Sunday, April 17, 2011

How to design your wedding dress, part 3.

Third instalment...

This week is a very fun wedding dress conversion.

One day the client, Kathryn, came into the shop with her Mum's wedding dress from the 1970's. It was a sweet, but very '70's dress with a lace high - necked bodice and sleeves, and polyester A-line skirt. She wanted to wear it to honour her mum, and to hopefully get an original dress for her own wedding.

1970's wedding dress

Kathryn said she wanted to transform it into a modern dress for her beach wedding. She wanted a strapless, boned bodice with the lace extended down to the hipline, and a slimmer skirt line. I suggested a a silk lining and possibly an over-lay on the skirt in order the cover the polyester. For her budget I needed to "retro-fit", not deconstruct, then re-construct the entire dress. 

So the three "S's" for Kathryn were;
1. Setting: Beach
2. Season: Autumn
3. Style: Contemporary

We integrated these through the modern strapless design, and the softness of the overlay, which created a more organic, flowing silhouette, to suit the beach setting.  

First I cut back the bodice and took it in to fit Kathryn's shape, marking the new design lines around the hip and necklines, shown below.

Then, onto the dress, I draped the corset shape in calico, extending from the new neckline to the hip line. I then transferred this and made the corset pattern in paper.

Then I made the corset "insides'' from Shapewell and polyester boning, to sit inside the shell of the dress.  There was also a silk lining, from the same (tightened) pattern. 

Then we came to a fork in the (design) roads; once I had a basic re-modelled dress, I started playing with how to adapt these features Kathryn wanted into an original, and appropriate dress.
There were two main directions:

1. As Kathryn had directed, lengthening the lace bodice to the hips. As she is a petite bride, I was concerned about the 1:1 proportion of this design, as it could make her torso look too long. In other words, she would be half torso/half skirt, which is not a great ratio. 
I added the overlay here to soften the sad old polyester skirt, and added a silk petticoat with a duster hem (ruffled). 

2. The second option was this more classical, empire-line design, below. This worked with the original line of the lace, and had a more flowing look to the skirt, which I felt suited her setting better, as well as her figure.

Ultimately, Kathryn and I devised a combination of the two. 
She wanted a fitted form over her tummy, and hips, and felt the softer design wouldn't suit her, so we went with the longer lace to the hips. But I added a belt to raise her waist visually, and we draped the chiffon over her shoulder and across the skirt to get some dynamism into the silhouette, with drape and asymmetry.

Finished gown, with lace to the hip, built in corset,
satin belt and chiffon draped skirt.

Back view

Draped side view

Front; sweetheart neckline, asymmetrical strap and skirt drape.

Again, Kathryn had a great time in her dress, and loved that it was handmade for the occasion. It was a very personal and very cost effective way to create an original wedding dress, and I had a great time doing it. Thank you Kathryn, for thinking outside the box!

Next week, a wedding dress inspired by red carpet glamour.

Friday, April 8, 2011

How to design your wedding dress, part 2.

 The second installment of the the wedding pages...

This gown was designed for a friend's sister. She very bravely decided she wanted me to make her a dress for her March 2011 wedding in Newcastle. I say brave, because, at this point I had only made my wedding dress previously, so it was a big leap of faith for her.

We had a few sessions of talking about ideas, and designs, and the overall style of the wedding, once this had materialised a bit. I think one mistake that brides can make is matching their wedding event to the dress they bought two years ago, or whenever they began organising. Whilst it may be fun and tempting to buy your dress straight up, until you have booked in a few essentials (venue, season), you may end up trying to make your wedding work around a dress which is incongruous.

Like I said last week, the three most important defining factors to choosing an appropriate and original wedding dress are:
1. Setting
2. Season
3. Style (theme) of the wedding.

For Kate, these were:
1. Indoors - Victorian- period ballroom
2. Autumn - Newcastle, NSW
3. Evening, indoor formal modern ceremony and reception.

We spent a day looking at fabrics together, and trying to narrow down the fairly broad ideas Kate had. Like many brides, she went through a lot of searching for source inspiration and had many many pictures that she "liked". I think we shared about 60 photos in the first set of emails, so I was working from a huge base of references.
Neckline reference
Overall image reference: this was the picture that
typified what Kate loved about "a wedding dress".
Also the great train.
Back detail.

The good thing about that was I was able to get a great overview of the elements that Kate loved in the gowns; there were many linking elements when the dresses were broken down, like repeated necklines, skirt shapes, and the overall "feel" Kate was drawn to: classical, romantic and very feminine.

We looked at laces initially, but that turned out to be too busy, and was difficult to narrow down the right kind of lace, colour and satin underneath. So, in the end, we decided on a plain, heavy silk satin crepe, in a "natural' colour (just off-white).
Kate's focus for the dress became simplicity and elegance, and something her fiancee would love to see her in. She wanted to accessorise with pearls and so the satin was a natural choice. Her overall theme was very restrained, and so a simple, but glamourous dress would suit her wedding context.

Initial design after fabric shopping; Bias skirt with
train and cowl back. Fitted bodice and slim line overall.

We began draping and playing with silhouette ideas, as Kate was keen to see the ideas on her, not on paper.

Paper toile, for a fitted bodice
Changes; draped and gathered style.

Kate lives in Newcastle, so we had to factor in three fittings in Melbourne over the five months before the wedding, and we were able to make effective and personal changes each time. 
For Kate, who, is a doctor, not a seamstress, I think it was a series of great excitements and major anxieties, as I was putting her in draft dresses, in order to refine the design; I knew how it would turn out, but she really had to trust me, and she did! 

Refined design © E. Christian 2010
Features gathered bodice, cowl back and 
full bias skirt w train.

Final toile, January 2011.
The major design changes that I wrought from Kate's original ideas were mostly about resolving her required "features" like the draped bodice, with the cowl back, and the height of the waistline. I raised this to make the proportions harmonious and added a belt to bring the draping and texture down from the bodice into the body of the dress. It needed a focus point.
From the above toile I also expanded the circle of the skirt and train, to get the drama Kate wanted in the overall drape of the gown. 

Draping the bodice

Cutting out... tricky on a narrow table..
The real thing.. skirt assembled.
Bodice attached to skirt.
So, when we got to the final fitting, everything was resolved and Kate was delighted with the result.
I added a long row of 30 self-covered buttons, instead of a boring zip, 
to finish it with a real hand-made touch. 
I also added adjustable straps inside the back of the bodice to keep the gown in place, and maintain the tension between the front and back draped bodices.
With train tied up, for dancing.
Finished dress with self belt
Kate on her wedding day.

In the end I was really happy with the dress; it was an amazing learning experience, and I have been able to really perfect some techniques with silk satin, which is such a tedious fabric to get to perform exactly.  

From all accounts Kate had a great Day, and looked fantastic, and it was a pleasure to be part of her wedding. Hopefully there will be a couple more photos to follow soon.

Next week, a 1970's wedding gown conversion!