Poppies and Pearls - a bespoke bridal gown
As promised in a recent mail-out, I would like to share with you one of our 2015 bridal commissions.
The "Poppies and Pearls" corset gown was an absolute dream to work on. Primarily because my client herself, Amanda, was a delight to work with. Indeed, we are very fortunate to work with many lovely people! Whether for couture corsetry or bridal, you're all such gems.
But this gown also had a curious serendipity at work... When we discussed Amanda's ideas they were perfectly aligned with an aesthetic I had felt tickling the back of my mind for a couple of years. An idea that I had resolved to finally pursue during 2015. Something perhaps in platinum and ivory, heavily embellished with lace, very opulent and making use of symmetry and grandeur...
The client's inspirations and my daydreams were beautifully in sync from the start.
Amanda was already familiar with our quality and aesthetic, having the Oyster gown in her possession. As with most of our work, this is a piece that shines when you take a close view. By which I mean, we deal in small details. It's those tiny flourishes of lace and carefully placed crystals that make the difference, the tiny stitches and beautiful hand-finishing. Often these delicate details don't come across in even the most beautiful photography. I believe this is why so many of our buyers for sample designs go on to commission bespoke... Because it is only through seeing the work in person that they get an accurate sense of our quality.
With symmetrically placed lace in a muted dusty pink (my absolute favourite), natural ostrich feather, smokey crystals and lovely hand-finishing, the Oyster gown was one of my favourite pieces from 2012.
I adored working on this, was thrilled that it eventually went to a wonderful lady, and was doubly-thrilled when she asked me to make her a second corset-gown.
As with all bespoke commissions, Amanda first sent me some inspiration ideas. Words, colours, images, detail shots from the haute couture... A delicious selection of ideas from which I could gently pull out a common thread. When a client sends you inspirations like this, it becomes clear that they are in love with a particular texture or tone or silhouette. My job is to observe and interpret, to imagine an harmonious whole made up from these constituent parts.
Amanda and I both wished to create something tonal, textural, and sumptuous. A sister piece to Oyster, but this time with symmetry, a greater level of embellishment, and an equally opulent capelet or shrug to cover the shoulders in cooler moments.
Emails, sketches, and colour possibilities followed. The swatches shown to the right are of my current absolute favourite fabric (it's so perfect for corsetry), and Amanda felt that Caribou or Wishbone would be good possibilities. We settled upon a design (with colour and finer details to be confirmed at toile fitting) and I wrote up a Design Contract. As is standard for this type of commission, we opted for three payments, the first a non-redundable deposit. We had a timeline of around six months. It really is best to schedule as much time as possible with bridal, especially with international orders like this. Though the actual fitting of your toile or gown would usually be in the last couple of months before the wedding day, to avoid possible fit issues due to fluctuating weight.
As our client was on the other side of the world, we had her take photos of the toile worn (from front, side and back) so that I could make the necessary pattern changes. Clients are also often invited to draw on the toile (for example, to alter the slope of a seam or the angle of an edge), but pinning is to be avoided. I work primarily by visualising pattern changes and find pinned changes very difficult to visualise around. The fitting process for this piece was indeed very straight-forward, so we were swiftly moving onto the final piece.
Being a sister to Oyster this piece was designed as a fully-boned corset, with silk tulle overskirt appliquéd to the hips and a separate underskirt providing coverage. So the first step is to construct the corset. I opted for one of my classic constructions and began placing the couture lace.
This is my favourite couture lace pattern, as made by Sophie Hallette in France...
It can be painted with a beautiful inky effect, offers motifs suitable for both symmetry and asymmetry, has a light but crisp hand, and holds together well when cutting and stitching. It also cuts down into ever smaller motifs very well, allowing me to create lines, proportions and patterns that weren't originally in the lace. Indeed, this is the most crucial thing about artful lace appliqué, I feel. To not be limited by the existing designs in the lace. I love to create new lines by dismantling and recombining lace motifs.
