It’s July 2016, and Mark and I are gearing up for one of the biggest moments in our lives…. a marriage celebrating 10 years of being together. No better reason for a big old chins up with friends and family.
The wedding is set for only 4 months away, and me being me (and a fashion designer by trade), I decide to take on the slightly scary project of making my own wedding dress with the help of a best friend and talented designer, Fiona Ginnett. Fiona began her career in the fashion industry, working relentlessly for several years as Holly Fulton’s right-hand man before embarking on her own creative venture with husband and now business partner Tom Ginnett. Together they set up Witlof, a bespoke kitchen company specialising in contemporary design-led kitchens (you should check out their website because it’s amazing!), and more recently Holte. I managed to borrow Fiona’s creative talents over the next few months, and together we worked hard to produce a wedding dress that I fell in love with.
Wearing a white wedding dress was never an option for me, I don’t wear white on a day to day basis so why wear it on one of the most important days of my life? I felt as though a wedding dress should reflect someones personality, be an extension of them in a sense, and so surely a well designed dress would be a display of them as a person. In an ideal world, if I had all the money and didn’t think it was silly to spend £10,000 on a dress, I would probably choose to wear something from Valentino. Each of their dresses is hand crafted from the lightest of silk with intricately designed prints and embroidery floating on top, you can’t get workmanship much finer than that! But that was never going to happen for a number of reasons, so back to the real world and back to the project.
We set to work out how we could design the ultimate dress, being as true as possible to my tastes whilst designing something that was appropriate as a wedding dress. I had a shape in mind that suited my figure: long sleeved, high necked, nipped in at the waist, and a full maxi skirt. Fairly traditional all in all, not showing much skin and something I would feel comfortable in. We thought this would be a good foundation for the shape as it was fairly classic, wasn't fussy in any way, and would be a good canvas to work from. I’m an avid fan of a print, I love ethnic textiles and bright colours put together and so this becomes the starting point of the inspiration for the dress.
How cool would it be to design an aztec print that fits neatly onto the form of the dress? Working around the neckline with geometric shapes, and contouring the bodice (torso part) in some way. We start sketching up some options, scribble down some print ideas and it all begins to take shape. Why don’t we create an aztec print with a story? The story of mine and Mark’s relationship! Sounds a bit funny but surely funny it's a good concept, not too serious and definitely not traditional. Mark’s one of those people who likes to have purpose behind something, especially design. He’s always telling me I shouldn’t be designing things just to look nice, so he’s going to be pretty happy with this one. I can work some illustrations of us into the aztec pattern, maybe a scene of our engagement, or a sketch of an animal that we both find funny. If I do enough of them, the dress will begin to tell a story.
Whilst Fi starts working on the form of the dress, I begin on the print and go straight into designing on Photoshop using a drawing tablet. To get a good sharp finish on the print, it’s best to use a digital print onto the fabric, and also that way you aren’t restricted by the number of colours. So we order fabric swatches from the Silk Bureau so we can choose our cloth, and opt for a double georgette silk for the dress. We choose that particular one because it is lightweight, fluid, and has a very slight sheerness to it.
Fi is such a talented pattern cutter that it only takes her 3 toiles (practice samples) before she has nailed the final shape. We make mock ups of the dress using similar fabric to the silk georgette, and once the pattern is complete I then scan it in and continue designing the print directly onto the pattern pieces in Photoshop. That way, the print will work neatly around the shape of the dress and will become a placement-style print.
I work on the print for 2 months solid... CAD CAD CAD, cadding like a crazy cadding monkey. Putting in all the hours possible so that we can send it off to the digital printers asap. There’s not much time for anything to go wrong, and when we get the fabric back from the printers, we only have a month until the wedding. Now I’m fairly good on a sewing machine (if I’m blowing my own trumpet that is), but there’s no way I want to be sewing a lightweight slippery silk georgette, and especially not when it’s my own wedding dress! That’s just too much pressure for anyone to handle. So we take the project to a highly skilled machinist that we know, and accept that there’s some things that are worth paying for. She’s an absolute whizz, and asks for only 3 weeks to make it at a leisurely pace, and we still have time for a couple of fittings.
Before she can sew it, we have the very scary job of cutting out the fabric. Fingers crossed the print actually lines up with the pattern pieces! We lay it out, and with the help of one of Fiona’s old colleagues, the dress gets cut into the shape of the 14 pieces that makes up the pattern, from a lengthy 6m of cloth. Every bit of fabric has to be pinned to paper first so that it can’t slip when we cut it, and then it gets cut into the shape of the pattern pieces. It’s a lengthy job, but worth doing properly. Any slight miss-pinning will mean a wonky print on a wedding dress! Once it’s cut, it’s such a relief for all of us and the pressure then gets handed over to the machinist.
The machinist sews the cloth together beautifully and french seams (double sews to hide the edges) every seam, even on the curves around the bodice, which in my head isn’t even possible! The inside neckline gets bound, an invisible zip slips down the spine, and self covered buttons and rouleaux loops decorate the cuffs. The skirt has an excessive 5m of cloth in it, and none the less, every seam is still french seamed to an impeccable standard. She does a sterling job of sewing it, and needs to make only a couple of slight tweaks to the fit when I try it on. Fiona and I make a lightweight petticoat and lining to go underneath the skirt, with 10m of very fine tulle fixed inside to help hold out the form.
Literally a week before the wedding day, the dress is finished and hangs up in Fiona's house ready for the big day. We acknowledge all of our hard work and efforts over the last 4 months, we can’t believe we have actually pulled it off. When I try it on, the dress is everything I could have hoped for and so much more. I feel as though it captures my personality, my taste in design, my sometimes silly sense of humour, and it fits like a glove all thanks to Fiona. We have somehow made a wedding dress with a story, a story that tells a tale of mine and Marks relationship, a real one off.
The dress demonstrates to me that if you have the skills to make things, the time and the patience, then there is no reason why we shouldn't do this more in our lives. Whether it be a wedding dress, a piece of furniture or something as small as a birthday card, why don’t we give it a go, let our creative juices flow and see what happens.
And here it is..... my wedding dress. Featuring: pop tarts, people in African masks, my engagement ring, yard sale pizzas, us getting married in a shrine, a woodland scene complete with trees and woodland animals, Alexander Calder sculpture mobiles, a camping scene of us getting drunk, Victor Passmore artworks, me dancing in Mark's hand, our engagement in the mountains, and some big growling foxes. I am officially a walking doodle on my wedding day!
Want to know an added bonus? This dress only cost me £650 to make! For 6m of digitally printed fabric at £250 and the labour cost of machining at approx £400.
I hope this inspires you to get creative, and to have the confidence to think that anything is possible. I would love to hear from anyone that's made their own wedding dress too! Just hit me up in the comments box below.....
With thanks to my wonderful friend Fiona who made my dreams come true. You are the most talented designer I know and I thank you for all of your hard work.
(so you can find it again)