Note:Amy Ly (formerly Amy Kunkel-Patterson) of Gather Design Co. in Seattle created the unforgettable SUNFLOWER GOWN for American Flowers Week in 2017. She recently posted about how she produced this exquisite floral garment, along with her recipe and techniques. Here is an excerpt and link to her full post and the full gallery of Anna Peters’ beautiful images.
The Sunflower Gown
I am the kind of person who always says yes to an outlandish idea, even before I know how I might make it happen. This dress came from one of those conversations, that went something like this:
Amy: Oh, that’s exciting! What do you have in mind?
Debra: Well, I am wanting something really bold. I’d love to take what Susan McCleary did last year with botanical fashion and commission a designer to create something even bigger, like a whole dress made out of sunflowers. I want it to feel like classic Americana, but with a high end design.
Amy: Great, I’ll do it.
Debra: Wait, are you serious? Do you know how to create a dress out of flowers?
Amy: Not yet, but I will soon!
From this initial conversation in mid-August, we compared calendars and talked to the Seattle Wholesale Grower’s Market about when sunflowers would be at their peak, settling on a day in early September. Debra graciously let me choose the photographer for the project, and Anna Peters was the first person I called. I could tell she was skeptical when I explained the idea of a dress made out of sunflowers (I fear she was picturing something like this), but we’d worked together before and she trusted my idea and agreed.
[Note: this is an expanded bonus interview conducted for Florists’ Review June 2017]
Amy Kunkel-Patterson of Seattle’s Gather Design Co. once tried to convince a bridal studio to let her sew flowers onto a wedding gown for a styled shoot. They didn’t go for it, so faced with designing a gown out of classic American sunflowers, she jumped at the chance.
“I’ve been wanting to build a dress out of flowers, but there wasn’t a wedding gown designer around who would let me sew flowers on a very expensive dress,” she says.
Amy is the first to admit that working with sunflowers wouldn’t have been her first choice. “Most designers, especially designers who do weddings, would probably have the response I had: ‘Oh. Sunflowers. A big yellow thing with a dark center. Who wants that for their wedding?'”
Ever the researcher, Amy began to discuss her floral options with the staff and farmers of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market. “They showed me all the options. Beyond yellow, there are varieties in the brown palette, and ones where the petals start a little bit yellow in the center and then fade to mostly brown. And then, they offered me a bunch of the burgundy and plum sunflowers. I’ll admit, I didn’t know there were plum-colored sunflowers before I did this project.”
The elevated palette allowed her to incorporate other seasonal field flowers, such as wine-colored amaranth and ‘Sahara Mix’ rudbeckia, which echoes the sunflower shape but on a softer, smaller scale.
When I saw the different shades and variations of the sunflowers, it was an ‘a-ha’ moment for me. And I knew this didn’t have to be just a solid yellow sunflower gown, but one with yellow fading into other colors to create something very elegant.
Having learned to sew and build things as a kid, the idea of working with unconventional tools wasn’t daunting. It’s these skills that have served Amy well as a wedding designer working on large-scale installations.
With the idea of a dress design in her mind’s eye, and with a willing model, flower farmer Kelly Uhlig of Sonshine Flower Farm in Langley, Wash., Amy began to fit a two-piece garment that would serve as the basis for her gown. “I actually started with a dress that I bought at Goodwill and cut down to make a bodice with a plunging neckline and a really open back. The skirt is a flat king bed sheet draped over two types of chicken wire and a bit of tulle, with a belt that fastens on the inside of the skirt so you don’t see it as it cinches around her waist.”
Amy jokes that at times she felt more like a builder than a floral designer because of the amount of metal involved, including a section of 1/2-inch grid hardware cloth. “The entire gown weighed about 65 pounds,” she points out.
The skirt’s wire foundation was necessary because of the heavy flower heads, more than 500 altogether. “I didn’t want the train to collapse so I had to create a physical structure to hold it out.”
Because of the sheer quantity of flower heads, Amy’s original idea of sewing each botanical piece to the fabric base wasn’t practical. “It would have taken far too long and the flowers would have wilted by the time I finished,” she says. Tubes and tubes of cold Oasis glue did the job, however — at least one-half gallon of glue by Amy’s estimate. “I didn’t start attaching the flowers until late afternoon the day before our photo shoot. Then I attached the rest of the sunflowers, the amaranth and rudbeckia on the day of the shoot. I’m so glad that my friend Erin Shackelford of Camas Design volunteered to wrap the little grass pieces into tassels to edge the hem of the skirt.”
Other finishing details include single threads of burgundy amaranth that drape beautifully over the model’s waist and hips, speckled turkey feathers collected from a local farm and a charming hair piece that echoes the botanicals use for the dress. “I’m just thrilled with how it turned out,” Amy says.
Seattle Wholesale Growers Market, the innovative farmer-to-florist wholesale cooperative based in Seattle, has stepped up its support for American Flowers Week 2017, today announcing its sponsorship of one of five Floral Style Fashion shoots.
SWGMC is excited about the opportunity to support and sponsor American Flowers Week. This creative campaign encourages consumers to think about where their cut flowers are grown, and brings about more awareness of the importance of our domestic flower farms, and the challenges they face.
— Molly Sadowsky, Market Manager
We’ve assembled a talented “dream team” behind the Prairie-inspired floral look, which will be depicted in a pastoral setting that reflects American floral agriculture at its best!
Inspiration board featuring NW-grown flowers from Jello Mold Farm, Everyday Flowers, Sonshine Farm and Rain Drop Farm.
We can’t wait to share this imagery with you! But it will be embargoed until American Flowers Week 2017 — June 28-July 4, 2017.
Get in touch if you’d like to learn more about our Floral Style Fashions — we’re producing 5 in all so there’s still time to become a sponsor! I’m at debra (at) slowflowers (dot) com (firstname.lastname@example.org).