Friday, August 31, 2012

Flashback Friday: Afro-Centric Wedding Ensemble

For this Flashback Friday, we're harkening back to a post Marilyn wrote for the Price George's County Women's Journal Bride Guide:

Early August 2009 was centered around creating a unique, Afro-centric wedding ensemble that incorporated traditions from several cultures and countries.   This bride and her mom brought me beautiful white embroidered cut-work fabric to work with.  Early on we agreed to line it in a platinum silver to reflect the metallic embroidery.  After studying a number of photos of traditional and updated Nigerian dresses, I was able to work out a design that pleased everyone.  The white fabric had a distinctive shaped border on both edges and I was able to cut that off in long strips and use it as the hem on both the bodice and the skirt.  To highlight the shaping, I made the silver lining of the skirt just a tad longer, sweeping both layers back into a train.  When the bride walked in for her final fitting, it was waiting for on my dress form and looked breathtaking!  So another happy bride walked down the aisle and that makes me very happy.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How to Spot Quality Part 2: Shopping Online, Taking Measurements

For part II of our ongoing series, we're going to talk a little bit about buying online.   At this point, most of the dresses we see in our studio have been bought online.  Some of the issues we come across can only be seen in real life, and the actual look of some dresses can come as quite a surprise once they have been taken off a model with all the extensive lighting and pinning done by the professional photographer that goes with it.  We had such a case in a bride who came in asking for a custom dress based on a very specifically styled picture, only to discover much later (after we finished the dress and she loved it, of course ;)) that the original picture we based the design off of didn't actually look like the dress at all!  What we and the bride took to be a perfectly tapered mermaid train was actually a sheath dress pinned and posed in such a way that it took on a totally different silhouette.

It is important to take into account the fact that retail photos are styled by a professional photographer who specializes in still subjects.  The photographer's job is to find the very best angle at which to show off the best qualities of the dress.   Your dress, however, will be in three dimensions and will move as you move, with your body, your posture, and your stance.   So make sure you love the back and the sides just as much as you love the front (or whichever angle the model is posing in that particular picture!)  The most important thing about your dress, as opposed to any dress, is that you are the one who is wearing it!  Your dress's job is to flatter your body in the best way possible, not the other way around.

There is no such thing as universal sizing, however; each designer has his or her own "secret sauce" recipe for the way garments are sized, and those may even change from season to season.   You may be an 8 in one brand, and a 14 in another.  One of the best ways to avoid disappointment when the UPS person arrives is to know how to properly take your own measurements.  You may not be able to totally predict how a dress will flow and fall on your body before you try it on, but you can get close if you have the right tools.  Below is a detailed description of what, and most importantly where, different websites mean when they give those helpful "sizing tools."  These instructions are also necessary if you are measuring yourself for a custom garment, or simply calculating something like your bra size (which we will get into in another post.)


Please wear a bathing suit or leotard when taking these measurements.  You might want to get a friend to help you take your measurements; some are hard to reach! You will need a tape measure for this; they can be found at any store that sells fabric, home goods, or sewing supplies (this includes chains like Wal Mart and Target, and your local grocery store.)

Tie a piece of string, ribbon, or elastic around your waist and bend from side to side and then over to the front. Where the string ends up is your natural waistline.

