Turn a $20 wedding dress into a fairy dress

Updated: Jul 12

Have you ever had a project that you were so excited about that you just couldn't stop working on? (That wasn't caused by having hyper fixation from ADHD)? That is what this project was for me. I really loved watching the progress of turning this cheap marketplace wedding gown that cost me $20. I bought this dress thinking I would do a styled bridal collaboration with my photography friends and then give it away. But the longer it sat in my room the more I hated the dress. It was not made well. It was a fast fashion gown that was if I am not mistaken originally sold on Amazon. While I recommend a lot of buys off Amazon, I don't recommend buying a wedding gown from there. This dress had a lot of issues which is why I never got around to planning that styled collab. It was poorly sewn causing puckering at the stomach and the fabric did not lay well because the seams were not sewn correctly. But enough about what is wrong with it. Let's talk about the transformation.

I was really wanting a yellow fairy dress to match the new yellow fairy wings I had just made but I didn't have time to make an entirely new dress from scratch. This white wedding dress just happened to be in a pile on my floor because I was trying to decide if I wanted to just chop up the fabric and add it to my stash or donate it- maybe someone else could overlook the flaws in its construction. So I tossed it up on my mannequin and put the wings behind it and went and made dinner. My Crafty Room as I like to call it sits right beside the kitchen and I can look in there while I cook and do the dishes and brainstorm over my creations. As I randomly glanced at the dress I started thinking about what I couldn't stand about this dress and what I could do to change it without spending more than a week on it.

I really only disliked two major things the scalloped lace trim and the poor hemming at the waist that created a puckered effect. First, though I needed to overcome the construction with the waist. I looked at it to see if I could resew

it to fix it. I decided this was going to be more time than I wanted to invest into this specific dress. So I thought about adding some flowing fabric to just hide it.

I use chiffon in various ways to give it the fantasy feel I am going for. So I grabbed the chiffon I had on hand that was destined for another project (The white council Galadriel gown) and started pinning it around the mannequin to see if this would hide the flaws I did not like. I decided that I was not going to sketch out the design like I usually would and just see where this took me and change things as I was inspired. The problem for me is that when I do this. I usually add weeks to my project but I want to get to the photo shoot and not spend a ton of time on sewing So I decided to involve all my Facebook friends and family in the process. I posted several This or That questions while I worked on the dress and this really helped me with the process of not getting hung up on a design feature.

I started the dress by cutting off the scalloped edges. I was so ready to get rid of this feature that I forget to take a video of the bottom edge. Getting rid of the scallop alone really helped make this dress look more "fantasy". One of the things I noticed a long time ago in a lot of styled fairy gowns is that the ones I loved the most had a very organic feeling to them. While not all of them have these design features they often have irregular necklines and are not as structured. When I am working on my own projects now I tend to lean towards that same way of creating. It is hard to work in such an organic way at first but after a while, it becomes very natural to just "toss" pieces here and there and move them around until it feels right. I also knew that I needed some extra lace parts to add around the top neckline so I took some creative freedom and cut the train up to floor-length so I would have some extra lace. If you don't want to cut the length of your dress you can always buy some extra lace from the store or maybe even find another dress similar at the thrift store to combine together. I knew I was adding the chiffon skirt overlay and was not really concerned about cutting the back up a little bit. TIP When you are cutting up the lace to create smaller applique pieces try to follow the shape as much as you can. If you have to cut over threads or design pieces you may want to have some Fabric-Tac on hand and just add the smallest amount over where you cut to keep it from fraying further.

I didn't spend too long with the neckline. I just cut out the smaller pieces and started laying and pinning them around until I was happy with the placement. My next step is sewing down the entire neckline. I do this quickly using a whip stitch method and usually, I don't even take the dress off the mannequin I just lift it away and start sewing all while attempting to avoid catching the mannequin fabric.

Now before I go any further. I want to address that for me I wanted to make a very quick and easy dress. This meant that I was going to take shortcuts. So the next few steps are quick and easy short-cuts. They are by no means professional sewing techniques but for a costume that is mainly being used in a photoshoot, I don't have a problem with it. Even now looking at the dress I would never know that I took these steps unless I started really looking closely and it doesn't bother me. Once I had my neckline done I unpinned the chiffon that was draping on the mannequin to decide the look and started cutting out what I needed. I cut 1.5 yards for each sleeve and 4 yards for the overskirt. (7 yards total) If you are tight on budget you can get away with 3 yards for your overskirt and make your sleeves not come down so long but I really wanted the extra fabric so it would flow more. You will also want to decide how long you want your sleeves on based on who will be wearing the dress. Most people use the 5/8th seam allowance. You can use whatever you are most comfortable with. It doesn't bother me if I am losing a half-inch or an inch on these hems because I use a lot of fabric, to begin with when making projects like this so it doesn't bother me what the seam allowance is.

I got ahead of myself at this point and should have hemmed all my edges but I was really excited for the dyeing portion of the project so I skipped ahead. I highly recommend you finish off the edges of this fabric first as it will fray when you dye and dry the fabric but there was no waiting for me and sure enough I had a bunch of frayed fabric. It didn't bother me because I knew how I was going to finish it off but it may bother you so make sure not to skip ahead.

