Katrina came to me looking for a wedding dress fit for the English Summer. She wanted a beautiful hand painted wedding dress with flowers in a mix of colours (but not pink). We designed the perfect canvas, a bespoke wedding dress in layered white taffeta and silk organza.
We started with a base of some exquisite embellished tulle from my favourite supplier Michael’s Bridal Fabrics. They are a wonderful family run firm in Kent. I’ve been buying fabric from them since the beginning of my career. The fabric has silk chiffon flowers cut from printed silk in subtle colours. The flowers sewn to a tulle base and embellished with sequins and pearls. I worked through a series of painting tests in marabu silk paints for Katrina’s hand painted wedding dress. I trialed different dilutions and colour combinations to find the perfect palette.
The design and making of Katrina’s dress
Then I began building Katrina’s dress. My process always begins with measuring the client. This means I can create a unique paper pattern to use to cut all the fabric panels to size. First I make the shape up in cheap fabric as a ‘toile’ to try on. This enables us to check the fit and style at the first fitting. Once Katrina confirmed she was happy I begin work in the real fabrics.
We used white taffeta behind a layer of silk organza. The dress had a fitted and boned bodice, supportive for the bust. I designed a pretty sweetheart neckline with integral straps. I made her dress with a natural waistline and with the panels cut ‘princess line’. ‘Princess line’ describes when dress is cut in one long piece from shoulder to hem for each panel. I created over 60 individual buttons and loops in matching fabric to use for closing the back of Katrina’s dress. We made sure the skirt was full, to feature as much of the hand painted beauty as possible. The folds of skirt were supported with layers of stiff netting as a removable petticoat.
Creating a hand painted wedding dress
Once the dress was finished and fitting perfectly the task of painting and applique could begin. First I laid out the tulle with chiffon flowers on a large table. The painting process took days. I painted each flower individually with either blue, red or yellow, in watercolour flowing shades that mixed organically in the fabric. I also added two shade of green the the leaves and stalks.
With the plain dress on a dress stand I placed the painted flower tulle over the top. Next I began pinning the position for each leaf and flower. After working out the placement I cut round each frond with little scissors. Finally I hand sewed the elements onto the silk organza layer.
Finishing touches on the hand painted wedding dress included a blue flower and leaves on Katrina’s shoulder and more painted flowers with her wrist loop, hidden in the lining.
Creating the hand painted wedding dress
Above: colour tests on the embellished tulle.
This was the first try, the feedback from Katrina meant I layer watered down the paints for a more subtle palette. I also changed the shade of red we were using to avoid the pink tones she wanted to avoid.
The lace before and after hand painted colour was added.
The lace was made with silk chiffon shapes and machine embroidery on a delicate tulle backing. It was embellished with pearls and crystals
Marabu Silk Paints
I used five shades of silk paint and mixed them to create a unique set of shades for Katrina’s wedding dress. The paint soaks into the silk chiffon and moves around, carried on the water. It’s a very organic process and not one where the paint stays in one place after being placed. Being confident with the materials and how they are going to work is essential.
The finished dress ready for embellishment
Once I had finished making the base dress, which itself took over 45 hours, I was ready to add the painted flowers. Katrina requested that the net petticoat layers used to support the shape of her full skirt were made a separate piece. This is practical for storage as well as enabling a change of style during your wedding day by adding or removing the extra fullness.
I draped the painted lace over the dress on a mannequin and began working out the placement for the flowers and fronds. We wanted them to grow upwards from the hem in an organic, balanced but not symmetrical arrangement.
Here I am part way through the process with pieces tacked (temporary stitching) to the silk organza. The tulle that needs to be cut away from the lace is still present and there are places that need more flowers added.
The fine hem on the organza layer is called a roll hem or baby hem to be as light and tiny as possible.
The finished hand painted wedding dress with all it’s flower sewn on. As a final touch I suggest to the bride we add a flower on her shoulder, which she loved!
The train laid out, and hooked up or ‘bustled’ for dancing. I also added a wrist loop she could use to lift the skirt herself. I always make wrist loops look pretty with a little trim or a blue ribbon.
Pictures from Katrina’s final fitting, she was so delighted!