  • Center Front: Measure from the point between the collar bones to the center of the waist string. 
  • Bust (Chest): Keeping the tape measure level around your body, measure your bust at the fullest part of the breast
  • High Bust: Move the tape measure so that it goes around your torso above the fullest part of your breasts usually where "cleavage" starts.  The tape will be up tight in your armpits. Keep it level going around your torso. 
  • Low Bust: Move the tape measure to below the breasts, keeping it level going around your torso.  This will be about where your bra ends.
  • Point to Point: Measure the distance from the apex (nipple) of one breast to another
  • Front Shoulder Slope: From the end of the shoulder bone to the center front at wrist.
  • Shoulder Length: Measure from the base of the neck below the hollow of the ear to the shoulder point.
  • Shoulder to Bust Point: Measure from the shoulder at the neck intersection to the apex of the bust.
  • Neck Circumference: Measure around the neck.
  • Bust Line Side to Side: Measure from the left side seam of your leotard across the front of your torso at the fullest part of your breasts to the right side seam.
  • Front Shoulder: Feel for the end of the bone in each shoulder. Place the tape measure at this point on your left shoulder and bring it across your front to the other shoulder. Remember to feel for the end of the bone. 
  • Neckline to Bust:  Feel for the knobby little vertebrae at the base of your neck. Place the end of your tape measure here and bring it around your neck down your chest to the apex of your breast. This can be either left or right.
  • Back Shoulder: Repeat instructions for Front Shoulder, but do it along the back of your shoulders.
  • Center Back Length: Measure from the knobby vertebrae at the back of the neck to the waistline.
  • Neck to Waist: Go back to the knobby vertebrae and place the end of the tape measure here. Let it drop down your back along your spine. Measure to the waistline string.
  • Back Shoulder Slope: Measure fromt the shoulder point across back to waist at the spine.
  • Back Side Seam to Side Seam:  Measure across your back from the left side seam to the right side seam at about the level of your bra; this should be the fullest part of your back.
  • Waist: Measure your waist along the line created by the string. Make sure that you keep the tape measure level going around your body. 
  • Low Waist: Measure around your torso about 2" below the string... this will be at the belly button level.
  • Front Side Seam to Side Seam: Measure from the left side seam of your bathing suit or leotard across the front of your torso to the right side seam of your suit following the line created by the waist marking string.
  • Back Side Seam to Side Seam Waist: Measure from left side seam of your leotard across your back to the right side seam along the line of your waist string.
  • Hip: Measure around your torso at the fullest part of your hips.
  • Crotch Depth: Sitting on an even, flat surface, measure from the side seam of waist to the flat surface along one side. If you are very curvy use a ruler instead of measuring tape, so the measurement is not inflated.
  • Hip Line Front Side to Side: Measure from the left side seam of your leotard across the front of your torso at the level of the fullest part of your hips to the right side seam. 
  • Hip Line Back Side to Side: Repeat the above instructions but this time do it across the back of your body.
  • Hip Length: Measure along side from the waist string down to the point where you took the Hip measurement.
  • Outer Leg: Measure from the waist string along the outer line of your leg to the knobby bone at your ankle. Please stand with both feet together and your weight evenly distributed on each foot.
  • Inseam: Stand so your feet are shoulder width apart; keep weight evenly distributed on both feet. Measure from the crotch to the knobby part of the ankle bone on inside of leg. 
  • Center Front Waist to Floor:  Measure from center front of waist string to floor. 
  • Center Back Waist to Floor: Measure from center back of waist string to floor.
  • Thigh: With feet close together and weight evenly distributed, measure around your leg at the fullest part of the thigh.
  • Knee: Stand as above, and measure around your leg at the knee.
  • Calf: Stand as above, and measure around the fullest part of the calf. 
  • Ankle: Stand as above, and measure around your ankle at the level of knobby bones.
  • Shoulder to Elbow: Place the end of the tape measure at the end of the shoulder bone. Hold your arm slightly bent, and measure to the elbow.
  • Elbow to Wrist (Total Arm Length): Keep your arm as above, keep the tape as above, without moving the tape measure from the above measurement, continue running the tape along your arm to the wrist. Measure to the little bump on the outside of your wrist. (If the shoulder to elbow measurement was 12", from the 12" mark you will measure to the wrist for a total of 23".)
  • Upper Arm: Measure around the fullest part of your upper arm between the shoulder and the elbow.
  • Lower Arm: Measure around the fullest part of your lower arm between the elbow and wrist.
  • Wrist: Measure around your wrist at the point where the little bump is.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

How to Spot Quality Part 1: Fiber Content

This summer's Olympics began with quite a controversy over our athletes' uniforms, and it has opened up discussions all over the country regarding imported clothing.  We at the studio all agree that it's not the imported-ness that was so upsetting; it was the fact that our athletes just looked sloppy!  None of the garments seemed to fit properly, which gave our athletes a much "cheaper" look, one that more than once was described as looking like flight attendants.  Yes, there were 529 of them, but a little custom fit and care would have gone a long way for a televised event the entire world was tuning in to see!

