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And So It Begins…


The first step in creating any wedding gown is a discussion with the client, whether she is a family member, a friend or a paying customer. You need to talk with her & listen to her vision. You are creating what is probably the most personal garment a woman will ever wear – her wedding gown – so you need to listen to what your bride says. Although we all have our own personal taste, you cannot let your style be confused with the bride’s. It is her day & her dress, so above all else, listen to her.


Nothing conveys thoughts better then a photograph, so ask the bride to pull magazine pictures or pictures online of what she likes. I had both my nieces create Pinterest boards. After communicating with them & finding our how they saw themselves on their day, we began pinning pictures to Pinterest of different gowns, explaining what we liked, and what we disliked. Now, I had to communicate electronically with both my nieces, since they were both a great distance from me – I am in Florida, one niece was in Ecuador, the other in Hawaii. I would strongly recommend a face to face conversation to avoid miscommunication with the bride. I also recommend having access to her body. I will explain why in just a bit.

Listen to her cues. Does she want a simple dress or something more complex? What details does she like in the pictures she is showing you? Ask her to elaborate. When I met with the bride, Jen, that I am currently working with, she said that she liked the idea of an overlay & showed me a dress made with a lace overlay. After further discussion, she said that she didn’t like look of lace because it was too fussy. She prefers a simpler, cleaner look. I suggested that she might prefer a chiffon overlay instead. Here’s the thing, if I had just looked at the picture, and not asked more questions, we might have made a very expensive mistake, since lace can cost anywhere from $25 to $400 per yard. Again, ask lots of questions.

Things you need to pay attention to include:

  1. What silhouette does she seem to prefer? Wedding gowns come in just a few basic shapes such as: ballgown, sheath, A-line, empire, mermaid or trumpet.


If the bride is unsure which silhouette she prefers or does not know what will look good on her, take her to a bridal shop & try on several different silhouettes to determine which is best for her figure. Be sure to go with her, or she might wind up being persuaded to purchase a gown.

  1. What type of fabric does she prefer? Does she want something with lots of lace? Does she like the look of a beaded or sequin dress? Does she want something soft & flowy or with more structure like a corseted dress?
  2. Is there anything she needs to give you, like an heirloom veil or a piece of jewelry that she wants incorporated into the dress?

croquisOnce you have the answers to these questions, and you have seen pictures of what she likes, you can start the design process with a sketch. I always do my sketching from a croquis. A croquis is a blank sketch of a woman. It is helpful to have princess & side seams on the sketch to aid in the design process. You will need a front facing croquis & a back facing one. If you cannot draw, then you can search online at Google images for the term “croquis”. Just copy some of them onto your computer & print them out. Place the croquis, whether you drew it yourself or printed from the internet, under tracing paper, and then start to draw your design ideas. Sketch a lot of ideas – 20 or so if you can. Sometimes taking the back detail of one dress and adding it to the neckline of another gives you the perfect dress. Without making a lot of sketches, you wouldn’t know.

After making all the sketches, cull them back. Look hard at each one to decide if there is anything worthwhile. If you like the idea, then place it to the side. If you don’t, throw it away – literally. If you keep it around, you might be tempted to keep playing with it, and you will waste time. Cull back to just the ideas that best meet the bride’s requirements, then you can work on making a finished sketch for her.

The finished sketch usually consists of a full color drawing of the dress with both front & back views. Try to mimic the texture of the fabric you will use, if possible. I like to use watercolor markers for my finished sketches because I can delude them with water & get realistic looking shadings. They are expensive, but if you will be making wedding gowns regularly, they are invaluable. Be sure that you show all the details of the dress – the seam lines, the darts, the neckline. If you plan on using a sheer fabric as an overlay, show that as a separate layer. Finally, add some notes to the sketch to explain to the bride exactly what your thoughts are. You don’t want to design a dress that looks like a straight sheath or paper, but then make a muslin for a skirt that is fuller. Your bride will not be happy. Also be sure to note how you plan to allow access to put the dress on – zipper? button back?

