What is a designer dressmaker?

dress designer, dressmaker, evening dresses, wedding dressess

It is a bit of a shame, but about half of the enquiries I receive from the general public are of no use to the customer nor to me.


Well, I have spent years writing and re-writing my website www.annefontenoy.co.uk to give people as much information as possible, without overburdening them, about what I do and how I do it.  But sad to say, although I try to spell out that I am a designer who makes her own designs, I still receive a lot of enquiries from people who think that I am just  a dressmaker.

Before there were websites, I used to write little leaflets to give to customers in the hope that they would understand what I do.

By just a dressmaker, I mean someone, female or male, who sews dresses that have been designed by another designer, sometimes from commercial patterns that can be bought in a fabric shop.  Or the enquiry may be from another designer who is looking for someone to simply sew up their designs for which they have either made the patterns themselves, or the designer will have asked a pattern cutter to make up dress patterns according to the design drawings of the designer.  And sometimes another designer will contact me and ask me to make the patterns for them as well as sew up their designs, which I do not really do…….

But a designer dressmaker makes the dress making patterns for and sews up their own designs.

When I started my design practice, I had a few designs made up and as my business grew, I gathered up photos and sketches of my designs that I made during the course of my work.

Most customers just look at the samples, photos or sketches of my designs and I base what I design for them around the clothes they look at during an appointment.  Either they order one of my designs, as is, either in the same fabric or in something else that suits the design, with perhaps a few tweaks to the design to adapt it to the needs of the customer, or I sit and sketch out ideas with them, showing the client lots of fabric swatches as well, until I came up with a preliminary working sketch for the design.

Whether my clients want a design made to order from my collection, which is now around 40 sample garments including wedding gowns, evening dresses, special occasion clothes and just dresses, jackets, skirts, blouses and camisoles, or if they would like a really unique bespoke dress, then I can either start to make the dress from the actual fabric of the dress, if they are pretty sure they are happy with the design, or I can make a toile.

A toile is a mock up of the design to test the style and the fit before cutting out the dress from the actual fabric.  Traditionally a toile is made from calico, which is very off-white in colour and stiff.  So it does not suit all styles.  In which case, I will use an economically priced fabric or fabrics, which is/are similar to the weight and drape of the material to be used for the actual dress.

For the first fitting the garment is just tacked with large stitches.  These are called tacking stitches or basting.  This is so that the customer has a rough idea of what the style of the dress will look like and I then adjust the fit at a fitting.  I cut the clothes too long and usually with generous seams so that there is ease for the fit and adjustments of the style as the dress is being made up.  If the seams were sewn properly at the first stage then there is a strong possibility that the fabric would be marked if the seam needed to be undone to adjust the fit.

Some makers just use a sewing machine, others use a machine and hand sewing but I do all the sewing by hand so that again, there is as little damage to the fabric as possible, particularly as I make a lot of silk dresses, but hand sewing also gives a particularly soft finish to garments and it gives a lot of control when sewing together intricate pattern pieces.

This, very briefly is what a designer dressmaker is.  It does not mean a dressmaker who makes up designs created by other designers, but someone who sews up their own designs for which the maker has also made their own patterns.


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