Building a business around made to measure work can be hugely satisfying as you help fulfill peoples dreams by creating their ideal outfit. This week I’ve been working on senior formal (prom) dress orders and thought I’d share some of the process.
Lisa has a formal to go to in 12 weeks and has been in to discuss her dress. She brought along a drawing and her iPad with all the photos she’d saved of dresses she likes. We went through the images talking about what parts she likes of each dress and what parts she specifically wants. Since the first meeting is all about getting the design down on paper I worked through the photos and drawings and produced a sketch of the final design.
At the meeting I took all the measurements I needed and calculated fabric. I sent her off with a list of recommended fabric stores and some fabric suggestions. Once Lisa bought and delivered her fabric we made an appointment for her first fitting.
My first step was to construct a toile – a mock-up model of the garment – usually done in calico or cotton. I prefer to use the lining that will be used in the final outfit as it saves wasting fabric and the customer gets to see the true colour. Referring to the sketches and measurements I chose a pattern block closest to the design and started marking out the pattern pieces on the lining. I sewed the pieces together with a large stitch so it will be easy to pull apart later. Once the lining was together I measured the lining and checked against the body measurements. The toile needs to be looser than the body to allow for movement.
At the first fitting Lisa tried on the toile and I pinned it at the back and began fitting the garment. At this point I’m looking at
- making the waist fit securely (Lisa is wearing a belt with this design and the waist needs to be firm)
- fitting the skirt over the hips and shaping it close around the knees
- checking the top/waist join for the right amount of blousing
- making sure the straps sit comfortably
- making sure the cut away back sits close to the body
So generally I’m fitting the garment close to the body and making sure the bust, waist and hips sit at the correct level. Since we’re fitting so closely around the legs I suggested having a back split to make it easier to sit and walk.
From here I unpicked the lining to use as a pattern to cut out the main fabric and make the dress all over again. At this point the zip is left out, the straps are only pinned at the back and the hem is just overlocked.
At the second fitting we pinned it in a bit further down the side seams and I asked Lisa to try sitting. The back split has been a success! We marked where the straps will finish and tried on the belt. All good.
Because I need to wait for Lisa to come back with the shoes to do the final hem check, I can insert the zip, sew some hooks to the straps and run in the skirt a final time. At Lisa’s final fitting I’ll be pinning up the hem and making sure the hooks on the straps sit properly.
This formal dress has been a pleasure to make and the fittings have all gone well without any dramas or misunderstandings. Communication is crucial to making made to order customers happy and being able to understand their needs and expectations means there are no mistakes along the way.
Check back soon and I’ll be able to share with you the finished dress in all it’s glory.