02
May
12

First sight

One of my favorite moments in the creation of a custom bridal gown is the first fabric fitting. At this point, the gown is unfinished. It’s not hemmed, most of the seams are merely basted together so they can be altered as needed, and any embellishments are not yet in place. Nevertheless, it’s the first moment ever that the bride steps into the actual gown she’ll wear on her wedding day. After taking that leap of faith, to have something made from scratch, after investing time and energy and creativity and money – and then *waiting* – at last she’s able to see her gown, in the flesh (or in the fabrics, as it were!), taking shape. And in the case of Hillary’s dress, I think we’d both imagined that moment a few times in the years we’ve worked together. Needless to say, it was a highly anticipated fitting!

When she actually tried on her gown, it was like magic. I’d had dozens of possible design ideas before we started, but seeing her in that actual dress, I knew we’d settled on the right concept. I couldn’t imagine any other gown being so splendidly suited to who she is. It was as though the gown spoke aloud and said “Hello, I’m Hillary. I love vintage styles, I’m madly in love with Justin and I’m getting married this spring.” Hillary’s bright smile and nonstop use of the word “perfect” let me know she agreed completely. In addition to being just the right design, the fit was perfect and didn’t need even minor adjustments. Splendid! I could move forward with finishing the construction.

The second muslin for her jacket was much improved over the first but needed a bit more tweaking to be just perfect. We marked the changes that were needed and I took meticulous notes. I asked if she could accommodate an extra fitting, to be absolutely certain we had the jacket pattern just right before cutting into the lace, and she agreed. After that third mock up, we were certain the jacket was just right. It was splendidly fitted, the sleeves were exactly the right length, the neckline crossed high enough to be as modest as she wanted without looking severe (or like it had taken so many attempts to make it sit in just that spot!).

Up next: constructing the actual jacket!

27
Apr
12

Hillary’s muslin

For nearly all custom work I take on, I insist that we include a mock up as part of the dressmaking process. It’s positively crucial to confirming that the fit, shape and style of our custom design are just right. No matter how thorough a set of measurements I take, there are often little details to fit that are hard to anticipate. No matter how carefully we’ve discussed the design and reviewed the sketch, there’s always a chance my client and I don’t share quite the same vision of what the final garment will look like, and it’s much better to review and adjust the design, if need be, before we’ve cut into the expensive fabrics of the final garment! Even when we are on the same page, sometimes we discover that on her actual body, a slight change to the design may flatter her better than what we originally planned. For all these reasons, I like to make a full mockup whenever possible, and fit it to my client in person so we can fine tune the fit and design.

Hillary’s muslin fitting was a delight. We were both thrilled to see the design taking shape. I got to see her SHOES for the first time that day too. Remember how I said I thought she’d want some surprises? Her shoes were killer, and a more modern element to pair with her vintage inspired gown. Hillary also brought a petticoat she had purchased elsewhere to wear under the gown, and we determined it wasn’t quite full enough or long enough on its own. So, I would add an additional layer or two to the lining of her skirt to give the extra fullness we needed.

In terms of the dress itself, I started with a bit of extra ease in the bodice, and we pinned it out in just the places we thought most flattering. The skirt was all done with knife pleats gathered onto the waistband; some of them were deeper than others and we decided we liked the fullness of those deeper pleats best. The sash needed some adjustments to fit, and we marked them on the mock up. The jacket needed adjustments too, and because the lace was our priciest fabric, I suggested I make a second mock up to be sure the adjustments were just right before we moved forward on the lace jacket.