It is very much like drawing, in the sense that you must have beautiful lines and proportions. It can be as subtle as adding one tiny 3mm leaf onto the end of a trailing sweep of lace... It is akin to branches, fractals or organic Art Nouveau swirls... the lines must be delicately finished, everything must flow. Think of a ballet dancer... even their fingertips will be a flowing expression of the line and feeling they are creating. This is how carefully done lace appliqué must be. And thus, the type, quality and beauty of the lace one starts with is of the utmost importance.
This particular Sophie Hallette lace is perfect, I adore working with it.
With the gown underway, we began creating the tulle and pearl poppies to adorn it. I had been making many poppies recently, for head-dresses and the like, and was thrilled to be doing more.
They're a surprisingly time-consuming task, requiring far more fabric than you might imagine. Indeed, the fastest way of making something akin to a poppy is also a rather unsatisfying method. So we take the long route, creating multiple petals of varying sizes, combined into layers of varying sizes and fullness, alternating colours and textures as appropriate and building a silver framework into the flower.
One learns the best formulas (the most effective number of petals, layers, and so on), and it becomes a very lovely and therapeutic way to spend time. So much joy and peacefulness was woven into this gown.
For Amanda, I knew the poppies were more about texture than colour or contrast. They were to be made from the same silk tulle as the overskirt, with pearls gleaming from within all that softness.
Being a symmetric design, it was necessary to plan out the placement of the poppies. I settled upon a range of sizes of poppy, dividing up the fireball pearls (the stamen of each flower) by size and similarity. Ie: ensuring the balance from one side of the gown to the other would be as symmetrical as possible.
The heart of each poppy is a "crown" of silver wire, with three fireball pearls projecting upwards. This heart gives the poppy structure and shape, allowing the layers of petals to fall down around it in a pleasing and flower-like manner.
Layers of petals sit inside the heart, with pearls hidden at the centre, whilst further layers of petals surround it.
In addition to the poppies, we made smaller motifs (somewhat like snowdrops) plus tiny sprays of tulle, to create more of a natural blend around the poppies.
It's all about scale, size, and level change... One doesn't want to simply place a poppy without thinking about its surrounding environment. Everything must be harmonious.
I don't know if it's the same in other creative industries, but because so much of the fine detail of our work happens through doing it, there is a lot of sitting back and looking... It can be easy for craftspeople to not look enough. Pausing, thinking, daydreaming, playing, and only then finalising the design through actually stitching. I want to be proud of the placement of every single tiny pearl. I want to feel sure that I am doing the most beautiful work I can for my client. It takes time.
The poppies and snowdrops were all made, then placement could be decided. Some adorned the top of a detachable train, made to sit at either the hips or shoulder blades by way of thread chains on the train and half-pearl buttons discreetly placed on the corset. Others were divided between the hips and bust, being placed with a view to enhancing the gentle hourglass shape.
When using corsetry as a base for bridal or any other type of gown, I suppose there are two main routes open to you...
Either the corset is more of a corselette, creating structure and shape but not greatly altering the proportions of the silhouette. Or the corset is, well, a corset. Cinching the waist, smoothing the torso, sometimes creating extra curves. We opted for the latter with Amanda and used the embellishment as a further way of creating this classic corseted shape, the result being something very glamourous indeed.
One of my favourite tricks, when creating a symmetric embellishment, is to work on one half of the corset and use a mirror-pic app (or actual mirror) to assess how it will look once reflected onto the other side.
In the example mirror-pic below, things were looking really beautiful and I could tell that extra tulle to scatter about and fill certain areas would finish it nicely. Mirror-pics are also a really good way of letting the client get a sense of where the design is going, before you've done all the work. And since symmetry, in particular, can sometimes be surprising it is often a good idea to test out a few ideas and see what happens. Like inkblots, you want to be careful that nothing ugly or disturbing emerges in your symmetry!
Ostrich fronds were sewn to the backs of the hip poppies, for a light and subtle bit of movement. And the poppies and snowdrops were then sewn onto the corset.
Tiny pearls and tulle sprays (which some of you will have seen on my Strawberry Leopard, Pigeon and Seafoam pieces previously) were added to the upper bodice. You may also have noticed that the bustline here has a slight upwards curve to it, rather than the usual sweetheart curve or straight edge of much corsetry. I'm a big fan of curves which flatter the body, and certainly feel that a deep sweetheart or subtle upwards curve (a vaguely Tudor line) are great ways of achieving a flattering cut for many people.
