3/19 The Making of a Custom Dress: Behind the Scenes!

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I couldn’t be more excited about my gorgeous niece Candace’s upcoming wedding, so naturally I was super eager to lay down my broke-ass wedding mojo and help her as much as possible with the planning process. I’ve done my best to give her advice and recommendations whenever she needs them, but my biggest triumph so far has been introducing Candace to Kpoene Kofi-Bruce, owner and lead designer at Mignonette Bridal in Chicago. Mignonette specializes in custom dress design at beyond-reasonable prices, and I knew that my stylish niece would rock a custom gown way better than anything she found on a rack. I asked Kpoene to share her “backstage” experience with Candace and a bit of what goes into the custom dress design process for you, and I’m thrilled at the results. Candace is absolutely glowing! (and today is her birthday, too!)
Take it away, Kpoene! xo, Dana

About six months ago, I stumbled onto The Broke-Ass Bride. How great is this blog? Hilarious tips, great ways to manage people’s expectations as you plan your event, and, most importantly, tons of alternative options for brides who want an amazing gown in the Can’t Afford It/Get Over It section. One day I was contacted by Dana and offered the chance to make a custom gown for her beloved niece Candace. Of course, I jumped at the chance. I LOVE making gowns, and I knew that if Candace was anything like her aunt Dana, this would be a fun project.

The first thing she told me was that they would be having a very classic-sounding red, black and white wedding. My clients tend to be girls getting married in very beautiful historic barns, or picturesque flower farms, or somewhere equally vintage-chic, so this would be my first chance to outfit a wedding that was more traditional, complete with a handsome groom in a tux and everything (in other words, all chic, no vintage).

Candace and her fiance’ Matt are a wedding pro’s dream — creative, multi-talented (Candace has an uber-responsible day job and is a professional hairstylist by night), entrepreneurial, and incredibly organized, yet laidback (I can only imagine that one is the result of the other). They planned their Winter 2012 wedding at an all-inclusive venue, the Chateau Bu-Sche’ in the Chicago suburbs, eliminating the need to organize some of wedding planning’s more headache-inducing elements: catering, linens, ceremony space, and reception hall. Oh, and decorating, because the venue is gorgeous.

images from the chateau bu-sche' website

Candace, a very modern girl, decided early on that she wanted color for her gown, and came armed with a boatload of pictures from magazines and websites (and a few sneakily taken with her camera inside of some wedding boutiques).

We quickly deduced that she wanted her gown to be grey, and have deconstructed Vera Wang-esque ruffles. Done and done.

Now it was time to go fabric-shopping. I take all of my brides fabric shopping if I can. It’s a nice way to bond a little bit, and it gives the bride some additional control over her gown.

It can be overwhelming though, unless you’ve got your eyes on the prize of an airy, a-line grey chiffon gown, with a moderate ruffle explosion on the skirt, which is exactly the fabric Candace found after about 30 seconds of fabric hunting.

fabric is done!

Bam. Done. The fabric ended up costing about $100, including chiffon, velvet for the sash, heavy satin, oh, and bright purple crepe-back satin as an awesome secret inside the gown. And because we are both very laid-back, I took her measurements in the aisle. I won’t publish those here though.

About a month later, we met for our first muslin fitting. A muslin is a rough fabric ‘sketch’ used to make a pattern of the actual garment. Muslin can be anything from lightweight cotton to heavier, burlap-weight fabric. For Candace’s muslin, I used a dropcloth of roughly the same weight as the finished dress will be. For a first fitting, Candace’s muslin turned out to fit pretty well, and she actually managed to look good in it. She’s such a good sport. In fact, it was so good that we skipped the second muslin (usually a necessity) entirely.


For our second fitting, Candace announced that she was bringing her mom, so I knew I had to pull out all the stops. I put my wife, Anne, on mom duty, which turned out to be unnecessary, because mom was even more relaxed than Candace, if you can believe it. It was also the day before Candace’s birthday, so I knew I needed to give her an amazing experience so that she could leave on a high note.

For these fittings, brides are trying on skirts and tops that aren’t sewn together yet, so they have to trust me and use their imaginations to get an idea of the finished dress. Candace stood very patiently and let me run around her with tons of pins and extra fabric, like the birds in Cinderella.

Here’s what we did (note that the ruffles are just scraps and are only pinned to the front for now).

first draft of candace's gown

Pretty good for a first draft, huh? We’ve still got several months to go, but I’m feeling really happy with where we are right now. True, the bodice is still kinda wacky (and doesn’t have any boning yet, or a zipper, but at least we are heading in the right direction!

The Broke-Ass Bride
Dana is the head woman in charge here, the original Broke-Ass Bride. Learn more about her here. And, follow her on Twitter (@brokeassbride), Pinterest (@brokeassbride), Facebook (/thebrokeassbride) and Instagram (@brokeassbride). Affiliate links, which might be included in the post above, help make her a few dollars here and there to keep her off the streets and in the business of blogging for your ass. So thanks for coming! :)
  • Lyndsey

    Any idea what the finished product will end up costing? It would be cool to see how it compares to an off-the-rack gown w/ alterations.

  • HoneyBee

    im worried her groom-to-be will see this… lol but love the dress! what will b the total cost of the dress?

  • I start at $500 for tea-length and around $1,000 for full-length. That includes fabric and alterations (actually because we make each gown from scratch, there aren't any alterations). I also only use silk, unlike a lot of mass-produced gowns. If you can find a gown designer in your town, I recommend talking to them!

  • What an interesting and informative post – it is fabulous to see folk introduced to what goes on behind the scenes – we know what happens when we are making rings, and all the in between stages they go through, but often the customer only ever sees the final shiny effort – it is nice to know that dresses go through the same life cycle too 🙂

  • Very cool… consider this tweeted!

  • Beautiful! Hard to believe it’s only a first draft as well!

  • Beautiful. I could never in a million years do this! Can't wait to see the final dress.

  • My Mom is making my dress! she did custom gowns when I was little, and has been excited to make mine! We did my muslin in the same fabric as the final dress, except in black. So now I'll have a gown identical to my wedding gown, except appropriate for black-tie functions. It's been so fun to design a dress with my Mom and see the progression. I love it!

  • Joanie Sharp