Bridesmaids Dresses: My Anna Dress Hack

Date: May, 3 months until the wedding

I admit I am absolutely nuts to want to sew my own wedding dress and then turn around and make five more bridesmaids dresses. I don't recommend it for the faint of heart. But honestly, with the amount of sewing I do anyway, all I had to do was give up some of my other sewing time that would have gone to making everyday clothes. And by choosing an easy fabric and design, it really was a nice palette cleanser after working with nothing but silk satin and beaded mesh for three months. So as I waited for the very last piece of trim for my wedding dress to arrive, I dove into making bridesmaid dresses.

If you are considering the same ridiculous task, I have some tips for making it easier:
  1. Make all the dresses the same style. While it is trendy right now to let each girl pick her own dress, if that's the case then I would just let them buy their dresses themselves. Things will be much simpler if you can sew everything assembly-line style and figure out your techniques just once.
  2. Use a pattern service that drafts to exact measurements like Lekala or Bootstrap Fashion. Then all you have to do is enter each bridesmaids measurements and you will have a custom-fitted pattern. This worked especially well for me as most of my bridesmaids do not live close enough to do regular fittings. 
  3. Work with a stretch fabric. I hunted for months for the perfect double knit crinkle fabric for the project and I am so glad that I did. Knit dresses are comfy, drape well, and are forgiving to fit and to sew, which really made the whole process a lot easier. If that feels too informal for you, try a stretch woven like a cotton sateen. Even when you have a pattern drafted to measurement, it's nice to have that bit of wiggle room if things don't fit perfect.

Choosing the right colors/fabric was definitely a challenge. In most cases, showing up to a party in the same dress as someone else is a serious fashion faux pas, so designing five matching dresses was decidedly new territory for me! For example, I love the look of floral dresses but kept seeing flashes of horrible 80s gowns. It looks like the poor bride is hiding in a sea of camouflage.

Color was tricky as well. I personally have a very neutral palette, and we had a range of light, beachy colors rather than a single accent color for our wedding. So I decided to embrace my instinct and dress the bridesmaids in white for the wedding. I'm pretty sure my mother-in-law hated the idea at first, but I loved the look of crisp white dresses flowing in the wind at a beach wedding. Of course, I still had moments of panic. At various points, I worried that the dresses looked like big white muumuus or cult garments. The murky middle all over again, right?



In the end, though, I trusted in my design and they came out beautifully. So what pattern did I choose? Well, I have always loved the look of the By Hand London Anna Dress, which is already a popular choice for bridesmaids dresses. However, if you've been reading my blog for a few years you'll remember my somewhat scathing review of the actual pattern. While I love the IDEA of the dress, I felt the actual pattern was poorly drafted with slanting side seams, a poorly fitted bust, and angular seams on the skirt. I was not willing to spend another three days making fitting adjustments to get it right, especially when each of my bridesmaids lives in a different city in the US.

So instead, as per my advice above, I found the similar Lekala #4481 (a nearly identical pattern to Vogue #8685), which has a lot of the same bodice details as the Anna Dress. While it may not seem like it at first, it was actually fairly easy to change it into an Anna bodice, with the added benefits of using custom-fitted measurements for each bridesmaid. Here's what I did.




Changing Lekala #4481/Vogue #8685 into an Anna Dress:

First, I sent out a questionnaire to each of my bridesmaids to get their measurements. I did this well in advance of when I actually needed them so that by the time I was ready to get started they had had about a month to send everything over (many of them still waited until the last minute - ha!). I printed the pattern without seam allowances so that I could make easy adjustments. Then I made the following modifications:

1. The first step is to attach the front raglan sleeve to the front bodice. I did this to preserve the original cut-on sleeve look of the Anna Dress and simplify the sewing process (fewer seams to sew!). Repeat for the back raglan sleeve and bodice.


2. The main difference between the Anna Dress and Lekala #4481/Vogue 8685 is that the Lekala/Vogue version has a waistband with pleats while the Anna Dress has longer release tucks that extend all the way down to the waist seam. To change the bodice + waistband into a bodice with release tucks, I first measured the length of the waistband and added that length to the bodice.


3. This new piece will need new tucks added in. I measured the width of the bottom of the waistband and compared that to the width of the piece I had added on to the bodice. Then I drew my release tucks wide enough so that, after they are sewn, the new, longer bodice will be the same width as the original bodice and waistband. I also reduced the number of tucks from three to two to better mimic the Anna Dress, making sure to widen each tuck so the bodice would stay the same width. 


4. Repeat this process with the back of the bodice, extending the length of the bodice and the tuck to eliminate the waistband. 

5. Finally, I redrew the neckline to be more of a boatneck shape and extended the sleeve from the raglan shape to a cut-on kimono sleeve shape. I repeated this for the back, making sure to true the side seams afterward. 


6. After that, I used the skirt from the By Hand London Dress and cut skirts to match each bodice. I had already modified my skirt patterns last time I made the Anna Dress so that the seams match up at the hem and aren't angular. You can read more about how and why I did that here

The result is an Anna look-alike bodice with custom Lekala measurements. 


All of this may seem a bit silly since I already owned the Anna Dress pattern. However, by using the Lekala pattern, as I mentioned, I was able to tailor the bodice to the exact size of each of my bridesmaids. I also found it much easier to change the style lines in the Lekala Pattern than make all the fitting adjustments that the Anna Dress requires. Plus, if you don't own either dress, the Lekala Pattern is only $2.99 compared to $13 for the Anna Dress and $25 if you buy the Vogue Dress not on sale (but you should always buy Vogue on sale!). The bodice took me one evening after work to modify and sew up, compared to the two nights I spent just correcting the fit issues on the Anna Dress. Plus I'm a sucker for a little pattern manipulation. 

After the pattern adjustments, it was smooth sailing to sew up the dresses. I cut extra wide seam allowances just in case adjustments were needed later, and sewed each seam with a zig-zag or lightning bolt stitch. For the neckline, sleeves, and hem, I simply turned the fabric under once and stitched, since knit fabric doesn't unravel. The whole dress could be sewn up in a day, and I packed them all up for my bachelorette party to do some final fitting.

At this point in the post I was hoping to show you some beautiful professional shots of the bridesmaid dresses, but our photographer just informed us the photos take 4-5 months (WTF?!) to get back (seriously WTF?!). So you'll have to make do with this candid shot of my 16-year-old sister-in-law thoroughly unimpressed with the other bridesmaids' antics.


3 comments:

  1. beautiful dresses and I'm so impressed with your organization!

    ReplyDelete
  2. wow! beautiful bridesmaids dresses! great job!

    your bridesmaids seem very happy.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a great idea! And I love the white dresses for a beach wedding!

    ReplyDelete

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