Zoe’s wedding dress: From start to finish

Suzie Blackman
Monday, 13 September 2010

14 April

I’m half way through the Custom Pattern Cutting course at LCF, Zoe asks me if I’d make her dress, I say of course yes.

11 May – 14 May

Zoe has tried on some dresses and emails me photos of her faves, I start thinking about construction.

24 May

We discuss final design ideas, construction, cost of fabric etc. over email and phone. I start investigating suppliers and ordering calico and dot-and-cross paper for phase 1. I make a project plan and check time scales.

11 June

I go to Wales to take Zoe’s measurements. Because we’ve both been busy this is the first time we’ve been able to meet up. I’m concerned about the tight schedule with exactly 3 months before the wedding.

14 June – 7 July

Zoe's basic toile

I draft a basic block from Zoe’s measurements, create a paper pattern from the basic block and make a calico toile.

7 July

Zoe is due to come to London for the first fitting but her meeting in Paris is cancelled. I get a week off sewing while we re-schedule! It’s nice not to have to worry about the dress but I’m conscious that time is marching on.

14 July

First fitting of the basic toile. A number of alterations are necessary: Hips and waist need to be taken in; side-seams need shifting; shape of bust darts needs changing; darts on bodice and skirt need aligning; the side dart on the skirt back creates an add shape, I decide to remove it. We make decisions about the height of the bodice back, front and underarm, and the position from which the skirt flares. I also mark the length and position of straps to ensure that Zoe’s bra is hidden. I make a check-list of all the required alterations and make notes on the calico.

15 July – 3 August

I draft a new block based on the adjustments from the fitting. I align the skirt and bodice blocks into panels and trace them to form the dress pattern and use the measurements I noted in the fitting to create the shape of the bodice and skirt. I cut the pattern in calico and sew it together. Zoe and I discuss lace and I order some samples.

6-8 August

The calico dress

With just over a month to go, Zoe comes to London for the second fitting and fabric shopping. Zoe’s train is delayed which is a real shame because she doesn’t get here in time to come to the silk wholesaler with me. I pick the main fabric and lining on my own but, they’re both gorgeous and Zoe loves the too.

Zoe tries on the calico dress and is delighted with the shape! What a relief! I’m not happy with the bodice front so I remake it while Zoe’s here. I also take in the hips and waist. After that it’s fitting very well indeed. I copy the changes back onto the pattern pieces. There are a few smaller alterations I draw straight onto the pattern pieces without adjusting the calico. I only make one small design change, relating to the way the straps are attached to the back of the bodice. We decide on the length of the hem, we make it longer at the back than at the front.

We spend a lot of time trying to decide on the lace. None of the samples I received fit the bill. I saw some gorgeous samples at the silk wholesaler but they were not confident that they’d be able to order some from Paris in time for me. We find a low-cost alternative at John Lewis but we’re both unsure about it. John Lewis say there’s a possibility they’ll get more lace in the following week. Zoe decides to sleep on it.

We buy most of the odds and ends; zip, binding, thread etc and Zoe is kind enough to buy me some new scissors. :-)

9 August

Not wanting to waste any time, I cut the final fabric and interfacing.

10 August

Zoe calls to say that she’d like to go with the John Lewis lace. I’m pleased about this because it means I can get it straight away and with it being so cheap, I don’t have to worry when working with it. I go and buy it that evening.

11-20 August

I sew the main fabric and finish edges as I go. This goes smoothly. We choose some edging for the lace and I order it. I look for beads for the bodice but can’t find any I like in the shops, so I order some Swarovski crystal ones.

26 August – 3 September

I cut and sew the lace. This does not go smoothly. I take 3 days off work in order to finish the dress but I don’t even finish the lace until half way through the third day. Finally I can sew the top section to the bottom.

On 1 September the edging arrives, it’s a terrible match, my heart sinks. I head into the city to find an alternative and send photos to Zoe. The Swarovski crystals arrive, they are so beautiful I stop worrying about the edging.

I sew on the alternative edging, it looks really nice on the hem, phew!

4 September

I’m off to another wedding today, but I manage to make the straps before I leave.

5 September

Zoe’s due to come tomorrow so I spend 13 hours on the dress trying to get it ready. The lace has pushed me two days behind, panic sets in. I sew in the straps, the zip, cut and make the lining and almost finish sewing it in lining. I’m rushing everything so I make a lot of mistakes and have to re-do bits. It’s very close to being wearable but has none of the embellishments.