Another detail we discussed at her muslin fitting was the neckline for Hillary’s dress. I started with a very high neckline on the muslin, one that sat just barely below her collarbone, so that we could adjust downward from there. Once we tried on the jacket mock up, we determined that the jacket would provide the coverage Hillary wanted, which meant the neckline of the dress itself did not need to be so high. I suggested we establish a completely different neckline for the dress, dropped lower down, and that we reserve that “second look” for her and her husband to enjoy privately. She was thrilled with the idea, and we spent some time discussing the shape, the height, and marking out an extremely flattering, distinct neckline for the dress that only the two of them would know. It gives me a great deal of joy to be able to include such details for the bride and groom, that may not be visible to any of the guests at their wedding and might not even be saved in any photographs, but that contribute a little something special to the experience and meaning of that day.

The end result of her muslin fitting was that we both felt we could safely move forward on the *actual* dress and sash with the minor pattern adjustments needed, and that we must make a second mock up for the jacket to be certain it would be perfect.

Up next: beginning work on the actual dress at last!

14
Apr
12

Fleshing out our design

Hillary and I had decided up on a Grace Kelly-inspired gown with a tea length full, pleated skirt, a lace jacket that wrapped at the front and created a high V neckline, and a pleated sash at the waist. It was time to look into fabric options and to fine tune some of the details for how best to achieve our look.

Here is where it’s really helpful when a client is up front with me about her budget. The basic design we’d chosen could be executed in a number of ways, and knowing where Hillary needed to be meant I was able to advise her on the best fabric options for her, and the best places to devote extra labor. In addition to the design, and the budget, we knew that Hillary wanted her gown to have a springtime feel, and to be comfortable. Because her wedding would be outdoors in the afternoon in March, we had to be prepared for a wide range of temperatures (here in Florida, at that time of year, you could expect weather as cool as the 60’s or possibly as hot as the 90’s).

Given the broad range of possible temperatures, I told Hillary I thought natural fibers would be a good choice. Most synthetics do not breathe, and should her wedding day be on the warmer end, she would not want to be stuck sweating in polyester. Most silk fabrics were a bit above the budget, and I suggested it made more sense to look for a really good quality cotton fabric than to settle for a lower quality silk. Hillary agreed. We looked at a number of swatches, and ultimately chose a gorgeous medium weight, good quality cotton sateen with just a hint of stretch to it. It was a clean white in a tone that flattered Hillary’s complexion (no yellow undertones). The slight stretch would make it comfortable to wear and move in all day long. The weight was just right to hold the shape of the pleats. It was also a weight we expected would not leave her too cold or too hot on her wedding day. The sateen weave made for just a hint of sheen, enough to have that bridal glow, not enough to look shiny or over the top. The price point was ideal, and left us a little extra to spend on the lace!

I let Hillary know that my top recommendation was to look for a good quality but relatively affordable Alencon lace for her jacket. I was certain this was the type of lace used in her jacket inspiration photo, as well as in Grace Kelly’s dress, and would best recreate the looks she had been so fond of. But, to be sure we were considering the options available, we also looked into some Venice lace fabrics as well. Whatever we were to choose, I thought a relatively structured lace would be important for the jacket to have the right shape and fit, nothing too loose or flowing. I discarded several Alencon options simply because there was too much space between the motifs, too much un-embroidered net that would be a better choice for a flowing skirt than a structured jacket. Most of the lace options had floral motifs, and we thought this was ideal for the springtime theme of her wedding. We found a lace we loved online, that was reasonably priced and a really lovely design, and that appeared, from the photos at least, to be a good quality. The company did not offer swatches for the lace (which is not altogether uncommon for lace fabrics). They also did not offer returns. It was going to be a gamble. We discussed the options. I gave her my input, and my various reasons for believing it was probably our best option. The choice was ultimately hers, and she decided to take the chance.

I was on pins and needles that week, awaiting its arrival, and hoping the lace we purchased would work as we wanted. When the lace came, it was even more perfect than we’d imagined. The drape and hand were just what we needed for her jacket. The color was perfect – a bright clean white, with just the faintest blue undertone that would flatter her skin. It was not identical to, but very much complimented, the shade of white of the sateen for her dress. The floral design practically shouted “spring.” Among the floral motifs, there was a silvery thread that had a slight sheen, just enough to remind me of a light frost early on a spring morning in some place where all four seasons come, but it was not too shiny (something Hillary wanted to avoid).

