Enjoying the chill in the air and dreaming up designs in velvet and wool.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Robe de mariée

One of my favorite projects of the past season was plagued with mishaps from the start. The first day I met Rachelle for our consultation, I had left my notes from our phone conversation at home, and couldn't even remember her name. She had gotten lost en route to the coffeeshop and arrived later than she wanted. We were both flustered and tense - but after a hot drink, some commiseration and laughter, and a little brainstorming, it was obvious that we were both going to enjoy the process of making her dream dress into reality.

Rachelle is a French teacher (whose now-husband Patrick is originally from France), and wanted a pretty countryside wedding that felt both Continental and comfortable, with a vintage-inspired wedding gown that she could relax in while still looking and feeling like the bride that she was. 

After drawing up the sketches, we ordered a bright, pearl white silk dupioni, but the wrong fabric arrived; when I pulled the silk out of the package, I was taken aback by the color. I wasn't sure what to call it, but it wasn't white. Nor was it gray, or silver, or gold. I suppose if I had to call it something, I'd say it was the palest platinum imaginable. What was certain was that it was one of the most gorgeous pieces of cloth I'd ever seen in my life. Instead of sending back to my supplier to exchange it for the correct fabric, I called Rachelle, and asked to meet her for another cup of coffee so I could show her what we'd received.

Rachelle - who'd broken her little foot and was now on crutches, mere weeks before her wedding - also fell in love with this silk we'd received by mistake. A close look at the cut edge revealed it was woven out of pale silver threads crossed with palest wheat-gold threads in the other direction. We couldn't tell if it was warm or cool, but because of that tiny hint of gold, changed our minds about the pearl buttons we'd originally planned and decided to use antique gold down the back and to fasten the deep cuffs. (I might have actually giggled when sewing them on, I was so pleased by the combination.)

The wedding day was set for late summer and we knew it would be very warm outside, so it was important to her that we use breathable fabrics as much as possible. We lined the gown with tissue linen, and I made a special removable crinoline underskirt out of linen instead of the usual poly to support just a few layers of the lightest-weight tulle.

Rachelle decided last-minute to add a simple ribbon sash of French blue to her ensemble, and I love the whole effect. Looks like someone else did, too!

My best wishes to you both! Rachelle, if the way you took all the setbacks and curve-balls before your wedding is any indication, you've got one of the best approaches to life I've seen. Your grace, humor and flexibility are invaluable gifts, and it was lovely to see all of that overflowing during a time that often stresses people to their limits. Cheers!!!

Special thanks to Sara Renee for the use of her lovely photos. Everyone, please visit www.sararenee.com and show her some love. =)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Great Outdoors

I first met Dee last year when she had a bit of pre-Hawaii-vacation sewing for me to do. I liked her right away - she's got this great combination of no-nonsense-physical-therapist meets imaginative-fun-loving-kayaking-fantasy-geek vibe going on.

So I knew when she called me up a few months later to tell me that the Hawaii vacation "took" (part of the point of the getaway had been for her to spend a bit of focused time getting to know that handsome gentleman right there) and that she wanted to talk wedding party garb, that it was going to be out of the ordinary and it was going to be fun.

At our first design meeting, Dee came with the idea for the bridesmaids fairly well-set. Since all of the lovely ladies were down-to-earth women who were comfortable in who they are and none of them were particularly girly, Dee wanted to have them in laid-back, flowing garments instead of the usual cocktail dresses. The reception was planned for a wooded area next to the river, and she didn't want anyone held back from enjoying themselves by having to worry about finicky clothes! After scouring the local fabric shops, we decided on wide-legged linen pants in a tobacco brown and mandarin-collared tunic vests a crinkly, sheer sage over simple chocolate tank tops. 

The bridal fabric was a bit more difficult to settle on, until a magic moment when we held a lovely light embroidered sheer over a soft, flowing white pongee. Dee actually jumped up and down and clapped her hands like a delighted little girl (and then recovered and gave me her more standard high-five.) It WAS pretty stuff, very lightweight and cool, and was the unexpectedly perfect thing to use for the design we'd developed. 

Dee doesn't wear dresses all that often herself, so her primary considerations were that it be comfortable, fitting her athletic and outdoorsy personality, but also - she admitted - she wanted to feel a little bit like a princess. Maybe an elf. She had come to me with the basic idea of a sleeveless tank dress with a boat neck and a keyhole back. We tweaked it a bit to work with her jewelry and the fabric we'd found, and the end result made us both smile.

(Their getaway car was a kayak. As in, they actually paddled away from the reception. How cool is that?)
Congratulations, you two!

Photos all courtesy of Wendy Sue Tipton.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Blue Bridesmaid

It's been one of those months where I have three billion projects in the works, and none of them photographable either because they're unfinished or because they're for weddings that haven't happened yet, and we can't risk a groom seeing his bride's dress before their big day!

But I did just put together something very pretty last night...part of a bridesmaid dress that I'm wearing in a couple of weekends. I finally have something solid to show after some real headache-inducing work (TRY doing multiple fittings on yourself. Irritatingly time-consuming and apt to cause a colorful outburst or two. Or eleven.) This is the back bodice, with the buttons just sitting on it for the moment. More to come soon!

Do the buttons look familiar? They're the same gorgeous little guys I used on this wedding dress. I love them and am stoked to finally put them on a dress for myself!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


I had a piece of soft, soft Lycra-filled jersey with some grosgrain ribbon that matched it to a moral, and some pretty lace fabric, and a hankering to use the eyelet setter I'd rediscovered when cleaning out a drawer last week. So instead of buying lingerie for a shower I was going to, I decided to throw out the intimidation that has always kept me from making intimates, and came up with this little nightie - and had so much fun doing so!

The top of a simple dress pattern gave some basic dimensions for the bodice, but I altered the front with a split in order to lace it up and made the back bodice one piece by cutting on the fold, taking up what would have otherwise have been the seam allowance with a few cute pintucks (I've been on a pintuck kick recently) at the center back. The Lycra stuff, which is incredibly stretchy - I think it is actually meant as a swimwear fabric, so it stretches in all directions - was a bit of a pain to work with, bunching and rippling instead of feeding through the machine correctly as I sewed it together with the lace, until I caved and started using Scotch tape to stabilize the fabric where I needed to put seams. That worked well, and it ripped neatly apart where the needle punched it, though I ended up with an inordinate number of little sticky strips stuck to my fingers and clothes by the time I was done. But I like that fabric well enough to make it worth it.

I cut out the skirt (a slightly modified rectangle that I eyeballed for size...you know how much of designing is just educated guesswork?) with a rotary cutter to keep the edges super-clean, and it's so fray-resistant that I didn't need to hem or finish the raw edges at all. I didn't even gather the skirt properly (secret: I hate gathering), but pinned it evenly around the bottom edge of the bodice and then fed the wrinkles in at regular intervals as I stitched the two together. Once that was done, I set my serger to a very short stitch length and trimmed and bound that skirt-bodice seam. The serging contains the edges of the lace well enough that they should be quite comfortable and not itchy.

And then all that was left was to bind the top of the bodice (I used a length of vintage acetate binding that I'd pulled from a grab-bag a friend had sent me from her grandmother's de-stashing) and set the eyelets and put in the ribbon for lacing and shoulder straps. Such a gratifying evening project! I don't think I'm going to switch focus off of the gowns anytime in the foreseeable future, but this was a great excursion into previously-unexplored design and sewing territory.

The antique gold eyelets were leftover from a corset order I filled a couple of years ago. I discovered that you can't actually use this kind of eyelet for real corsets; they're too flimsy to bear the stress for that, but they're perfectly suited for this kind of lacing. (I eventually had to go to a leather supply warehouse to get the strong eyelets and anvil set needed for the corset. That kind is not as fun and easy as this kind, which you do with this nifty special set of pliers.)

(P.S. - Making corsets might seem like it would be scarier than making negligees, but it's not. Making corsets is like building with Legos. They're sturdy, and you follow a diagram to put it together, and everything stays put. Working with lace and Lycra and ribbons, on the other hand...that's more like doing fancy French braids on a wiggly toddler with fine hair.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Moving Pictures

I had a lovely surprise when I checked Facebook this morning - White Dress Media just posted a lovely video chock-full of the gorgeous fun we had at the Atlanta NotWedding a couple of weeks ago. (My hands are even in it for a couple of brief seconds, ironing the dress and fastening Tinika's sash on her...*grin*) I hope you enjoy!

The NotWedding // Atlanta, 2012 from White Dress Media on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The NotWedding Dress Fitting

Friends, it's been a whirlwind over the last few weeks - a fun cyclone of traveling, not sleeping much, and sewing, sewing, sewing. I had the fantastic opportunity to attend the "rehearsal dinner" for the Atlanta NotWedding three weeks ago, and took down with me the then-incomplete gown to do some fitting on Tinika, the gorgeous model who would be wearing it for the event.

Besides looking stunning and being incredibly warm, funny, and down-to-earth,
Tinika is a professional model and is used to people having to be all up in her personal space - 

which is always nice when you're in a tiny bathroom trying to fit a dress skeleton on
someone you just met! We had a blast.

Sarah Esther was in there with us, snapping away with her camera, and so unobtrusive
that I nearly forgot she was even present. That's a great thing in a photographer,
by the way. I highly recommend her.

Tinika had taken careful measurements ahead of time, so there wasn't a lot to be corrected; but as a roommate of mine once said, "The female body is a topographical nightmare" - and there are always in-person adjustments that need to be made, especially for a dress with transparent construction like I was planning. This fine muslin underdress was to be the basis for the overdress that I completed back in Chattanooga over the next couple of weeks, and so I needed it to fit perfectly so that I could make everything else fit to it.

