Hello Time Travelers!
I cannot tell you how disappointed I am every time I’ve had to turn away a bride who wants to commission a gown, or an ensemble for her groom. Usually it is because they have waited until two to three months before the wedding to contact me, and my schedule is usually FULL six months to a year in advance.
Even a traditional bridal gown requires no less than 6 months for the gown to be ordered, then altered to fit. If you’re dreaming of a romantic historical themed wedding, PLEASE allow no less than six months or MORE!
I can’t speak for other designers, but I personally just don’t feel comfortable relying on “measurements” alone to draft and fit a pattern. I prefer a custom fitted gowns or men's attire that fits your body rather than fighting with a pre-printed pattern to make it fit. My method is to drape for a pattern in muslin first! It's the only truly accurate way to fit a garment.
CUSTOM DRAPED PATTERN:
A custom drafted pattern is a process that requires:
1) Duct tape body double which is mailed to me.
2) A muslin mock-up made from the body double, which is sent to you to be fitted - preferably by an experienced seamstress.
3) A pattern is drafted from the mock-up, making any necessary alterations.
4) Depending upon the intricacy of the gown or doublet, I require no less than 6 months for construction (for bridal) - that doesn’t count shopping for fabrics, ordering swatches, and waiting for your swatches and fabrics to be shipped.
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS:
Fashion design IS artwork, and excellence takes “time.” THAT is why I always give myself no less than 6 months for a wedding gown construction for ONE costume or "set of clothes", but there is MUCH more to a gown than just sewing machine construction. My work is about 75% Haute Couture - hand sewing. As they say, the devil is in the details, and my work is highly detailed.
SHOPPING FOR A SEAMSTRESS:
First of all, before you and your groom even discuss setting a date you need to FIRST find your gown designer! When you do go shopping for a designer, PLEASE don’t make your decision based on “cost.” Let “quality” be your deciding factor. If a designer tells you they can whip out a wedding gown in LESS than two months, I personally would question that purchase and the quality of their work. If you're wanting your groom to be kitted out in historical attire, you need to allow more time.
1 - ASK TO SEE SAMPLES:
Always ASK to see pictures of her/his most current work AND works-in-progress. If they have a website or a Facebook page, then this is a bonus! If all you see are “marketing” photos, or photos that appear to be professional models from bridal magazines, or pictures from films, etc., then I would be very cautious. Make sure they SHOW work that they have constructed - not just photos from films, etc., that they WANT to construct.
I have some pictures on my website from films as examples, but I also have pictures of my OWN work. I stay so busy with orders, I don’t get a lot of time to make up samples as I would like. Look for pictures of clients wearing her/his garments - not just pictures of a garment on a dress form. What looks good on a dress form won’t fit the same on a live person!
2 - ARE FABRICS INCLUDED?
If materials are included in the price, PLEASE make sure you specify 100% natural fibers! - i.e, 100% silk, or 100% cotton velveteen, etc. If you don’t specify your preference, you may end up with a cheap polyester rather than a quality silk taffeta or dupioni.
This is your wedding gown! Don’t spoil it with cheap fabrics and a designer whose work you’ve never seen!
3 - DO THEY HAVE A WEBSITE - HOW LONG IN BUSINESS?
Most reputable designers I know have some form of on-line marketing, i.e., a website. I personally would be wary of one that only sold their designs on Ebay or Etsy or Facebook. A basic website is not that expensive. Vista Print has beautiful sites for $10 to $15 a month that are extremely easy to set up. There really is no excuse. If they don't have a website, chances are they don't have the work-load to support the expense.
A website will allow you, the consumer, a first glance at their level of creativity and dedication to professionalism.
Why is that so important? Again, I’ve heard horror stories from clients who purchased items on Ebay and Etsy. The vendor had no online profile (website) for them to investigate their business, they took their money then skipped out on making their garment, or when the garment arrived it was nothing like the picture, and when they went back to contact them on Ebay (in particular) the shop had been closed and PayPal could not go after them for a refund.
Another consideration is to make sure their website is secure. You can tell if it is secure by searching for a tiny icon that looks like a padlock in the “browser” line. Look above and you'll see what I'm talking about! In front of where it says “http:/” there is an icon of a padlock. Click on the lock. This icon tells you that their website is secure and they have purchased some sort of security package to protect your information.
A website or vendor should also be verified through PayPal - Look for some sort of certification displayed on their website. Look for an SSL certification. These are all details that will help protect your purchases.
4 - ASK FOR REFERENCES.