Since the lace was sheer in places, we wanted to line it with another fabric to provide the degree of coverage Hillary wanted. Since the jacket would have full length sleeves, and since the weather might be quite hot, I recommended we choose something very lightweight, breathable, and soft to the touch. We chose an organic cotton batiste that was really just feather light; it provided the coverage we needed and put something smoother and softer against her skin, without making the jacket much warmer. And, for the dress lining, we chose a simple white cotton woven fabric at a lower price point and a slightly heavier weave than the batiste.

We discussed a variety of options for the construction of her gown. To have the biggest impact possible without overstepping her budget, I recommended we keep the basic dress pattern simple. The sleeveless bodice had only 2 pattern pieces with darts in each. The skirt was hemmed with a folded topstitched hem, rather than blind hemming the very long length of it by hand. The dress closed with a back zipper, and we opted against a slightly more time consuming (and frequently less durable) invisible zipper, but we arranged the skirt pleats to cover what little of the zipper was not already hidden by the jacket and sash. Early on, we briefly talked about using fabric covered buttons for the sash and jacket sleeves. But when we made our fabric selection, which was a relatively understated cotton, I suggested we choose pearl buttons instead and save those labor hours for the jacket.

The jacket would be the “wow” factor. It was the piece that took a simple cotton dress and made it a bridal gown. It was the piece that conveyed vintage style romance, modesty, grace, femininity, and that spoke of springtime. It was the piece that had enabled us both to envision her gown in the first place. I wanted it to be perfect. The fit through the bodice, the length of the sleeves, the precise location where the scallops of the neckline crossed, all needed to be perfect. Furthermore, I wanted to lap the lace at the seamlines, so that the beautiful floral design was uninterrupted – a time consuming process that yields an exquisite result. We talked over the options and Hillary agreed; we would save labor with a simple pattern and efficient construction techniques on the dress, so we could devote additional labor hours instead to meticulously hand sewing the jacket.

We were ready to begin! Up next: the muslin.

14
Apr
12

Hillary’s bridal sketch

By the time we sat down officially for Hillary’s first appointment, we’d already looked over several inspiration photos and discussed design elements we might incorporate. In person, our conversation was even more lively and dynamic. It didn’t take long to settle on the features we wanted to incorporate.

Our primary inspiration was Grace Kelly’s wedding gown, but Hillary’s gown would have several differences. We were thrilled with the idea of satin with lace, buttons at the wrist, a pleated skirt and pleated sash, as in Princess Grace’s gown. Hillary’s gown though would be tea length, continue to widen towards the hem (where Grace’s gown came full and wide from the pleats at the waist, and then fell nearly at a straight line down to the floor length hem). Hillary’s gown would also feature a frothy petticoat underneath. Her jacket would wrap over the front like the Monique L’hullier gown, with a higher neckline (but not near so high as Princess Grace’s neckline). Hillary’s veil would be a considerably simpler birdcage style veil, and would incorporate lace motifs in the same fabric as the jacket.

I put together a quick sketch for Hillary, to which she gave her full approval. And I wrote up the garment description for us both, to which she giddily replied “Grace Kelly is in my wedding dress description!” We had a plan.

In our next post: fabric selections and additional considerations.

14
Apr
12

Inspiration!

Hillary herself found dozens of inspiration photos in the weeks following her engagement, and sent me several favorites. She had a number of ideas. Some of the dresses were tea length; some were full length with trains. Some of them had sheer ruffled overlays; some had frothy petticoats underneath. All of them had fitted bodices and full skirts. Most of them had a bit of a vintage feel. But they fell over a broad range, and at that point neither she nor I knew quite how to focus the range of ideas we each had. These were a few of her favorites:

Credit:This Dolly Couture dress was Hillary's favorite of the inspiration photos.