This is the unfinished blouse that goes on top of the underdress; and here is where the fitting proved to be vitally important. Tinika has scoliosis - a curve in her spine that isn't obvious from her measurements, but does impact the symmetry of her back. I was able to alter the blouse so that it wouldn't gape or sit askew when she wears it. 

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand...I can't let you go without a sneak peek at how the gown turned out. More on this later! Many many thanks to Sarah Esther Photography for the use of these stellar images.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Working on the NotWedding Dress(es), Part Two

Just sticking my head in here for a second to show you all some of the pretty pretty things sitting around my sewing area...and my living room...and...yeah, these projects have taken over the whole house by this point. It's a good thing that I love looking at lace, linen, and silk!

This is a bit of the dress for the Orlando NotWedding - a pewter dupioni sash (with handmade anemones) against a top of ivory lace overlaid on blush satin.

And this is some of the detail on the Atlanta NotWedding flower girl's dress - tiny pintucks on the bodice and a self-fabric applique on each little sleeve.

 I've been doing TONS of French seam work. It makes a lovely finish, but is rather time consuming to do. If you're not familiar with the technique, it basically involves sewing a seam with the raw edges facing OUT (so they show on the outside of the garment), and then trimming the edges very very close to the seam (as shown below), and then turning it inside-out and pressing the seam line and then sewing it again so that all those raw edges are enclosed. Capisce? Don't worry if it doesn't make any sense...it still makes my brain do somersaults every time I do it.

And then there is the fun of dyeing fabrics. This is for the pink sash belonging to the Atlanta dress. Unfortunately, I measured something incorrectly after the test piece, and the whole yardage of what I was going to use turned out rather brighter than I wanted it. I have a backup plan. This will be what I'm doing last minute before I head down to Atlanta on Wednesday.

Clockwise from left: Big pot of dyeing fabric, bottle of Synthrapol, bag of dye activator (soda ash substitute), pot of fiber-reactive dye powder. This is so much fun to do, especially since you have to stir the dyeing fabric for about 45 minutes straight. I watched a lot of music videos. Taking suggestions for the next time I have a dye job.

...so...be on the lookout for the lovely professional photos of the lovely finished projects in just a few days! I'll keep you posted. Have a wonderful week, friends.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Working on the NotWedding Dress, Part One

I'm working happily away this morning, banging my brain against problems like the pleats for the blouse of the dress. I'm not sure what exactly is going to happen with this. The geometric difficulties I knew would happen are in fact happening, so I need to figure a way to either avoid or incorporate them... 

It was somewhere around this point that I realized I'd burned the bagel I'd put under the broiler.
Burned it very badly.

The skirt, however, is coming along nicely. I used a pattern I had on hand as a shortcut for some basic dimensions as I plotted out the various layers.

Aaaaaaaaand...if you ever speculated that the dressmaker's life is like a Vermeer painting...

...I'm going to have to disabuse you of the notion. Um. This is more what it's like at the moment around the carefully scrubbed dining-room table where I'm working on this particular project.

And that's the honest truth coming from yours truly today! Have a great Tuesday, everyone. Make messes. Turn them into nice things. Listen to good music while you're doing it. I'll leave you with what I've had on repeat all morning - a little live magic for your ears.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


I'm making two little baptismal gowns for two precious children, one in California and one in Texas; they're the same size, and one is in ivory and the other in white, in soft tissue linen. These are such fun! (You can see what the finished product will look like here.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Headed to The NotWedding, 2012

On my plate for February - making two wedding gowns for actual brides, making plans for a third gown and wedding party-full of outfits for another bride, odds and ends of alterations for local customers, a couple of costumes for my alma mater's production of Aida, aaaaaaaaaaaand...making this.

Yep, I'm headed to The NotWedding (happening March 8 in Atlanta - would love to see you there!), and am so excited to be a part of the fun happenings with other fantastic vendors and once again provide the bridal gown (see last year's here.) The inspiration photo we were sent for the event showed a sleek, dark-haired woman on a deck chair in front of a gigantic, pale coral Asian parasol. She wore a light-colored swimsuit and a modified cloche/bathing cap - the whole scene was fairly minimal and quite early-1900s-influenced. I loved the parasol with its spokes, and the turn-of-the-last-century feel, and decided to incorporate some of that into this design, while keeping a bit of modernity with the low V back and a few details with the buttons and sash that I didn't put in the sketch.

The whole thing will be sewn of my favorite tissue linen (it's such gorgeous, soft, lightweight-but-crisp stuff!) with pintucks and fan-pleats galore. I decided to let you all in on the process this year - so I'll warn you, there may be some publicly expressed angst coming up as I get down to the actual pattern development and construction of the gown. Things might change along the way. I might have to dye the sash five times (oh mercy, I hope not.) I might have to enlist assistance finding the exact buttons I want (so far, the shopping list of attributes in my head includes "square", "fabulous", and "sparkly but muted".) But whatever - it's going to be fun!

...even if I get no sleep during the shortest month of the year in order to get it all done. 

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