Everything you need to know about having your wedding dress custom-made

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Image courtesy of Wedding Dress Fantasy.
Image courtesy of Wedding Dress Fantasy.

A while back I ranted about how I think brides are best off having their wedding dresses custom made — you'll get a better fit, exactly the design you want, and won't have to suffer the attitudes and obscene prices of a bridal boutique. (And remember: custom dresses don't always cost a fortune! My wedding gown was a combination of a custom corset and skirt, with a total cost of $500.)

There was some grumbling in the comments about “Ok, fine: but how do you find a custom dressmaker?” My best advice is start in your immediate circle and work your way out — do you know any seamstresses or amazing sewers? Do any of your friends or family known any? If not, search online or in the Yellow Pages for someone locally. Being able to do fittings in person is a big bonus. If there's no-one in town you like, then start looking online for seamstresses with styles you like who will work with you via email.

The ladies of the Offbeat Bride Tribe came to the rescue with lots more tips on picking a custom dressmaker, as well as specific dressmaker recommendations:

If any local college has a fashion program, you might be referred to someone that way, either a prof or a student. I'd definitely go in with a design and fabric swatches in hand. If they start telling you about how they don't need any references or what not, leave!

When selecting a seamstress, see photos from a portfolio AND actual dresses. And talk to past clients if you can. Photos can look amazing compared to looking at them up close. Although it is very important to know what you want when it comes to style, it is just as important to make sure the seamstress has sewn other dresses in that same style. Find out if they have had to make their own patterns in the past, and see how those have turned out.

A good tip for finding a seamstress is calling the costume department of your local theatre. Costume ladies are kickass stichers and love creative challenges. Also, be wary of buying really cheap fabric. Most of the time, cheap fabric makes a dress look cheap.
Ask to see some samples, pay attention to quality, look at the seams, ask to see photographs, etc. Once you find a seamstress you like, bring in as many photos as possible to show garment construction, color, style, fabric, etc. Your seamstress will probably have her own opinions on what will work fabric-wise. Settle on what you need and go fabric shopping or take her with you to do so. Then turn it over to her. Be brutally honest at the fitting.

Can't find 'em local? GO ONLINE!

If you just can't find a seamstress near by, there are some truly phenomenal indie dressmakers who work online:

(PS: If you're a dressmaker or seamstress, get in touch with us about placement on Offbeat Bride!)

There's also the option of outsourcing your dressmaking overseas, which has saved many offbeat brides huge wads of cash (although it also comes with thorny ethical questions). Here are just three of literally hundreds of options:

Be aware that going this route can also cause major hassles.

And now I'll open it up to the peanut gallery: Did you have your wedding dress custom made? How did you pick your seamstress? Any tips or advice?

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Comments on Everything you need to know about having your wedding dress custom-made

  1. Another place to check: the cast and hardcore patrons of your nearby renaissance festival and/or the local SCA group. Many of the seamstresses you’ll meet there are used to designing and pattern-making.

    • I agree with Rykie. I’m from South Africa and am part of a Medieval Armoured Comat group. We needed dresses made and a friend of mine found a fabulous seamstress who made both her and another friend’s dresses. Friend # 2 got married in February, and the same seamstress made her dress which was amazing! I’m using the same seamstress to make my dress now.

      • Hi Catherine,

        Can you send me the details of your seamstress? I’m looking to have my wedding dress made as well.

    • Agree – I wanted an SCA period dress and went with a seamstress who has done a number of different styles. My body doesn’t “fit” a standard pattern block so custom was the best way for me. She also made my husband’s outfit and we both looked amazing!

  2. The local fabric shop is another one to try. If yours employs knowledgeable-type-ladies (and not passive-agressive 18-yr-olds, I’m looking at you, Polaris), try asking them if they know anyone. The store I grew up with even kept a binder of local seamstresses for such occasions.

    • We have a wonderful local chain of fabric stores in the west Michigan area where the employees are very knowlegable and helpful, Fields Fabric Stores. They have a bullitin board, and I have received a great deal of work by simply posting my business card there.

  3. I’m using a fabulous corset and dress maker here in the Bay Area. She is well known in our faire and Dickens Xmas faire circles.

    You should be prepared that custom work is not necessarily cheaper than getting your dress at some crazy bridal store. I’m having a vintage inspired cocktail dress made in red silk taffeta with a custom corset and it’s not cheap.

    But it will be exactly what I want, and include things like my wedding date embroidered in the lining of the skirt and the corset. Really the most important thing to look for in a custom seamstress is attention to detail. Often people who sew take time short cuts or think “something looks good enough.” So pick a seamstress who does more than put a pattern together. They should know how to draft or drape a pattern, and be willing to make several mock ups to get the pattern and fit right BEFORE they cut into the expensive fabric.

    I’d only use a seamstress who sews for ren faires or the SCA if they have a portfolio of modern clothes. Clothing construction for those time periods was often more straightforward than some of the modern sillouettes and styles we are used to now.

    • Great points! Can you share the deets on your dress maker? I’m also from the Bay Area and was hoping to find a kickass place to do a fun custom dress.

  4. Chelle you make a good point — I think custom-made dresses are about value, not cheapness. They won’t always be inexpensive, but you get so much more for the money … ie, custom design, truly custom fit, etc. Plus the warm fuzzy feeling of supporting a seamstress instead of a salon.

    And when it comes to truly couture bridal wear (ie $6k dresses), going custom is definitely cheaper.

    • I love your comment! I get a lot of brides who come to me and are looking to spend $100-300 on a custom tailored bridal gown. They are more concerned with the price than the quality of the gown and it simply breaks my heart.

  5. For any offbeat brides in or near Utah, I recommend Nancy Barrus of http://www.nancybarruscouture.com, based in Provo, Utah. I worked for her for a few months and she does absolutely amazing work and works with brides on a very personal level. Check out her gallery for a small example of what she can do. She’s one of two people I’d trust, besides myself, to make my wedding gown.

  6. I had mine custom made by a local (Seattle) corset maker (see corset/skirt here: http://picasaweb.google.com/vickerswedding/Pro1/photo#5196276622441163906). I picked out the fabric, we came up with the design together, and she was able to integrate the fabric from my grandmother’s 1937 dress into my skirt (the ivory part) and the binding of the corset. She also made my hubby’s red vest. I found her through a friend whose wedding attire I had admired the year before, but the people at the fabric store definitely knew her, so I agree with the above posting about asking at local fabric stores.

  7. Awww, I’m a costume lady and this post made me feel all warm and fuzzy! It really is the way to go – I think it makes it much more fun and exciting to work with someone for exactly what they want. 😀 😀

  8. I am having my wedding dress custom made by a designer in Houston, Texas (http://azacdesigns.com/). I have ordered many things from her before, and they are all exquisite. She’s been in business for years and years (don’t let the pretty, young face fool ya!) so she’s well established, too!

  9. Admittedly, I didn’t go the route of design school kids (because as a recent jewellery design grad, I know that students will let your project fall to the wayside, and then rush it or miss the deadline if they fall behind in school), nor did I go to a costume maker in my area (because I used to do theater, and I’ve seen some of those costumes up close, and between the apolstery notions, and trims, and the plastic jewels, I just couldn’t bring myself to trust them). But I did suss out several “bridal” seamstresses, and if you want a wedding dress, that is probably one of the most high-profile garments you will ever wear, you need to consider that it has to fit very well. A custom made garment should look like it was made for your body, it should also have the support structures, to support, tuck, pull in, lift up, and look crisp. Even the most billowy dress has secret nips and tucks in the fabric to make it fall just so. And you need a dressmaker with enough experience to tackle these issues. And in my area at least, Toronto, there wasn’t one bridal dressmaker that was under 4000$ to start. Custom-made is fabulous if you can afford it, and since I know about proper fitted garments, I couldn’t settle for less. So I had to compromise, and get an off the rack, that I will ahve expertly tailored for my figure.

    • True, not all costumers are equal. However, if you find seamstresses working at a professional theatre–not summer stock, either–you will be in luck. I made more intricate, finer made garments in a theatre shop than anyone ever has required of me in fashion. All professional costumes are made to fit like custom. Ask for a draper or first hand, rather than a stitcher, to get a more experienced professional. Custom varies widely, be careful, but ask around. I think you can get a great dress for less than some off-the-racks, if the materials are reasonable. Especially when considering some salons charge $350 in alterations on top of the cost of the dress.

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