I dream of creating beautiful and elegant evening gowns, but rarely find an occasion for them, so the visions just sit in my head and sometimes make it to a sketch, but rarely go further than that.
I dream of making beautiful bridal gowns, ones that are interesting and unique, perhaps made in colors or prints other than the traditional white. Bringing in texture, color, design details that bring excitement, joy and romance to the occasion.
One occasion that came to mind that I could create a gorgeous dress for an actual wearer was senior prom in May 2023 for my friend’s daughter Payton! I’ve known Payton since she was about 9 or 10, meeting her when my good friend Kristin was dating Payton’s dad Scott. Kristin and Scott got married at a beautiful destination wedding in Tulum, Mexico which I attended, and had the honor of making little fascinators for both Kristin and Payton to wear at the wedding! So fun!
A feather and rhinestone fascinator I made for young Payton.
The feather and tulle fascinator I made for Kristin
Fast forward 8 years, Payton has grown into a lovely young lady, quiet, intelligent and thoughtful, tall and slim, and just beautiful! She was perfect for my vision, and could use a new dress for her upcoming prom. I had a muse that was willing to put up with the process for months, come to my house for fittings, and model my creation to help spread the word. A perfect trade!
Pinterest has been a great resource to find inspiration and store ideas. I visit the website a few times a week to recall what I have saved and see what might be new for ideas, mostly for sewing, but also for cooking, organizing, exercise and more. I have boards for these topics, and my sewing wish lists are broken down by type of garment. I also create and share boards with my dressmaking clients to keep together what direction we are going for the project together for reference.
This recent dressmaking project has been in the works for months. I created a Pinterest board to house my ideas and visions of the outcome for an embroidered mesh gown for Payton who was willing to be my model and muse for this dress. The entire goal was to make it in time for her to wear to her senior prom in May with the intention of showcasing my work and doing some free marketing for my dressmaking business, Love, Stephanie.
Here are some of my ideas for this gown that I have pinned on Pinterest :
I love the all over 3-D floral effect of this gown.
I really like the embroidery on this gown.
The floral mesh and shape of this gown is gorgeous.
I began looking for fabrics that would aid in this vision. Knowing that this embroidered mesh look is very much in fashion nowadays, I started searching at my local fabric stores, but didn’t find anything that was of decent quality or not extremely expensive. I searched online and found this embroidered floral appliqué mesh fabric in two color ways on the app AliExpress for $14.37 a yard and it was perfect!
I liked them both so much and ordered 7 yards of each. I figured I could give Payton a choice of which color she liked best, plus use the one she didn’t choose for another dress and create a mini collection using the same fabric in two ways:
As soon as it arrived all the way from China, I contacted Payton and her step mom, my good friend Kristin, to show them the fabric, let her choose her favorite and start looking for a lining.
We went off to my local favorite fabric store and found a nice lining material to go under the sheer fabric. We looked for a color that would match her skin tone and had a lot of fun while we shopped.
With the fabric choices checked off the list, I then got to work making a mock up of the dress in muslin. I should of course mention what pattern I chose to use. I had this McCalls M7927 pattern designed by David Tutera in my pattern stash of special occasion dress that I had been wanting to make.
The line drawings of the pattern shows the simple shape of the dress and of course, the train which is amazing!
I chose this pattern for the lovely low V neckline, the fitted skirt with the slit and the train. I have been wanting to design more bridal gowns and thought this pattern would be good practice for construction and working with overlays and layers of fabric.
As I didn’t want an exact match to the pattern, I made a few little changes to the design. I raised the front V so that it didn’t go all the way down to the navel, and I chose not to have the little panel inset that was an option on the bodice, although considered it as maybe a sheer mesh insert there and tabled the idea. I also lowered the back neckline to a low V for more drama from the backside.
Payton came back to my studio for her muslin fitting which was quite successful. She slipped into the gown easily and it looked great on her, just in muslin! I only needed to make a few tweaks to the fit of the bodice, and lengthen the skirt to accommodate the shoes she’d probably be wearing with the gown.
OK with the fitting out of the way, it was time to get started cutting out this GIANT dress!
Cutting out the HUGE skirt pieces of this dress was quite the challenge. I had to be strategic about it, and part of the back panel of the skirt didn’t quite fit on to the part of the fabric with the embroidery, so I had to cut it in the plain mesh edge and later overlay scraps of the embroidered parts on by hand. More on that later.
Cutting the bodice was a breeze as the pattern pieces are quite narrow and easily fit on to the fabric. I was able to be more strategic with the floral placement on the bodice and choose more of the red flowers near to her face as those were her favorite colors in the fabric.
Once I cut out the pattern pieces in the mesh, I had to cut the same pattern pieces in the underlining that went directly under the mesh, and also the lining. Lots of cutting which was not fun, back breaking actually, but it had to be done.
The bodice has a dart in it, which creates shape over a curved area, but also folds in the floral design when sewn. So to disguise the fold of the flower once I sewed the dart, I “patched” over the area by hand sewing a flower cut from a scrap of the fabric over the darts.
The next step was to underline the mesh pattern pieces with the flesh colored underling fabric, which as a crepe knit material with a slight stretch to it. Each piece was layered and basted (sewn with long stitches) together by hand to underline the entire dress. A long and tedious process for sure, but necessary to give structure and opacity to the delicate mesh.
After the pattern was fully underlined and the bodice and skirt were sewn together, I had another fitting with Payton to make sure all was good before adding the lining and installing the zipper.
As I mentioned earlier, some of the mesh couldn’t quite fit on the pattern during the cut out process, so I had to go back and patch over some areas by hand to make it look correct. It’s hard to see in this photo, but I essentially hand sewed an area of mesh with flowers to the blank areas, carefully going around the motifs and cutting away the doubled up layered areas. This took a while, but was necessary to not have a big bald spot on the back of the dress.
Once the fitting happened, it was time to sew together the lining and install it into the dress. I knew that this dress was going to be heavy to wear and drag on the ground, so I made sure to add hanging loops to the interior of the lining and a bustle to the long train.
I make most of my regular income altering bridal and special occasion gowns and dresses, so I get to see the insides of these dresses and how they are built to be pretty on the outside and functional on the inside. Most long dresses have some sort of hanging straps sewn to the inside of them to hang them up and prevent falling off the hanger and stretching out the shoulders. I love incorporating these little details on the interior of dresses that I make as I feel it adds that little touch of thoughtfulness and luxury to the dress.
For Payton’s gown, I chose a wide satin ribbon to make the hanging loops for the bodice and a narrow satin ribbon for the wrist and hanging loop for the train. Both ribbons are not seen from the outside, but I chose a nude color that matched the lining, just to be more inconspicuous.
I sewed these ribbons in, at a measured length for the area in particular, into the seams of the lining as I was sewing it together. I then also tacked the lining to the inside of the dress at the seams so that they wouldn’t pull apart and the whole dress would act as one in these areas. The same holds true for the one-point over bustle I made using little hooks and eyes, reinforced with a button underneath, as I often do for a bridal gown alteration.
Not shown are little foam bra cups sewn in between the lining and the interior of the dress. She isn’t busty, but needed some cup support for modesty and all as there is NO way she could wear a bra with this dress! I considered also adding boning in the bodice, but nixed that idea as she really didn’t need it.
With the dress finally done and prom rapidly approaching, I was able to recruit my amazing friends to help me plan and execute a photo shoot featuring Payton in the gown. My husband and I own a second home in Sunriver, Oregon, a beautiful and popular resort area out in Central Oregon, that we rent out on Airbnb, but also love to stay there whenever we can. It’s a great home, with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and sleeps 8 guests. We were able to have Payton, her dad, stepmom, little sister, as well as my friends Mark and Julie all come and stay with us at the house and participate with the photo shoot. Mark is the photographer, his wife (and my good friend) Julie is his assistant, and of course, Payton as the model.
I created a mood board to share my ideas with Payton and my friend Mark who would be taking the photos on how I wanted the photos to look, a good location, and some images of the feeling I wanted to portray in the dress.
I packed up the dress and all of the sewing supplies I might need, and we headed out to Sunriver. We got there a couple of days before the others arrived which gave me time to do some last minute finished on the gown and get it all ready for the shoot.
The big day came and we were all ready to make the hour long drive in two SUV’s from Sunriver to the location at Fort Rock. It was a gorgeous warm day which was perfect for being outside before and during the shoot.
Julie’s nieces Abby and Lauren were able to join us the day of the shoot to help with makeup and styling and just tag along for fun. I had met Abby before and she was wonderful to be a model for some of my dresses last year, also photos shot by her uncle Mark. It was great to have them as they both really helped out, plus are around Payton’s age (a little older) and helped her feel more comfortable and relaxed, and gave great tips on makeup and poses to do during the shoot.
We arrived at the location and were in awe of the beautiful spot with the big lava mountain stuck out in the middle of nowhere. The sky was amazing and looked almost like a fake backdrop! We got started right away with Mark taking photos, Julie helping with the equipment, the girls giving good posing direction, and me fluffing the dress whenever necessary.
We got some great shots in a few areas around the park, some standing in the field, some on the dirt path that went around the enormous rock, some sitting on a rock, and then some at the little abandoned town that was down the street a bit from the rock. Mark really captured it all beautifully and Payton was spectacular in the gown!
I am just overjoyed with how it all came out in the end! The gown is gorgeous, Payton looks amazing, and Mark really captured my vision. I can’t thank them all enough for their contribution to this project, it was really special and dear to my heart!
The photos are just amazing and I believe will help me take my dressmaking business to the next level.