I take back almost everything I've ever said about bridal gowns being overpriced. If there's one thing the adornment stage of this process has taught me it's that, at least for intricate gowns, you are actually paying for the hours a seamstress poured into the garment and the fit. The finger-numbing LABOR, not the fabric or the notions.
Of course it doesn't have to take super long. There are a thousand levels of detail-orientedness between the simple white BHDLN gown below ($800) and the meticulously-feathered and mostly handsewn Chanel gown below ($50,000+), for example. I think both are beautiful, but the one on the right is exceptional. BHLDN probably makes a hundred copies of the simple white dress for dirt cheap every day, essentially flipping each unit for hundreds of dollars; whereas Chanel made one insanely detailed feather gown that probably took weeks of labor, part art and part advertisement, never really intending to sell it to people like us. I hate that and I love it.
In my case the hours have gone toward researching techniques, practicing them on scrap fabrics, making tons of mistakes, and extra slow hand-stitching distracted by Atlanta and reruns of The Office.
For instance, it took me about 6 hours to attach one continuous strand of horsehair braid to the bottom of my gown. I decided to do this after I went a little crazy at the library and rented 5 books on advanced finishing techniques, which lead to an obsession Chanel, which sparked an interest in 'couture." I assumed 'couture' meant "trendy and expensive." Really it refers more specifically to garments created by a high-fashion designer (a 'couturier') for a single client, made exactly to her proportions and sewn almost entirely by hand. If one boob is bigger than the other, they actually draft a gown with a lopsided bust and hand-stitch the fabric to fit. If a couturier envisions a dress made from iridescent insect exoskeletons sewn one-by-one to blue organza - something I actually saw in one of those books - they have the skills and resources to make just that. I find it hypnotizing:
But back to my plebeian hem. According to one of the books I binge-read over the weekend, one common difference between mass-produced gowns and couture gowns is the hem finish. Couture gowns often have very structured hems stabilized with nylon netting called "horsehair braid" that is handsewn to the inside bottom edge of a garment. The authors insisted it revolutionizes any gown so I gave it a shot, herringbone-stitching 8 yards of horsehair braid to the hem of my gown with silk thread.
To me the result is barely perceptible, but I spent so long on the damn thing I refuse to admit it was probably a waste of time...
Then on to the next skill. I also read that rather than adorn gowns with full panels of lace, many couturiers cut tiny segments from lace panels and handsew those to the dress with silk thread, making their own motifs. So I've started the humbling task of roughly tacking individual lace flowers to the gown with invisible thread. Then I'll need to permanently stitch around each flower with silk thread so it lays flat.
Right now I'm averaging 15 minutes per flower and the little bastards keep falling off before I can attach them permanently. Fellow seamstresses, am I doing this wrong? Help.