How to Sew a Prom Dress - Simplicity 8289

Hello sewing friends!  Prom season is upon us again and it's time to start thinking about what pattern to choose if you are making a dress. I thought it would be fun to share the prom dress I made for my daughter a few of years ago. I've been sitting on this post for a while but I'll just post the following as it was written when it was fresh...

Hey everyone, it has been way too long since I've checked in over here. All I can say is parenting is no joke and has been all consuming this year. However, I have been sewing and am checking in from time to time over on Instagram so follow me there if you don't already @bluesusanmakes. 

Can you sew a Prom dress?

Yes you can... with a little patience and practice!! And when you pull it off nothing boosts your sewing confidence more than sewing a beautiful dress. As for my experience, Prom season came and went and I spent more hours than I'd like to admit sewing my daughter's prom dress. It was actually a lot of fun and I learned so much that I'm going to share some of my process and tips here if you happen to be attempting to sew a prom dress too. I have to admit, I have never made such a fancy, fitted dress on my own so I was a little overwhelmed but I decided to just dive in, little by little, and plan to make a lot of mistakes. 

How to sew a Prom Dress

Step 1 - Choose your pattern

The pattern we chose was Simplicity 8289. We found it by going to Joann and flipping through the big pattern books for ideas. I liked how it had raglan type sleeves that could be easily altered to make it a little more modest. We also loved the how the bodice nicely flowed into the full circle skirt with out a lot of gathers in the waist. We decided to sew view B without the tiered sheer overlay.   My goal was to make a wearable muslin and I would alter the pattern to bring up the neckline, lengthen the sleeve to cover the shoulder, and bring up the backline and under arm to cover her bra.

Tip: Choose the right pattern size. 

I got home and realized the pattern I grabbed was for size 4-10. Even though all the sizes are listed on the back of the envelope, there are 2 envelopes for sale with different size ranges. Patterns are non refundable so I had to buy a SECOND one. Good thing they have coupons at that store. My daughter's measurements put her at a size 14 bust and 16 waist. I chose to sew a size 14 and added an inch at the side seam that could be sewn tighter at the fitting if necessary.

Step 2 - Sew a "muslin" for the first fitting.

What is a "muslin"? A "muslin" is a practice dress (traditionally made out of muslin fabric) made for the purpose of fitting. I knew we would ultimately be using very fancy fabric so I wanted to know what I was doing before cutting into it. So I decided to make a practice dress.  Before sewing that dress, though I cut out a practice bodice to check the measurements and see how it fit her. I chose an old sheet and sewed up just a single layer of the bodice. I traced and cut out the pattern as it was drawn and sewed it together with a long basting stitch so it could be easily unpicked.

Tip: Don't cut the original pattern out  - Trace the pattern onto different paper. 

 I used a roll of freezer paper for my tracing paper. I taped the pattern sheet on a window  and held up the freezer paper to trace on. This way you can come back to the original pattern sheet if you need to adjust the sizing for your 2nd sew through.

Tip: Read through the pattern before you start sewing.

Read through the pattern but don't get too intimidated if it's not making sense. Sometimes the instructions in these patterns start to make more sense as you sew the garment. I had to FaceTime my mom a few times to ask about the construction of where the sleeve meets the neckline. I thought for sure it was written or drawn wrong (of course I was wrong). For this particular pattern the neckline and back clasp are all part of the sleeve so it gets a little complicated. The pattern made more sense as I sewed it up but was tricky to understand by just pre-reading. The construction came more apparent and the steps were easier to understand as I sewed it up.

At the first fitting I put the bodice on my daughter and evaluated the fit of the original pattern.  Does it come up high enough? Where do I need to add more length? Does it have enough overlap to close in the back? How low is the front? 
I used a marker to draw right on the fabric where the changes  needed to be made. I wish I had a picture of this first attempt but I don't. Then I unpicked the whole thing and went back to the pattern paper to redraw the pattern pieces making the adjustments where I thought they needed to be. I cut out a new practice bodice and sewed it up again. This time it fit way better. It wasn't perfect but I felt more confident cutting into fabric to make a practice dress that would be actually wearable. This was the piece for the back of the shoulder with a little more coverage over the back shoulder.  Not sure why it says 12 when everything else I cut was 14 lol! Maybe piece #12.

These were the side and front panels. As you can see I brought up the neckline quite a bit, lifted the arm opening and the back to cover her bra, and added a lot of width to the waist at just the side seam. This was something I wasn't sure about. Do you add more width to the just the side seam or across all of the seams around the middle if you need the waist bigger? I decided, after I sewed the first muslin, that the front seams looked like they were positioned right so I opted to add width 
just at the side seams. 

Step 3 - Sew a 'wearable muslin'

Then it was time to cut the fabric for the wearable muslin. A wearable muslin is a fully finished practice dress. It allows you to iron out the kinks in the fit and figure out the sewing before cutting into the expensive fabric.  It was intended to be an Easter dress but it was finished late and my daughter was going to 2 proms so she ended up wearing it to her first Prom even though it wasn't quite the prom style she was looking for. 
Since this dress was lined we chose a semi-sheer rayon fabric for the for the outer layer with an off white lining fabric underneath.  We opted to add an extra couple of inches to the top of the sleeves on just the outer fabric. I finished the edges of the lining and outer fabric separately  before attaching them together at the neckline. Since I raised the back a little, I put the dress on her to figure out where to attach the back of the sleeves and pinned them in place to get the fit right. 

I loved how the back turned out.  

Here is what it looks like on the inside if you are curious

Tip: Take extra care when cutting the hem length of a full circle skirt.

I learned one more thing making this dress. Always allow the dress to hang for 24 hrs before cutting the hem AND always cut the hem length while the dress is being worn or is hanging on a mannequin.  For the wearable muslin,  I measured the hem length  while it was on and then laid it on the floor to cut off the same amount all the way around. She put it back on and the hem was sooo wonky, high in some places and too long in others.  To make it even I had to trim it all to the shortest length which ended up being way too short for what she wanted. It was tragic! Because it's a full circle skirt some parts of the skirt hang on the bias and the fabric stretches with gravity. Other parts of the skirt hang on the grainline and the fabric doesn't stretch with gravity. So I learned the hard way that wearing the dress it while cutting the hem is the only way to get it even.  You are also supposed to let the dress hang for 24 hrs to allow all the angles to relax before cutting. Which I did for the 2nd dress.

Step 4 - Sew the real Prom dress

Time to cut into the fancy/expensive fabric. You've done all your homework by now so this time around it will go much more smoothly.  It did for me. For the real Prom dress she chose a pretty blue lace for the top with a light blue lining fabric and a nude colored fine tulle overlay for the bottom. We found all the fabric at Joann. I wish I recorded the pricing so we could compare cost of making our own vs buying a dress.

She wanted the sleeves more sheer so went back to the original pattern and cut a smaller piece for the lining underlay. The lace happened to have this nice edge stitching in the pattern of it so I used it for the sleeve edges. Here is an example of some last minute adjustments at the final fitting. As you can see, each piece of lace was basted a layer of lining fabric for the outside bodice.  

I found some sparkly buttons in my button stash that were perfect for the neck closure

At the last minute we realized that the blue lining fabric plus tulle on the bottom was too see through. Apparently I needed a  3rd layer on the bottom like the top. :) I had to sew up a quick half slip for her to wear underneath. It was short and you can see it if you look closely in some of the pictures.  

Oh well! She loved it and called it her Cinderella dress.

She felt like a princess and even did her nails to match

I hope these tips help and inspire you to try your hand at sewing fancy Prom dress! It can be a lot of work but it is an amazing accomplishment. Kind of like running a marathon in the exercise world. Haha. Next thing you know you'll be sewing wedding dresses! :)

If you sew this pattern I'd love to see your take on it. Tag me @bluesusanmakes on Instagram or Facebook. 
Happy sewing!

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