You should prepare 2 – 3 finished sketches to show the bride, and ONLY 2 -3. Why? If you show her too many options, she will get confused by the choices & be afraid to make a decision. You are the professional, so you need to guide her by showing her just the best of your work. If she isn’t happy with what you’ve prepared, then ask her what works & what does not. Go back the asking lots of questions. Make sure you understand what she is looking for & try again.



The Genius that was Charles James

Charles James mag cover READ MORE

One can hardly discuss creating formalwear without discussing Charles James. Mr. James was born in Great Britain, but worked as a designer in the US. He created both childrenswear, daywear for women, and gorgeous evening gowns. He was eccentric and idiosyncratic, at best. Although he was usually very much in need of money, he was known to turn down work because he didn’t like the appearance of his possible client. He might as well have been Blanche from “Streetcar Named Desire” stating that he “always relied upon the kindness of strangers.” It wasn’t about work for him. He considered himself more a sculptor or architect then a clothing designer. He work was impeccable, complicated and achingly beautiful. Society women of the 30’s through the 50’s sought him out because of this genius.

One look at his patterns reveals the intricacy of his designs. Skirts seemed to fold over and into themselves. He often said that it was all about letting the grain to the work. The folds and graceful curves of the dresses were created by draping the fabric over the dress form, and allowing the lengthwise, crosswise and bias to form them. Mr. James was known to spend days working tirelessly on the bodice of a dress. He was unable to stop until he finished the drape. One famous example of this was his “Ribbon” dress, so named because the seamlines of the bodice and skirts were cut so thinly, they c ould have been made of ribbons.

In order to make the dresses hang properly, Mr. James built all the undergarments to support the dresses. This includes slips and petticoats. Many of his dresses included tulle underskirts, with wide horsehair braid in the hemlines to support the fullness of the skirts. The bodices were boned to create the ultra-feminine look that was popular in the Post-War period. He also used hip padding to create the fullness across the hip area that he desired.

What can we learn about formal gown construction from Mr. James? By studying his draping and construction methods, we can learn how to make both the fabric and the body appear to the pleasing proportions that a bride wants for her special day. We can learn how to build a gown that although heavy, is almost weightless to wear. We can learn to be better at our craft.

Treasured Art

Dressmaker with mannequin READ MORE

Creating a wedding gown is an art form. It is also a feat of engineering and architecture. A wedding gown isn’t so much made, as it is built. What does this mean? The undergarments provide the support and structure, both for the dress and for the body.

Bridal shops today often don’t make that clear until you go in to try on dresses. They also upcharge you for those support garments. As a wedding gown designer, I choose to include those garments in my gown, either as a separate piece or as linings or underlinings. By using this method, I ensure that my gown is properly supported, but also that nothing will cause the dress to lay funny or that the undergarments show when the gown is worn. The only thing I do not include are the panties & stockings. I do include a garter made of the same lace as the gown, and fit to the bride’s thigh.

The type of undergarments you include with the dress depends a lot on the dress itself. A bouffant full skirted dress will require a multi-layered petticoat versus a fitted slinky dress, which may not require any undergarments at all. The one thing I always include with my gowns is the corset. The corset will smooth the body, as well as support the breasts. This means that your gown will support the bustline, and then glide over the midriff area, without any lumps or bulges, no matter what the bride’s size. A well made, well fitted corset is extremely comfortable to wear and when made with steel bones, can reduce a waistline dramatically, giving the bride a beautiful, feminine shape. I will devote a special section of this website to properly building the corset.

Once the undergarments are finished, we move to the outer layers of the gown. The main fabric can be either a satin, a taffeta, a charmeuse or crepe. Which you choose depends on the way you want the finished gown to look. If you don’t know the difference between these fabric weaves, no worries. I will cover wedding gown fabrics completely, including some of my favorite places to purchase wedding gown fabrics.

Finally, we have the trims – laces, beadings, sequins, ribbons etc. These final touches are the “WOW” factor in the gown. They add the bling that makes the gown look spectacular. Again, I will share how I choose the appropriate trims, where I source them from and how to apply them properly to the gown.