Sunday, June 30, 2013

Top o' the Mornin' to ya! - Ali and Danny

I had the opportunity several months ago to work on a friend's cousin's wedding gown. Her name is Alison, and she comes from a very Irish family. Another absolute sweetheart, she came by referral based off of the work I had done for Jacqui last year. (Speaking of, congratulations to Jacqui and Kevin on your slightly belated one year!!)

Ali's wedding was on March 17, St. Patrick's Day. It was another situation of a dress being bought, and then changed.

Originally, she had bought a satin gown, white and kelly green, with gorgeous embroidery and beading. However the attendant at the salon, upon hearing that Ali's dream was to have the corset back in the gown, told her to buy it a size smaller than she normally wears. ~Note to EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE~ Never do this. The style lines DO NOT FIT your body.


Enter me. I took a look at the gown, and told her that I could make it work the way she wanted it to, but that I would have to take it almost completely apart and refit all of the seams so that it looked like it was meant for her shape. She agreed to think about it, and I went home.

A week or so later (and this all was back in January, mind you), and I met her, her mom and sister at the same salon. She was going back to look and see if she could find anything else. One perk of this particular salon - you can exchange gowns.

So we had about a two hour session of her trying on gowns. Success! She found a lace gown which was more in line with what she was looking for originally. Her dream was to have a gown with sleeves - a la Ariel from The Little Mermaid.

This gown fit Ali better, and she felt more comfortable in it. You can't discount the weight of the fabric for your wedding - most brides want to be able to dance all night at the reception! It was amazing to watch her walking back and forth in the gown before the mirrors, because I got to see her fall in love with the gown. There are some things that words can't describe, and this is one of those that you need to see to understand.

I met her fiancĂ©, Danny, at their cousin's surprise birthday party shortly after that afternoon, and Ali introduced me as the 'woman who was going to make her dreams come true'. His response, "But I thought that was me?!" To which I said, "Woman vs. man. One day, one gown vs. for life. Slight difference!"

So the lace gown came home with Ali's mom. The lace pleated into the center front, where there was an embroidered  applique with beading, and the sweetheart neckline had beading around the bodice. There was a train which needed to be bustled, and a few points where some beading thread needed to be pulled taut again and everything secured.

In order to make everything work, I had to remove about half of the beading around the top of the bodice in order to let out the side seams. I created mesh sleeves for her, draping fabric around her outstretched arm to make the pattern, and these went to a point on the back of her hands, with elastic bands to go around her middle fingers to secure them. In a local fabric and crafts store, I found shank buttons, iridescent just-enough-off-white plastic, with carvings of a rose. They matched the gown amazingly, and were used to hold the bustle.

Several fittings, days of bead-work (thanks Mom!), and one all-nighter later, the gown was ready. Over the course of the fittings, I wound up agreeing to hem her mother and sister's gowns, and doing the makeup for all three on the day of the wedding.

So, on St Patrick's Day (which was a Sunday this year), I was up and out of the house at 8 am, complete with gowns, portable fabric steamer, and my makeup kit, and over at Ali's mother's house. Three makeovers, four-ish hours, and family photos later, and the bride and her party were ready to go. One of my friends from church, Rachel, did the hair for all three, and is spectacular at what she does.

Probably the sweetest portion of this was that Ali wanted both of us to come see the wedding as well. The church is in my town, and it's a beautiful white-washed building with an organ in the loft, stained glass, and just a little jewel in the center of the village. I was confused for her sister (don't ask me why, it's not like I was wearing the wedding colors in my butterfly-print dress), but found the family of hers that I've known to sit with, and waited. Rachel came in with her mom (yet another family friend - what can I say, it's a small town?) and we all wound up chatting before the ceremony began.

Ali walked into the church accompanied by a bagpipe player in full dress in the loft. The ceremony was fairly short, with several laughs - make sure your minister says to the groom 'do you take this woman' and to the bride 'do you take this man', and not 'do you take this woman' to both! - and when we went outside and the happy couple was announced, instead of throwing birdseed or rice or rose petals, we threw Lucky Charms! ...I have to admit, I ate the marshmallow charms and only threw the grain bits, but I figured it would be healthier for any birds that managed to find them...


 
You can't really see the beading detail, and the mesh sleeves almost match her skin tone, but they were a silk mesh that was the same color as the gown. I love this photo because it so beautifully displays the lace. And because Danny and Ali look incredible, and very happy.

 
You can see the beading on the bodice, and at the top of the sleeves here. The end of the sleeves had the same beading pattern. Ali's veil complemented the gown's details amazingly well, with beading along the scalloped edge that echoed the lace scallops at the hem.
 
