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Making a wedding dress with no pattern?

Footsox1 | Posted in General Discussion on

I am hoping you guys will give me some advice on making a sheer dress that will go over a wedding dress. The wedding dress is a very plain, strapless satin dress. It is already made (not by me). I am making it into a sleeveless dress, which will have a sheer sleeveless top part, and then the sheer fabric will extend over the entire dress to the floor, and over the train as well. It will kind of be like a sheer dress that will be worn over the top of the other dress. Although I intend to hand sew the two “dresses” together, so that they don’t end up looking like two separate dresses when I am done. (I’ll probbaly hand tack them in the “ditch” of the seams”)

I am looking for advice on how to best do this. Is there a general rule on how much room I should leave so that the overdress (that is what I am calling it for now) will not be too tight over the dress underneath? But not too loose, either? I am leaning toward using organza for this, but I am going to look tomorrow at the fabric store and decide then.

I am certainly not a tailor, but I think I can make this work. I was thinking of buyng one pattern for the top part of the dress — the sleeveless part and making it out of muslin (or some other cheap fabric) and making it fit, and then making a second muslin part for the bottom of the dress. And then joining these two parts of the dress together until they fit, and then this muslin “extravaganza” would become the pattern for me to use. Will this work? Is there a simpler way? I don’t have a dress form, so it will be a little strange fitting this to myself. Are there any tips you “real” seamstresses have for me? On another post of mine, someone suggested doing french seams, which I am hoping to do. I am a little confused about the best way to finish the neck and armholes on such a sheer fabric — any thoughts on this?

Oh, also, after this is all completed, I will hand sew on alencon lace appliques – mostly across the bodice part. Thanks everyone for ANY advice you have for me. I sew a lot of home decorator items but never in my wildest dreams, a wedding dress! But, I think I have enough experience that I can make this work. Am I crazy? ha. Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate it so much.



  1. AndreaSews | | #1

    Kudos on giving yourself a real challenge!  I think that if you start by buying a pattern from a store, you will be setting yourself back.  I would use the dress you already have as the pattern.  Lay it out and trace it, piece by piece (I do believe you can do a fine job of that without taking it apart!).  The process will also give you a chance to take notice of the construction details and process so that you can do it on your sheer overdress.  If you do the tracing and add seam allowances all around, then you will have just exactly the right size and dimesions all around.  My idea (cheater) is to replicate the dress exactly, and then fashion the top/shoulder part seperately and attach it by sandwhiching it between the over and under dresses.  I ahve a really fun, pretty idea for that, which will provide modesty and be very do-able, but this post will get very long, so feel free to get me directly by email. 

  2. User avater
    Becky-book | | #2

    The Singer Sewing Reference Library book series has a vol. entitled Sewing for Special Occasions (lots of great, color photos) You might be able to get it from your local library. I have 3 girls and made each a different wedding gown so I got my money's worth out of it!! It shows how to do a French Binding on neck and arm openings and other helpful info on the construction of "fancy" dresses.

    Is the wedding gown for you, or some one else?

    Happy sewing,


    1. Footsox1 | | #3

      Thanks for the suggestions. I will definitely go and try to find that book at my library! This dress is for me. I searched and searched for a sleeveless gown and there are none (at least not in my price range). As my search continued, I found lots of things I wanted in a dress - the sleeveless top, and jewel neck, alencon lace and then a "slim" A-line - not a lot of fabric and not a big dress on the bottom. I finally decided that the only way I would get all those things was to make it myself. Looking back, I should have just made the entire dress from scratch, but I didn't know if my sewing skills were up to it. So, I ordered a strapless satin dress to be custom made to my measurements from a wedding dress maker in China (how amazing is that!) and the dress has arrived and is, well, O.K. The satin is kind of thin, but I kind of wanted it to be flingy, so it will work for me I think. (It's a beach wedding) Now, I just need to get my act together and try to add all the stuff I wanted to it. Please post me any other suggestions. I have made "patterns" myself for home decor items, which don't usually have to fit a body. But, I am thinking the worst that could happen, is that I do more than one try and use muslin and eventually I'll get it right. Wish me luck! Sue :-)

      1. AndreaSews | | #4

        More likely, you'll learn a whole lot and gain a ton of confidence in your construction skills!

