22 January 2014

Made to Measure Dresses, What is Involved?

I make more dresses for others than I ever make for myself. When you sew a lot for yourself, you get used to the adjustments that you generally make on a garment to fit yourself. If this describes you, then you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. To sew for someone else however, you have to take each body as it comes and fit and re-fit until the garment fits like a glove.

My last client for 2013, Gemma, agreed for me to share the process involved in making a made to measure bridesmaid dress for her.

Gemma's mum made initial contact with me, desperate to find someone who could make a dress pattern in a hurry. Gemma was one of four bridesmaids,all of whom were having dresses made by a bridal shop local to the bride. They all had their measurements taken for individualised dresses, but when the finished dresses were picked up, not one of them fit the intended girl! The girls all swapped dresses, trying on each others' until they all had one that fit well enough. All except Gemma. She ended up without a dress at all.

After I emailed Gemma's mum back, Gemma called me and asked if I could fit in making the whole dress instead of just drafting the pattern for her mum to sew. Fortunately I had finished all other client sewing for the year, and with only two weeks of the school year to go (and hence two weeks of peaceful sewing time), I was able to take on the job.

The design of the dress is a fitted bodice with a hint of a sweetheart neckline and floor length lightly gathered skirt from a polyester satin, with an overlay of polyester chiffon, pleated across the front bodice. The fabric was picked out by Gemma's mum to best match in with the other bridesmaids.

Here's the timeline of how I went about making this particular dress. For other styles the process would be slightly different, and require more (particularly for a wedding dress) or less fittings (I needed an extra fitting for the chiffon overlay on this one).

Wednesday December 4
Initial contact from client (her mother to be more exact). Emails and phone calls exchanged, quote sent.

Thursday December 5
Quote accepted in morning, initial meeting that evening, finer details of design agreed on (although this would normally be done prior to a quote being issued), and measurements taken.

Monday December 9
Sewing Day 1:
  • Pattern making and
  • Calico toile (muslin for those of you in the US / Canada or anyone else who relates)
  • Evening: Toile fitting, fabric dropped off.
Strapless Pattern Block: the starting point for pretty much all of
my fitted strapless dresses
Front view of toile
Back view of toile
Tuesday December 10
Sewing Day 2:
  • Alterations to pattern to reflect fitting. Cut all fashion fabric, shapewell (underlining for bodice) and chiffon overlay for skirt.
  • Sew all satin for bodice and skirt, start french seams in chiffon skirt
  • Evening: Fitting - check to make sure bodice did not need additional adjustments, discuss draping of chiffon over bodice.
Wednesday December 11
Sewing Day 3: 
  • Sew in boning channels, finish for all but side seams.
  • Complete french seams in skirt.
  • With bodice on dressmaker's dummy, experiment with draping chiffon over front bodice and across shoulder.

Monday December 16
Sewing Day 4:
  • Cut and sew lining for bodice
  • Undo side seams of bodice, cover each back piece with chiffon
  • Drape chiffon over front bodice, pleating across shoulder.
  • Whilst pinned to dressmaker's dummy, manipulate chiffon so pleats lie in place across torso, coming together at opposite side seam. Tack in place, trim away excess chiffon and finish off side seams.
  • Complete boning in side seams, gather chiffon skirt and attach to bodice, gather satin and attach to bodice.
  • Evening: Final fitting to check length and zipper placement
Tuesday December 17
Sewing Day 5:
  • Insert zipper and complete hems

On the remaining partial days before the dress was picked up, I completed the hand (and machine) sewing of chiffon in place along top of bodice, along shoulder and at back of dress.

From the start of sewing, this dress took less than two weeks to complete. Normally this process would be spread out a lot more with fittings a week or more apart, but if the client is available for last minute fittings, and I have no other deadlines looming, then for this type of dress, it is totally do-able.

Thanks go to Gemma's parents for the photos taken on the wedding day, and my congratulations to the bride and groom.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic effort in making such a lovely dress after my initial cry for help.
    Your blog recounts the happenings during the creation process to the tee!
    Thanks again Andrea, Gemma looked gorgeous.