Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Jane's Purple Volcano

Sometimes my clients want to change the image they present on the competition floor, and Jane was ready for a change.  Here's her first rhythm gown, which I thought looked very nice on her, and obviously had good movement as well.  It was not a Made for Movement gown, although I did adjust the fit for her.  I think it is playful and fun, and a bright, vibrant and visible color, all good things on the floor.  I also thought the bare chest and shoulders were flattering.

But Jane wanted a change.  Something more "grown-up" looking, and more understated and elegant.  So we set to work on a design that would flatter her body, and create the impression of elegance and maturity.  We started with a deeper richer color, and a more complex grouping of lines and shapes.  We softened the skirt, removed some weight, and used a more transparent fabric to feature her pretty legs, although we wanted to maintain good potential for movement in the skirt so used a similar volume of fabric. 

We also moved the focus from the center of her body to one side and  provided a vertical division.  We achieved this division in two ways.  We used opaque draped dance crepe on one side of the gown and sheer stretch mesh on the other side, as well as using different embellishment on each side.  We also found a bronze scrollwork applique we thought might provide a hint of vintage antique aesthetic to use a a base for our rhinestone decoration.

Decorating this gown was fun.  We chose a Swarovski effect crystal called Volcano for the scrollwork details and the sheer mesh portion of the gown.  Effect crystals are a different color viewed from a different angle.  Volcano viewed directly from the front is a pinky purple, but as you move to the side for an oblique view, it turns a green gold.  One stone, multiple colors.  This too added a mysterious complexity to the gown.  You can see the effect at work by looking at the bust area of the gown in this photo.  As we view the crystal headon at the bust point, the purple color blends into purple mesh, providing just sparkle.  Beneath the bust, where you view the stone at an angle, you can see the vibrant gold color of the effect, and as your eye traces the curves, you can see the transition from purple to pink to deep, bronzy gold. We used Amethyst crystals on the opposite draped crepe side, which are simply purple from all angles, providing lots of sparkle, but less color drama.  All of the scrollwork is embellished with larger Volcano crystals, and even some big sew-on jewels for added punch.  We did the embellishment work in stages, allowing Jane to decide how much sparkle she wanted to see and consequently, allowing her to choose the final cost of her gown.  Jane chose plentiful rhinestone embellishment, and was pleased with her decision.  We did not stone the skirt, wanting to keep the focus on the pretty shape of the handkerchief hem, and allow our eyes to see though the fabric to her shapely legs.  I like the assymetrical balance of this gown.

Since we were not revealing as much skin at the top of the gown, we opened one sleeve with a keyhole and embellished it with our scrollwork applique. 

We also opened a keyhole at the back of the gown.

And here is a shot of those lovely legs in their new skirt.

We do not yet have competition photos to post, but I have seen Jane's video from Wisconsin State, and both she and her new gown look wonderful. and move beautifully!  I think we achieved Jane's elegant new look successfully.

We are in the process of creating a new ballgown as well, and I am enjoying working with Jane again!  When we are finished, I look forward to sharing our work with you.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sue's New Jewels

Sue picked her new necklace today and very kindly allowed me to scan this photo or her and her husband Greg.  To me they have always looked a little like Barbie and Ken.  Both are tall and statuesque, fit, and beautifully groomed.  They seem a perfect couple, both on and off the competition floor.

The new necklace is visually the same as the original, and a style I make frequently, in different sizes and configurations.  It a good shape for dancers, because it is open, allowing skin to breath and cool, but it places sparkly focus at the neck and head.  The inclusion of sew-on jewels provides extra visual punch.  And the use of flat, mirror backed crystals means all of the light hitting the glass is pushed back to a viewer's eye, instead of passing through as in a bicone or round.   I use actual beads occasionally, but mirror backs are almost always my preferred choice.

 But Sue's original necklace, after 5 years of use, was at the end of it's life.  Dancers work really hard when they compete, and many sweat a great deal.  They wear artificial tanning products, bronzers, scent, and loads of hair product to keep their styles in place through their athletic activity.  Some of them even glue their jewelry to their bodies with toupee tape or eyelash adhesive to keep it in place.  And sadly, the AB finishes on Swarovski products sometimes fall prey to all that stuff, becoming dull and dark.  Plus, in Sue's case, the ultrasuede base had stretched slightly, and some of the delicate webbing had split.  I repaired it as best could be done, but the stretching made the necklace lay in a lower place than the one we had originally planned, and it was time for a replacement. 

