Steampunk wedding dress

During my years as an independent wedding dress designer I always stowed away the little swatch cards of silk samples from my silk supplier once they have been withdrawn from stock. They are too beautiful to just throw away but are essentially worthless from a business point of view. After my stash got a bit too big for the drawer I decided it was time to do something with them

Since they are all in shades of ivory or cream the logical thing to make would be an upcycled wedding dress. Even with all the swatches I had, though, it would be a small wedding dress so I decided to make a bodice from the swatches, supplemented by vintage silks and scraps I had salvaged here and there,  and  re-use a skirt from my student days.

After looking through some old sketches for inspiration I settled on a lightly Steampunk vibe with an apron fronted skirt with an attached train, a separate bodice/corset with busk front and lace up back and a lace shrug with long flared sleeves.

Although these are the edited highlights, there’s still plenty of detail in there for those of you who are interested in how a thing like this comes together.

The idea was not to go too far into the realm of steampunk but, rather to reference it through the style and a subtle decorative embellishment to the bodice. The garment is still a wedding dress that could be worn anywhere.  However, consider it in a different colourway, perhaps a red/black combo or shades of gold/sepia and it becomes a different beast altogether. Add a gun and holster, goggles and construction boots and you’re away (in a dirigible, of course)

The skirt is an old one I designed years ago while studying at the London College of Fashion so I’m sorry I don’t have any construction images for it. I don’t think digital cameras were invented then; smart-phones definitely not! I’ve updated it with a new separate apron front though, and was lucky enough to find a perfect match for the silk.

For the purposes of the blog the garments are modelled on a mannequin which is approximately a standard 10, if such a thing exists.  Therefore if any fitting issues are apparent in the images, I would crave your forgiveness. Creations always look better on the body they were destined for.  When I make for individual clients the size is not an issue, everything is “made to measure”.

BODICE

There are many ways to construct a bodice/corset. I do it my own way, developed from years of experience, training and prototyping. I don’t say my way is the best, I just say it works! I decided to use silk dupion as a base for the swatches in case they didn’t quite match up exactly. Some of them had embroidery or flowers on so wanted to make the most of them

Toile:

After measurements are taken, a toile is made from calico and fitted to the body. Adjustments are made and transferred to the paper pattern before cutting out the silk, interfacing, tie canvas and lining. I fitted my bodice toile on top of he skirt to allow for the fullness of the fabric in the skirt.

In this instance I used a medium weight iron-on interfacing under my base fabric.  In my opinion it provides a flexible support and helps to prevent extreme fraying while working on silk. I don’t use it under all my fabrics. Sometimes I use silk organza or even calico. Each project is assessed on its own merits. I knew that in this project, most of the silk would be covered anyway.

Face fabric:

Concentrating on the silk layer I gathered together a range of lace and embroidered silk samples. These were reclaimed textiles from old sample cards from silk suppliers that had been discontinued, offcuts or waste from other wedding dresses and scraps from my somewhat extensive vintage collection!

I spent ages choosing and positioning the various bits onto the respective bodice sections before sewing them down. This is always a tricky thing to do as you need to keep checking the whole thing for balance and harmony. Once the fabric bits were positioned to my liking I sewed them down. I decided to do the sections individually as opposed to sewing the silk first and appliqueing (is that even a word?) the scraps on afterwards. I wanted to emphasis the fact that the bodice was made up of so many different pieces. I could have blended them together over the seams but decided instead to let the beading flow over the fabrics, tying them together.

Beading

So far the bodice is coming together in a very “normal” wedding way. I decided to use some very, very small watch cogs as beads to introduce the Steampunk element. I got mine from Red Rooster via e-bay.

http://redroosteruk.com/100g-steampunk-watch-parts/

I selected not only cogs but weird shaped innards and even some tiny watch hands. I interspersed them with some mainstream beads in shades of gold along with crystals and pearls of various sizes.  I kept it subtle so it would become a talking point if people bothered to look closely enough. If I was doing a straightforward Steampunk dress I would have upped the ante on the cogs and other general “steam era” references.

