Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Jess Dress, Part 1

I am blogging again, and it hasn't been months since my last post! Yay - cue the applause. 

The time has come to share a special story. 

I want to share a little bit about the project I mentioned in my last post - a "first" in my design experience; Making a Wedding Dress. 

In my last post, I said in passing that my friend and I both nearly had nervous breakdowns while doing it, which is true, but I don't want you to think it was a bad experience or that I regret doing it. Not in the least. 

In just a few days, it will be one year since finishing this dress. I want you to imagine some major project in your life - some effort that stole your sleep and dominated your thoughts for months. Have you been a part of building a house? Carrying a child? Taking a really hard class? Pick something from your life, and remember how it impacted you. You were forever changed by the experience. Certain things now trigger memories. Certain lessons were learned that you will never forget. The length of time involved, the tremendous effort required, and the difficulty of your task have combined together to brand the memories in your mind. You will never forget.

That's this dress and me. I've made lots of dresses, and had many projects in my life. This one will always stand out as special. 

I could write a book, but I will just touch on a few highlights, to share the story with you in a way that I hope you find interesting without being boring, and inspiring without being depressing. 

...Because I really like this story. It reminds me that with God nothing is impossible. 

I'll begin by introducing you to my friend, Sarabeth. We met several years ago, and from the first conversation our hearts were knit together by many mutual interests, and since then our friendship has blossomed into something I deeply treasure.  

Sarabeth is also a seamstress, and last May she and I were both in similar situations - trying to build our baby sewing businesses into something more sustainable. We both love design but, as anyone in the fashion world will tell you, design isn't where the money is, when you're low on the totem pole. Only big names get big bucks. The rest of us hem and sew on buttons to make ends meet, and sketch design ideas at night. 
So when one of Sarabeth's friends came to her having seen photos of her work on Instagram, and asked her "could you make my wedding dress - and a second dress for the reception?", the opportunity seemed to good to be true. Sarabeth did me the honor of asking me to co-design with her, and in hindsight we both agree we couldn't have made it without the other. It truly was a team effort, and we were glad to find out that we could work so well together without harming our friendship!

As we went further into the project, we realized what a fun opportunity this was, because the bride, while still holding to some traditions, really wanted a unique and unforgettable dress, which gave us a lot of freedom as designers to think outside of the box. She gave us an idea of what she wanted; full, ruffled-packed skirt, long train, off-white/almost-gold color, sparkle, drama, fitted bodice, lace sleeves.....

We went to work.  

I still remember being sprawled out on the carpeted floor at Sarabeth's apartment, with the beanbag chair on one side, the laptop on the floor, and papers scattered all over the coffee table. We both had a pencil in our hand, and - believe it or not - we worked on the same sheets of paper at the same time. To this day we're not positive who drew what. I know Sarabeth outlined the figure (with an ease that told me this was going to be fun). I know I drew the ruffles on the skirt. Other than that, it's a bit of a blur.

Sarabeth may not have guessed this, but when we sat down I was absolutely terrified that we would have a terrible argument and end up hating each other. I do NOT share my workspace well with anyone (ask any friend who has cooked in the same kitchen as me!), so when I realized we had to complete two drawings that BOTH of us agreed on and had participated in, I was really tense. I didn't think it would work. But it did! Before the night was over, we were bending over the same sheet of paper, pencils in hand, adding lines and saying to each other, "That's exactly what I was picturing!"

We came up with several designs.
This one got tossed pretty early.
 A personal favorite of mine.
 Something closer to what we saw in the photos the bride shared with us of dresses she liked:
Sarabeth, as our official secretary, sent the sketches off to the bride-to-be, and several days later (on my birthday in May, as a matter of fact) from my sewing room in Virginia to a room several states away, we had a Skype date with the bride-to-be, and I finally got to meet our client.

She was pleasant and excited, and we were excited as well, but also nervous. Nothing had been settled for sure yet, and this was where we had to be professional and convince this lovely woman that we could give her a dress that would make her special day even better. We knew we were young in business, and - might as well admit it - we'd never tackled anything this big before. But we knew that we had the necessary skills, and we were hoping and praying we'd get a chance to prove it.

The meeting ended with everybody feeling pretty good. We got the go-ahead! None of the pictures were just perfect, however, and we sent a revamped design a few days later:
(Not quite perfect, but very close to what the finished designed ended up as) 
As well as a sketch of the reception dress - a knee-length spin-off from the grandness of the wedding dress:

After we knew the look we were going for, we needed the concrete materials to make it come to life. We scoured the Internet for fabric and I constantly messaged Sarabeth with photos of fabric, beads, and ribbon. Sarabeth prefers to buy in person, so she hadn't shopped for supplies online as much before, but I knew several "hot spots" and she had the brilliant idea of searching etsy, where we found several fabulous items. Our message count grew exponentially as we compared notes, and occasionally sought feedback from our client when we got the choices narrowed down to two or three options.

I don't think most people even think about this step in design work, but it's extremely important. We've all seen that dress that screams, "homemade!" from across the room, because of the fabric it was made from. The overlooked step of material selection is close to my heart, because I care about underdogs. It literally takes hours and hours - in this case weeks - to find just the right supplies, but it is so worth it!

Once our list was complete, it was my job to compile what we found in such a way that our client could easily imagine the finished result, and give us the final go-ahead to being making purchases and constructing our pattern. This meant making design boards. 

This is a job I am in love with, so this step became my baby, and I enjoyed it. The finished boards may look simple, but they represent dozens of hours of work, and Sarabeth and I were both happy with them.

The reason you see multiple choices of fabric for the main wedding dress is because it is the most important fabric selection of the entire project, and we would not risk making that selection long distance. The client needed to see the fabric in person - and so did we. So we ordered samples, and the bride traveled to us for a measurement session and also to finalize the last design details - including fabric selection.

She was so patient through all the measurements and discussion, and as we bid her and her maid-of-honor goodbye, we knew that all the preliminary work was done. We were as prepared as we would ever be. The only thing left to do was begin.

To be continued.

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