When a young girl enters my studio I am both excited and also filled with a sense of responsibility. The excitement is contagious, seeing eyes get wider at the sight of sparkling fabric and tentative smiles when encouraged to try on a dress. The sense of responsibility comes with knowing that if I’m able to listen and observe closely enough, I can hopefully figure out what fabrics and details of her dress will bring to light her secret wishes.
Making a custom gown for someone is a delicate process. What a child is initially drawn to is not always what is going to fill up their heart with pleasure when they see the finished product. So I like to encourage the girls to explore, take their time looking around, let them touch and feel the fabrics, encourage them to try on what samples I have about. It’s usually pretty clear when they find something that speaks to them, they light up in a way that is authentic and beautiful.
The other side of this equation is in my own tastes and feelings. I’ve learned that if I’m not inspired by someone’s choice then it’s very difficult for me to design a gown that ends up looking great. Which is why on these custom projects I’m pretty strict in that the customer can pick usually only one element, be that a certain color, type of fabric, style feature etc. This allows me to have a broader range of creativity while working on the design, while I always keep that girl’s tastes and preferences in mind.
My most recent project has been a real delight. When my friend arrived with her girls they were all very excited and the girls were quite busy looking at all that I have here. (It’s quite a little girl heaven with plenty of my princess dresses, old dance costumes, and shiny and sparkly fabric galore!). L, who’s dress I was to make, is a very soulful girl. She can be quiet and reserved but is a keen observer who says much more with her eyes than she sometimes speaks aloud. She was very reverent and careful in trying on dresses and handling the fabrics, but big warm smiles told me she was excited.
And after carefully considering all the options, Miss L really surprised me. Bypassing all the glitzier glittered and sequined fabrics available, she selected a delicate pink and white striped silk chiffon. It was a fabric I had bought a few years ago for women’s clothing and hadn’t considered it for my princess gowns. But as she held it up I could see how lovely it would be. I was pretty inspired so I pulled out some boxes of trim and L and I pawed through them together. She was drawn to a gold and white braid trim and I immediately loved the sophisticated mix of colors she had selected.
We also spent some time talking about how the dresses are made and how I keep track of projects. L had keen questions and I think was really absorbing it all. I love it when children surprise me, as they always do. How wonderful that an almost six year old girl would be so interested in how things work and not just dazzled by pretty dresses.
I was pumped for a couple days on how exciting it was to have L and her sister in my studio. I work alone for the most part, which I enjoy, but having this usually solitary space infused with their enthusiasm, wit and joy really elevated my mental state. And it really helped reinforce for me that what I’m doing is not just about creating pretty things, but allowing both myself and my customers a chance to delve into our imaginations, identify things in life that spark an inner delight and also to feel the deep satisfaction in making and owning something that comes from someone’s own two hands.
I think even small children feel differently when they put on something that was made by hand and made lovingly. I’ve seen them pull themselves up a bit taller, their movements a bit more precise. There is a tangible magic in knowing you are in possession of something that took time and effort to make. And I think giving children the honor of owning things that are valuable and trusting them to care for them is important. Life is not a throw away exercise and providing opportunities for little ones to see that they are trusted to have special things teaches good lessons.
And the fact that the gowns are not made to resemble a specific character, but rather are made from things that inspire the girls themselves, it opens up channels of imagination and exploration for them as they play. It allows them explore their individuality and celebrate those parts of themselves that they find beautiful. There is no one recipe for being lovely and feeling good about one’s self, that’s why each garment I work on is different from the next. It’s a wonderful way to be able to celebrate girlhood, each girl in her own unique way.
The dress is almost finished now and I can’t wait for her to see it!
(Read my next post to hear how it all turned out)