Construction

The boning went on a separate layer of tie canvas before joining up with the bodice. The whole was piped top and bottom before the lining went in.  The busk parts are inserted during the lining process.  I learned how to do this at college many years ago, probably when corsets were still in daily use but you can see here for some instructions if you want to know more

http://www.silkthimble.com/how-to-make-a-corset-inserting-the-busk/

http://www.sewcurvy.com/buskfastner.html

If you like this sort of thing in general: follow their blog.

http://corsetmaking.blogspot.co.uk/

Bodice done and looking good, next up… the lace jacket

Creating New From Old – an upcycled adventure

I just love doing upcycled projects.

Creating something new and exciting from an old, tired garment is so much fun and it uses up scraps and stash you have lying around. Unless it is for a client there seems to be less pressure for perfection as if it goes completely wrong you haven’t wasted a wadge of fabric you’ve just bought and there is always something to be learned from any sewing you do.

This project used a jacket from Sahara that was made from a lovely fabric but was unflattering due to its rather shapeless design.

The fabric was lovely deep colour that seemed to have so many shades in it I thought I’d try and bring them out through judicious use of the colours I could see within the weave. I dragged out a selection of material from my stash and the one that really made the jacket fabric zing was amazing crushed velvet in a two tone blue/pink.

The idea was to create something very feminine and romantic so I set to cutting the pattern for a ruched collar and sleeves and shaped the side seams a bit to lose the boxy style.

I removed and closed the pockets and cut away a sloping edge to the front; always a bit daunting as it looks a bit odd if you have to sew it back on if you change your mind!

A good way to know how much to cut is to pin the excess out of the way and look in the mirror first. Get a good shape and bring on the scissors!

I chose a wide variety of laces and motifs which I painted with two tone fabric paints to compliment the velvet. In addition to this I picked a range of fabrics that toned well with the whole aesthetic. Once I was happy with the choices I set to cutting the collar and cuffs along with creating a whole heap of fabric flowers.

I thought the best way to bring out the colours of the brocade would be to knit a unique ruffle for the hem out of two yarns that together would coordinate with the jacket and trims as a whole. I enlisted the help of a knitwear specialist to create this for me and to knit a lace up at the back to give a bit of added shape.

Assembling everything together took a bit of time as the collar and cuffs were prototyped first in calico to make sure I was happy with them. I only had a limited amount of the velvet to play with so had to be sure before cutting.

Machine stitching was used for the basic construction alterations and added elements of the design but the motifs, flowers and other bits were hand sewn. This part of the process is really important as it is very easy to overdo it in terms of harmony and balance in the design.

I pinned the flowers and lace motifs to the jacket first and slept on it before making a few tweaks here and there.

I find I always make adjustments to the balance if I leave it alone for a while. If I can’t afford the luxury of time then a good tip is to look at the thing in a mirror, that way any glaring holes or oversewing shows up really quickly.

The detail was enhanced with hand sewn beads and motifs in carefully chosen places.

To finish it off I closed it with a piece of wide organza ribbon as opposed to buttons as I thought it went better with the romance of it all.

The Stuff of Dreams

Ask anyone who makes stuff with their hands what it is they dream of most or what is their most precious commodity when being creative. I wouldn’t like to put a statistic on it but I’ll bet there’s a huge number of them who will say “a place where I can go when I want to make: somewhere that’s just for making, where I can leave my kit out and no one will disturb it or move it”.

This is the stuff of dreams for many makers of any discipline. A lot of creatives have to contend with their space competing with the dining table, the family toys, the car, the dogs, the washing, and the gardening tools. Very few have a dedicated space where they know their equipment and projects can be left out, their sketches and scribbles left undisturbed and their thought processes allowed free reign.

