My Handmade Wedding Gown – Images and Overview of the Design Process

VictoriaandFrank-115Photograph taken by Sarah Jayne Photography.

When Frank and I got engaged in May of 2013, the very first thing I did was plan a visit to a local bridal shop to try on wedding gowns. I was so excited that I booked an appointment a mere week later. When the day arrived, I quickly found myself surrounded by a sea of tulle, beads, and lace, in too-tight polyester nightmares which left me feeling breathless – and not in the good way.

I managed to try on half a dozen vastly different gowns before leaving the store. I was feeling disappointed, sticker-shocked, and uncomfortable… but the one thing I was sure of was that I did not want a strapless gown – weren’t they so “typical”? (Not to mention, I was convinced that my petite frame couldn’t pull off the strapless look; it probably didn’t help that all of the sample gowns were 8 sizes too big for me.) At that point I decided to spare myself from further dress shopping, and start the process of making my own wedding dress.

You might be thinking, “Is she nuts?” Well, maybe I am, a little…but I did graduate from FIDM with a degree in Fashion Design, so I had that knowledge working for me! Granted, we never made wedding gowns…or anything remotely similar.. but, nothing ventured/nothing gained, right?

Dresses-1-2Images by Sarah Jayne Photography.

Before I got started, I had one major hurdle: I’d already made my wedding necklace – hand formed clay roses accented by vintage faceted glass beads and freshwater pearls – and I had my heart set on wearing a gown that coordinated with it. Clearly this situation is different from the “normal” bride who picks out her accessories after she has her gown, but I am a full time jewelry designer – thus my priorities are a little different than most!

Dresses-3-4Images by Sarah Jayne Photography.

I spent some time that summer draping different silhouettes onto my dress form, and researching various fabric options and notions. For a while, I was still convinced that strapless wasn’t for me.

Then one magical creative day, design inspiration struck: I had draped a sweetheart neckline bodice (with the full intent of adding straps to the design,) and on a whim, added a curved trim piece to the top of the bust line. Suddenly my design vision was clear – the curved trim on the neck line was the perfect way to mimic the roses from my necklace, without screaming “floral” from the bridal rooftops! I tried on the sample top along with my necklace, and was excitedly surprised at how truly fitting it looked.

I finished sewing my sample by giving the bodice a natural waist line to accentuate my figure, along with a dramatic A-line silhouette with an over-sized layered flounce and modern wide hem trim. I knew I had a winner; I was elated! Our wedding theme was to be a mix of vintage and modern, with a trend of looped ribbon elements, and this design was a perfect fit for both myself and our big day. I happily pranced around in my sample gown while showing it off to my parents over a Skype video-chat. I think that is what most brides must have felt like when they tried on The One!

Handmade-Wedding-Gown-Patternmaking-10-22-2013

Now that my design was solidified and I had made final fit adjustments, I had to get to work on patternmaking.  The above images show the sample I draped for the oversized flounce idea. This was one very long piece of fabric (cut on the bias grain line, in a circular shape) with large folds in specific places in order to create the “layered” look all the way around the waist line. I made two of these pieces – one for each side, starting at the center front waist line and ending at the center back. The really difficult part about this was making sure I marked my sample in a logical way in order to transfer the fold placement markings to my pattern, and then to my final fabric. Yikes! If you can’t see from the images, I used a different colored pencil for each fold grouping.

Handmade-Wedding-Gown-Patternmaking-10-22-2013-3

Reminiscent of my FIDM patternmaking days, our pup Butters always takes the opportunity to lend a helping paw. Or, you know, distract me from getting my work done. Transferring the muslin pattern piece to the paper pattern gave me the opportunity to make some corrections in length. This piece shows a portion of the flounce. The final pattern piece looked like a giant elongated “C” shape.

Handmade-Wedding-Gown-Patternmaking-10-20-2013

Between the outer silk fabric (Italian ivory silk taffeta) and the silk chiffon lining, I’d lost count of how many pattern pieces went into this design. I’d included princess seams (my favorite!) on both the front and back of the bodice, plus both center front and horizontal seams on the bust section.