      2. User avater
        Becky-book | | #5

        Dear Sue,

        Best wishes to you!!  I'll help you all I can! Feel free to e-mail me, I don't always check gatherings for new posts.

        As you work your way through the muslin, remember that sheer stuff acts a little different than muslin so if you buy an expensive sheer fabric for the overdress consider one last try-out in some cheap cloth that has the same characteristics as your expensive cloth; the same "hand" as they say.

        Happy sewing,


        1. Footsox1 | | #6

          Hi Becky -
          Thank you so much for the offer to help me. I really appreciate it!! I'll keep you posted. I hope to get started in the next week. Thanks!!Sue

          1. mainestitcher | | #7

            If I were going to do this, I would borrow a dress form first. I'd put the dress on it, and using muslin would gently tack and pin muslin to the out side of the bodice of the dress. I'd mark and baste the darts and seams in place, inside-out. Take it off, stitch the darts and seams, turn it right-side -out, and see how it goes. Once it fits well, cut and stitch out of chiffon. I was going to tell you to be careful of the pins, as they can leave holes. Do be careful, but you're covering it with chiffon and lace, right? The lace will be more handwork than anything else, I suspect. Just experimenting with it until you have an arrangement pleasing to your eye...With the rest of the dress, the skirt portion, you have a little leeway there. It has to fit exactly where the bodice and skirt join, but quite often the overskirt is fuller than the satin underskirt, so matching exactly would not be neccessary.

          2. Footsox1 | | #8

            Hi Carol -- Unfortunately I don't own a dress form and I don't know anyone who does. I am just going to fit it by trial and error on myself, using the material from an old cotton sheet until I get it right and then make it out of the organza. Can I ask about the darts? The strapless dress I have, that I will be attaching this to, has seams (or perhaps they are "darts" that are vertical that go down across the point of each breast, and then this vertical line extends down past the waist and stops about 6 inches down from the waist. Then the fabric of the dress, is actually one piece the rest of the was to the floor. Is it possible to make this sheer over dress part work without any darts? I was thinking of one piece for the top sleeveless part, ending and attaching at the top edge of the strapless dress part, and then one flat piece for the entire front of the dress? Will this work? I guess I can try it with the practice fabric and if it doesn't curve with my curves, then I would have to do darts? Thanks for any advice.

          3. Footsox1 | | #9

            I have no idea why I just addressed that post to "Carol." I'm sorry. These wedding dresses make you do strange things... ;-)

          4. mainestitcher | | #10

            Well, my name is Carol...don't know how your fingers knew that, though...So the sheer part will form a sort of shoulder strap? That sounds okay.Yes, you will have to seam or dart the rest, or the dress won't have any shape. it sounds as if it's two long seam, from the top of the bodice, over the apex of the bust, to the hip. Pin the center of a piece of sheet, (make sure it's on the straight grain) to the center front of the dress, and work out from there.

          5. Teaf5 | | #12

            It sounds as if your basic dress is a princess seamed dress, a classical style of formal gown for which there are many, many good patterns. Your sheer overdress will look best if you duplicate the lines of the underdress, and it will have to be at least a couple inches bigger so that it will fit and flow over the satin dress.If you can find the same dress in a pattern, but the correct or slightly bigger size (remember that you need a pattern size about 2 bigger than your ready-to-wear size), you can use the pieces to compare with your satin dress.Or, you can trace off a pattern from it relatively easily using either gift tissue taped together, waxed paper (my favorite), or pattern tissue you can order online. Once you've traced the seamlines, add about an inch seam allowance to each to allow for the extra ease, and make a sample out of cheap sheer fabric (even an old sheer curtain panel will work) using a really long machine stitch so that you can take out seams easily. You can get sheer fabric in the decorator clearance section for as little as $1/yard, so you can
            get enough to make a full-length sample. Or, maybe to avoid all this, you can buy the fabric you want, send it to China and have them make the sheer version slightly bigger for you?