While I have been one of the lucky few to have a very small room dedicated to my creative pursuits in my house, a change in my circumstances meant I unexpectedly outgrew it overnight. It was one of those true “John Lennon” times in your life. You know, those times when “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.

So, while I was busy contemplating my options, another set of circumstances arose that allowed me the opportunity to have a brand new studio built in my garden. I jumped on this before the tide could change again and suddenly found myself project managing the construction of a log cabin and all that goes with it.

I scoured the internet for a suitable product and settled on a company called Dunster House. There was some negative feedback on their site but mainly to do with the quality of the building process as opposed to the product itself.  A simple solution seemed to be to get my own guy to build it. I’m glad I did as he really went the extra mile to make sure the cabin was “overbuilt”. He put twice as many braces underneath and even though they were tantalised, he treated them with his own recipe of creosote that seemed to involve various home generated products such as chip fat. I chose not to ask for details.

I won’t bore you with the gory details of the build (just check out the pics) but suffice to say I lost the will to live long before it was complete. I think that says more about my patience than anything else.  I think my main problem was that I had a very clear idea of how it would look inside and so couldn’t wait to get in there and do it. 

II set up a whole suite of Pinterest boards dedicated to the look of the thing and proceeded to scour eBay and local charity shops for items to fulfil this dream. I think I drove my better half potty. The strangest thing was that I took time to look around my house and noticed various items that weren’t being used to their full potential. It was as though I had always had this studio in mind and was waiting for the universe to catch up with me. I had wardrobes, mirrors, chairs, sets of drawers, clocks, and all manner of paraphernalia to add those finishing touches.

Before I could get all this stuff inside I had to paint it. Everybody thought I was mad, especially my mum (she hates white!) I think this was more a reluctance on the part of friends and family who knew they would be roped in to help with the job.

I’d just like to take this opportunity to send out my heartfelt gratitude to all those friends, family and students who did come over and wield a paintbrush.  I love you all, you are wonderful and your reward awaits you in the next life.

As for those who mysteriously developed summer colds I won’t name names but you know who you are and your reward also awaits you in the next life.

Seriously, it was a mammoth task. The blooming thing measures 11m x 5.9m and let’s not forget all those little grooves between the logs, phew! 

However, one of the best bits was the creation of the perfect cutting table once I was actually in there. Made by my adorable hubby to my design. so useful and being on castors I can move it anywhere to completley change the mood of the room. Love it!

And of course, none of it would have been possible without the expertise of my project managers!

I can’t thank them enough.

Well, I’ve been in now for a few years. There have been parties, (with cakes) weekly classes, summer school, full day workshops and a glut of private tuition. There have been triumphs and tears, laughter and new friends found. 

