I recently had the pleasure to speak to Sarah Day, of Sarah-Day.co.uk, about her beautiful designs. Sarah is a Colchester based dress designer and maker with a flair for the historical touch. As a soon to be plus-size bride myself, I was very intrigued to learn more about what she does.
“How did you get started dressmaking? You are obviously very passionate about your work; where did this start for you?
I had been making my re-enactment costumes for a few years when I decided to run a stall selling costumes at a LARP (live action roleplay) event. It went well, and I really enjoyed designing and making the pieces. It then occurred to me that perhaps I could start up my own business, making costumes and bridal wear. I decided to enrol on a Fashion and Textiles Degree, which lasted four years. My final major project was couture evening wear, a lot of it featured beadwork and embroidery and even a bit of corsetry (sneaked in despite my tutor’s loathing of it) I then set up my business a year later.
Was it hard getting set up?
Things have built up slowly but steadily, to begin with, I turned down some jobs because I felt I didn’t have the skills to do them, as my skills have grown I’ve taken on more and more technically advanced projects and invested in new bits of equipment as I’ve needed them. This year is my busiest yet and I still love it!
You also do historical re-enactment; how does this influence your designs? Would you say you incorporate historical elements into your designs?
I have always felt more confident and pleased with how I look in historical clothing (even if its grubby lower class stuff) than in a lot of modern clothing, I think it has a lot to offer to brides too!
The historical element I incorporate most often is corsetry. It is a great foundation for a dress, smoothing out bumps, supporting and shaping the figure. Corsets are often portrayed in films and the media as uncomfortable or even painful to wear, if a corset fits properly, this is not the case at all. I also love the dramatic and flattering silhouettes that can be created using different types of crinolines, corsets, bustles and other historical foundations.
At a recent fitting, once I’d laced the customer into the foundation layer of her wedding dress, she stood, turning in front of the mirror and said “WOW I didn’t know I was that shape!” that’s the difference a proper corset can make.
I also love historical embellishments. It’s often nearly impossible to faithfully copy historical embroidery within modern budgetary constraints, but it is a great source of inspiration and there is usually a way of creating the same look without spending 400 hours doing it by hand…
What elements would you say set you apart from other bespoke gown designers?
I think because I come from a background of historical costume, I am used to constructing things by hand where necessary, and draping designs straight onto the customer. A lot of dressmakers rely almost completely on modern pattern cutting techniques but because I can use either, it opens up possibilities that aren’t available to others. I also have the experience through re-enactment of wearing corsetry of various sorts for an extended period of time – all day (6-8 hours), every day for a week or so, which gives me more of an understanding of how important it is that it fits correctly.
What has been the most exciting dress you’ve made to date, bridal or otherwise?
I loved working on my degree collection, it was exciting realising what I could do and seeing it all come together. But I think my favourite dress to have worked on was the one I made for my friend Caroline. She wanted a wedding dress that had a bit of colour and some quirky crafty details. She also wanted embroidery. Since the wedding was vintage and craft themed I hit upon the idea of using old hand embroidered tablecloths and other bits and bobs of vintage textiles. It was like putting together a 3D jigsaw, but I loved every minute of it. The dress was totally unique and had some lovely little details such as the drawn thread-work shamrock, for her Irish heritage, the Bride and Grooms names, and the date embroidered round the hem. Also, the lace they bought together in Gozo where the groom had proposed around the neck. Seeing her face when she tried it on for the first time is the reason I love this job.
Many plus size brides find it very tough buying their wedding dress, and you hear many horror stories from bridal boutiques. Talk me through your own journey with a plus size bride – how would they approach you and the process for buying a dress from you?
I’ve heard the horror stories too; one customer had been literally refused entry to the shop because of her size which is just inexcusably rude. She was understandably upset, and her mum was furious. Customers usually contact me by phone or email, this lady was almost apologetic, “The problem is…. I’m a big girl.” It made me angry that she had been made to feel like that on what should have been an exciting and enjoyable day!
My first job is usually to reassure the bride that what they want is possible and that their size or shape is not a problem – that often starts before we even meet. Next is to look it the type of dress the bride has her heart set on, and any pictures or ideas she has and decide how to begin. I usually take measurements, then go away and make a pattern and a fabric mock-up called a toile. This allows me to fine tune the design and allows the bride to see roughly what it will look like. From then it is a matter of choosing fabrics and starting the actual dress.
What extra structural elements are there to a plus-sized bridal gown?
It depends on the dress, but generally any corsetry element will need to be properly constructed with metal boning (not the flimsy plastic stuff used in a lot of commercial gowns) Any crinoline (petticoat/hoop skirt) will need to be made to order and there may be added features such as wide skin-coloured straps to smooth out bumps and add support. The whole point of a crinoline is that it is so wide, it makes your waist look small, so the crinoline has to be in proportion to the waist size of the wearer to create the right effect. Both my parents are engineers, so I think that is part of how I look at corsetry – its clever stuff!
How large a role does corsetry play in getting the most beautiful shapes – and is there any particular style of corset you favour for this?
The type of corset depends on the shape I want to achieve. Personally, I love the Tudor style of bodice which shapes the body into a cone, but the hourglass Victorian style is probably what I use most.
What would you say the best part of the dressmaking process is?
I love when the dress is really coming together. Going from a pile of fabrics to an actual garment. But my favourite moment has to be when the bride tries it on for the first time. Usually, there’s a lot of delighted giggling and swishing of the skirt.
If you had any advice for someone looking to buy their very first custom made dress, what would you say?”
Do some research. I can advise on what is likely to suit your shape, and how it will have to be made, which fabric will work best etc, but it is a lot easier if you have some pictures to show me. Even if you only like the sleeve, or the beading or the colour or some other tiny element of it, it all helps me to see exactly what you’re after so that I can design a dress that is perfect for you.
Often brides have lots of images of things they like but have no idea how to combine them into one dress, or even if what they want is possible. Don’t worry about that- bringing all those ideas together is one of my favourite bits of the job!
Sarah Day can be found at: