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?

Offbeat Bride Vendor

This post features vendors from our curated Offbeat Bride Wedding Vendor Directory. They're awesome and we love them. If you're a vendor let's get you in here!

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

  1. I’m having my dress made by a woman named Haehie in DC. She is a former opera singer (they have to make their own costumes)and has had her own dressmaking business for years. She came highly recommended from a patient of mine (her wedding dress was beautiful).

    While it isn’t cheap, I think it will be totally worth it and I NEVER have to step foot in a bridal shop. I brought in a picture of a 1950s cocktail dress and she is making it from scratch.

    Just remember that you should be having at least 1 if not 2 muslin fittings before they ever cut the fabric the dress will be made of. Especially if they are not going from a pattern. Once your fabric is cut that is it, so speak your mind and be very honest. They really do want you to look your best and be happy.

    • Hi Suzzanne,

      I have made a deposit with Haehie Chang in Georgetown for my wedding dress. She seems like a really nice lady. I'll be honest with you though, I'm a bit nervous about whether she is healthy enough to finish my dress. She doesn't come cheap for sure and my wedding date is approaching fast and I have not had 1 muslin fitting yet. What was your experience with her like? Please keep this confidential. I don't want to hurt Haehie's feelings, but I am really concerned.

      • Diane, just as a heads up: your comment here appears publicly and will potentially show up in Google searches. If you have concerns about confidentiality, a public blog comment isn't the way to go.

  2. ShiloM – I had the same issues here. NOLA dressmakers were completely out of my budget. Maybe my size might have had something to do with it (I’m plus sized – 22/24). I’m not saying that what they do isn’t worth every penny – I simply can’t afford to pay that much.

    So it was off to the bridal boutique to order a dress. When it comes in I’ll take it to a good tailor to see what they can do.

  3. as a plus size bride i understand what u are talking about karen.
    there is one local dress maker but her rates to start are 70 an hour. I am trying to keep my wedding very low budget, so i am going to buy a dress off the rack and have it custom fitted and altered to add my own flair to it.

  4. I agree with ShiloM the seamstress is the best place to start.
    I’m lucky enough to have a seamstress friend who is helping me with my dress.

    No matter what you do, bring photos, and lots.

    no one is a mind reader

  5. After a few visits to bridal salons that left me thinking that maybe I had taken a women’s movement time machine back to 1850, I decided to get my dress custom made. I am going to a wonderfully creative seamstress and really enjoying the whole process-much less cookie cutter and often less expensive. If you live in Northern Vermont or the vicinity, check out Ava Bishop at http://www.damnfinepants.com

  6. I’m in Iowa and looking for someone to work with. Anyone out there have any hints?

    Also, I ran across this website a while back that seems to have some great feedback on it. I would love to know if anyone had tried them yet…

    http://www.lilywedding.com/index.php

    • Where are you in Iowa?
      Have you tried looking at Dornik in the East Village in Des Moines?

  7. thanks for the link to CurvedNDarted! Sasha is an AMAZING seamstress, and a good friend!

  8. Hey ladies: I don’t think this comment thread is the best place to ask about seamstresses in your region. (There are thousands of you reading from all over the world — way too many cities for this blog post to answer them all!) Instead, let’s focus on folks who’ve found seamstresses and want to share their recommendations. If there’s not a recommendation for your area, try searching Google or following the tips in these comments about asking around at your local theater, fabric store, ren faire, college, etc.

  9. I totally agree – custom made is much better if you have the budget – I am going the next step and knitting my wedding dress – I will have to get a slip made for under, and the current debate is either to find one or make one myself.

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