Though her specialty is custom bridal gowns, Graciana Helm shifted gears to sew masks for family members, friends and first responders during the pandemic. Photos by James Peck.

Sew what: Graciana Helm eagerly tackles any custom design project her clients dream up

The best part of Graciana Helm’s job is making clients happy as she brings their custom designs—sometimes based just on a description or an idea from an inspirational photo—to life. “That’s probably what gets me going every single day,” says Helm. “Being able to see the idea form in someone’s head. Their eyes light up while they’re explaining it and my mind is able to just completely understand what they’re talking about without seeing it.”

 Helm, 24, owns Green Leaf Adornments, a custom design and handmade apparel business. She specializes in custom wedding dresses and clothing but enjoys taking on any sewing project, including alterations.

A bridal consultant at Bustle Bridal Gowns & Accessories, Helm currently works out of her Baton Rouge home designing and creating custom wedding dresses. Inspired by the couture wedding dress fashion label Martina Liana, Helm hopes to have her own bridal gown line one day. Helm is particularly influenced by the Martina Liana line, led by head designer Martine Harris, because the business encourages women to create their own gowns by mixing and matching the label’s line of bridal separates. “Being able to work with the bride and her design is very inspiring to me because I can do the same thing,” Helm says.

Brides send Helm a picture of a dress they love and Helm helps make the dress their own. She turns shopping for fabric into a memorable experience with the bride, her family and friends. Part of the fun is a process called draping, where Helm gets a feel for the garment’s design by pinning or placing the fabric on the bride to creatively experiment with the material.

Creativity has always had a place in Helm’s life. Born and raised in Baton Rouge, she initially dreamed of becoming an interior designer. That changed when she took to sewing quite naturally in a third-grade home economics class. She began quilting and in the fourth grade made a quilt for her teacher who was getting married.

Helm was drawn to the “hands-on creativity” designing and sewing provided. “It’s very intricate work that I love,” Helm says, because it allows her to zone in to a near meditative state while she works. “I’m also a yoga teacher, so it kind of goes hand in hand.”

Working with finely detailed laces and satins, Helm thrives on tailoring wedding-day attire to suit each client.

As a child and young adult, Helm says she bounced from school to school because of a dyslexia diagnosis that made it difficult to concentrate on lessons. She graduated from the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program with her GED at age 17 and studied psychology at Baton Rouge Community College before shifting to study apparel design. She never finished her degree and instead began apprenticing with her aunt, sewing custom costumes for dancers and fitness competitors. The pair also sewed costumes for the Tiger Girls dance team at LSU and the Fabulous Dancing Dolls dance team at Southern University, she says.

“I was working nine-hour days just taking in all the information,” says Helm. She learned so much that she showed her friends, who were enrolled in apparel design and pattern-making classes, real world skills in return for their textbooks.

Helm believes two distinctions about herself have aided her designing and sewing: her dyslexia and the fact she is left-handed. Always trying to create instead of study, she has been forced by dyslexia to analyze and understand things differently than others without the disorder would, she says. As a left-hander, Helm agrees with the notion that lefties are said to be more artistic, out-of-the-box thinkers than right-handed people. Like a mechanical whiz can pick apart a computer, “I can look at fabric, I can look at someone’s whole outfit and know exactly how it’s made,” Helm says.

The name of her business, Green Leaf Adornments, came to Helm in the middle of the night about three years ago. She was drawn to anything to do with nature and, at the time, had dyed her blonde hair green, she says. “I’m also not super religious, but I think that what I have is a gift and that’s why I love giving it to other people, like making them happy with my craft,” Helm says. “So, I thought ‘green leaf’ kind of went together like a blossom that I can then give someone else.”

Helm says she plans to return to college to earn a business degree that will help her develop her own clothing line and company. For now, she is content designing wedding dresses or any custom concept a client may think up. “I love getting challenging but creative requests,” she says. “It gives me the opportunity to grow as a seamstress as well as make people’s ideas come to life.”