 
 
Ali's not a girly-girl by nature, so it was wonderful to see her get so excited by everything and to be so happy about the gown. This is what makes everything worth-while for me. Seeing the brides be so excited about their gowns, helping them to not stress about just one more thing, and getting to play a small part in their happiness. Everything I put myself through and the time I put into these gowns is all worth it.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

My First Fairy-Godmother Tale

So I promised when I first started that I would post about my re-design of my friend's dress - here goes!

My friend Jacqui got married in June of 2012. I actually had known her husband since pre-teen years, and only met her when they started dating. She's absolutely amazing, and one of the sweetest women I know.

In March/April, one Sunday morning at church, she approached me and asked if she could speak to me after the service. When we were sitting down and talking, Jacqui shared with me that she had been praying a lot the night before because she didn't know what to do with the dress she had bought.

I had seen a picture of the dress from when she had bought it, but never seen it in person. As we were talking, I asked her what she had originally envisioned for a wedding dress, and what she told me was exactly in line with sketches for bridal gowns that I had drawn the night before!

We agreed to get together later that week so that I could see the gown and we could discuss what had been done and what could be done.


Here's the pictures from when Jacqui tried on the gown initially. Now, when I first heard from her that she had bought a dress, I offered to fit and hem it for her. But because her mother didn't know me, and heard "I have a friend who sews," she refused. Not that I blame her - I wouldn't let just anybody work on my daughter's wedding dress. But I'm not just anybody with a sewing machine.


So they took it to a seamstress - whose idea of fitting the dress was to put elastic inside to hold it up. Jacqui had lost about four inches around her waist from when she bought the gown to when she brought it to me. So the elastic was intended to do the work that a good fitting would do, because this seamstress told Jacqui it would be too expensive for her to fit the gown, as she only did hand-sewing.

Which was a blatant lie, having looked at the gown.

Not to mention - the elastic had a red and green stripe, which didn't match up on each side - one half had the stripe on top, and the other on bottom. And, it was held together with velcro. Velcro? Really? On a wedding dress? And you allow the elastic to fray?
You must be kidding me.


Needless to say, I told Jacqui I could fix it. But she needed to decide whether or not she wanted me to fix it, and leave it as is, or I could make her a whole new gown from scratch, or we could go buy another gown and I would fit it to her.
She said, "Couldn't you use the fabric of this gown and re-do it?"
It honestly hadn't occurred to me to do that. But I said that yes, it was possible.


So we got to work. I completely deconstructed the gown - top from bottom, lining from shell, front from back on the bodice.


Whoever originally sewed all of the bias/spaghetti strap appliques all over the satin managed to do a brilliant job of scuffing up the fabric.



Challenge: What do you do when the fabric you have is covered in imperfections?

Cover them up of course!















I found an off-white tulle with just a hint of shimmer to it - ruched it over the bodice and hand-stitched it into the seams, then double-layered it over the skirt.


So I re-imagined the spaghetti straps to be a woven-belt waist detail, and the glitzy appliques to act as a buckle and studs.

I had to re-do the hem completely, because it was sewn unevenly from side to side. Note to brides: ask to see samples of work the seamstress has done - or go with someone who knows how to sew!

And in June, I was able to be at the wedding of Kevin and Jacqui, and to see her look incredibly radiant! ...And it wasn't just from the gown, it was from the love that they shared and continue to share to this day.

 
There's a row of beading which I did just underneath the satin strip at the top of the bodice, to tie in with the veil and the appliques on the belt.

Probably the best shot I have of how the belt turned out - and an adorable picture of the bride and groom!


The bustle shape stayed the same, but the dress wound up completely different - a real wow!




This is probably my favorite gown to date - but I've got a new commission which is completely from scratch and a really awesome design! More on my current gowns later.

Best,

Shannon

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Draping

Gyah, do I miss draping. I miss just about anything that has to do with time-intensive aspects of design and construction. I was going through the ridiculous number of pictures on my phone, and found these old beauties.

This is one inch wide bias strips draped over one another, alternating between the right and the left. Hours of work. Hours. But such a beautiful effect when it was finished. This gown would up being one of the most beautiful in the collection for Anne Bowen, named JFK Rosas. I still adore it to this day.


Bias-cut silk organza (2-3 layers) at the top of the bodice, draped in a criss-cross pattern again. This one was just having fun to see how it would look.

The following two are with the same pieces of organza, but with the bias length of fabric at the waist instead of at the top of the bust.

I love the flowery nature of this drape.


This one looks like it should have continued up and into a flowing length of organza or chiffon coming from the shoulder.

You've gotta love bias grain for making fabric work in amazing ways without needing much in the way of seaming!

And for the extent of what can be done with draping, take a look at the finale piece from my graduate collection at university:



I'm looking forward to Christmas being the time when I get to do some work of my own in design - details soon to come!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Baldwin Bride wins Seamstress Suit

Gotta love the nice bit of alliteration in the title, eh?

