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The making of a Silk Organza Gown

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

I've been commissioned recently by a future bride to remake one of my black silk organza designs, a full ball gown with the white leafs painting concentrated on the train. The original dress featured a corset but talking with the client she expressed the view that a v-neckline top would suit her better.

Hand painted silk organza dress ; formal dress silk
The original design of the silk organza dress

I agreed that such a combination will result in a lovely dress and proceeded to make the custom pattern based on the measurements she provided with the necessary changes to the upper part.

I will mention here that for most dresses, I only require some basic measurements that the client can take herself. Because there are various ways in which seamstresses take them I found that I can achieve better results with just the basics from which other values can be deduced with formulas. In some cases, I ask for some other measurements that I can use to cross check the resulting pattern.

Another way to check the patter is by sewing the outer layer of fabric and placing it on an adjustable mannequin that has been set to the specific values. If there are adjustments to be made, they are done at this stage.

The skirt is made of a layer of organza and a matching one of stronger tulle. These are cut after the paper patterns that I previously made. The cutting part requires a lot of attention as the placement of the pattern has to take into account the direction of threads. Plus, organza will move at the slightest touch. After this is done and some adjustments are made, the pieces of fabric are sewn together to form a large circle that, after the pleats are done at the waist, will form the voluminous skirt. Pockets are also added at the sides.

painting silk organza
Adding a second layer of paint and retouching the leaf.

Before the two circles (the organza and the tulle) are to be joined, a very important step happens: the painting. After pinning the fabric on the mannequin and marking the areas that will be painted, I place the organza on a large table. Using embroidery hoops to stretch the fabric, I proceed with the first phase of painting that will keep me hovering over the silk for almost a week. A first layer of paint is drying while another one takes shape in a second hoop. The retouching happens in the first hoop and while these first two dry, I start on a third... and so on. Slowly, the cascading shapes of lovely white leafs begin to add contrast to the mass of black organza. The more there are painted, the larger the circumference of the skirt seems to become.

hand painted silk organza ; custom made dresses
Gatherings of white acanthus leafs. The train of the gown is almost ready.

After this painting stage is completed, the organza and the tulle are joined at the waist, the pleats are formed and the resulting skirt is placed again on the mannequin. The horsehair band is added

construction of a dress
Horsehair band pinned and about to be integrated into the hem.

at the lower edge and pinned so that the hem can be made. This process will take a few hours until it is ready to be sewn.

The way a hem is made will greatly influence the overall aspect of a dress. By integrating this band, the hem will have a crisp look and the whole skirt will be floating around when you move. And it's quite a lovely feeling.

Another option is to sew the horsehair onto the tulle layer alone, and the organza layer will be finished with a small rolled hem. The horsehair will still make the dress float, but the look will be different, the fabric will fall a bit more naturally.

Both are great options, it's a matter of choosing the one which you enjoy more when looking at the whole dress.

When this part of the dress is completed, I turn my attention towards the upper part. After the pieces are cut, they are carefully sewn using french seams. This technique allows for the edges of the fabric to be encompassed into the seam so that no frayed edge shows through the transparent organza. This implies sewing the fabric on the right side, cutting the edge at 2-3 mm and then resewing it on the wrong side so that this little 5 mm tube of fabric forms containing the edges. This is done to all the seams in the dress, including the pieces forming the skirt.

The lining of the top (for this particular dress) is made of soft lingerie tulle. I opted for a more opaque one this time because this neckline does not look well with painting on the full front, just at the sides. Then I proceed with the painting and tried do to as most as possible, without finalizing on the lower edge where it will be attached to the skirt: this will be done after it is sewn so that the pattern matches.

Silk organza dress ; horsehair used for the hem
The completed hem

Construction of a dress ; silk organza ball gown
The top ready to be attached

Construction of a dress ; silk organza ball gown
After it is pinned in place, I check to see the pleats are placed where they should be.

construction of a dress ; silk organza ball gown
Sewing the parts together by hand before the machine sewing.

construction of a dress ; silk organza dress
Checking on the mannequin that everything is ok before the final waist seam is made.

construction of a dress ; painting silk organza dress
Completing the painting at the waist and holding up the hoop until it is all dry.

At this stage, the leafs at the waist area are added, one by one, checking to see how they fit into the pleats. Each dress has a different size, so while I preserve the general look of the dress the leafs will be a bit different in size and orientation. With a changed top, the distribution will need some adjustment as well for this gown.

Even if I started with an already existing design for the skirt part, when looking at the new lines, it feels like a different dress altogether. In addition it needed some changes even on the lower leaf distribution, as the painting on the corset balanced the pattern differently. Now that I can see the whole gown, I can add more leafs and break the blocks of painting already existent for a more natural look.

While the original dress has a side less painted, as the upper painting was more predominant, on this dress the space feels a bit empty. I decided to add another conglomeration of leafs going up.

After all the painting is completed, the zipper is finally added at the back and so is the long lining finished with the same band of horsehair that will prevent the stepping on the slightly longer outer layer of the dress.

A very satisfying part is sewing the very last thing, the little painted label which is found on the inside of the dress. For me, this is a symbol that the work is done and the dress is finally ready to meet its new owner.

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