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:
- 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.
- 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?
- Is there anything she needs to give you, like an heirloom veil or a piece of jewelry that she wants incorporated into the dress?
Once 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.