How to Make a Wedding Dress with Monique Sandoval

Monique Sandoval made her wedding dress the night before her big day.

She sewed up the gown, which she describes as Mexican bohemian, with her step-grandmother, who taught her to use a needle and thread. She remembers the late night fondly. With antique crocheted fabric Sandoval found on Etsy and silk tulle, she completed the one-shoulder frock just hours before her Halloween ceremony at The Icehouse.

That was about three years ago. The marital bliss has endured -- and so has the dressmaking.

See also: Phoenix Boutique Cleo & Clementine Celebrates One-Year Anniversary

Of course, the Phoenix-based designer who heads up special-occasion label Ouma wouldn't necessarily recommend that course of fashion action to the average bride-to-be. For plenty of gals, picking out a wedding dress is a top priority when planning nuptials -- not something to save for tying-the-knot eve.

"Your heart knows when you find what's right for you," Sandoval says of finding the perfect dress, whether it's in a store, online, or a sketch in a notebook.

She hopes when women come to Cleo & Clementine, her boutique and workspace bedecked with a neon sign on the Melrose Curve, one of her handmade designs will affect them in that romantic, splendid, this-is-your-destiny kind of way. The pieces have an ethereal, delicate look. When brides put the dresses on, they appear to float.

The designer describes her creations as classic but contemporary. She doesn't keep close tabs on fashion trends in the wedding world. "I just make what I want to make," she says.

Textures, silhouettes, and movement all play into how Sandoval looks at the world and what she designs. Ballet has been particularly impactful on her creations of late. Sandoval, seamstress Rachel Regan, and Anna "Director of All Things Sparkle" Romero round out the team at Cleo & Clementine.

They all agree that Sandoval's design process begins with the fabric, which is crucial in creating Ouma's trademark light and lovely look.

For the designer, getting to know a material, how it lies, drapes, and can be manipulated, is of utmost importance. She counts SAS Fabrics as an invaluable resource, as Phoenix doesn't have a garment district like New York or Los Angeles. She'll buy fabric first and decide what to make from it later.

After choosing materials, she sketches. She says inspiration comes from all around her all the time: while watching movies, taking walks, visiting art museums, and reading books. "It's easy to get inspired," she says.

From there, things get more technical. She'll take measurements and map out the dimensions of the garment to create a pattern. "Sewing is all math," she says, laying out silk for a new dress on her cutting mat in the back room of her shop.

Today, she's putting together a wedding dress with a chevron bodice and striped skirt composed of silk chiffon and tulle. She guesses it will take a little more than a half-day -- 12-ish hours of hands-on work -- to complete the dress for an upcoming photo shoot highlighting her spring line, dubbed Daydream. That calculation does not include the time spent shopping and conceptualizing the dress before fabrication.

With help from Regan, Sandoval creates a muslin sample, a mockup of the dress, then checks its fit and begins cutting into the actual fabric. Depending on the custom order she's filling, she sometimes hand-dyes the fabric in-house. The sewing and assembly is a bit tedious, with many small steps like serging seams, lining flimsy silk for body and structure, and adding boning, which keeps the dress in place. "It's not a pretty world," she says of the inner sanctum of wedding dress creation.

Through these steps, the workroom falls silent. The dress demands the full attention of its makers, hunkered down over tables and equipped with sewing machines, multicolored pins, and heavy scissors. After the pieces are sewn together and the bodice is attached to the skirt, the seams are pressed.

The next morning, the completed bright white creation covers a mannequin, complete with a bow in the back. Perhaps the process isn't pretty, but the finished product is.

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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski