Posts Tagged ‘Sewing


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!


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, 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!


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!


Rachel’s Wedding

Like so many people, when real life beckons, my blog goes on hold. But I’ve been prompted today to return, and so I am at last, nearly a year later, blogging about Rachel’s wedding day.

It was perfect.

Rachel and Danny were married on October 30 of last year, in a beautiful outdoor venue called Cross Creek Ranch. They took their vows in the late afternoon, standing under the spreading branches of a huge grandfather oak tree. As the sun set, we moved to an open air barn set with beautiful tables and strung all over with Christmas lights. Their wedding had a strong autumnal theme, with just a pinch of Halloween spirit added to the mix: a candy bar in lieu of traditional party favors, a Corpse Bride cake topper, and Rachel’s purple Iron Fist zombie shoes.

I was privileged to get to come early to dress Rachel, and to stay to attend the wedding. What a splendid treat for me! All through the creation of her dress, we discussed her wedding plans, and we fine tuned some of our vision for the gown to fit that day. It showed. Looking back, I can’t imagine a different gown for Rachel. And at the same time, I can’t picture her exact gown on anyone else or at any other wedding. It just fit.

Even before I helped Rachel into her gown, she was beaming. Even in her zip-up sweatshirt, there was no mistaking that she was the bride. She simply radiated joy and anticipation. But in her gown… the room full of bridesmaids and family members fell silent for a moment as I laced her up. She was really breathtaking. And just as importantly, she felt beautiful. Every bride deserves that experience on her wedding day.

And, watching her walk hand in hand with her new husband, I was as excited for Rachel as for any of my dear friends. Now, almost a year later, there’s even more to be excited about: she and her husband are expecting their first baby!

Don’t you just love weddings?

All of the photos in this post are courtesy of Rachel’s professional wedding photographer, Joel Cocker of Custom Art Cafe.


A long overdue, much anticipated post

Well after the many months of work on Rachel’s gown, the day after we moved to our new house we met for her final fitting and a photoshoot in her gorgeous gown. In the weeks that followed her wedding, I began blogging about the whole process of creating her gown, and just before I got to a post with the photos from our shoot, my laptop died.

I had not backed the photos up.

I hadn’t backed anything up in several months, and there were other things more urgent to recreate than those photos, so my blogging got pushed to the back burner for several months.

Then a little miracle happened. Searching through my sent emails for a particular message, I found photos from that shoot that I had emailed. These, at least, were saved!

So, many months later, I am proud to introduce you to my bride Rachel:

More photos to come soon… I found a few shots I took at her wedding that were salvaged, and I’ve contacted her professional photographer who is allowing me to use some of his photos as well. 🙂


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.

July 2019
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