Nora Meets the Maker: Brooks Ann Camper
by Kollabora Follow

posted 4 years ago

It takes a fair amount of confidence matched with humility to take on the often emotional task of crafting someone's custom wedding dress and when Brooks Ann Camper saw an underserved market for one-of-a-kind bridal gowns that didn't fit the standard cookie cutter mold, she jumped in with both feet.

She strives to help brides look and feel their best on their big day, and we think there's no better way to put your talents to use than to make others feel amazing!

My name is Brooks Ann Camper, but you maybe know me as a custom wedding dressmaker at Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture or the instructor for the online course Skirt Skills.  My DIY weapons of choice are my pinnable-top tables, clear gridded rulers, my thimble, and a steam iron.

When I am looking for inspiration, I take a hike with my coonhound Dignan or look through all the images that I’ve curated on Pinterest.

After a long day of making things I like to take a long hot bubble bath in my clawfoot tub.  Is there anything better?

I’ve always been a maker, but I first learned to sew when I was a senior in college.  My first sewing project was to make the workhouse orphans costumes for a production of “Oliver!”.  I tell the whole story in this video.

The one thing that drives my creativity is noticing a need. I started making custom wedding dresses because I didn’t see anyone offering options for brides who weren’t young, thin, and looking for a white strapless dress.  I wanted to work with brides who had unique figures and unique senses of style.  I started teaching custom sewing methods because no one seemed to be teaching the process for how to make custom-made clothes, the way I learned and love to sew. Both my wedding dresses and my sewing classes were created out of a need to celebrate and flatter the individual.

When I think about starting a new project I do a lot of research.  I collect lots and lots of ideas and options. Then I walk away and let it all simmer for a bit…I’m then able to eliminate a lot of ideas and narrow my thoughts into something clever and cohesive.  I’m cautious at first and then I just jump right in. I like to take my time and leave lots of room for ideas to continually evolve.

The best part about running my own business is also the hardest: I’m a one-woman-show!  Working for yourself and being responsible for every detail of a business is challenging, rewarding, and sometimes overwhelming.

I started my business by chance.  Like most major decisions in my life, I just followed the path that was seemingly being laid out in front of me.  I never really planned any of this.  I just listen for opportunity and my journey unfolds.

When I think about women wearing my bridal wear, I feel honored to have been part of their love story. Many of my brides have been turned away by bridal salons or other dressmakers just for being themselves.  It is a true joy to see them looking and feeling their best on their Big Day.  After I’ve spent so many hours designing and creating (and telling the story on my blog), the wedding day is just exhilarating. I always feel like my baby is walking down the aisle.

My advice to anyone looking to start their own business is go with your strengths and don’t conform to what others are doing.  You can’t be your best without being yourself.  What makes you different is what is interesting.

If I wasn’t a custom dressmaker and teacher I would love to do restoration work for museums. Whether it’s restoring historical garments, or paintings, or picture frames, I think I’d love doing the fine detail work and getting nerdy on exactly how things were made in the past.

The first thing I do when I wake up is have breakfast with my husband and take the hounddog for a walk.

The movie that can cheer me out of any bad mood is “Eagle Vs. Shark”. The song that can cheer me out of any bad mood is “The Woman Who Was Also A Mongoose” by The Dead Milkmen.  

My favorite word is couture.  I love that it expresses something that is hand crafted and custom-made specifically for and inspired by an individual.

My least favorite word is couture, when it is misused.  There is nothing couture about mass-produced sweat pants, no matter what is written on the butt of them.

Making makes me feel driven.  It is a powerful thing to be able to take an idea and turn it into something tangible and beautiful.

I get out of a creative rut by uncluttering other bits and clearing to-do lists.  Organizing the studio or the fridge or actually finishing that procratination-worthy task seems to somehow give creative ideas a new space to be.  

I most relate to my husband.  He’s a talented designer, maker, and problem solver.  We are quite a team.

My favorite designers are from fashion history.  Christian Dior and Madeleine Vionnet top the list.

My favorite thing about making is the challenge.  When you make things that are one-of-a-kind and custom-made you are venturing into the unknown.  I never know exactly how I will get to the end, I just take it step by step, problem-solve, and figure it out as I go.  The custom process is a fun puzzle!

To me, DIY means always learning.  It also means that you don’t have to ever rely on someone else’s work in order to express yourself.   You get to forget about sizes and about trends and just make.

The first wedding dress I ever made was for my (now) sister-in-law.  The proposal happened in front of her whole family on Thanksgiving.  On the spot, I said that I could make her wedding dress. She said ‘yes’ (to me and her groom)!  Not long after another sister-in-law got engaged and I made her (maternity) wedding dress.  Then I got engaged and made my own wedding dress…  Then someone invited to my wedding asked me to make theirs…  A small business emerged and I’ve been making custom wedding dresses ever since.

Three words that describe me are short (I’m less than 5’ tall), cheerful, and clever.

Three words that I strive to describe my work are comfortable, personal, and unforgettable.

Best creative advice I ever received is “say yes and you’ll figure it out afterward.”

I never leave the house without my smile.  Cheesy I know, but I like sporting a positive attitude and laughing my way through most days.  

I’ve lived a lot places, but North Carolina is the only place I’ve ever moved back to.  Hillsborough is a secret gem of a small town.  Stop by sometime and I’ll show you around!

One fact about me that’s embarrassingly awesome is I’ve spent much of my adult life in dirty overalls. My day job up until recently was creating one-of-a-kind museum quality picture frames.  Hand carving… gold gilding…  I do love a dying art!

My DIY secret weapons are mockups, horsehair hems, and underlining.

The biggest DIY mistake I ever made was listening to unsolicited advice, leading to self-doubt. When you are doing something really interesting, others tend to want to get in and offer their advice.  You know what is best for you.  Try to never let someone else’s ideas of “what you should be doing” slow you down.

My next projects are the February session of my Intro to Custom Sewing eCourse Skirt Skills and a seersucker summer wedding dress for a beach bride.

Discussion 6

  • Brooks Ann Camper commented 4 years ago

    Featuring photography by the fantastically talented Shane Snider  

  • Rebecca Walker Jordan commented 4 years ago

    Hi..I am one of Brooks Ann's students and let me just say she is an incredible lady! I look forward to my one-on-one sewing lessons. Her enthusiasm and love of the art coupled with her teaching ability to make complex things simple makes the lessons absolutely fun.   I usually can't wait to go home and start sewing. 

    Brooks Ann Camper replied 4 years ago

    Awww....  Thanks so much Rebecca!  I absolutely love working with you too!

  • Ruthy S commented 4 years ago

    This is so inspiring! Especially the thoughts on self doubt and going with your strengths. This is just what I needed to read right now :)

  • Brooks Ann Camper commented 4 years ago

    Thanks for featuring me!  I am loving Kollabora and hope to share more Projects soon.

    TheMissLinds replied 4 years ago

    We can't wait!

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