After spending several years stitching wedding dresses, Alicyn Wright decided pattern companies didn't give customers what they wanted.
Every bride she met wanted bustles or bows or elegant lace insets on the sleeves. They wanted details, she says. The Utahns Wright sewed for couldn't find those fine details in any of the popular pattern books.So Wright began altering patterns. Eventually, she says, "I started charging people to design patterns for them."
That's when she decided to submit a portfolio of her original sketches and photos to McCall's Patterns.
Now the Salt Lake woman's patterns are a main part of McCall's books - and brides across the country do the hesitation step in "Alicyn Exclusives."
Wright began her fashion design career in junior high school. "I sewed maternity clothes for the ladies in my neighborhood," she says. Fit wasn't too important in those first gowns. Now, with wedding dresses, Wright says fit is everything.
In 1982, Wright graduated from Brigham Young University in clothing and textiles. In college she had tough professors, she says. Several of them had worked in New York design houses.
She made her first wedding gown, for a roommate, when she was at BYU. Wright laughs now when she thinks of the amateurish dress. Her second effort was her own bridal gown.
Wright did custom sewing at night during the first few years of her marriage. "Lots of choir robes and cheerleader outfits," she says - and a gradually increasing number of wedding dresses. "Two or three then four wedding dresses a year."
Her husband Cameron, who always wanted to own a business, kept asking her what she'd choose if she could own any kind shop. She kept saying she'd like a custom wedding store.
But she didn't feel the time was right to launch a new career.
Cameron prevailed. The Wrights opened a shop called "A Bride Beautiful" in 1986.
They carried fabric and lace - for brides who wanted to sew their own dresses - and a small number of custom gowns which sold out faster than Wright could make more. After four months, she says, she started carrying manufactured dresses, too.
Before the store was a year old, the Wrights doubled their space. Wright says 1987 was the year she burned out. "I had two babies, a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old.
"I hired three seamstresses and we'd work all day in the store, go home and have dinner, then meet at my house and sew from 7 until midnight." The next year they moved to a new shop and doubled their space again.
And just about the time the workload at the shop was getting under control, Wright decided to approach McCall's.
Would a young woman from the West feel shy about showing her sketches to a big New York design firm? Why should she?
"Too many people are afraid to try," Wright says. Her father taught her there was no shame in failing, the shame was in not trying.
"McCall's has 900 patterns in their books," she explains. "They only add four new wedding patterns every year. There is no way they can research all the bridal design items in the market." Wright's life, by contrast, consists of unrelenting bridal market research.
Two months after she sent off a packet of sketches, Wright got a call inviting her to New York.
She and Cameron went back to McCall's hoping to sell them a children's party dress pattern and a veil pattern as well as a bridal pattern or two. They were successful all the way around. McCall's issued four new wedding dress patterns in 1991. Three of them were Wright's.
And her children's pattern that came out in November is one of the best-selling patterns.
She laughs when she remembers the look of surprise on one customer's face when the woman learned that the person who was selling her fabric and lace had also designed the McCall's pattern she planned to use.
As much as she enjoys making wedding dresses, Wright says, she also loves encouraging people to make their own. If your mother has sewn for you all your life and she wants to make your wedding dress, Wright says, let her do it. "Anybody who knows the basics of sewing can do it. If they just learn a few little tricks. It's the details that make dresses look right or look homemade. I help a lot of mothers through it. The dresses turn out beautiful.
"Wedding gowns aren't hard to sew. They're just scary," concludes Alicyn Wright.
Muslin fitting shell keeps measurements in check
Here are some tips on making a special wedding dress:
1. Fit is most important: Says Alicyn Wright, "Even if you sew beautifully you should probably make a muslin fitting shell. So you can check the measurements."
2. "Lace is going to be your biggest expense," says Wright. "A lot of people look at a $1,000 dress and want to make it for $100. It can't be done."
You can reproduce a simple design for a lot less money, she says. But a beaded, lace-covered dress? The best you can hope for is to save some money by making it yourself - plus have the joy of creating it.
3. "You can cut your lace." In fact, Wright says, one of her main goals in life is to teach women to cut the lace and make interesting patterns or applicques on a skirt, sleeve, or bodice. Don't just lay lace on in one big boring piece.
4. Strive for sewing consistency. If you hire someone to sew bridesmaid dresses for your wedding, have that person make all the bridesmaids' dresses. If five different people make their dress, you will have five very different looking dresses, she says.