Handmade-Wedding-Gown-Silk-Bodice-10-30-2013

Honestly, one of the most rewarding parts of designing – for me  personally – is sewing in the final fabric! (This outer layer is referred to as the “self” fabric.) It feels amazing to put the pieces together and see the garment come to life. The image above is the silk self layer of the bodice, still in progress.

Handmade-Wedding-Gown-Boning-Layer-11-07-2013

This was a close-up shot in progress of the middle layer of the bodice, which holds the boning. I used plastic boning, since I didn’t need super heavy-duty boning for this garment.

Handmade-Wedding-Gown-Horsehair-Braid-Hem-11-13-2013

For the hem of the flounce pieces, I added in horsehair braid. Nowadays this is made with a flexible nylon material, not actual horse hair. It’s very stretchy and fun to play around with! It helps add volume to your hem lines by flaring them away from the garment.

Handmade-Wedding-Gown-Sewing-10-31-2013

At this point, I was working on the hem of the skirt portion. The ideal way to do this would have been with long strips of my silk cut on the bias, but I was on a budget and wasn’t able to purchase all of the additional yardage I would have need to accomplish that. Instead, I did it the hard way!

Handmade-Wedding-Gown-Vintage-Glass-Buttons-12-02-2013

One of my favorite parts – notions! I found these beautiful vintage glass shank buttons from a shop on Etsy. I had exactly two of them left over after finishing my gown, and used 1 button in each of the two silk flower corsages I made – one for my mom, and one for my mother-in-law. I’ll post pictures of those later on. The close-up shot here was before I added the hook-and-eye closure at the top. I just really love these buttons! They looked great with the vintage glass on my necklace, and are so beautiful and unique.

Wedding-Gown-Test-Fitting-11-15-2013

I spent about four hours hand stitching each of the flounce hems closed with a catch stitch. Each length was multiple yards long! I would venture to say that it was one of the most tedious parts of this process. Although I find hand finishing hems rather relaxing, I did spread it out over the course of two weekend days, so as to not put too much strain on my body or eyes. After I finished them, it was time for another test fitting for length! I wanted it to be floor length, and had quite a bit of extra fabric to remove. It’s always better to initially have it too long than too short, though!

Wedding-Gown-Wedding-Date-Embroidery-11-25-2013

A friend of mine who was a fellow FIDM classmate assisted me with finalizing the hem length. You can do a lot of work yourself, but I would never advise measuring a hem on yourself, for yourself, alone. She did a fantastic job, and the length came out perfectly! For the finishing touch and that “something blue,” I added a little extra personalization by embroidered our wedding date and initials along the inside of the hem.

VictoriaandFrank-514Image by Sarah Jayne Photography.

Whew! That was a lot of work, but I really think it was worth it.. Don’t you? 🙂 If you’d like to see more images of my gown and our DIY handmade wedding day, please head on over to my full blog post about it, found here: https://victoriaallisonblog.wordpress.com/2014/08/14/diy-backyard-brunch-wedding-in-new-hampshire/

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Butters in his Professor Chaos dog costume

I’ve never been good at coming up with names for pets. My first cat’s name was Shadow. She was all black. (Really original, no?) Most other animals in my life have been named by friends or other family members.

When we adopted our dog, we were told that his name was Butters, and he’d had brothers (already adopted) named Kyle and Stan. Having watched many episodes of South Park since it’s inception, we knew that we had to keep the name! Well, come to find out, the name really is quite fitting for this dog. Akin to South Park’s Butters, he really is the sweetest dog, albeit sort of naive, but goodhearted and always eager to please.

Anyway, one day Butters (from the show) grew tired of being a people-pleaser, always doing the right thing, helping everybody.. thus one night, his alter ego was born: Professor Chaos. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professor_Chaos and/or http://www.southparkstudios.com/clips/153471/professor-chaos-is-born) Complete with a tin-foil hat and gloves, and a green cape made from an old t-shirt, he vowed to rein chaos on every path he crossed!

I decided that our Butters needed a new Halloween costume, and Professor Chaos was the obvious choice.

 

 

Yup, he knows he’s adorable.

This outfit has really been a work in progress for the past few weeks. I made the helmet in September. It’s formed out of paperboard, covered in masking tape (scrunched up to look wrinkled) and then spray painted silver. There’s a thin clear elastic underneath to help hold it in place on his head, but it is still pretty loose.

