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. I am back,

    Lucy has a good point about the initial fitting. In custom you are just that customizing and shaping something to fit your body. Here are some other tips that brides often overlook, and things I preach on.

    1. Wear your exact shoes and foundations at every fitting. This affects your posture and the fit.

    2. Changing briefs, panties, thongs etc. can throw off the hip curve of a fitted gown. Again, fit to what you will wear.

    3. A gown is created from a 2-D fabric around a 3-Dbody. It takes tweaking and fitting to perfect.

    4. You have to have a little visual skills to go the custom route and understand that it is a process to the finished product.

    5. Be open and honest when you are unsure, but also be realistic. If you have a truly skilled professional and if they say something is a good or bad idea listen to them.

    MOST importantly. The body is a moving object. People are used to stretchy undergarments that move with us as we expand and contract. Most gowns are fitted and do feel different then jeans and a t-shirt. You have to be aware of that. Also, medication, eating, etc.. all affect the body. If you have any unusual circumstances that will affect your fit tell your professional. They need to know.

    All these will help your creative process go smoothly.

  2. I really enjoyed having my dress custom made. I live in Birmingham, AL and I wanted a silver dress with navy accents (My engagement ring is a sapphire). Going to bridal boutiques did not turn out to be such a great experience, you would have thought I was speaking in another language when I asked if they had a silver dress. I did try on dresses at the boutiques to see what did look good on my figure. I did not think a strapless dress would look good on me, but it did. If you are interested in having a dress made I would definitely suggest this. Trying on the dresses really helped me pinpoint what I liked and did not like. The dress I tried on in the boutique would have been $8000. This did not include veil or alterations. The dress I had made was considerably cheaper and she made me a veil and gloves. My sis was my bridesmaid and she made her dress also. With all that still cheaper than the one dress. We were in a magazine — here are the photos.
    Hope this helps!!

  3. Best. Post. Ever. Thanks Ariel!!

    And I’d really like to find out who you used Chelle. I grew up in those circles and live in the Bay Area and am looking for someone good.

  4. For any midwestern OBBs Dornink’s (www.dornink.com) is a great place to work with! It is a mother daughter team, the daughter designs the dresses for their line and the mother Faythe does the custom work. I told her my budget and my timeline and she has been great to work with. She has been open to and embellished all of my ideas plus she has been completely respectful of the budget I told her I was working with. My dress is going to be a red silk, I’ll post picks on the OBB flickr page in later August. 🙂

  5. I love love love working with my custom dress maker. I’m lucky enough to have a friend of a freind who is fantastic at sewing. I saw a full-on Elizabethan dress she made for a mututal aquantance of ours a few years ago, and was impressed. Also, while she has the skill to do this proffesionaly, she only does it as a hobby. For the pure joy. I cant describe the giddy look on her face when we ordered 30 yards of duponi silk (2 brides= lots of fabric). she dosnt get to play with that too often. We actually had to haggle UP with her- she didnt want us to pay her beond cost of materials!

    I am glad, however, that its a friend of a freind, not a close friend of mine working on the dress. We’ve been friendly aquantances for years, but thats it. I feel like that gives me room to treat her as a proffesional, without having it be a weird shift from casual interaction.

    Oh, but I should mention the plan we had before finding April- good for all you nerdy geeky brides- theres a big scifi/fantasy/horrer/anime/whathaveyou con near us every year. They put on a hell of a costume competition. We were going to track down some of the entries we really loved in the masters segment, and ask them about a commision. Great way to get a lot of creative, nerdy people together for immediate comparison.

  6. I just started working with Whirling Turban for my wedding dress, and it’s been amazing so far. I was really worried that the difference in time zone and language would cause issues, but their customer service rep who you communicate with the most has a good grasp on English and there have been no problems at all. I knew what I wanted the end result of my dress to be, but I wasn’t sure which of their available styles would work the best. They’ve been very helpful in explaining dress construction to me.

    The best part is how nice they are. I sent them an iquiry about making my dress, and I received a message back filled with congratulations, well wishes, and all around goodness. Most bridal boutiques I’ve been in were filled with stuffy women who wanted to put me in a dress I hated for commission. The people at Whirling Turban made sure to say they’d be honoroed and thrilled to help me create my dress. If that doesn’t make a bride squeal for joy, I don’t know what will.

  7. I have heard excellent things about Kari Perkins in Austin – she’s a costume designer who also makes beautiful custom wedding gowns (she was also recently profiled in Southern Living magazine). Her wedding gown site is http://www.estrellabridal.com; her professional site is kariperkins.com.

  8. A friend of a friend is making my corset, and for the skirt, I bought a bridesmaid skirt from David’s Bridal. This ensemble will still cost me upwards of $600 all told, based on what I want, but it’s something I can wear again and again, and that is important for me.

    Info on the corset-maker I found through a friend:
    Although I am in the Bay Area, the corsetiere is in L.A., and she has experience doing mail-order corsets. All you have to do is ask if she can ship to your location.

    What makes a good corset-maker:
    They must triple-check all your measurements. If you submit your measurements and they have no questions, beware.

    The corset should feel very comfortable against your skin. If there are rough edges or rough seams, it’s shoddy work – send it back.

    The corset-maker should give you training on how to get your corset laced!

    The corset-maker should send you a mockup corset to draw on, while you have it on – so you can articulate what parts of the corset you like and don’t like. Then you send it back for further revision.

    The corset-maker I contracted:

    -Sue doesn’t have her own personal site up yet, but a lot of her work can be seen over at http://www.romantasyweb.com/cyboutique/corset/SueNice.shtml
    (scroll down on that page and click on ‘photo gallery’ to see her work. For example, this image is what sold me on going through Sue: http://www.romantasyweb.com/all-galleries/gallery-html/sue-DSC02991.htm)

    The skirt:
    David’s Bridal Mix & Match Skirts (only $109 +tax!):
    (I’m getting the #81227 skirt)

    Best of luck to you in the search for your perfect dress!

  9. I never, ever thought of going any route but custom for my dress. I have always wanted to have custom clothing made for me! I’m sad that tailoring is no longer custom; I feel like I’m in the wrong time period. My fiancee is also getting a custom 1920s style Irish felted wool suit for the occasion (which we’re both excited about). My wedding isn’t until July of 2009, but I got started as early as possible emailing tailors and dressmakers around town (I live in Portland, Oregon). I found someone whose bridal and everyday designs I love, and she starts at an affordable price ($800). We are going to start working on my dress this fall (a light dusty rose pink silk taffeta knee-length cocktail dress). In the end, I’ll be spending about $1300, which is really not bad! And I’ll be able to wear the dress later because it won’t look bridal.

    Anyway, make sure you find someone who is willing to do a lot of fittings. I think I get 12 over the course of the process, and a mock-up as well, and we’ll probably do the last fitting right before the wedding. I also suggest getting a custom corset done first, before you get started on the dress (unless the corset is part of the dress).

    I also recommend finding a bridal boutique in town that carries dresses with different design elements you love (even if you hate the dresses themselves), and then going to try them on. I did this, and discovered the empire waist I was envisioning was nothing on me compared to the drop waist I’m going for now.

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