Posts Tagged ‘design


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!


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.



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!


Designing the Gown

Yesterday I had the great privilege of attending Rachel’s wedding, helping her get dressed in her custom gown, and celebrating the beautiful day she and her loved ones shared.  Now that the wedding day is past (and she succeeded in surprising her fiancée with the design) I can share photos with you all! But you’ll have to wait a bit  for pics of the completed gown – I’m going to take you through the custom creation process with me first.

During our initial conversations, Rachel had imagined an A-lined, mid-calf length, strapless gown for a beach side wedding. But following her friend Maria’s wedding (where Rachel was maid-of-honor), Rachel discovered a newfound fondness for ballroom style gowns – Maria’s had been stunning, she told me. Meanwhile, Rachel had felt out her fiancée Dan to see his thoughts on a shorter gown, and he expressed a strong preference for something full length. The final factor that made her rethink her original designs – and this was not a small shift – was that after viewing a number of locations they decided against the beach and picked a completely different venue. Instead, they were married under the spreading branches of a majestic oak tree at Cross Creek Ranch in Dover, Florida, with the reception in a refurbished open-air stable on the site. The site had a Southern, country, old Florida feel to it, and it meant a different theme for the wedding day than their initial ideas.

So Rachel wanted a fuller, longer skirt and a more formal feel for her gown. She also had begun to rethink having a strapless gown and expressed that she was open to other suggestions if I had any recommendations. Finally, Rachel had mentioned from the start that she wanted her gown to have purple accents. Each time we spoke, she brought the color purple up again – it’s her favorite color, and it was clear that she really wanted to include it. But she mentioned, almost offhandedly, that she didn’t want there to be “too much” purple, and I couldn’t tell whether she had a preconceived preference for how much was too much, or if she just had a vague sense that wedding gowns were supposed to be primarily white.

So, for our design consultation, I tried to gather a variety of images to discuss different design elements. Among them, I looked for multiple examples of colored gowns – from the all-white dress with a few purple beads or floral accents, to gowns that had colored trains, colored sashes, colored bands of fabric along the neckline, to those entirely in color without a bit of white on them. As we sat and reviewed the options, Rachel was very surprised to see bridal gowns in full color that still somehow looked bridal, and she was clearly excited to consider a colorful break from the all-white tradition. She particularly loved a photo I showed her of a quincinera dress which had a fitted lavender bodice leading into a lavender overskirt gathered into pick ups over a white satin ballgown skirt. Her gown would, of course, be purple rather than lavender, and she didn’t particularly care for the enormous bow spilling down from the hip or for the embroidery through the skirt, but the amount of color and the pick ups were really exciting to her.

I’d also gathered multiple photos of different necklines and closures to show her some of the possibilities, and I was delighted when she expressed fondness for the neckline I’d hoped to recommend as my favorite for her – an off the shoulder strap and a laced up corset back. Rachel has a full bust and it was important to her that this not be the focal point of her gown. I let her know I thought a well positioned off the shoulder strap could really help to balance out her bust and to lift the eye up towards her face. (On the other hand, I suspect a strapless gown, especially if it were cut straight across the top, could easily have made her bust look wider).

Rachel also still really loved the floral accents on one of the photos she had first shown me – purple fabric flowers dotting the gown. And so we decided to use some small flowers through the ivory underskirt on her gown.

Once we had the main elements decided upon, we went over the color in more detail. There are so many shades of purple – from a bluish violet color to burgandy that is as red as it is purple. The right shade was going to really matter – their shift to the ranch venue had been accompanied by a stronger autumn influence for the theme and decor at their wedding. And this meant that whichever shade of purple we chose was going to be accompanied by orange accents: pumpkins on haystacks outside the stable, orange and purple floral arrangements. Rachel was excited but also nervous, not wanting the colors to clash. I pulled every length of purple fabric in my stash, regardless of the type or fiber content, and we compared the colors to an orange swatch to find a shade that seemed to work well. We held the color up to her face, her hair, to make sure it was flattering to Rachel herself. And then I cut a swatch of it for each of us to have when searching for just the right fabric for her gown. We also compared our preferred purple to swatches of white, ivory, and cream colored fabrics from my stash, since Rachel wasn’t entirely sure what shade she wanted. Ivory was the best color with the purple, hands down, and since she’d been leaning slightly towards ivory to begin with it was decided easily.

After all of these considerations, the result was a design that was very different from her original thoughts, but really ideal for Rachel’s figure, personality, and wedding plans. I put together a new sketch for Rachel that evening to be sure we were understanding each other well on all the details. We were both simply giddy and I could scarcely wait to begin working on the dress!


Hillary’s Design

One of my local clients for whom I made a dress previously, using a commercial pattern she loved, returned to have me bring to life a design idea of her own. I *love* these sorts of projects, the opportunity to create something truly unique, and to help a client who would otherwise be unable to realize their vision. Hillary described her idea to me in depth, we talked back and forth about the fabrics to use and the best way to construct it, and then I sketched out what I pictured from her description. I set about pattern drafting, draping, and bringing a muslin mock-up into being so that we could check the fit and fine tune the design. And then, at last, the final product!

The custom ensemble consists of a mermaid shaped skirt made of black matte satin. It’s fully lined, with layers of petticoat netting at the bottom to hold the shape of the skirt. On the outside, three tiers of satin ruffles cascade down, with a little hint of black and white paisley charmeuse peeking out of the middle ruffle. The jacket is also made of black matte satin, with black charmeuse and paisley charmeuse ruffles at the sleeve hems and neckline. The jacket body is extremely fitted, and has several pieces of boning to help hold its dramatic shape. 

