Creating a couture garment is perhaps one of the most satisfying (in the thick of it) and rewarding (after the fact) activities. It's no walk in the park, however, and requires meticulous hand-work, continuous problem-solving, and extreme patience to get past the finish line. People often ask me about the pressure of working with such expensive and often irreplaceable materials, and catering to such demanding clients. Bottom line, you have to love it (or at least be well-compensated for it!). With any type of work that's so technique-oriented, it's the ability to apply intense focus, and to also walk away at intervals, that helps you navigate through the project. Having an incredibly skilled assistant named Aris also helps!
When my brother found his lady for life, I had the honor of making his beautiful wife's gown (blog post to come), the dress I wore (of course), a few rehearsal dinner ensembles, and also the dress my mom wore to the wedding as mother-of-the groom. My mom is a beautiful woman who takes amazing care of herself. She also works her ass off, yet always thinks first of her family and rarely treats herself to nice things. I could not have been happier to have the opportunity to create a custom, one-of-a-kind piece that made her look and feel like a million bucks (I wouldn't know exactly, but I guess that's a good feeling?)
While I didn't document every stage in the game, the process below identifies some key steps in the construction of my mom's couture piece. Not pictured are the very important earlier steps, which include scouring for inspiration, sketching and refining concepts, sourcing fine fabrics and trims, and creating and modifying the pattern after multiple muslin prototype fittings.
Once the general fit and style lines are more or less finalized, the pattern (which is sometimes the actual muslin garment marked and taken apart, other times transferred to or initiated from paper) is ready for cutting. Extra seam allowance is always used in couture garments to accommodate for variations in actual fabric vs. muslin, minor body changes in the wearer (some women feel the pressure to slim down for their special day, what can I say), and to allow for clean, secure turned-back garment finishing.
Laying out the pattern pieces to identify the amount of each fabric required to make the garment
A couture garment consists of many layers of fabric to provide support to delicate outer layers like lace, underlinings for marking sewing lines and securing stitches invisibly, and built-in structure (often containing boning, horsehair, or other supportive materials) to maintain the shape of the garment and comfort of the wearer.
The silk shantung is underlined with pre-washed/pre-shrunk silk organza, hand-basted together for each pattern piece before cutting
Each pattern piece (shantung + organza layers) is carefully cut out as one unit
The two layers are secured along each sewing line by hand-stitching
For the bodice, we selected a divine French Chantilly lace from Solstiss made on leaver's looms in Calais, France
Print engineering the lace for a symmetrical aesthetic, to align the pattern at every seam, and to position the scallop to overlap the waist seam
Hand-basting the sewing lines on the lace bodice pattern pieces
Carefully cutting each lace bodice piece with ample seam allowance
Once the main bodice pieces were basted together, we positioned the top bodice piece to match the lace pattern top to bottom as well as left to right.
Hand-basting the lace trim in place
We dyed silk organza in a tea bath to match the lace ground color, then cut and hand-sewed it as a backing layer to support the lace
The garment is the sum of many parts, and is hand-basted together for a fitting, and then taken apart again after to continue the construction process.
Time for a fitting!
The upper bodice was hand-basted to the lower bodice for the fitting, and is still inside-out because once the seam allowance is trimmed and flipped, there is no going back!
While the beautiful scallop edge of the lace was positioned at the waistline, the other, easily-neglected finished edge of the lace provided a gorgeous detail to line the neckline, armhole, and back keyhole edge.
The upper bodice is unattached from the rest of the dress to insert hand-made button loops, cleanly sandwiched into a seam at the center-back seam.
Securing the button loops in place before flipping the bodice right side out
Covered buttons made in the same lace + organza as the bodice
Hand-sewing the inside seam allowance. In haute couture, the inside must be as beautifully finished as the outside of the garment.
Basted hem to secure the lining "jump"
Due to the unstable nature of lace and organza, all layers must be hand-basted together to ensure that they do not shift when attached to the rest of the bodice
Upper bodice seam allowance is stitched down and out of sight
Once the pieces start to come together, hand-basting stitches can be removed
A feature of fine lace is the delicate scallop edge, which must be carefully clipped
We print-engineered the scallops to be a continuous edge even where the lace met at the seams, hand-stitching and clipping away the seam allowance to allow for no visual line break
Last touch is the designer label
And the final result!
Photo by Kristen Marie Greene
With my mommy, photo by Kristen Marie Greene