Truly the Stuff of Dreams

Cashmere Commission

Cashmere Commission

This coat was a bespoke commission for a mother of the bride who wanted to keep warm on the day! She wanted a royal blue cashmere coat so I delivered it with a twist. The base fabric was purchased new but all the embellishments, beads, charms etc. and the lining were all leftovers from previous projects or treasure finds from old stash that I find when trawling charity shops and boot sales.
After preliminary sketches I began by taking measurements and constructing the coat, up to a point. In order to decorate it according to our proposal I needed to keep some areas accessible.   I take some ideas for colour/shape etc. from the client but also insist I am allowed some scope as far as creativity goes and to let my experience guide the results, keeping the client in the loop if I feel things are moving too far from the original brief.
So, once I had reached a certain point I began to plot and assemble the decoration. As you can see from some of the images the first step was to paint the lace motifs and embroidered scraps. I enjoy doing it this way as it gives a more blended look than flat colours. Care is taken to make sure the decoration will balance through the design so I plot it out beforehand using tailor’s chalk, in this case. Once I am happy with the amount and position of the decoration I began sprinkling stuff on the fabric. I used a combination of silk yarn, knitting yarn, painted lace and scraps and small pieces of embroidery cut from waste fabric. Some of the pieces I used were tiny.
It pays to keep standing back from the piece and taking a breather. This way I can keep assessing how the progress is going. The process is an organic thing. I am happy to undo or re-arrange and entire panel if I feel it’s not quite going according to the plan or the colours or weight of it aren’t quite right. I’ve been doing this for a while, though, so I’m  quite good at it by now! I like to use a mixture of techniques and machines to create the embellishments. I also believe you can’t go wrong with a bit of hand sewing here and there.
For this piece I wanted the basic shape to be quite a classic style and let the decoration make it stand out. However, I couldn’t resist adding a little design feature on the cuffs that raised it from the mainstream. The cuff band actually weaves in and out of the sleeve. You won’t see that on a High Street coat; indeed it is my opinion you won’t see the attention to detail present in one of my  pieces in many places anywhere on the planet. Where possible I use ‘old school’ techniques like French seams and bound buttonholes in preference to various corner cutting methods that I think lowers the standard of finish, wearability and longevity of so much of today’s clothing. My pieces will stand the test of time from both an aesthetic and practical sense. That’s sustainability for you!  
Most of my pieces are my own ideas and creations but I am more than happy to discuss a commission with you if you have a special idea or a dream garment that you have always wanted to own. All I ask is that you allow me to use as much material as possible that would otherwise go to landfill or be discarded.
Wedding day disaster averted!

Wedding day disaster averted!

I was approached by a client who had bought a Jenny Packham dress in a sample sale. The body of the dress fit fine, even the length was perfect. The lace mesh at the centre front had perished but otherwise it was in pretty good condition.

Lucky Girl!

However, the same could not be said about the bust area. The dress was cut for a B or C cup at most whereas my client was a decidedly devoted “F” cup!

Not so Lucky Girl!

Unfortunately, the shop who sold her the dress insisted all she needed was a strapless bra and all would be fine. Well it doesn’t take much imagination to know this was some very bad advice.

What’s a girl to do in a situation like this?

While it may be a straightforward job to reduce a hem or side seams this was a more interesting challenge

Well, after an intense consultation with the bride we settled on a complete rebuild of the bodice which would keep the romance and feel of the dress but have enough structure and support to eliminate the need for a bra.

This gave her one less thing to worry about on the day as it is rare that a bra and dress are completely compatible in a relatively unstructured situation.

 The idea was to use one of her bras on a mannequin and fit the dress to it to keep fittings to a minimum. Simple!

All good? What are we waiting for?

Well, the dress was an old sample so the fabric had developed its own particular “shade” of ivory that was not going to be easy to match up to. I scoured the land for a match and found one through a contact I have in Birmingham.

We wanted to keep as much of the original dress and its beading intact so I increased the bodice area above and to the side from the new fabric. The first step was to create a base or foundation for the new bodice from calico and make sure it fit the bride comfortably and maintained her modesty.

This also had to incorporate new “grown on” straps as opposed to the skinny straps it had on the back of the dress which had perished badly. This would also help to minimise the appearance of a fuller bust (Top Tip, right there)

Once the foundation was perfect I used the same pattern pieces to cut new satin areas. Once they were secured to the original bodice pieces it looked as though it was always intended to be that way. A completely new lining was cut for the bodice and then the whole was fixed to the skirt. I also incorporated an amazing elastic underband into the lining all the way round which mimicked the action of a bra to hold the whole thing in place without any slipping or unexpected “wardrobe malfunctions”. The bride said it felt amazing and gave her every confidence

The last job was to create some new beading at the centre front. We didn’t want to bead it all over as that would have only increased the illusion of a heavy bust rather than minimising it. Plus there was a budget to consider!

Lastly, I tidied up and replaced any and all loose or damaged beads on the original part of the bodice and checked the skirt for the same.

Et voila! A dress any bride would be thrilled to wear.