A. That gorgeous dress that started in your price range ($29.99) on eBay has gone up to $187 with another six hours left, and you sadly delete it from your watch list and throw a shirt on the special hanger you had set aside for it in your closet.
B. Something perfect (and cheap) catches your eye, but the seller's claim that it "feels like silk!" alerts you that you're dealing with an amateur and, probably, a nylon piece from the 60s that will make you sweat in all the wrong ways. You sigh and move on.
C. She wants $995 for that Lilli Ann suit? Someone might pay that. But not you.
D. It's perfect! But it's 8" too small in the waist.
What can you do? Say goodbye forever to those perfect pieces, poached from your loving hands by eBayers with deeper pockets, or impossibly wrongly sized for your figure? If you have a few tools, good sewing skills, and the tenacity to devote a few dozen hours of your time, never fear - you can have that dress. And you can have it in your size, in real cotton (silk, linen, wool), in the color that flatters you, without any missing buttons, moth holes, mysterious stains, or "almost unnoticeable" repairs.
I originally intended this instructable to cover a variety of different pattern styles, but finally admitted it would take me at least another two years to finish it if I went that route (since I'm currently far away from my beloved machine, will be so until August, and generally only undertake this kind of thing during the summer). So I'll be covering the design that I made, pictured on me, and if you have questions about different details, post them in comments and I will answer them to the best of my ability.
You will need:
1. Intermediate sewing skills commensurate with your chosen design
2. A body block (directions in The Costume Technician's Handbook), or a plain, very fitted button-down style shirt with no ruching, gathering, elastic, or frim-fram on it, that you are willing to sacrifice on the altar of Style (generally available at thrift stores)
2. Kraft paper and some basic drafting tools - at least a measuring tape and pens, preferably also a long straightedge and a couple of hip curves (available online or at large fabric stores, not very costly)
3. Adequate photos of the design you want to reproduce (see "adequate photos" for more information)
4. Enough fabric for the job (see "fabric selection" for more information) and thread / notions etc.
1. Building your own dress is rarely cheap. You are unlikely to spend less than $60 on this project, depending on how much fabric you need and what the fabric costs, and what else you need to complete your design. But it's still cheaper than that outrageous Lilli Ann.
2. This is also not one of those "make a prom dress out of a paper bag with no sewing in under 45 seconds" kinds of deals. Expect to invest at least a week.
3. Choose a design that suits your sewing level.