We have noticed a recent uptick in imported bridal garments as well, in which the manufacturing quality is shockingly low.  There are several very important things to know when buying garments, especially for special events.  We have found that many people who come through our shop were unaware of these key topics because, of course, most of us don't deal with custom-made garments on a daily basis!  In an effort to help stem the tide of poorly made garments in this world, we will be authoring a series of posts over the next several weeks on how to spot (and avoid!) poorly made garments, and which questions to ask before you buy.  We hope that this little bit of advice from people who see it all the time will give average women the tools necessary to pick out the best possible garment for their budget.

We will be discussing fit and construction (the biggest, most noticeable difference between beautiful and sloppy garments) in this series, but first a quick lesson in fibers!

Always, always, always (did we mention always?) look at the fiber content before you buy.  By law there there has to be a label in every garment listing the country of manufacture or origin, fiber content, and care instructions.  If the garment doesn't have those labels it could be illegally imported!

If at all possible, avoid acetate fabrics for bridal or other special event garments or in situations in which you may be sweating (altho in the South, women "glow").  Acetate does not breathe, it doesn't wick moisture from your body and it can water stain.  In a wedding with an outdoor ceremony, the extra sweat it causes to trickle down your back may literally leave water rings.  It is not used much in blending with other fibers, depending on the other fiber, so the fabric is usually 100% acetate or none at all.  A garment made of acetate cannot be let out because the stitch marks, and by proxy any holes, are often permanent.  But if your dream garment happens to have a very low percentage of acetate, you will probably not see the issues we just described.

The manufacture of synthetic fabrics has improved a lot over the years; some synthetics are so good they can fool even an experienced eye.  This can be a really good thing if you want or need a high-end garment on a budget, but it is always important to know exactly what you are buying.  We recently had a client ask us to make some hair wrap ribbons for her from fabric she had purchased at a well-know chain fabric store.  She believed it to be the 100% silk she needed, but a burn test proved it to be 100% saran, a synthetic fiber.  When I showed her a swatch of real silk to compare to her fabric she could literally feel the difference.  (Real silk has a "crunch" to it)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with synthetic fibers, and buying a garment that is partially or 100% synthetic can be a good way to get the look of a much more expensive garment for an affordable price.  But there are a few things to be aware of when it comes to synthetics: synthetic fibers do not breathe, meaning they do not allow air to flow freely through the fabric, and they do not wick, which is when the fabric absorbs and helps moisture evaporate off your body so you are less likely to sweat profusely while wearing it.  Some examples of natural fibers are cotton, wool, and silk. Some examples of synthetics are polyester, rayon, and acetate.

As we mentioned before, there is nothing wrong with synthetic fabrics, but we have often seen women come in our shop thinking their dress or other garment has a fiber content that it simply does not have.   We believe information is power, and if women know exactly what to look for when buying, they are most likely to get exactly what they wanted in the end.   Remember! look for the Fiber Content label!

Tune in next week for our next installment of How to Spot Quality!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Flashback Friday: The Anti-Bridezilla

From a Bride Guide Marilyn wrote for The Prince George's County Women's Journal in 2009:

There are lots of stories about Bridezilla but I have one about a beautiful and generous bride.  She came to me with a photo to use as a starting point for her gown.  The final design was a bias-wrapped strapless bodice going into a dropped waist, a body hugging skirt flowing into a mermaid train and accented by a sash I custom dyed to match the aquamarine jewelry she would wear on her wedding day.

The gown was breathtaking on her and at her final fitting she said, "I hope you won't be upset with me when you hear what I plan to do with this dress after the wedding."  Since I have had brides who asked to have floor length gowns shortened to tea or cocktail lengths after the wedding and a couple of times have been asked to dye the gowns I kind of looked at the gown and tried to picture it shorter. What she said instead made me love her even more. She planned to donate the gown to Brides Against Breast Cancer, and organization that hosts sales and auctions of donated gowns to raise money to fund memory-making wishes for women (and men) who have little time left with their families.  The auction was scheduled for several weeks after she returned from her honeymoon so she was able to help at the auction as well as donate the gown.  She let me know afterwards that the gown was the most popular and brought in a wonderful donation for Brides Against Breast Cancer.