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The Making of a Dress, Part 1: Ideation & Sourcing

by Emily DeLong

16 May 2016

This is the first part of our series on what goes on behind the scenes to turn an idea of a dress into a finished product.

First comes an idea. It may come while looking at something on the internet or in a catalog, or it may come after seeing someone walking down the sidewalk, but most of the time it comes to me out of the blue when I’m least thinking of it. An A-line paneled minidress with short sleeves in wool crepe, I will think, and the process has begun.

First I will sketch out my idea. A lot of these ideas aren’t used, but I try to sketch out everything I think of just in case I find a winner.

This is a sketch I made while designing the Aster Dress (my drawing skills still need some work!). At this point, I knew I wanted a lightweight, soft, and gauzy fabric, but I had not yet found the blue-and-white plaid fabric that ended up in the final dress. The design of the dress did not change much over time, though — the only real change was the addition of a set of bust darts originating from the side seams for better fit.

Below is a really early sketch of the Daisy Dress, before I knew I wanted to use striped fabric and while it still had a pleated skirt instead of a circle skirt:

I had dreamed up that V-shaped bodice a few weeks after seeing something similar on a vintage dress. It took me several more weeks to realize the best way to accentuate such an unusual bodice design was with stripes. Once I had decided on stripes, I knew that the skirt had to be a circle skirt, because stripes do such interesting things on circle skirts:

Notice on the Daisy Dress how at the very center of the skirt, the stripes are horizontal, but as they approach the side seams, they become vertical. So neat!

A lot of what comes out of the ideation phase will not make it to a finished product, or it will go through so many changes before it becomes a finished product that it is hard to see how it could have possibly evolved in such a way. (You should have seen what the Cosmos Dress looked like back in February! I fortunately do not have any pictures. It did not look good.)

I will usually have a loose idea in mind (weight, drape, hand) of which kind of fabric I want for each design. The big challenge is finding that fabric. Sourcing exclusively sustainable fabrics, compounded with the fact that Margu is currently buying very small quantities of fabric and making limited runs, compounded with the fact that the sourcing world is very secretive, makes the process challenging. I may find the perfect fabric, only to find that I need to order a minimum of 1,000 yards, or I may find the perfect pattern, only to find that the fabric is made of polyester (a big no-no in the sustainable fashion world), or I may find a fabric that is perfect except for the color, or I may be looking for a certain type of fabric (say, double gauze) that I cannot find a sustainable, high-quality version of. I once read that fashion designers spend upwards of 85% of their time sourcing, and in my experience, that is pretty close to correct.

The first fabrics I sourced were the green striped cotton/linen fabric seen on the Daisy Dress above and a lightweight blue plaid cotton fabric, both of which were handwoven in India:

I then discovered another handwoven fabric, this time in a nubby, black-and-cream striped pattern, that I knew I had to incorporate somehow:

The next item I found was my long-sought-after double gauze, which I hand-dyed using fiber-reactive dyes and used as the lining in all the lined SS16 pieces, as well as for the main fabric in the Honeysuckle Dress:

All during this time, I was working on creating a custom print for the Spring/Summer 2016 collection. It took a lot of watercolor painting, a lot of Photoshop, and many tries to get it right. This is an early version of what became the fabric for the Peony Dress, Balsam Dress, and Dahlia Skirt:

Once I had finalized my designs and sourced the perfect fabrics, I was ready to move on to the next step, featured in Part 2 of this series: patternmaking and grading.