gown somewhere in the future!

  6. November 13th, 2010

    Holy-ish! I LOVE this dress Carol-Hannah… so beautiful, it’s one of my favorites for sure! I had to post something about it! We just got back in town last night but I hope I can see you at some point this weekend in Chas! you are a beauty!

  7. Nikki Shimozaki
    November 14th, 2010

    I absolutely love it!

    I would love for you to design my dress one day!

  8. November 16th, 2010

    Hey, I absolutely love your work! Greetings from England! The sixth season of Project Runway has just finished airing here and I have to say I was very sad that you didn’t win, because you really deserved to. All of your pieces are so beautiful and wearable; I want them all!! I’m delighted to see you have a blog – I shall follow it with honour and thanks so much for sharing your tinkerings with us! It’s amazing to see the process and the beautiful, magical gown that was produced with all your hard work!

  9. I LOVE this! It’s wonderful to see the progress of the dress being made. Thanks for sharing!

  10. scot
    February 19th, 2012

    Wonderful. Thanks for the helpful hints. I’d like to try something like this for my daughter one day. I better get started!!

  11. Very lovely dress

  12. September 25th, 2012

    Such a beautiful dress it looks like it was bought at a shop!

  13. linda
    October 12th, 2012

    I have a project to make a wedding dress, stumblled upon a lot of wedding gown tutorials but yours nailed it. I ws all smiles when I saw it, exactly wht I was looking for. Thanks for sharing this. But I wld hv loved to see how u joined the side seams and also, where did yoi put the facing and boning. Would appreciate your response. Thanks a mollion for sharing this.

  14. Stephanie
    February 28th, 2013

    This is GREAT, do you have a tutorial like this for how you did your Birch gown in 2012?

  15. yass
    March 1st, 2013

    such a amazing dress!!classy and it!

  16. April 9th, 2013

    What a spectacular dress!! I was searching for a hand draped sweetheart bodice and found your post. Thanks for the wonderful photos. My hairdresser friend wants me to make her wedding dress.

  17. bieber girl
    April 23rd, 2013


  18. June 2nd, 2013

    I LOVE this dress Carol-Hannah… so beautiful,

  19. June 2nd, 2013

    Wonderful. Thanks for the helpful hints

  20. anon girl
    July 23rd, 2014

    Wow looks awesome! thanks for showing how its made. really helped with my project

  21. rebecca
    July 25th, 2014

    it is so original and so gorgeous

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