Credit: this gown by Ouma on Etsy was the length and fullness Hillary liked best.

Hillary liked the springtime feel of this gown by Christos.

A few days later, Hillary sent me another photo – a full length cream colored gown by Monique Lhuillier with an Alencon lace jacket that wrapped at the front in a V neckline, with a sash around the waist and the bottom edge of the jacket. She loved the jacket. It was beautiful, romantic, modest, and had a bit of a springtime feel, which she very much wanted for her gown and her wedding. “Is this something we can work with?” she asked. “I’m not sure how to incorporate the lace jacket with the type of skirt I want.”

Credit: This Monique Lhullier gown inspired our choice for Hillary's jacket, and helped shape our vision overall.

The newest photo was vastly different from the others, but it was just what I needed to bring the various ideas into focus. “Have you ever seen Grace Kelly’s wedding dress?” I asked, and I sent her some photos.

Her response? “How are you in my head?”

Grace Kelly, on her wedding day, with the Prince of Monaco. Her stunning gown was designed by Helen Rose and constructed for her by MGM Studios.

We had some fantastic inspiration to draw on, and we were both excited to fine tune the design. Up next: Hillary’s design appointment!

13
Apr
12

Hillary, the bride I’d waited for

When I first opened my business, one of my first custom dressmaking clients was a young woman named Hillary. At the time, she was interested in having a specific dress made for her, and I was one of a number of Etsy artisans who responded to her custom item request. Because we were local to one another, and I could meet with her for fittings, Hillary chose to work with me. We loved working together, and have continued to do so in the time since!

Our first project together!

Hillary has a very well defined sense of personal style. At the same time, modesty is an important expression of her faith. She does not care to sacrifice either of these things for the other, and so in addition to the custom designs we have made together, Hillary has also brought me ready-to-wear clothes to alter. We let out hems or add ruffles to lengthen skirts as needed; we add darts to tailor clothes that are not only modest but also shapeless and unflattering. The result is a polished wardrobe that always reminds me of what I’d expect a young professional of the late 50’s or early 60’s to wear – impeccably tailored and well cared for, feminine, at times understated, of course figure flattering and always demure. At the same time, she often incorporates modern elements, and frequently she makes use of architectural elements like collars, cuffs, belts, and big buttons. I adore her taste.

Our second project together was Hillary's own design!

And so for years I have looked forward to the day when she would eventually marry. I knew she would want a custom gown; I could not imagine anything off-the-rack satisfying all her requirements. During our first project together, I let her know I’d be happy to be the one to make her gown when the time came. When the love of her life proposed to her, Hillary tells me I was the first person she emailed! (After, of course, phone calls were made to all the family).

Our third custom project together, a silk Dupioni little black dress.

I had dozens of ideas before we began to speak about her dress. So many, in fact, that it was hard to know where to begin. She’s slender with an hourglass figure, and pretty much any silhouette, properly tailored, could flatter her. Her taste draws on both vintage and modern elements. I knew she’d want a more traditional gown than some of my other brides, but I imagined she’d want some surprises too. We scheduled a design consultation, and I tried to keep an open mind for the right inspiration to find us. Thankfully, open minds and a number of conversations lead us to something simply perfect.

Up next: the inspiration we drew on!

03
Sep
11

The new Sara Goff

Life is funny sometimes.

A couple years ago, my husband’s brother Brian introduced us to his friend Sara, whose daughter’s name was pronounced just like our daughter’s name. We all had a little chuckle about the coincidence. Sara and Ava and Sarah and Eva. After they’d left, my husband leaned over and grinned, “Wouldn’t it be funny if they got married some day?”

Wouldn’t it just. ;)

Well fast forward to June of this year, and Brian and Sara let us know they had some big news: they were engaged, and expecting a baby.

