Posts Tagged ‘dressmaker


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.


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!


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!


How Much Does it Cost?

This is probably the question I’m asked most frequently. It’s probably the question most dressmakers are asked most frequently. And the short answer, as unsatisfactory as it may be, is “it depends.”

Generally speaking, a custom made garment will cost more than an off-the-rack garment. And generally speaking, it will be considerably better made, will fit you better, and will last longer. There are sometimes exceptions to the rule that custom costs more; some high end designers charge an incredible premium for  their name on the label, and I don’t, so there’s a savings in that. Some things tend to be marked up far more than they need to be when they’re sold in stores – like overpriced veils at bridal salons. But generally speaking, off-the-rack clothes are mass produced, and there’s an economy of scale there that is lost in the world of one-of-a-kind. When I sew a custom garment, I draft a unique pattern specific to the design my client has requested, sized to her precise measurements rather than a “dress size.” I personally help to select the fabrics for her garment, cut them by hand, and sew a garment for her that has never existed before. I devote several hours to the design process, the pattern drafting, the materials shopping, and the muslin fitting, even before beginning work on her actual garment, that off-the-rack clothing manufacturers don’t have to do (or perhaps only have to do once in every thousand or hundred thousand or million garments they churn out). The quality of the garment and of the experience a dressmaker provides are incomparable to buying a garment on a hanger. The price reflects this. Still, how much it costs, depends.

It depends on how complex the design for your garment is. I will draft your pattern, sew a mock-up, fit you, and cut and sew your final garment.  If your garment is, for example, an unlined shift dress made from 3 pieces of fabric cut from 2 pattern pieces, each and every one of these steps is going to take considerably less time than if your garment is an elaborate bridal gown with a fitted bodice, corset style back, full ballgown skirt with over lays and pickups and the like. The last bridal gown I made had 27 unique pattern pieces when all was said and done and took a little over 100 hours to cut and sew (which is in addition to time spent discussing the design with my client, shopping for materials, and thinking about the best approach to constructing her gown). The level of complexity has a big impact on the total price.

It depends on what fabrics you choose. Some fabrics cost considerably more than others and some fabrics require special care to work with. To the best of my ability, I’ll let you know when it’s worth the extra expense – when it will make your garment really fabulous, and when it will make your garment more durable and able to last longer. Sometimes there are a variety of fabrics that are suitable. If you fall in love with the most expensive fabric, the price of your garment will reflect that.

It depends on how much fabric you need. A full length dress requires more yardage than a knee length dress. A ballgown silohuette takes more fabric than a narrow A-line. A gown with multiple layers in the skirt takes more fabric than a dress with a single layer. More fabric costs more because there’s a greater material cost, and also because it takes more time to cut, sew, and hem the extra length.

It depends on how fast you need it. Rush orders cost more, if I’m able to take them on at all. It’s not just because I prefer not to be rushed; they cost me more too, since there are rush fees for any materials I have to order extra quickly, and since my working overtime costs me money in other places (like a babysitter while I hem your dress or pizza for dinner three nights in a week when I’m too busy sewing to cook). Orders placed early on are more cost effective, and usually more fun as well.

So you can see, there are a lot of factors that go into determining the price for a custom garment (it’s not nearly as simple as how much “a bridal gown” costs). When you send me a quote request on my website, I’ll always respond with follow up questions to try to get a clearer understanding of your goals, both for the design of your garment and the budget you’d like me to respect. Please believe, I’m not trying to gain some sort of negotiating upper hand. I’m trying to be sure that as we discuss the design options, I make recommendations that are appropriate for your goals. I don’t want to tempt you with fabrics or design options that are outside your budget any more than I’d want to make suggestions that are contrary to the vision you want to achieve. My passion in this job is to help other women – to help your design become reality, help you create a garment you couldn’t find out there already.

So I’m thrilled to work with you to make your vision fit your budget when it’s possible; I can do all of the following things to help achieve this: I can recommend design elements that fit your budget. I can help you find good values in fabrics and other materials. I can construct your garment well, so that it lasts longer than off-the-rack clothes and is more affordable in the long run. I can make your garment to fit you properly, so that alterations are not needed as an extra expense. And I can take the time to listen to your needs and ensure that the value you have in your custom garment are worth every penny that it costs.

But, there are also compromises I won’t make to reduce the cost of your garment. I won’t use fabrics that are poor quality or ill suited to the design you want. I won’t promise more than I can deliver for the budget and time frame at our disposal. I won’t cut corners on the construction. And, so that I don’t have to, I won’t undercharge for my labor. You are investing in a one-of-a-kind garment that is supposed to be beautiful and unique to you; I’m committed to the quality of my work and won’t compromise where that’s involved.

In the end I know this means that not every prospective client will choose to work with me, and that’s okay. Realistically, it would not be possible for me to accept every garment I’m approached with. Furthermore, I sincerely respect your needs and your budget. So, I will provide you with good honest information to enable you to make an informed decision on whether or not I’m the right dressmaker for you. If you decide that I am, I can assure you it will be worth the cost.



A mutual friend referred Rachel to me a few months ago. Rachel had been asked to be maid-of-honor at her friend’s wedding just a few months before her own, and she was interested in having a corset custom-made to wear under the strapless bridesmaid’s gown, and also interested in discussing her ideas for her own wedding gown.

At that point in time, Rachel and her fiancée had not yet selected a venue for their wedding, but they were leaning towards a wedding on the beach (a splendid option for those of us here in Florida!) Because of that, Rachel imagined a tea-length dress, not too formal and not long enough to drag in the sand. I sympathized immediately – my own wedding six years prior had been on the beach, and I’d insisted on a shorter dress myself. She also knew she wanted to incorporate purple accents somehow, as purple is her favorite color. She sent me a few photos of gowns she liked that had purple accents, and apologized that there wasn’t a consistent style across them. Aside from the length of her gown and the presence of purple, she didn’t yet have a clear vision for what she wanted. I told her it was not a problem! The photos she’d shown me did have a few elements in common (all were A-lined strapless gowns, and all of them had sheer fabric overlays). I put together a couple of quick sketches for her based on what she’d sent, more as a starting place for us to discuss my interpretations of her ideas than as final designs to choose from. We discussed them briefly, but without a solid decision on the venue her vision for her wedding day wasn’t yet clear. Plus, the corset was her immediate need. So, we decided to set aside our discussion of her wedding gown design for the time being. In the end, that was a good call – some of her initial ideas changed pretty dramatically, and the design we came up with in the end was very different indeed from these original sketches.

I can scarcely wait to begin sharing the actual gown we’re sewing for Rachel, but her wedding isn’t for a few more weeks, so in the mean time I’ll write my next post about her corset!


Button up white dress

My client came to me in search of a fitted, below knee length white dress with a high boat neckline similar to the neckline on a dress Jackie Kennedy wore, but without any more details than that in mind. For a simple silhouette in a solid white fabric, small details can mean the difference between super chic and fairly plain, so she and I spent some time talking about a range of options for fabric types and details of the garment construction, among them the choices that were available for the closure on her dress. When I mentioned the possibility of buttons instead of a zipper, she nearly jumped out of her seat. “What sort of buttons could I have?” she asked. “Any kind you want,” I told her. She hand selected the buttons herself and picked out a matching pair of heels to complete the outfit. Simple, stylish and comfortable but far from everyday.

April 2019
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