Your search for the perfect prom dress can be a frustrating process. You want a spectacular gown -in just the right color – that no one else has, but you don’t want to have to spend a fortune to get it. Why not make your own prom dress? Even if you’ve never sewn a stitch before, you can easily acquire the skills needed to make a dress that is uniquely you.
Evaluate Your Sewing Skills
Before you begin planning your dress, you need to evaluate your current sewing skills. Are you a beginner or do you have a few successful sewing projects under your belt? Have you ever seen a sewing machine before? If you need an introduction to the basics or would like to improve upon your current sewing skills, look for local educational opportunities.
Try to schedule any sewing classes to begin as early in the school year as possible. Check with your own high school first for available sewing classes. If you don’t have any luck there, check out your local fabric stores for both beginning and advanced sewing classes. You don’t need to be an expert to sew your own dress – there are beautiful dress patterns available for every skill level – but you do need to know how to use a sewing machine and read a sewing pattern.
Let your instructor know that you will be making your own prom dress. If he or she knows what your goals are, they can better direct your learning experience.
Gather Your Tools
Make sure that you have all the necessary sewing tools and equipment. The most obvious – and most expensive – piece of equipment you’ll need is a sewing machine. If you don’t already own a machine, then you’ll have to either buy one or borrow one. You don’t need a top-of-the-line machine, just one that will do both straight and zigzag stitches. The most economical option is to buy a reconditioned (used) machine from a local dealer. These machines have been thoroughly inspected and repaired of any damage.
Often, this is the best way to obtain a very high quality machine for a fraction of its retail price. If your finances do not allow for the purchase of a sewing machine, then check to see if any friends or relatives have one you could borrow. You never know who might have a sewing machine packed away somewhere. If you are taking a sewing class, ask your instructor about the possibility of using one of their machines for your project.
Once you have your sewing machine, begin gathering other basic sewing supplies. You’ll need a tape measure and a yardstick, along with a chalk pencil or erasable marker for making measurements and marking hem and seam lines. You will need at least one pair of scissors for cutting and a flat, stable surface upon which to cut. You will also need pins and a pincushion, sewing machine needles, and access to an iron and ironing board. A list of additional supplies and project-specific notions (thread, zippers, buttons, etc.) will be listed on your dress pattern.
Choose a Dress Pattern and Fabric
Begin looking for a dress pattern and fabric at least three months before prom night. This will give you enough time to choose your materials, make a mock-up of the dress, fit your dress, and sew the final version. All necessary instructions should be completed by this time.
Visit your local fabric store and go through the available pattern catalogs – look at all available dress patterns that match your sewing skill level before choosing one. Many pattern catalogs have sections especially for prom dresses, but you need not confine yourself to this category. Look through all special occasion dress patterns, including wedding dresses. Remember that you can make your dress any color you like. Just because it’s shown in white doesn’t mean you have to make it that way!
Consider your own shape and size when choosing a pattern. As with off-the-rack clothing, a style very rarely looks just the same on an individual as it does on the mannequin or model. You can adjust the fit of your dress, but certain design elements (plunging neckline, straps, etc.) cannot be altered without affecting the entire look. Consider trying on different dress styles at a department store before selecting a pattern.
Once you know what looks good on you, then you can narrow the range of patterns you have to choose from. Some pattern manufacturers even provide a “fit guide” for their patterns. Symbols located next to the pattern number will indicate which body shapes look best in that particular style.
Once you have chosen a pattern, look for an appropriate fabric. Before you begin shopping, however, check the pattern envelope for a list of suggested fabrics. The types of fabrics listed here will allow you to achieve the same look and drape as the dress pictured in the catalog. Once you know what type of fabric you will be looking for, shop around a bit. Just because you buy your pattern at a particular fabric store doesn’t mean that you are obligated to purchase the fabric there as well.
If your chosen fabric costs more than you’d like to spend, ask when the next sale will be. You might be able to get the fabric you want at a significant discount. Another way to save on fabric is to sign up for any fabric store’s mailing list. Every month or so you will receive discount coupons that could save you up to 50% or more on a piece of fabric.
Once you have purchased the fabric, purchase the coordinating notions.
Sew Your Dress
Before you sew your dress, make a mock-up, or copy, of the dress from an inexpensive fabric like muslin or cheap bed sheets. Read all the pattern instructions before you begin and make sure that you understand what each step requires. You may want to have a more experienced seamstress “on call” to help you out in case you run into any stumbling blocks.
Cut the pieces of the dress from the inexpensive fabric, baste them together, and try the dress on inside out. This will allow you to determine where any sizing adjustments need to be made (taken in at the waist, taken in at the bust line, etc.). Plan to have another person on hand to help you mark the changes onto the fabric while you are wearing the mock-up.
Once all the sizing adjustments have been made, re-cut the dress pieces to reflect these changes and use them as your new pattern pieces. If you prefer, you could also make these same adjustments to the paper pattern pieces.
After you have successfully completed the mock-up and altered the pattern, cut the dress out of your chosen fabric. Take your time with the final version and avoid sewing when you are tired or frustrated. Take breaks when you need them. If you are using a machine in your own home, create a designated sewing area for the duration of your project.
This way, you can leave your sewing when necessary and pick up right where you left off when you return. Make sure that this area is closed off from small children or pets that may be attracted to potentially dangerous objects such as pins and thread. If you are using a sewing machine at an alternate location, keep all project pieces in a plastic bin that is small enough to be easily transported and large enough to accommodate all your supplies.