Choosing Fabric for a Wedding Dress

At the beginning of the year, we encouraged our newsletter readers to take on a challenge and try something new. Well, I (Kathy) took that advice to heart and have bitten into a huge project - I agreed to make a wedding gown for my dear friend's niece! I have a busy job as editor of Sew Beautiful, but I just could not resist the challenge. The wedding is in May, and I've decided to blog about my progress as I tackle each component of the gown until the big day. I think it will be a fun way to share all the knowledge I gain with you - not to mention that I'll surely need some encouragement along the way!

Preliminary sketch of the gown. Start with a plan!

You must start with a plan, so help the bride decide on a design. Sarah Grace came to me with several photos and a basic "dream" in mind. I listened carefully and began to sketch. After a few adjustments here and there, we landed on the perfect design for her. She wants an almost backless, strapless dress with a fit and flare, trumpet-style skirt and a shallow train. When planning your design, you do need to be sure it is realistic for the bride's body type - luckily for me, Sarah Grace's figure fit her dream gown perfectly. Next, I purchased a combination of patterns that bore a basic liking to the top and the bottom of the gown.

Fabric, netting and lace.

An important part of the design process is choosing the right fabric to achieve that "drape" and appearance you want. We chose an oyster-colored (think mother-of-pearl button) silk duchess satin. This is a very expensive fabric, but well worth the results you get for your investment. We will use a netting overlay with alencon lace edging and appliqué as a float on top of the satin. While all of that sounds luxurious and beautiful, don't be fooled - it will only look like a badly sewn rag without the proper foundation.

I plan to use silk organza for the interlining of the dress. This will be the fabric that forms the shape to the body so that the silk satin can simply act as a beautiful shell. This fabric will lay behind the satin for every pattern piece, and the two layers will be seamed and sewn together as one. It is on this interlining that facings, seams and hems will be hand tacked. I have chosen the Martha Pullen silk "Elegance" for the lining. It's perfect because it is a silk and cotton blend. It is lightweight and smooth, but not too slinky. It is also easy to handle, and the cotton makes it breathable and comfortable for a nervous bride.

Playing around with netting for a ruched bodice. The bustier is underneath for shaping. The satin will lay underneath the netting on the final gown.

Creating a wedding gown takes a bit of smart engineering - and like every good structure, there is a cornerstone that holds it all up. For a strapless gown, that cornerstone is the bustier. This is the component that hugs the bride's body in a death grip while the outer dress appears to be floating gently over her curves without stretch or strain. The bustier holds the boning in place, while the boning holds the dress on the body and keeps all of that delicate fabric from collapsing. The bustier for my gown is actually made from a "corseting" fabric I found from Vogue fabrics at a sewing expo. It is quite stiff and uncomfortable, so the interlining of choice was a soft heirloom cotton flannel. This provides a soft, unnoticeable padding between the lining and bustier to create comfort and shape. 

Here is a list of great fabrics for various elements of a wedding gown. Most of these are available at, and you know we carry white in everything! TIP: Try to use silk if you can possibly afford it. It just performs the best - and after all, it is your wedding gown. Go cheap on the interlining and lining if you have to.

  • Silk duchess satin
  • Silk dupioni (White, Ivory, Ecru) - Wonderful for bridesmaid and flower girl dresses, and we carry a large selection of colors.
  • Silk Taffeta - A crisp fabric great for a full style; not to be confused with poly taffeta.
  • Netting (White, Ivory) - Cotton or bridal is fine; great for overlays, lace appliqué foundations or bodice ruching. Also good for large princess skirts, foundation under a full skirt and veils.
  • Silk organza - The perfect interlining, but can also be a beautiful overlay.
  • Tissue silk - Great for an overlay or a lining. I love to see machine embroidery on tissue silk with an ecru satin underneath to really make it stand out.
  • Silk Elegance - Cotton/silk blend makes the perfect lining.
  • Cotton batiste - Can also make a great interlining or lining, as cotton is comfortable and breathable.
  • Cotton flannel (White, Ivory) - A lightweight heirloom type is best for bustier interlining.
  • Heavy satin or corseting fabric for a bustier
Muslin for half of the bustier. Sew a practice dress in muslin first to perfect the fit. Write notes on the pieces and use them for cutting the silk.

Oh, I almost forgot one of the most important fabrics - good old cheap muslin! Don't attempt to cut into that luxurious silk until you've practiced on a good-fitting muslin copy of the dress. Deconstruct the muslin, make adjustments and use that to cut out the silk. You'll be glad you took the extra time for this step. For more wedding gown sewing inspiration, I recommend the books Claire Shaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guide and The Dressmaker's Handbook of Couture Sewing Techniques by Lynda Maynard.

Sew On, Sew Well, Sew Beautiful,
Kathy Barnard