Well, that's another story, actually.  When we designed this gown, we originally planned for a choker style version of the necklace, but once we got the gown far enough along to test the jewelry with it, we realized that a different configuration was called for.  The beautiful expanse of Sue's chest was crying out for detail and sparkle, so we re-designed the shape, but kept the essentials of the style, to create the best possible jewelry for the gown and dancer.  This is the tremendous benefit of working with a local designer and having fittings.  Things can and do evolve and change to suit the circumstances.  Making gowns for dress forms is a very different process indeed.

So here's the new necklace, which features an improvement that I hope will help it last even longer, the addition of a fused mesh that will avoid any potential stretching, which still providing the suppleness to allow the piece to move with Sue. 
And here's the entire set.  We made new bracelets as well, but since the earrings do not come in direct contact with the skin, those are still the originals.  Since Swarovski is no longer making any of their sew-on jewels in Bermuda Blue, we had to recover the original jewels for the replacement pieces, which worked out beautifully.  Such a gorgeous color!  I hope they bring it back.
And in parting, a few more shots of Sue and Greg, who is also wearing Made for Movement costumes and looking almost as fantastic as his beautiful partner.

And this final shot of Greg in his Made for Movement tailsuit and Sue in one of my all time favorite gowns, I think because of the beaded fringe on the skirt and the gauntlet!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Randee's Hot Magenta

I have the most amazing clients!  Take Randee for example.  Randee is a former model and makeup artist, as well as a dancer.  She was willing to spend HOURS doing her hair and makeup in preparation for picking up her new gown and allowing me to take some photos for my blog.  I'd like to think my photography skills are improving, but in this case, I suspect it's the subject that improves my images.

Randee and I are both happy with the entire gown, but there are some particular elements I'd like to show off.

First, I have to give credit to my friend Marliss Jensen of Iris Color Studio.  Together, about 10 years ago, we worked out the process we use to create the shaded ombre effect featured in the skirt.  I choose colors (in this case, just the one) and Marliss prepares a dyed swatch to test the color accuracy and allow me to plan where I want the transitions to take place. I prepare the silk by washing it, cutting and sewing the skirt panels with silk thread, so stitches will dye with the silk, and even finishing the seams with silk surging thread.   Then I create a muslin jig and sew it to the bottom of the skirt, to give Marliss a means to control the mass of fabric at the hemline, as well as something to hang onto while dipping the skirt, upside down, into the dye vat.

In this case Marliss did her swatch on a piece of silk I had in my shop, but the stuff I ordered had been "dyed" white, infused with something to whiten the natural color of the silk.  She really had to work to get the "whitener" out and the color in as we wanted it to be, but as usual, she did a fantastic job. The color is one of Chrisanne's newest for 2011, called Hot Magenta.

Take a look at the bottom of the right sleeve, a pretty idea of Randee's.

The custom jewelry was designed for Randee to work specifically with this gown.  We co-ordinated the shape of the necklace with the shape of the necklline. The earrings were carefully planned to flatter her lovely chin and neck.  We wanted a big, chunky cuff for her bare arm, to call attention to her arm and hand styling, and I think this fits the purpose nicely.

If I told you her age, I promise you, you would fall out of your chair, and never again have a working excuse for a sagging jaw or wobbly underarm.

And speaking of pretty body parts, I think her back looks fantastic as well! And I would say the hours of hair styling paid off beautifully.

A HUGE thank you to Randee for letting me share her gorgeous new gown with you right away.  She won't have a chance to wear it until Twin Cities Open in July, but was kind enough to allow me to debut it here.  I can't wait to see some action shots.  In parting, here are a couple of other projects Randee and I have done together.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

American Beauty (aka "Cruella")

My personal taste in dancewear comes bursting out when I design a gown to be placed on my rack for sale, instead of the custom design for a specific dancer that is the vast majority of my work.  I love texture and print, so I am often motivated by a piece of fabric.  When I found this dot print, I fell in love.  I was really pleased that the fabric was not specifically "polka dot," as that has a kind of sweetness that I don't find appealing.  I immediately wondered if it might be possible to emulate the dot pattern with Swarovski Jet crystals, in varying sizes. 

The gown sketch featured a skirt that dropped from the low hip, but high enough to disguise a wider thigh, and included additional fullness in the shape from the knee down. This is a year of multiple layers of skirt, so I also found some crisp, sheer organza and cut an underskirt that had a pretty mass of flounce, again, from below the knee.  