With the embellishment almost complete, I let the corset sit for a few days consideration. Lining the corset and hand-finishing the binding is the last stage, so we need to be sure embellishment is beautiful and "done" before continuing.
When giving a design time to sit, this is when you discover that an extra pearl "just there" would make all the difference.
Likewise, the symmetry has to be excellent. Not utterly perfect... To be 100% perfect (and I really mean perfect in the most serious and absolute sense of the word) would not only be impossible but also lacking in humanity. Indeed, I wish for our symmetry to reveal something of the souls that made the piece... Skilled but flawed. Lovely but comforting.
Made by hand. It means something.
Then the gown was suddenly complete.
Alongside the gown, we were creating a capelet from the same materials. The idea was to provide a bit of warmth and coverage, which could be easily donned when needed, but which wouldn't interrupt the lines of the gown.
Our solution was to create something with sleek lines as a space for embellishment. I absolutely loved this part of the project and am keen to do a few more capelets or similar, to explore embellishment in more non-corset contexts.
We wanted to continue the poppy motif without adding too much tulle texture, and turned to hand-quilting for this.
I drew out a large poppy motif, which we then pricked and pounced to transfer to the capelet. This allowed us to transfer the design with precise symmetry to either side of the capelet.
The design is lightly followed with pencil, then hand-sewn to create a quilted texture. Layers to the inside of the capelet created structure and fullness to the quilting.
And oh yes, I do love poppies, as may now be obvious... I used to draw them frequently when younger and have previously played at making poppy embellishments with heavy beading. The sequinned poppies shown below, for example, weren't very brilliantly done but the overall effect was nice. And they were a lot of fun to do! This was as part of a fancy dress costume for myself, something like 7 years ago.
But back to our more gentle take on poppies for Amanda's gown...
You can also see that there was much lace appliqué happening on the capelet. This was placed to frame the hand-quilted poppies prettily, and always keeping in mind that there would be pearls coming later.
This combination of quilting, lace, and pearl beading was really delicious, I utterly adored working on it. I really want to create things that will never exist again. Unique little moments in time, just for that one person.
Two smaller quilted poppies were also made as separate motifs. These were appliquéd onto the shoulders of the capelet, a lovely little detail.
Indeed, I find myself loving opportunities to embellish items other than corsets! I've been endeavouring to make time for a few non-corsets this year, it's a lot of fun.
Step step by step we went...
The front edge (not shown) was cut short to sit above the bustline of the corset, and so weight and balance were important for this piece. The pearls added up to quite a lot of weight all told, and you can see here that I was adding large fireball pearls for movement and detail.
Structure was built into the collar and penny-weights sewn into strategic points to let the capelet drape prettily whilst remaining "anchored" at the front. You can see a couple of weights pinned here, when I was considering their placement.
Later, more pearls and ostrich feather was added, along with a silk lining (anchored in place with thread chains and embellished at points with further lace appliqué), hand-finished binding and a hand-finished hem, plus a detachable strand of hand-knotted pearls at the front of the collar to hold it in place if needed.
The Beautiful Final Ensemble...
Before sending the ensemble to Amanda via courier (clients should never forget to allow for this, plus possible customs fees, since delivery can itself cost a couple hundred pounds) I, of course, took many photographs in our showroom. Some dramatic lighting to pick up the pearls and our classic golden backdrop for some Sparklewren shine.
Saying goodbye to this gown was rather bittersweet, I was sad to see her go. But happy to be part of something so special for someone so lovely.
The ensemble was wrapped carefully and collected by the DHL courier. A couple of days later, it was with the delightful Amanda. I'm so pleased she had a special day and that our gown was part of it.
I hope to be able to share a beautiful picture or two from Amanda's wedding soon, but in the meantime here is a mobile photo that she has kindly shared with us, along with her kind review of our work. What a delightful process, delightful lady, and delightful wedding. Congratulations to Amanda and her beau once again!