Case Study: Gwen’s dress

It’s always difficult to write about your work when you’re making wedding dresses.  Many of my wedding service provider colleagues write beautiful blogs about the work they’re doing whilst it’s happening.  However, when making the wedding dress it is such a closely guarded secret, and of course the journey is such a personal one.  Whilst for most ladies, it’s a steady progression, for some it can resemble a rollercoaster ride.

I had the pleasure late last year to be commissioned to make a dress for one of my oldest girlfriends.  Gwen and I have known each other since she was a young trainee (articled clerk – sorry Gwen!) and I working as a legal PA, earning some cash to build up my Eliza business.  Gwen has acted as waitress, photographer and also model, to me on many occasion.

After kissing a few frogs (haven’t we all), she’s found her sole-mate in David.  And the big day, needed a big dress.

Gwen was marrying abroad (just the two of them) and then having a huge reception here in the UK, so the occasions called for one dress to suit two varying locations.

Gwen decided she wanted me to use a favourite cocktail dress as inspiration for the design.

Gwen's cocktail dress to be used as inspiration for the wedding dress
From the rear...

The dress was left with me, and I set about the task of coming up with a couple of alternative styles for a similar dress appropriate for a wedding, and sourced some suitable fabrics.  As the ceremony was to take place outside, the fabric needed to be light reflecting in the brightness of the Sri Lankan midday sun, without being too heavy in the heat of the day, but would also sparkle during the evening reception on a cold Whitby night.

Gwen was adamant she still wanted strapless, so to overcome the Whitby chill, we opted for a lace shrug jacket. My design of shrug is cropped enough to show the crystal and lace detail on the back of the dress, but provides enough coverage for the shoulders and arms and the lace is surprisingly warm.

We selected James Hare’s heavyweight silk crepe for the body of the dress with a complementary lace for the shrug.  After much debate, Gwen eventually opted for an unlined lace shrug to show off her wedding/honeymoon tan.

All was going smoothly, I’d drafted the pattern, bought the fabric, decided on the crystals and produced a toile, and we steamrollered through the first fitting.  After which I had proceeded to prepare foundation bodice, added the boning, and cut the circular skirt.

Then we hit a bump…

“You’re going to kill me…” said the little voice at the end of the phone.

“…you’re pregnant?” said I, heart sinking with my designer hat on, but ecstatic with my friendship hat on, as I know how much Gwen wants to start her family.

“I’m so sorry, this was such an accident. But don’t worry I haven’t put any weight on…yet.”

The words “I’m pregnant” are the ones every designer/dressmaker hates.  It’s so unpredictable. How much weight will be gained, where will it be gained and how quickly? There are no formulas (sometimes it’s the bust, others the tummy, sometimes barely at all) and it has no relation to how much is eaten. Essentially pregnancy on the body is as unpredictable as the weather.

Later the evening, as Gwen walked through the door, it was plain to see how much her body shape had changed even though she was only a few weeks pregnant.

We commenced the fitting.  I held the boned bodice around her torso and it barely met.  Next we fastened the skirt, with more success.  Then, I held the gathered front panel up.  Gwen’s lip began to quiver, it was clear that despite the euphoria of pregnancy, she was concerned about her wedding dress.

This is when the designer must take charge. Be firm but compassionate, make modest changes to the dress, but ensure the essence of the original design isn’t comprised.

Firstly I discarded the bias-cut pleated panel which would form the front of the dress.  The gathering over the tummy area would only add bulk and look unflattering as the baby grew.  Next, I suggested that the bodice which covered the entire tummy and high waist area, would become uncomfortable by the four month point (approximately the date of the wedding).  Instead we should shorten the bodice, so it sits over the bust, high on the rib-cage, but ends before the tummy.  At this point we discarded the idea of boning as this might be too rigid on such a sensitive area, instead I merely stiffened the bodice with a strong interfacing.  Finally I raised the circular skirt to the Empire line, holding this up for Gwen to see.  I suggested that by inserting anther panel into the skirt, and placing gathers this at the front over the tummy, we’d have plenty of growing room during the three week period between the wedding abroad and the reception back in the UK, and if the bump didn’t grow so much, but still would look stylish.

We could still retain the traditional corset tie back, Swarovski crystals, and lace shrug, and more importantly keep the fun aspect, which was the essence of the dress.

With these minor changes, relief flooded the bride’s face.

And the final results…

Gwen in the warm Sri Lankan sunshine
Dancing the night away in Whitby
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