Posts Tagged ‘formal


Teal Elegance

This gown was custom designed for a client with a beautiful, dramatic hourglass figure for a formal event this autumn. She has a very difficult time finding clothing that flatters her figures, as most gowns that fit her bust and hips are far too loose for her narrow waist, making her look shapeless and larger than she is. She wanted a design that accentuated her waistline, and expressed an interest in a one-shoulder strap. I sent her sketches of several ideas, and the gown below was her favorite.

ElegancebyEllen Front EllegancebyEllen Back


Green Glamour

Jamelah5This was FUN! I deeply enjoy sewing in general, and custom dressmaking in particular, but when it comes down to it, some projects are more enjoyable than others for a whole world of reasons. Some go smoothly and others surprise you with unexpected challenges. Some are beautiful and some are… less so (a custom pair of velveteen shorts for a guitarist in an ACDC cover band comes to mind). Some allow a great deal of artistic license and others need to achieve someone else’s design concept very precisely. And sometimes I’m able to work effectively without difficulty, while other times the other demands on my time and energy make it challenging to sew. This particular project was a sheer delight in pretty much every possible way.

Jamelah1The process of creating this truly custom formal gown began with an Alchemy request on etsy. I knew from reading the client’s description of what she wanted that she would be fun to work with. She needed a beautiful formal gown to wear to her cousin’s wedding in a very traditional Muslim village in Palestine, and wanted a custom garment that was modest enough to be appropriate, formal enough to please the bride, but that also demonstrated her personality. She described the challenge with phrases like “I need to be modest but that doesn’t mean I have to wear a potato sack” and included many passionate descriptions of clothing styles she liked… ranging from fantasy elvish inspired costumes to the glamour and tinsel of a 1940’s Hollywood starlet. The challenge set before her piqued my interest, and her open, excited tone fuelled my creative fire. I put in a bid immediately.

We emailed back and forth for several days, discussing her various needs and wants for the dress – fabrics (it had to be silk!), colors (preferably green), embellishments (embroidery perhaps?), her budget, her body type, and photos of several dresses to get a feel for her style. After a great deal of discussion I drew up a sketch for her of a 40’s inspired gown, and she responded with a very enthusiastic, all caps, reply that she LOVED it.

Jamelah3For a completely original design, one for which I’d never seen a commercial pattern, it made sense to draft a pattern from scratch. This particular dress required a lot of draping to determine the right shape for the pattern pieces on the bodice front. Draping is fun. It appeals to my love of  sculpture, and honestly it’s just so practical! I made a muslin for her to try on before working with the silk for her gown, and we discovered that while we needed a few tweaks to improve the fit, on the whole the dress worked and was just want she’d wanted. Fabulous!

Next came the dye bath. I purchased a beautiful acid dye worthy of our silk fabric to dye her dress an emerald green. I have to thank the good people at Dharma Trading for supplying fantastic dyes at great prices as well as thorough instructions for using them with silk fabrics. For that matter I should thank them as well for their awesome customer service, their INCREDIBLE turnaround time processing orders, and their use of recycled materials for packaging and shipping. (Honestly, if you need dyes or silks, or just want to look at gorgeous pictures of hand painted fabrics, go to their site! They are truly awesome!)

Jamelah4The color turned out beautifully. And it was time to sew. On that particular day, my husband took our daughter to a theme park, and I had the rare treat of the house to myself for eight solid hours. I was able to work free of interruptions, at a steady but comfortable pace, watching *my* TV shows (instead of Veggie Tales and Little Einsteins) while I endlessly made little pintucks in the beautiful silk fabric. It was heavenly, and one of those days where my work felt more like play.

Jamelah2I felt confident that the finished product was just right. It looked like the sketch, it fit her measurements, and it embodied the goals she’d had for her dress, being uniquely stylish, modest but flattering, feminine, colorful and lovely. Far more important than my own delight at the result though was hers… and she was thrilled! The final product fit perfectly and was exactly what she’d hoped for. She tells me she expects to be the most beautiful woman at the wedding – except for the bride of course!

So here’s a happy ending to a truly delightful project. And I sincerely wish a happily ever after to the bride and groom!



Prom season is in full swing now, and a client recently brought me the prom dress below. In actual fact, it fit her perfectly, and I wouldn’t have expected it to need any alterations. The hemline fell right where it should, a scant 1/4″ above the ground. The bodice had enough space for her bust without falling away from her body. It was both flattering and, by comparison to many of the gowns in stores these days, was actually relatively modest.

promdress41 promdress1

By my standards anyway.

Not by the standards of her private high school however. The list of guidelines for the formal wear which would be approved for prom was lengthy. Not only were spaghetti straps against the rules but furthermore, the neckline of the gown had to come within 2 inches of her collarbone, the back line had to come no lower than the midpoint of her shoulder blades, the straps needed to be a minimum of 2″ wide, the dress needed to come high enough under the arm that a standard bra would be hidden (even if none was to be worn under the gown). They had searched. No such gowns could be found in stores. So, they asked me to redesign the bodice of her gown in time for the dress inspection a few weeks before prom (pass inspection or stay home on prom night!)

The high school student and her mother took the gown with them to the fabric store and purchased black satin that matched the band beneath the bodice, and using that I built out a matching band above the bodice as well to provide the wider straps and additional coverage required, while making the modifications blend as well as possible with the original gown design. Here is what we ended up with:

promdress2 promdress3

She was delighted, and she passed inspection. 🙂

July 2019
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