There’s a tube strike for all day on Tuesday the 7th, I wont be able to get to work so suggest to Zoe that she comes to pick up the dress that day instead. Luckily, this suits her so I get a bit more time.

6 September

I work though lunch so I can leave work early. That evening I finish hand-sewing the lining in around the zip and the tricky front of the bodice. Finally, it’s wearable! I start sewing the beads on the bodice, this is great fun and goes much quicker than I thought. I got nearly the whole of front done in an hour in front of the TV before going to bed, finally able to relax!

Sewing on the beads

7 Septmeber

Zoe arrives at lunchtime for the final fitting. Well, it isn’t really a fitting because incredibly, no fitting is required, it’s perfect! Zoe is overjoyed and so I am. It looks amazing, really professional, I can hardly believe it.

I crack on with the two finishing I couldn’t do without Zoe; sewing on ribbon that covers the join between the bodice and the skirt, and making the lace cap sleeves. Again, I’m rushing as Zoe’s got to drive back to Wales that evening. The cap sleeves are particularity problematic and I make them 3 times. Lots of slow hand-sewing. I don’t finish the beading or make the bow for the front, I decide to do this when I go up to Wales the day before the wedding.

By 8.30 I’ve got the essentials done. I remove all the holding stitches and hand over the dress.

8 – 9 September

I bought some gorgeous Liberty print fabric to make myself a dress for the wedding but I decide instead to take a break from sewing and spend a couple of evenings chilling at home.

10 September

The day before the wedding, I catch the train to Wales. Since I am not only Zoe’s dress maker, but also her Maid of Honour, there is a lot to do. Zoe’s mum has a first look at the dress and loves it, a relief!

11 September: The big day!

Getting ready

While Zoe’s having her hair done I sew on the bow and the rest of the crystals. This takes no time at all and I can then devote myself to the important business of helping Zoe get ready. I’m very glad I made the zip opening good and long so she can step into the dress without messing up her hair and make-up. Zoe looks absolutely stunning.

Everything goes fantastically – a beautiful service and a party to remember! I get compliments on the dress from everyone I speak to. I’m so honoured to have played a part in Zoe’s wedding, it was totally worth it.

I was asked many times throughout the evening if I make wedding dresses for a living, or if I’m planning a career change, or if I take commissions. Would I make a bespoke dress? Absolutely. Would I make a wedding dress? For a very good friend like Zoe, yes. She is the most chilled-out bride I’ve ever seen and I know her tastes well. For a stranger, no. Would I make a lace dress? Hell no.

The happy couple!

The author

Suzie Blackman

The dyer, designer, photographer, creative technologist and maker-of-things behind It's a Stitch Up. She lives in East London in a home filled with colour, fluff and house plants.


  1. Helen says:

    WOW! Love love love this story of how the dress develops with you, its a stunning dress and Zoe looks amazing wearing it. Congratulations to the happy couple but also to you for your dress debut, dont say you wont make any more you are so very talented it would be a real shame. Perhaps you could start with smaller items like First Holy Communion dresses or Christening gowns ?

    Thank you so very much for sharing your story with this beautiful dress, I have followed everything with great interest :)

    Dont hide your talent you truly have a real gift.

    Helen x

    • Suzie says:

      Thank you for your lovely comments Helen, it’s great to know that you’ve been following the progress.

      I never say never, but it was a huge responsibility, and commitment work on top of a full time job. It was a fantastic experience though and I’m so glad I did it.

  2. yoel says:

    Wow! The dress and bride are gorgeous. You did an amazing job!

  3. mooncalf says:

    It is stunning – you must be very proud!

    Sound to me like it might be an opportunity for some downtime after all that work though! And then maybe something for yourself :)

  4. Nadia says:

    Absolutely freakin’ gorgeous! I am floored by your sewing skills, Suz. Zoe looks beautiful.

  5. Marion says:

    When you were tweeting the updates of the progress with the dress, I was hoping you’d write up the whole thing and put up a picture of the dress.

    It looks absolutely fantastic – beautiful dress. I am in awe.

  6. caz says:

    Soozel! Mein Gott! I love the dress and your writing. You’re my inspiration. xxx

  7. karin says:

    lovely headpiece

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