I draped fabric over him and marked it to make a general template (a dog bodice pattern, if you will..) He’s kind of an awkwardly shaped dog.. large rib cage, short stubby legs! The armholes are actually a bit too big on the shirt, but you don’t notice when the outfit is all together. His blue top is jersey knit fabric. I sewed his cape out of dark green flannel, and it closes with a large piece of velcro along the side of the neck.  I sewed his booties out of plain gray cotton woven fabric, added more masking tape to the front, and then spray painted the front. I didn’t want to make it too thick or all the way around the foot, otherwise he couldn’t bend them to walk!

The button/chain detail was pretty fun to make.  I made the large gray buttons out of polymer clay, and affixed a pin back to each one. I also included a hole/connecting piece on the back of each one, to attach the silver chain. This piece actually came in handy, because I was able to pin the top edge of the shirt and the bottom edge of the cape together, so they would stay in place!

When all is said and done, I suppose I could have used aluminum foil for the helmet, but I was worried about it being too heavy – and quite frankly, I just didn’t want it that shiny!

Here’s a comparison of the two. What do you think?

Butters got some treats during the photoshoot for his excellent behavior, and a rawhide chew as a reward when we were through. He’s such a good dog!

Fabric two ways – Wool Coat and Satin Bolero

It may seem a little late to be posting pictures of wool coats, but here in the California bay area we’ve been having a lot of chilly, windy, rainy days this spring!

I’ve spent many winters on the hunt for the “perfect” wool coat, only to come up disappointed; usually I find something I sort of like, but it’s either too big, too expensive, or otherwise just not quite right. Now that I’ve made pattern blocks (basic pattern templates) in my own clothing size/made to my measurements, I finally sat down and made myself a coat this winter! (Let’s ignore how long it took me to find the perfect shade and thickness of grey wool fabric.. and how when I found the “perfect” fabric, it ended up being $200 per yard.. which meant I now had to find the *second* best, because clearly I wasn’t spending over $300 on fabric for my coat!)

Okay, so the first step was coming up with the coat design. I sort of have an obsession with designing princess seams on coats and blouses, which is amusing because it requires additional pattern pieces and thus additional work. Sometimes I think I’m a glutton for punishment when patterndrafting and sewing. Oh, what, did you say that pattern is going to require over 50 pieces and take a full day to sew? Bring it on! *Ahem.*

I’m also very indecisive.

Needless to say, I had multiple variations of a jacket design happening, and finally chose one. I drew up a “technical flat” for it (quite literally a technical drawing to show all seams and hems/sewing lines of a garment) before I got started on the pattern, so I’d have a better idea of what the finished product should look like.

Here’s my technical flat for my coat design:

The specs, for those who know what I’m talking about: My design is a long wool coat with front and back princess seams, a waist seam, two-piece sleeves, asymmetrical peter pan collar, belted waist, and a double breasted front placket (one row is workable buttons, the other is just for appearance.) There are hidden pockets at the side seams. It is also fully lined, of course! The bow at the collar is just for decoration, as you’ll see below..

I sewed up a sample before sewing the finished garment to make sure I liked the fit, and then sewed it in the grey wool. Here’s some photos of the finished coat!

 

 

Victoria Camp Designs Wool Coat Feb 2012

 

 

At first, I was a little disappointed in myself for waiting until February to make the coat. Then I remembered that we have chilly nights here year round – and fairly un-typical weather other months – and I have actually been wearing this coat frequently, even this month. I’ve been accenting the front closure/collar area with an assortment of sashes, fabric flower brooches, and large vintage enamel brooches. It’s a lot of fun to dress up this coat!

Now as for my title, “Fabric two ways”.. I typically buy more fabric than I need, just in case something goes disastrously wrong and I need more fabric. Better to have too much, than not enough. I still have wool left over, but also had plenty of that beautiful blue teal satin! Feeling creative one night, I made two boleros. (The second one I will show you later, in another Fabrid-Two-Ways post!) For now, here’s the teal satin bolero..

 

 

 

 

Well, there you have it! Fabric two ways.. teal satin fabric used in completely opposite seasonal garments.. a winter coat and a spring bolero!