On their website are there client testimonials? If purchasing on Etsy or Ebay, read their reviews. How many negative reviews do they have?
It’s impossible to please everyone all the time, so the odd cool or negative review is not necessarily a red flag, but if quality is a consistent issue and their reviews reflect that, go elsewhere! Keep in mind that if they have just opened their Ebay store they will not have many reviews. If they have not been in business long, or have no reviews, they may be one of those stores that cuts out with your money and then opens another store in another name. A reputable seller on Ebay will be an established storefront with the reviews to reflect their stability. A little bit of leg work and investigation on the front end of your transaction will save you money and heartache at the tail end.
5 - EXPERIENCE WITH HISTORICAL FASHION DESIGN:
Ask questions about their experience with historical clothing. For that matter, even if they don’t design historical gowns you will want to investigate their experience in bridal. Bridal design is not something your part-time hobbyist will be trained for. It takes time, dedication, knowledge and experience in draping and pattern drafting, fit, and alterations.
If they are a historical designer, have they done any research for color, fabrics, and styles for extant clothing? Are they a “seamstress” or a modern wedding gown designer who just dabbles in historically “inspired” clothing - or are they trained and experienced in historical clothing specifically? Believe me, this DOES make a difference.
I recently found a vendor on Etsy who was a modern wedding designer selling a gown that she was calling “Elizabethan”. The gown was a modern day strapless gown with a pearled bodice worn over a silk chemise which she was selling for over $2,000. Her technical ability was beautiful, but it was obvious she had made ZERO effort to research and style an accurate gown. There were NO strapless gowns in Elizabethan times, nor were there any such gowns in Victorian or the 18th Century. Taking a modern day strapless wedding gown, covering it in pearls and adding a puffed sleeved chemise underneath does not equate historical design.
If what you want is to really look the part of whatever era you’ve chosen, then check the style of a gown you find against pictures of authentic gowns in portraits, as well as those of quality reproductions. Notice the small details, bodice, sleeves, skirt pleats, embellishment, seams. If you don’t feel confident, consult with historical clothing enthusiasts, or contact me and I’ll give you and honest opinion - whether or not you hire me.
Bottom line, you want to make sure the seamstress you choose has experience in designing historical fashions and has done their homework. Historical clothing is very different than modern day clothing and it takes experience to make them fit well, as well as experience in proper pattern, construction and under-structure. She or He may be an experienced seamstress, but if your gown is the first historical piece they’ve done, do you really want them using your wedding gown as their test run? I can tell you from experience, that my first attempts at historical fashion were nothing near the quality of my work now after 15 years. If you’re just wanting something that “hints” at a respective historical era, and you aren’t concerned for historical accuracy in the pattern and construction of the gown, then you might not need to be as concerned with something that is completely accurate, but I would still be cautious about choosing quality over cost.
6 - CHECK THEIR LOCATION:
Hiring a seamstress over seas is a horrible idea; more particularly those in China, Korea, Taiwan, or other Asian states; as they have a bad reputation for inferior clothing and misrepresenting themselves. But in recent months, vendors from the Ukraine, Germany, France, and Italy have popped up on Etsy selling their corsets and clothing at steep discounts. Despite my warning, a hand full of my fellow reenactors purchased an Italian Gown from a vendor in the Ukraine for $300. She ran out of fabric and scrimped on the skirt; didn't communicate that with the client, took her money, and sent her a substandard constructed garment.
Designing for someone that lives overseas is tricky. I’ve been contacted by prospective clients from France and Italy, but after explaining that a muslin mock-up is necessary, and that they would have to pay shipping and custom fees/taxes for the muslin mock up, as well as labor, fabrics, and shipping of their final item, they decided the cost was too prohibitive.
Purchasing a wedding gown on line is a HUGE risk. But if a seamstress doesn’t at least offer a muslin mock up, and make some effort to custom fit your gown, I ABSOLUTELY would NOT trust that vendor! No one, and I do mean NO ONE can make a gown fit properly without taking an extra step to at least provide a muslin mock up. Measurements alone will not ensure a proper fit. It also won’t guarantee that the garment you purchase will have the proper under-structure and support sewn into the gown, or that it's made of quality fabrics. Find someone local to you! - - Or at least someone that lives in the same continent!