          6. AndreaSews | | #13

            Agreeing with Teaf5, and going one step farther--Instead of tracing onto paper, trace right onto the inexpensive sheer fabric!  You can cut it out, sew it up using a long stitch, adjust if needed and mark your adjustments.  Now you can pull out the seams easily and use these pieces as your pattern for your over dress.  On the Real Thing, I suggest a french seam, to enclose your edges and get a neat appearance.  When the time comes for that, we can coach you through that too! 

          7. Footsox1 | | #14

            Wow. Thank you all for so much help. It makes me want to do more sewing again. :-) I have sort of had a slight change of plan. I have ordered a wedding "skirt" from the China dressmaker I have been dealing with. It will come with a sheer organza overlay, which will be over the entire length of the skirt and train. I decided this will be such a relief to me. Now, all I have to do is make a wedding "blouse" or "shirt." I will make it out of organza, that the China dressmaker is sending me, so that it will match the organza on the skirt. It will be just like a sleeveless T-shirt out of Organza, if you can imagine that. Then, I will hand sew on alencon lace, and the alencon lace will go off the bottom edge a little, so you will not see a straight edge across where the bottom shirt edge ends. I am mulling over hemming the "shirt" in a diagonal, and then adding the lace to the edge, so it will not really look like a shirt over a skirt. I guess I will just play with this and see how it looks.Do you have any thoughs or suggestions on this new and crazy plan of mine? If this all fails, I told my fiance that I am wearing shorts! ha. Sue

          8. User avater
            Becky-book | | #16

            Dear Sue,

            So is the satin dress still part of the ensemble? Or did you change that idea too? Or does the Wedding skirt go over the satin strapless?  It will all work out in the end!

            The lace at the edge if the "shirt" sounds like a good idea to me.


          9. Teaf5 | | #17

            Is there any reason the top has to be a shirt type? It seems as if that might destroy the beautiful lines of the dress underneath. For lovely, curving lines that would complement the dress and flatter the figure, maybe a drape, stole, capelet, or shrug would be better. With a lovely sheer, it's nice to have drape and flow, and any of those tops would give you far more movement and line than a sleeveless shell would. Plus, it's easy to find patterns for them, and they're very easy to fit and to make. Any or all could be embellished with the lace for the special effect you want.

          10. mem | | #19

            I would make a princess line shell top and bind the neck and sleeves in satin  and perhaps even make a belt out of the satin to cover up where it could tuck into the skirt.

          11. User avater
            Becky-book | | #15

            Dear Sue,

            I agree with Teaf5 about the princess style and making the overdress a little larger than the satin one. If you are concerned about the top one drifting off you could loosely anchor the side seams (explain how later) and let the over dress be flowing in the wind!

            When it comes time to start cutting all this sheer stuff, it is worth the $ for a folding cardboard thing that has 1 inch squares all over it and is 36 inches x 72 inches, I don't know what the proper name is but I can hardly imagine trying to keep grainlines straight without one. I use mine all the time!!!!!


          12. LindaG | | #18

            You've already described a fairly elaborate overdress, but if it all gets too much, Threads #85 October/November 99 has an article about a shawl with sleeves. It's a rectangle of fabric with a couple of strategically sited sleeves. I keep it in place with a brooch pinned between bust and waist, creating some strategically placed folds over waist and hips. It looks quite glamorous but is not difficult to make.AN ELEGANT SHAWL WITH SLEEVES
            by Debra Blum and Moises Diaz
            Whatever its length, this easy wrap, cald a fichu, stays put on your shoulders

          13. User avater
            Becky-book | | #11

            Dear Sue,

            I was wondering if you have a friend who is close to your shape who could do a "stand in" for you, in your dress?  'Cause fitting on yourself can be a slow process, lots of getting in and out of the "work in progress" in order to change the location of pins, etc..... just an idea.


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