Projects, Wedding / October 2, 2017

Altering/Upcycling My Wedding Dress

How I altered (and upcycled) my wedding dress
Photo by Julie DiCarlo
The best part of wedding planning was redesigning my dress!
Photo by Julie DiCarlo

So. My wedding dress. Many of you have asked for a post about my process of altering (slash upcycling) the dress, so here it is!

Part 1: Finding the Dress

I (surprisingly) didn’t really have any ideas about how I wanted my wedding dress to look. In fact, the only dresses I’d really felt drawn to was this beauty from BHLDN.

I’d considered making a dress myself, but I really, really wanted to try on wedding dresses. (And I didn’t want to buy anything without trying it on. So the BHLDN dress was my last resort.) So I decided to make a few appointments, and I decided that if I didn’t like anything I saw, I’d make a dress.

Of course, when we went shopping, I found a dress that I liked (that was only $500), so I decided that I’d just buy it.

However, I was dress shopping in Iowa, but I was living in Maryland, and the wedding was going to be in Maryland. So IΒ only wanted to buy a dress off the rack. And the dress I liked was a size 14. (They recommended I buy an 8 and then take that one in a little more in the chest. #typical)

I thought that was no problem. My mom thought it was a huge problem. But after fighting with both my mom and my sister, I finally won, and I bought the dress.

Wedding dress | Sweetheart neckline with spaghetti straps and full skirt Coordinating wedding dress/bridesmaid dressThe wedding dress | Front and back on a dress form

Part 2: Alteration #1

A lot of people were really motivated to help me find a tailor, but I was seriously considering the idea of altering it myself. And when a coworker told me that she and her mom were making her wedding dress, I realized that I really did want to alter (and maybe change) my wedding dress.

I already liked the top (and I almost never wear sweetheart necklines, which made it unique), so that was easy enough. If you look closely, you can tell that I changed the shape of the neckline slightly, but otherwise, I kept the design of the top the same. So I took apart the top (every. single. seam.), made a new pattern that matched it, and cut it out in my size.

Dress top mockup \\ sweetheart neckline
The mockup
The boning inside the top \\ sewing studio \\ Hunting for Pink Flamingos
The inside of the dress top

The skirt was a different story.

It was a huge, beautiful ball gown, but it had between 7 and 9 layers — tulle, satin, horse hair, linings, etc. And I really didn’t want to have to navigate around all of that all day.

So I decided that I’d take out a few of the layers, take off the train, and make the skirt a little less full. Simple.

Except that I didn’t actually make a full-scale mockup of the dress before I did the real thing, and I ended up making the skirt too narrow. And it did not look good.

So basically, I didn’t like the dress, and I knew that I would have to pretty much redesign the entire skirt to fix it. Oh, and it was mid-May at this point. Our wedding was July 1.

Round 1 of altering my wedding dress \\ A-line skirt
The version I hated

Part 3: Alteration #2

I made the very uncharacteristic decision to just step back for a few days and not worry about the dress. (My typical course of action would be to freak out, work myself into a tizzy, and call someone to tell hem how it wasΒ ruined. I have done this many times after hair cuts.)

During that time, I did some low-level Pinterest browsing and some brainstorming, but I actually found my inspiration a few days later when I was meeting a friend for dinner. I walked through a mall-like area to get to the bathrooms, and in one of the windows was a dress form with a skirt made out of huge petals. I was like, “That’s what I’m going to do with my dress.”

And I did! I made a petal pattern out of a magazine page, and then I cut out probably 300-400 tulle petals.

I decided that the skirt would look best if the petals were doubled up, so I’d lay down an entire row of petals, put another layer on top, and then sew them all down. And I did that every four inches all the way down the skirt.

Petal skirt \\ mockup \\ Sewing Studio
And I actually made sure the petals looked good before I made the whole skirt. πŸ™‚

During this round of alterations, I also realized that the top made my chest look really, really flat. There was boning along the princess seam to help with that (in theory), but I’d never sewn boning before. Which means I didn’t do a great job of using it for shaping. I eventually found some cups from an old dress, and I sewed those in to help a bit.

And then it was done!

The final product: My wedding dress

It's all in the details: Petal skirt made of tulle
I’m still not sure why it looked pink on the hanger, but it was the normal cream color once I put it on!

Altering the dress ended up being my absolute favorite part of the wedding planning, and now I have tons and tons of pictures of my finished project!

Our wedding
Photo by Julie DiCarlo
The finished product - My wedding dress!
Photo by Julie DiCarlo
Our wedding day \\ statement dress + statement earrings
Photo by Julie DiCarlo

Some Other Notes

Since I bought the dress off the rack, I knew I needed to wash it or clean it somehow. However, I didn’t really trust a dry cleaner with the dress. So I consulted Pinterest and learned how to wash it in the bathtub. (I actually use that method to hand wash regular clothes now — you can see the tutorial here.)

The Process | Hand washing my wedding dress in the bath tub

I only used fabric from the original dress for the finished product. But since I was taking it in so much, there was plenty to work with. Plus, there were about a thousand layers of fabric.

The Process | Yards upon yards of fabric from my wedding dress

It also turned out that when I moved around in the dress, the top wrinkled up a bit. Of course, I had no idea, since I’d only tried it on in my living room. But really, even if I had known, I’m not sure I would’ve been able to figure out how to fix it anyway. πŸ™‚

Pitfalls of the wedding dress: Wrinkles in the top
Photo by Julie DiCarlo

Thanks for reading!

P.S. You can see more of our wedding pictures in this post!


  1. BDD Walk into a Bar

    What an absolutely gorgeous dress! You have such a great skill, and one that’s seemed to fade in our current era. I can’t wait to see more of the things you’ve created! Thanks for sharing!

    06 . Oct . 2017
    • Naomi

      Thank you!

      08 . Oct . 2017

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