31 December 2008

the process of a custom wedding from start to finish

at the dawn of my eleventh wedding season i have been puzzling over the internal conflict i have been having about doing weddings. my dilemma i had best spelled out to my painter friend after someone asked me how i made my wedding work sustainable. in fact weddings feel like the least sustainable thing i do. i asked him, "what if you were commissioned to make a large several thousand dollar painting that took you six months or more to complete, and the couple put it behind them at their wedding ceremony, hung it over their table at their reception, took all of their wedding party photos in front of it, and then crated it and stored it in the attic. not hung this work in their home, but crated it and stored it in the attic?"

the bride usually comes to me at the beginning. she has an engagement ring on her finger, a date, and maybe a venue booked out. this might be a year before the wedding date itself. she will have in hand a stack of magazines, and her best friend or mother in tow. they will look in wonder at my messy studio. i will have some fabric sample books and paper to take notes. i will ask the date, the time of day the wedding will occur, and what she is looking for. i will ask me how she found me (to determine whether she was familiar with my work). i will ask as many questions as i can to determine what sort of dress she will wear, and whether i am the one to make it for her. i will do my best to focus on her if her friend tries to do all of the talking. i will make sketches, and make suggestions of types of fabrics to use for that particular style. i will ask her what parts of her body she likes and wants to accentuate, and what she doesn't like, and wants the eye drawn away from. i will ask her what she wants to wear under her dress. i remind her that i can do any sort of line she wants that will look flattering to her figure, because i am cutting the dress from scratch. i will pull out my calculator and come up with an estimated cost with different options for different fabrics, and amounts of embellishment. this takes about two hours, more or less. i tell her to mull it over, and give me a call. sometimes i will never hear from her again.

in a day or a week, there will be a phone call or an email. another appointment is made. this time she usually comes alone. there are final decisions made about design, fabric and embellishments. we agree on a price and a payment plan. a contract is signed, and money changes hands. fabric is ordered, or a shopping trip is planned. i take her measurements. we come up with a loose timeline for when particular things will be done; muslin, first fitting, embellishment, hemming and closing, accessories, hand off. maybe i am given a list of bridesmaids who will be contacting me. i hand her swatches and encourage her to start looking for her shoes. we part, i will call her when the fabric arrives or when i am ready to fit her muslin.

i will write myself several reminders in my calendar to begin the muslin. a muslin is a plain cotton mock up of the dress that can be modified until it fits that the dress is then cut from. this involves me drafting a pattern from scratch, or lately modifying something that i already had designed to fit. i will sit in the kitchen at my studio and eat lunch with a piece of paper, a pencil, her measurements and a calculator. i will check and double check. i will draw and cut out the muslin after lunch. i will put the muslin together, and wonder why i thought it would take so long; it usually goes pretty quickly, but i have to fret over it for a few days first.

another appointment is made to fit the muslin. i remind her to bring her underpinnings to the fitting. this is important for the neckline to make sure that her bra or corset doesn't show. if the muslin fits, we discuss the neckline. if it doesn't i mark with a pen and pin the parts that need to be modified. if it is minor, she will sit and wait while i make the alterations, if it is complicated, we reschedule for a few days later.

once the muslin is fit to satisfaction, i will carefully pick the good half of it apart to cut out the dress itself. hopefully, i have all the fabric, lining, thread, zipper and everything i will need by now. i will cut out the dress, and put it together. if i am running behind, i will schedule the fitting before i do this to make sure i finish it to make sure i meet our timeline. if i am on schedule, i will call after i finish this part.

this first fitting usually takes about an hour. i ask how things are going. usually, the caterer has been chosen, the invitations have been sent out, the flowers have been decided on, but she is still looking for shoes and wedding party gifts. we discuss the embellishments. we can both have a better idea now that the dress is on and in front of us. the lines are clear. where the hem falls with the shoes on. if it is floor length, the hem is exactly 1/4" off the floor in shoes so there is no tripping over the hem, and no need to lift up the skirt to walk. the bustle is marked to see how the embellishments will look with the train down and bustled. or if the hem is shorter, pinned so that it will hit in the most flattering spot on the leg. how her necklace looks with the neckline. a double check to make sure that no straps are showing underneath, no weird lines. if there are bridesmaids, we discuss the progress. when will the out of towners be arriving? i remind her to wear her shoes around the house so they are broken in.

then i am left to make the embellishments to pin on the dress. maybe it is a simple obvious placement, or it might be more complicated, and need rearranging. the bride may come in and stand several feet away to judge what they look like from a distance. i pin and unpin until everything is balanced. the dress is carefully tried on. maybe i have to make a little adjustment. i try not to stab her with pins. she will tell me about the inevitable conflict with mother/bridesmaid/aunt who insists that she should do x a certain way. i keep a bottle of whiskey in my desk drawer for these occasions. i continue to work on the last bits and she waits. we talk about hair accessories (i usually make these with the dress embellishment), and who will be bustling her dress after the ceremony. i am very close to being done. just a few more days.

i spend the next while carefully sewing down the embellishments, blind-stitching the lining closed, and sewing on the last finishings: hooks and eyes, snaps etc. i review everything to make sure that each piece is finished: dress, bridesmaids dresses, flower brooches, hairpins, head piece, pocket squares, garters. everything neatly pressed, all threads clipped. usually the night before our last meeting before i go home from the studio.

the final fitting is usually (hopefully) two weeks or so before the wedding. the whole thing is tried on complete with lingerie and shoes. and with promises of later photos, the whole thing is taken away.

i am not sure how many of these i have done; all or a part. more than i can remember, which is difficult to admit sometimes, as i spend so much time with some of these brides. some are friends now, some i haven't seen since the day i handed them their dresses at that final fitting. i have been to many of their weddings. when i started doing this, i never thought i would be making wedding dresses, but there is not much demand for couture gowns in ordinary life outside of weddings. it kind of bums me out to know that i spend this much time on a piece only to be worn once. in victorian times, a bride would wear her wedding dress to every social engagement (to parties and to church on sunday) for a year after her wedding. in my perfect world, one would like to invest that much time and money in something that would be worn and loved over a long time, not just worn once, dry cleaned, shrink wrapped and packed in a box to be stored in the attic. every year i go back and forth about weddings; i don't think that i will ever stop doing them entirely, but i do sometimes fret about spending so much time on something that will be used only once.

(photo by chi essary of my friends dulcinea and jared's wedding june 2001)

30 December 2008

wedding randomness part three

this is the wedding of the longstockings who got married on leap day. i went to high school with the bride. we spent years together in french class. her dress is a modified version of my a-line dress (see photo below) with a higher neckline, lower hemline and is decorated with roses.

29 December 2008

wedding randomness part two

this is a reconstruction project i did this past spring/summer. i got a call from a lady who had seen one of my skirts on someone at the grocery store. she brought me her mother's wedding dress to restyle:

it was covered in rust stains, and wasn't the most flattering fit on her. we decided to take the sleeves off, change the neckline, lower the hem, add triangle gussets to the sides for a slightly fuller skirt and add surface decorations to cover the rust stains. i used a piece of the sleeve cuff for the headpiece (not pictured). we chose some tulle, vintage net, organza and hanah silk ribbon in whites and creams to make flowers that would give interest, but also blend into the surface as a whole.

the most difficult part of a custom project is trying to relate to my client how the finished product is going to look. at the beginning of a project i can come up with a concept, but the surface decoration doesn't entirely reveal itself until i am actually doing it. balance is important. the placement of the flowers serves to draw the eye up. the challenge is knowing when to stop. i worked with the client to pin the surface up over a couple of days until it achieved the correct balance, and then sewed everything down by hand.

27 December 2008

wedding randomness part one

now that it is almost the end of the year, i am going to post all the random custom projects that i have been meaning to put up. there will be a few more in the coming days.

this is a wedding project that i did with my friend nancy davis. she did most of the work, but employed me to make the felt appliques that are studded with swarovski crystals. i did the tux jacket and the birds on the skirt of the dress, she made the bride's dress. this was for a december wedding at a roadside attraction in joshua tree. a little outside of the realm of what i normally do, but once in a while, i like to push myself beyond my comfort zone.

23 December 2008

fixing an old friend

many years ago i discovered quilting. i think that if i could make my living this way, i would be a quilter. it is a secret madness, quilting. the constant eye out and collecting of calico (the printed cotton fabric used for traditional quilting) with every trip to the fabric store, and the hoarding of scraps of fabric in plastic bins. i have several unfinished quilts that i work on every now and then resting in a neatly folded pile at the foot of my bed.

about 10 years ago i made the quilt that covers my bed. it is made out of 1930's reproduction prints in bubblegum colours. a very simple design of plain 5" squares. this quilt has seen a lot. it has moved with me through several different houses, it has come camping with me, housesitting with me, it has a little of piper's blood on it from when she had her dreadful tail accident. in short it has been the security blanket of my adult life. it even came with me on my foray into the desert this past summer. it has been a symbol of comfort and home to me over the years.

about two years ago, it started to get holes. just little tiny wear holes in the top, and the binding was worn through at the edges. i decided that it was worth fixing. it all started with 7 red hearts that i sewed over the worn holes, and a binding repair. now it has graduated to 200+ hearts and counting. i sew on new hearts as needed. pretty soon it will be all hearts.

01 December 2008

flying iron

earlier this fall, i received a request to make a costume for a performance my friend lisa degrace was working on. i met lisa while making the costumes from last year's production of cocoon bird. she told me it would involve a giant skirt to be fitted over a metal frame. sounded intriguing. we met up a few days later to talk about it in person. the performance involved her crawling into and buckling herself into this skirt that she was to be trapped in until she had to fall out and get back in. she had been looking into ordering a 30' parachute to be somehow fitted to this metal frame that another friend of ours, richard cawley was building. i contemplated how to make this happen. at first we considered a long row of snap tape with a couple of separating zippers and several buckles, but after testing this, it proved to be too complicated for the actual reality of the performance. in the end, we eventually came up with a circle skirt design with a really long separating zipper to attach to the bottom of the skirt and the parachute with a few buckles for added interest.

i made the skirt part ahead of time, and on the appointed day, lisa came with the parachute and the metal frame to fit her and the parachute and the metal frame together into one piece. it was quite the wrestling match to get the parachute through the sewing machine, but we did most of it in an afternoon through trial and error.

photo: brent wear

me: what inspired you to want to be trapped in a gigantic skirt?

lisa: the image comes from two places: one was some work i was doing with my friend meshi chavez on a piece called cocoon bird. i'm not trained as a dancer, so you have to speak in story and image to get my mind around a kind of movement. in trying to get me to weight down my lower body, he told me to envision myself in an iron skirt. i just couldn't shake that image.

the rest is based on images from dreams and my inner life. it's an expression of the feeling of being alone, even when surrounded by people. i wanted my clown's universe to be sort of tiny and vast all at once, and to feel specifically alone.... like no one had ever been there, or at least had wanted to stay. but i had to look kind of glamorous too.... like a very strange fashion model or something.

photo: brent wear

me: this costume is almost the set for this piece. when considering the costume for a performance where the costume is so integral to the piece, what do you take in to consideration about the logistics of your vision, and how much do you depend on your costume makers to help in the actual function of the costume?

lisa: i am very very lucky to live in portland and know imaginiative and creative people like you and richard cawley (who built the metal portion of the skirt). so, honestly, i counted on the fact that you would know all the right questions to ask and things to do if i just told you the concept. and it worked! you had all the right ideas- like connecting the pieces of the skirt together with a sleeping bag zipper (i would have never thought of that one). i had a whole laundry list of obscure things... about how it should sound, how heavy it should be, and, most significantly, that it has to fit as checked luggage on a plane. both you and richard seemd to take each problem as a design challenge, rather than a road block. that was great.

photo: nathan gwirtz

me: you spent some time rehearsing without the skirt and just the metal frame; what changed once you had the skirt to wear and drape over the frame?

lisa: in one sense, nothing really changed... it all just intensified and clarified. the first time i got into the whole shebang....parachute skirt and iron skirt and all, i became almost immediately nauseous! because it was such a literal manifestation of a more figuartive feeling of being separated from the world. so, while it wasn't planned this way, the first thing i worked on the was the end of the piece where (SPOILER ALERT) i free myself of the iron skirt... while taking the entire fabric skirt with me. once I knew i could leave, it didn't make me as sick to be in there.

having it all together DID show me new worlds of possibility... "oh! i can do this! oh! i look like this." i didn't actually get to see what the whole thing looks like in motion until after i performed it for the first time (a friend recorded it). and i have to say.... it looks pretty amazing. i guess when i had thought about the look of it, i had thought about it more in still frames. in motion, it is really pretty trippy and beautiful.

photo: nathan gwirtz

flying iron opens in portland, oregon this weekend:

is self inflicted loneliness a blessing or a curse?

the audience sees someone "trapped by choice" in a very small world, an iron hoop skirt contained within a 30‐foot diameter dress. the piece explores the solitude of being alone, even when surrounded by people, utilizing music, movement, costume, text, and clowning.

the show is conceived of and performed by lisa deGrace, with direction from choreographer meshi chavez, massachusetts based director sheila siragusa, and master clown sue morrison. thhe costume was built by kirsten a. moore of piper ewan and metal sculptor richard cawley.

come see FLYING IRON
5 – 7 december and 12 – 14 december at 8pm
performance works northwest
4625 se 67th ave (between se foster and se holgate).
tickets are $10 ‐ $15, and can be purchased at
or by contacting lisa at
reservations are requested!

recommended for adults primarily, and children ages 12 and up. FLYING IRON is funded in part by the regional arts & culture council.

quite possible the best non-cranky bio i have written in awhile

kirsten moore is mostly known for making zillions of flowers out of ribbon, but secretly she is a costume designer. when given the opportunity she dresses people they way they really want to look; maybe how we imagined we looked when we played dress up as children, but in clothes that actually fit. by day she is the proprietor of piper ewan, an independent fashion design company in portland, or.