Judge awards nearly $1500 after bridal gown unravels

I don't know about you guys, but reading this article made me spitting mad. It was mentioned on FB by News12, and as of this point there are just under 500 comments on the FB page.

So I'm not quite sure what's more upsetting; that people just don't understand what goes into correctly constructing and fitting garments, or that they're just unwilling to pay for good quality work. Because of that, I had to put in my two cents, as follows:
"First things first, bridal gowns are expensive. And good seamstresses have been well trained in how to fit and alter gowns. For this to have happened shows sloppy workmanship. And as for the comments about how expensive alterations are - how much are you willing to pay for a custom piece of artwork? Realize that just because there are many skilled creative artisans out there, it doesn't mean they don't deserve to get well paid for utilizing their talents. It's a complete insult to the person doing the work for a customer to expect to get something for less than its value or for free.

In this case, the bride deserves to get the money back. However, looking at the design of the dress, being unable to use the bathroom is a bogus charge from what I can see. The gown flares at the hips. She should have gotten help from her bridesmaids and had the gown raised up.

And, unless other readers think I'm speaking out of no knowledge - I am a designer and seamstress with three degrees in my field, all of which included an extensive knowledge of sewing and alterations."

 
 So let's expand on my mini-rant. Good seamstresses can be found. I can list a dozen or so off the top of my head, and those aren't working for salons or tailors. However, where there is good, there's bad too. So, in some cases, you are taking a risk asking someone to work on something as precious as a wedding gown. This is why you ask to see examples of their work, and if you know nothing about sewing - bring along someone who does! Plain and simple. Besides, if nothing else, as women we know what looks good, just from looking at clothes on the rack.

And yes, alterations cost. But so does having your bathroom re-tiled, your couches re-upholstered, your car's engine rebuilt. Want to know why? For these to be done, and done well, the person(s) doing them have been trained. And that costs money. And, there are expenses included in any estimate and final tally that as customers you may not realize. I include thread, pattern-making materials, and a whole host of other items etc, into my estimates. What I don't include (currently) is fabric costs. Because I want to go with the person I'm working with to select something that both they and I love.

It amazes me (and not in a good way) that there are so many people who are willing to take advantage of a creative person's talents. People expect professional photos for free from friends who are photographers; any little alterations from seamstresses or designers, artwork from artists. This doesn't make sense, because there's no way I could go up to a lawyer friend and say, "Hey, I need a lawyer in traffic court, would you do it for me as a favor?" And an accountant wouldn't prepare my taxes without charging me for his work.

It's simple math. Time plus work equals pay.


As far as this bride's remarks about being unable to use the bathroom for six hours; that's crap in my opinion. If you need to go that badly, you'll figure out a way. As a bride, it means the handicapped restroom, the help of one or more bridesmaids, the loss of a bit of modesty, and the realisation of who your true friends are, because they're willing to help you hold a hugely heavy white dress above the toilet for you. So there's my take on that.

The other extreme irk from those FB comments were the one's about the bride gaining weight. Zippers don't close if the gown is too small. They don't unravel from the body of the gown because the bride gained weight. Anyone who has ever tried to fit into an old pair of skinny jeans knows exactly what I'm referring too.

For avoiding those issues (I'm talking to the chronicly shy here), go with a simpler gown. There are loose, empire waisted gowns that look stunning on just about every body type, and that won't weight twenty pounds.


So yeah, that's my take on all of this. I'm pretty sure that just about every gainfully employed artist would agree.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Introducing me...

Hey guys,

So I'm obviously new at the whole blogging thing, but I'm giving it my best shot. Here's a bit about me, my background etc, and what qualifies me to be the person  brides go to for any and all wedding dress woes.

I'm a native Long Islander, who found out in high school that a love of sewing translated into a talent for design. I attended NCC and graduated with an A.A.S. in Apparel Design, then moved overseas to London where I studied at the London College of Fashion and received my FdA in Fashion Design Technology: Designer Pattern Cutter, and my B.A. (Hons) in Fashion Design and Technology.

I worked for couture bridal designer Ian Stuart at the International Bridal Design Fair in Battersea Park, West London, and interned for Anne Bowen Bridal in New York City.



Since then, I've completely redesigned, fitted and re-constructed a good friend's wedding gown (pictures and story to follow!), and done minor tucks and alterations on an international friend's reception gown. Currently, I've been commissioned for a third bridal re-design, and am in the beginning stages of changing this gown from a woe to a wow.

All this inbetween regular alterations and seamstress work.

Busy, busy sewing-bee.

Best,

Shannon


P.S. Thanks to http://visualmvmt.com/ for posting the Jamaica shoot online. :)