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The Genius that was Charles James

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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

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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.

Looking for a Bride

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The Wedding Gown Project is looking for a bride!

Wedding Gown Project is a website devoted to teaching seamstresses and any interested parties how to envision, design, create the patterns, then finally sew a wedding gown. In order to be as realistic as possible for my audience, I am looking for a bride-to-be to participate. These are the requirements for the bride:

  • Wedding scheduled for early 2016
  • Live in or near the Melbourne, Florida area
  • Be willing to be photographed for this website’s images
  • Be willing to be filmed for the accompanying YouTube channel

If you meet those requirements, I would be interested in speaking with you. I will deliver to you a custom-made wedding gown, made to your specification. Your only cost will be the materials and fabrics used to make your dream dress. This can range from $100 – $1000 depending on the style of dress, quantity of fabric used and quality of fabrics, as well as trims, laces and beadings.

Please leave a comment below & I will contact you shortly.