If you are not familiar with what the fabric is I recommend using Rit Dyemore which is for Polyesters. I find that most items are polyester these days. Just do a test beforehand on a small piece. (Usually, you can cut a tiny piece out of the seam to do this.) TIP

If you are dying both chiffon and regular lace fabric on a pre-finished dress. Make sure to dye them separately. Dyeing fabric can be unpredictable and may not all dye the same strength at the same time. Always attempt to do a test batch before you dye your entire project.

For the chiffon, it only needed about 1 minute to get to the yellow I wanted. For the dress, it was in the dye bath for maybe 20 seconds. It took the dye very fast. This is why a test dye is so important to know exactly how your fabric is going to act.

Since you have to work fast with certain fabrics I use plastic totes to transfer fabric so I can take it off the stove top and get it rinsed as fast as possible. I find if you don't work fast enough you will end up with splotchy fabric from where the dye stayed on certain areas longer while you rinsed.

Because I was very excited about this project I tossed all the fabric into the dryer on low heat. I just didn't want to wait that long. This is what produced the most fraying in the unfished hems on the chiffon. I just ignored it, trimmed off the excess fraying, and repined the fabric on the mannequin to see how it was looking. This is when I decided that the overskirt looked better and turned around in the other direction. I started with the sleeves since I knew exactly how I wanted these to look.

Laying the fabric down and folding it in half I cut the bottom portion of the fabric to have rounded edges.

This doesn't have to be exact. You don't need a pattern for this just take a little off at a time and hold it up and see how much of a curve you want. Once you get both of your sleeves cut out finish your edge hems. I use a serger and I highly recommend it. I didn't always have a serger but I will never go back and sew without one. My sewing improved 200% once I bought one. But if you don't have a serger you can use a rolled hem foot in most sewing machines to create a finished edge. Next, add a gathering stitch along the top portion of the sleeve.

I don't worry about being too exact here as long as the gathered portion fits roughly inside the sleeve portion that I am applying it to.

Once both sleeves are gathered I start pining to the inside of the sleeve. If you are using the same technique just make sure you are distributing the fabric. Whipstitch the sleeve in place. I add enough stitches that it is firmly in place. The stitching is visible from the underside of the sleeve so this might not work with every dress you are working on. Then I start the overskirt portion. There are many ways to add an overskirt. If you want your dress to be adjustable. I would skip sewing down the chiffon around the waist and sew it to a ribbon instead. (There are a lot of patterns available and I plan on doing a future blog on making an adjustable skirt.)

To make the skirt I took the four yards of fabric that I had left and added a serged edge around the entire thing. I then cut about 8 inches off of one side. Once the "waist belt" portion is cut off I then serge around the areas that I cut this leaves the waist belt width at around 6.5 inches. Set the "Waist belt" to the side. You don't have to do anything further to this unless you want to cut some length off but I like the size that it is so this is entirely up to you.

Just like the sleeves I then gathered the waistband. I use my serger to make the edges clean and small. If you don't have a serger you will want to fold your hem over and encase your seam so it is cleaner. I pinned the gathered skirt section around the waist and since I originally was going to have the skirt open in the front I had to now prepare to sew it with the split in the back and figure out what to do with that. Since I didn't want to take the dress apart it was tricky but I figured since this was for a photoshoot that as long as it was attached and looked great in photos that is all that mattered.

Because I had to adapt as I was making this I left 4 inches of extra fabric on the back of both sides. I folded the extra fabric inward and then pinned it down on both sides of the zipper in the back. I wanted to make sure that the dress could still zip up and down completely. With the folded inward fabric it creates additional folds in the back to make it look completely closed. I then went around the entire thing with whipstitches to secure the entire thing to the dress. I took an additional step and added a line of stitching up the back to "close" the back skirt but I did not go all the way up to the top so the zipper could still be used. This was not a necessary step but just in case I photographed the dress from behind I wanted to make sure it appeared to be sewn closed. You can go to the extra step of sewing it shut but I just didn't want to. I was itching to get this dress finished.

After stepping away from this I decided it needed something else. The skirt line was just too straight across. There was nothing fairy or fantasy about it. I started playing around with some leftover lace pieces and decided to add a little lace to the front over the seam line. If I had more lace I would have gone all the way around the dress but I only had enough to go around the front section. Since I was adding the "waist belt" I wasn't too worried about the backside. Here is a photo of it just pinned on, I used the same steps as the other parts and just added some whipstitches to hold it in place. I think this also helped hide the puckering in the stomach section of the dress that was not sewn correctly from the start.

If you have some visible threads from the whipstitches don't stress too much about this. I usually will just add some crystals over them if they are super noticeable but usually, I am the only one that knows they are there. As I finish up the dress I like to go in and add crystals. I use E6000 to apply these but if you have a hotfix tool you can use hotfix crystals instead. I usually add scattered flowers throughout my fairy dresses but I really was falling in love with the dress as it was so I just put a ton of crystals scattered instead.

That is it. The dress is completed and the only thing left to do to complete this costume set is the headpiece and maybe some detachable floral pieces in case I do end up wanting to add floral later. (If you noticed the image above I have an older headpiece already made but probably will make something different. I am not sure what do you think? Should I make a headpiece with matching wing pieces added to it?

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