7 - QUALITY vs INEXPENSIVE:
Don’t sacrifice Quality for Cost: I’ve talked about this before. As I’ve mentioned here and in other blog posts, China, Korea, Taiwan and India, tend to sell exclusively on Ebay (and now Etsy), and offer so-called “couture” gowns for cheap prices. They misrepresent themselves by using pictures they’ve “stolen” from other artist’s work, or pictures from Bridal magazines, to advertise and sell gowns that normally would cost $2,000 for $200 or less. What you receive is a garment made from cheap fabrics and a poorly constructed knock-off of the original picture.
Case in point: I was recently contacted by a friend of my daughter’s to give an estimate on a “Couture” gown she found on line from a seller in Taiwan that was listed for $200. It had rows and rows of ruffles, and the bodice was a corset made of shear organza with lace applique and boning. A gown that intricate cannot be made for $200. That would not even cover the fabrics! Come on, a Couture gown for $200? That in itself is an oxymoron! - and a huge red flag. Authentic Couture clothing is not cheap! Don’t fall for these unscrupulous marketing ploys. Wedding gowns are NOT cheap. Make sure to do your research! If they can’t show you clear, focused, close up pictures of their current work, as well as pictures of their workshop, or satisfy any of the points I’ve raised here, please don’t waste your money! Again, this is your wedding gown! If it sounds too good to be true, TRUST me, IT IS!!
THE BRIDE WHO WANTS TO LOSE WEIGHT:
Please, please please hear me! If you are planning to lose weight for you wedding - don't wait until 3 to 4 months prior to the wedding to start losing the weight when you've already hired a seamstress.
Historical fashion is tricky enough. When you lose weight, you lose it all over. Taking up a side seam or a strap is NOT enough. This applies especially to 18th Century and Elizabethan costuming. If I cut a bodice neckline for a size 14 and you show up for a final fitting and you're now a size 10 - - guess what? You won't have a wedding gown! The bodice will be too wide, your neckline will be in your arm pits, and your straps will be falling off! I cannot alter a bodice like that; I would have to recut the entire bodice, as well as deconstruct the cartridge pleats of the skirt to make it smaller.
As I've said, I have clients booked back to back - and I would not have the time to redo a gown in a matter of a couple of weeks that took three months to construct - And if I have to make a second bodice, or deconstruct the gown and make heavy alterations, the labor will be double the amount quoted!
So if you plan to lose weight - lose the weight FIRST, then have your seamstress custom fit you. For me, personally, I draft a custom made pattern for each client. I don't use pre-purchased patterns and then fight with them to fit.
SHOPPING FOR FABRICS:
I cannot stress enough how important it is to order swatches. I’m going to repeat this until everyone I come in contact with understands the value of this step! You cannot judge the color or quality of your fabrics by looking at your computer screen! Also, not everyone knows fabrics like a professional “should.” One of the first things my grandmother taught me as a little girl was how fabrics “feel.” I can touch any fabric and tell how it will drape and fit. Unless you have swatches, there is no way to check the quality.
I have vendors that I have vetted - those I’ve ordered swatches from, purchased fabrics from, and have experience with their customer service department; in other words, I’ve established a rapport. If you’re ordering fabric from a source that hasn’t been vetted for quality and service, you risk disappointment - and many on-line fabric vendors will NOT exchange fabrics once they are cut. Some will exchange fabrics but they charge a small fee per yard.
You need to allow enough time to order multiple swatches, and check for availability for that fabric; especially when you’re searching for a particular color. What if you find the perfect color and it’s on back order but you’ve only allowed 3 months until your wedding? Now you have your heart set on THAT color and there isn’t time to change your color scheme.
Also, order EXTRA fabric! I recommend ordering no less than 2 to 3 extra yards. Especially if you’re having any embroidery work done. Technology is awesome, but it can also fail at no fault of the seamstress. If we’re cutting it close on fabrics and there is a hiccup and the machine messes up on an embroidery panel, you need extra fabric. Dye lots - even in white or ivory - are different. Having to go back and order more fabric is risky. Chances are, there will be a variation in the color or it might not match!!
Keep in mind that during holidays shipping can take extra time; plan for all contingencies.
So step one, along with searching for a venue, is to start searching for fabrics.
You will want to take into consideration your venue - is it out doors? Will it be summer, Spring, Fall? All of these will be factors that will need to be considered when both shopping for your fabrics and designing the style of your gown.