I, of course, was tickled pink. Babies and weddings are two of my favorite things, after all. I congratulated them and asked all sorts of questions (How soon would the baby come? How soon would the wedding come?) before asking the two things I *really* wanted to know:

Would you like me to make your dress? And,

Do you plan to take Brian’s last name?

At first, Sara thought it would be better to find a simple ready-to-wear sundress for the big day, and perhaps enlist my help to alter it or add some special touches to give it a more bridal feel. They planned on a brief engagement and a casual wedding, and going all out on a custom gown seemed unnecessary. But, when she went searching, the sundress of her dreams was nowhere to be found. Sara is a breathtaking woman who has a beautifully proportioned full figure. She has an hourglass shape but, in a plus size and with a baby bump starting to grow, the options are limited. Since at least part of the wedding was to be held outdoors (in August, in Florida), she wanted a lightweight breathable fabric like cotton. For the most flattering fit, she ideally wanted something empire waisted, A-lined, and knee length. She never wears sleeveless garments and her wedding day would be no exception – so this cotton sundress would need to have sleeves. She couldn’t find anything to meet those criteria anywhere, and time was rapidly running out. I told her that if the design was simple enough for it to be possible, I’d be happy to make her dress for her. For clients, I almost never agree to take on rush orders. But Sara’s family now and that’s a whole different story.

Before this, I’d have told you it wasn’t possible – but Sara and I created her wedding dress in just over two weeks’ time (largely in my off hours, as I also¬† needed to continue work for my existing client)!

One of the things that made it possible was that Sara used to design and sew a lot of her own clothing. Apart from having a clear vision of what she wanted and how it would flatter her figure, she also had an idea of what sort of design would be simple to make. She also had the ability to convey this design clearly and quickly to me. Sara sent me a sketch, I made a couple of suggestions, and we set a time for her to come over to get started.

Before she came, I pulled out every scrap of white fabric in my stock. Due to the time and budget constraints, we needed to use materials that were already on hand as much as possible. As crazy as it felt to suggest it, I offered cotton muslin as my recommendation for the main fabric on her dress. I buy muslin in bulk so I knew I had plenty to use for the main and lining fabrics, and I knew it would breathe well and feel soft against her skin. I also knew that muslin looks like, well… muslin. Unless you do something about it.

I also had a length of white lace I’d purchased long ago for a vague idea that never took shape; I thought it would be great to add a lace overlay to the muslin. The lace was a nice open mesh that would maintain the lightweight, breathable comfort of the muslin but dress it up considerably! Sara agreed to both fabrics. We turned our attention to the sash she wanted to wear around her waist. I suggested we use black fabric for the sash, which would match the flower girl’s dresses. As fortune would have it, I had about a half yard of black satin leftover from some prior garment. We were in business.

I took Sara’s measurements and she took our daughters to another room to distract them while I frantically drafted a pattern, and cut out some muslin for a quick mock up. From the time she stepped foot through my door until we finished her mock-up fitting took only three hours! And, half of the mock-up was useable in her actual dress. We were efficient little worker bees.

From there to completion only took a couple more days’ sewing, and about a week of hand beading in front of the TV in the evenings. This was by far the fastest little wedding dress I’ve ever made. But what delights me further is that at a glance you’d never guess this was thrown together in two weeks using leftover materials. For all our haste and thrift, it actually is the dress she wanted!

The wedding was lovely. They had a casual, intimate ceremony, with close friends and family in attendance. I was so happy to be able to contribute to their special day!

Since my husband and daughter were both in the wedding (and, since I am apparently a crazy person) I decided to make my dress for the wedding as well. Something simple and casual, that would be comfortable in the summer heat but that was decidedly newer than most of my wardrobe. Here we are together with the rest of the groom’s family.

Oh! And in case you wondered about that other question I asked her back in June: Sara’s hyphenating.

Congratulations to Brian Goff and Sara Eatherton-Goff!




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