A simple white, off-the-shoulder leotard with a v-back and long flounced sleeves to emulate the shape of the skirt was cut.  Once assembled, a Jet Swarovski application sample was done and then turned over to Michele, who created a jig to help with randomizing the crystal  pattern.

As a side note, it is amazingly difficult to create randomness.  I just watched an old episode of "Num3ers,"  which is a TV show based on the usefullness of a mathematical genius in solving crimes.  In this episode, the genius asks a group of people to distribute themselves randomly around a room.  They do so.  And then he points out that they are all equidistant from each other, and (of course) proceeds to solve the crime. The same thing tends to happen with random rhinestoning.  It's very hard to accomplish, unless you intentionally plan to put some closer together and some further apart.  But, enough random rambling.

When Michele returned it to me, I asked a client to put on the gown, and immediately saw the sleeve made for too much volume overall and cut it off.  Amazing how differently things look on a person, as opposed to my dress form!  The black and white print had an mildly gray impression, so I knew it would need a bold contrasting color addition.  Being symmetrical, it was so stable as to make one wonder if it COULD move, so I also decided that my contrasting additions would need to provide a sense of potential action for the gown.

A bold red emerged as the best color option, adding a nice drama to the piece. I wanted the gown to be both dramatic and a little playful (in deference to the dots) so I experimented with bows, ruffles and flowers, and the elegance of roses was a favorite, with substance and shine being desirable characteristics.  Samples were made and tested in several different fabircs.  I loved a red silk sample, but when I washed my samples, the silk had the least color stability and ran into the white lycra, so a poly crepe back satin won out. A couple days were spent crafting red roses and buds.   Then I arranged my mountain of roses to create some action in the gown.

We have not hemmed the gown, waiting for an owner to establish the final length, but I have ordered 25 yards of red satin hem binding, so all that delicate organza flounce will eventually be red swirls of  accent at the foot, beneath the dots.  We've made a couple of simple pieces of jewelry, a satin choker and cuff, and a pair of earrings, but have other options in mind as well. Final choices will really depend entirely on the new owner, and the impression they want to create on the floor. We're calling the gown "American Beauty" for the multitude of red roses, but I can't resist giving it a sub-title, "Cruella."  It has a Cruella De Ville quality that makes me smile.  Perhaps I should have added a touch or ermine?

We seem to be in a "White House Black Market" mode over the last few weeks. We are also working on a new Latin gown with a similar color scheme, which I hope to reveal at the Minnesota Star Ball on May 15th.  Will you be there?  Please stop by and try on our new black and white beauties!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Flame and Sunglow for Zhuojing!

Zhuojing stopped in this afternoon to show me her finished gown, and I think she did a wonderful job with the rhinestone embellishment!  Many of my clients who enjoy crafts and have good motor skills save money by applying their own Swarovski crystals.  We usually design with that in mind, so that frustration is kept to a minimum and rewards are maximized. 

In this case, we used stretch lace fabric and a lace applique shoulder detail (a last minute idea of hers, which I think turned out very well) to serve as guides for the stoning, and a random sparkle pattern on the other side of the gown, with a dense edge for definition.  We used Sun AB on the lace and applique, for a vibrant accent and contrast to the Hyacinth on the other side.  I think she did an especially nice job with the bottom of the sleeve edge!

Zhuojing had rented one of my other client's gowns for a recent competition, and that gown became our design starting point.  She wanted her gown to be graceful and sensual, hence the soft georgette skirts.  We felt it was important that she wear a bright color because she is a wonderful dancer, but a very small woman.  To be seen, she needs to wear an eye-catching hue.  Super-saturated neon tones are also really lovely with her Asian skin coloring and thick black hair.

So this Latin gown is Flame Red, and the accents and lace are Sunglow and Mandarin.   I especially like the Mandarin satin binding on the edge of the skirt, which helps to tie the lower half of the gown to the Yin/Yang lace detail on the bodice.

While Zhuojing was in my studio, she let me take these photos, and then we counted the stones she was returning to me, to know how many she had applied to the gown.  When we finalized her invoice I was within $8.18 of our original estimate, which always makes me (and my clients as well, I am sure) very happy!

We also created a cuff bracelet and two armbands of the lace, which were stoned very densely to make them pop as details.  Zhuojing is still finishing the crystal application on her earrings.

Now all that is left is for Zhuojing to compete in her gown and send me a few fantastic photos to add to my gallery!  In the mean time, here's a couple shots of the big picture. 

Zhuojing is a pleasure to work with, and I am really looking forward to a new ballgown this fall!