The finishing touch – those buttons! Hillary brought a dozen different buttons over to hold up to the nearly-finished jacket so we could pick the perfect pair. And aren’t they FABULOUS? Really just the right finishing touch! And, the whole thing looks amazing on Hillary – a perfect fit both for her figure and her self!


Bonnie’s White Dress: The Plan

When we first started talking about the all-white dress, Bonnie’s initial comment was just how unflattering white tends to be.  We all know dark colors are slimming, and white is … not.  Plus, bright whites tend to sort of wash a person out; there are very few skin tones that are truly flattered by white, and even those tend to look better in a color.

Still, I couldn’t help but think that brides pull it off every day!  Most of the girls and women walking down the aisle where bright white, and most of them look truly lovely.  So I spent a bit of time mulling the issue over.  Does the traditional construction of wedding gowns, with fully boned corset-style bodices and full skirts, successfully compensate for the not-so-slimming color?  Are the fabrics used in wedding gowns – satins, silks, brocades, lace and chiffon – more flattering than what we normally wear?  Are we just completely BRAINWASHED to believe that brides look beautiful, regardless of how true this might be?

I believe the answer to all three of these is “yes”.

So the bridal gown was my jumping off point for creating a design for Bonnie’s white dress.  If brides can pull it off, there’s no reason why Bonnie can’t.


This is the most bridal of my ideas for Bonnie’s dress.  As you can see, this basically looks like a bridal gown, cut short at the knee.  The idea was to work with a fully boned corset as the bodice, with a halter neckline since that’s flattering to Bonnie, and a full A-line skirt.  The entire dress would be made of white satin, and I thought that adding some floral lace appliques in an asymetrical pattern, sort of sweeping down from the waist to the hem on the opposite side of the dress, would add visual interest and have a slight slimming effect.  I’d specifically imagined looking for flowers that would compliment the Hawaiian shirts the men wear on these occasions, and thought the flowers could possibly be an accent color rather than just more white.

My concerns with this design, and the reasons I kept redesigning, were that the heavy satin fabric would be too formal next to men wearing white pants and pastel Hawaiian shirts.  The gown was really going to look like a bridal gown, and might not compliment them as well as another style might.  I was also aware that the satin would probably be HOT when Bonnie performs outdoor gigs, and I thought a lighter weight fabric might be preferable.



 I thought it might soften the dress, and make it just slightly less formal and also less likely to induce heat stroke, if we introduced some chiffon rather than making the entire gown in satin.  Design #2 is largely the same as the first, but with a softer, chiffon skirt.  I was still thinking of a full A-line skirt with plenty of body, so I thought about possibly layering the chiffon over a single layer of heavier fabric (tafetta perhaps?) or a few layers of tulle.  Since the whole halter neck corset bodice with tulle skirt was a bit too similar to the wedding dress my cousin plans to have someday (and no doubt influenced by Bonnie describing her daughter’s plans to me) I abandoned the halter neckline and switched to a simple sweatheart neckline, with sleeves.  I figured the chiffon would do nicely for the sleeves, and sketched out two different possible shapes.  I didn’t have the same feeling of “this won’t really work for the occasion” that I did with the first dress, but as I sketched out this design various modifications came to mind.  So on to the third design.



 Well this is scarcely different from my second design.  The biggest change, was to work with an underbust corset and separate bodice.  Looking at my first two sketches, I couldn’t help but feel that the overbust corset was going to be less flattering.  The empire waistline is so great on Bonnie, and an underbust corset could provide that same affect.  My second sleeve concept for the dress design #2 got me thinking about a dress with a bit of a Renaissance feel.  The underbust corset and 3/4 sleeves with flounces.  Again, I pictured satin for the corset, and softer chiffon (over a lightweight but not see through fabric) for the bodice and skirt.  I think the contrast there between the sleek satin and the chiffon would have a slimming affect too.



 This fourth design came to mind because, as I switched to the underbust design in my third dress, I kept mulling over Bonnie’s black and blue dress that had turned out so flattering.  Why not do it again?  This fourth dress would use the same pattern from her black and blue dress.  Rather than reinvent the wheel, we’d use a tried-and-true design, and also save time and money on patterns.  I pictured satin or taffeta for the bodice, and a double layer of chiffon over an opaque lining fabric.  I got the fabulous idea here to cut the chiffon on a bias, and take full advantage of the extra movement that would provide.  I thought having two layers, the top one cut slightly shorter than the bottom, with a lettuce edge would make the whole thing very soft and feminine.  I frankly fell in love with this one once I decided on the bias cut.  I pictured the skirt moving with Bonnie when she walked, and short of fluttering in the wind when she’s doing outdoor performances.  I also imagined that this would by far be the coolest and most comfortable for wearing outdoors in the Florida summer.

I showed Bonnie all four sketches, and we talked them over a bit.  Bonnie’s first reaction was that she loved Design #3 and thought it looked very romantic.  She also agreed that the halter neckline would be cooler.  So, the final call was to kind of blend the third and fourth designs.  Our plan is to use the same bodice and halter neckline from her Black and Blue Dress, made of satin with a soft layer of chiffon on top, a fully boned satin corset through her midriff, and the double layer bias cut chiffon for the skirt.  I think it’s going to look awesome!

That’s the plan!  I’m working on a muslin for the corset now, and I’ll post about that soon.

April 2019
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