TIME MANAGEMENT IS CRUCIAL:
I recently had to postpone and reschedule an order for a reenactment gown - something I have NEVER done - because a client ignored my repeated advice to order swatches before ordering her fabrics. She chose her color pallet solely by what she saw on her computer screen, against my expressed advice. When her fabrics arrived at my workshop (she had never actually seen her fabrics in person) they were the most atrocious colors you’ve ever seen! - And did not blend well together. This meant that they had to be returned to the vendor and exchanged. I was supposed to start work on her gown in June. Bear in mind, this is a gown that had been on my schedule for a YEAR! Two months into her time slot she was still shopping for fabrics. After rescheduling her for the Fall she procrastinated once again, contacting me a month after her second time slot was to begin. After holding a time slot for her twice, and turning away other clients to accommodate her order, I ended up canceling her order and sending her fabrics back. I hope I never have to do that again! I hated it, but my time is valuable, and I turned away THREE bridal gowns because her project was on my calendar and she had had over a year to prepare.
The lesson here is organization and time management. It is crucial that you keep in mind these points. The gown is the second most important element to a wedding. But the availability of your seamstress is equally important to consider.
Constructing a bridal gown - whether modern or historically themed, is not something that can be accomplished in a day or a week. As soon as your partner pops the question and you decide on a unique historical theme, reserve your seamstress as soon as possible! Once you have a time slot reserved, please be considerate. Have your fabrics chosen and ordered at LEAST two months in advance of the allotted time slot your seamstress gives you. For me personally, if I have someone on my Calendar for a timeslot - for example June-July-August - I need to have everything shipped to me, ready to go, in order so that I can start on June 1st. - - Not June 5th, or 15th.
Please keep in mind that while your seamstress may be just as dedicated as I am to personalizing each transaction, they may have other brides who are depending upon them and expect the same level of attention as you do.
For me, I have orders back to back. If you don’t manage “your” time well and aren’t organized and prepared, your order will be postponed or canceled! - No matter if you’d paid in full. The harsh truth is that it’s just not acceptable to procrastinate and then expect your seamstress to postpone another client’s gown to accommodate your lack of planning.
So, please be considerate. Your wedding is one of the most important days of your life - - but there are others who feel the same way about their special day.
Give yourself more than six months - a year is optimal. Not only is custom fitting a pattern a process, but you must consider the design, the fabrics, ordering swatches, checking your colors, checking for the availability of the fabrics you like, and allow for shipping. All of these things cut into your timeline. For reenactment gowns I usually allow 3 to 4 months, but I prefer six to allow for construction of a bridal gown - not six months for shopping for fabrics or nailing down your specific design elements - that’s six months just for construction.
My advice, again, is to start early! Even as much as a year in advance! First of all, if you want ‘me’ to design it, you have to grab a spot on my calendar, which is often filled up a year in advance, but the process of nailing down your desired design elements and ordering fabrics is also a process. So give yourself wiggle room!
It's an unfortunate reality, but I often have to turn brides away because they did not start dress shopping soon enough. One one recent occasion, I had to turn away an order for four doublets for the groom and groomsmen because the wedding was less than 3 months away. I was terribly disappointed, and I’m sure the bride was as well.
Bridal attire - whether it is modern or historical - is time consuming, and not being able to “fit” someone in person is tricky. I make every effort to stick to my deadlines, but this will be a team effort. Make sure you keep open communication, purchase your fabrics early, get your duct tape body double to your seamstress quickly, and get the muslin mock up fitted and mailed back ASAP. Remember, time is of the essence and there are always things that can come up in life. That is why I prefer no less than 6 months for construction.
FINANCING YOUR DREAM GOWN:
Finances are often an issue when purchasing a gown - so that’s why I have a LAY AWAY program. So you CAN have your dream gown with plenty of time to pay it off, rather than dish out $1,000 or more all in one lump sum.
So if you’re planning a historically themed wedding, start a year in advance. If you’re worried about weight gain or weight loss, the gown won’t be made a year in advance - but if you’re planning to lose weight for your wedding - please DON’T wait until 3 or 4 months before the wedding to order your gown in order to lose as much as you can. If weight loss is something you want to do, allow more time to meet your goal weight first, then add an extra six months needed for your gown construction. In other words, lose the weight first. But shop for your fabrics EARLY, order swatches, order your fabrics, and give your seamstress plenty of time for the fitting process. For a garment this important you don’t want your seamstress to be rushing!
HISTORICAL THEMED BRIDAL GOWNS:
Here on my website I have examples of Elizabethan, Steampunk, 18th Century, Fantasy, and 1940s vintage fashion. Feel free to peruse the designs, or browse on Pinterest! You can find plenty of ideas for your dream gown, and then - - start shopping for a designer, then your venue, and next your fabrics.
Feel free to contact me for any questions you might have.
Designs From Time