Archive | May, 2011

DONE- The Jessica

4 May

I flew out to Boston a few weeks ago to meet Jessica and do first fittings, and then to go fabric shopping with the bride and her mother, who is also a seamstress.  After spending a day scouting both Boston and Cambridge for fabric stores, we went to her parent’s hotel room for another fitting, which you can see below, complete with wrinkles and visible underpants.

Jessica is  basically a living dress form – tall, skinny skinny skinny, and with broad shoulders, just like a clothes hanger. The muslin that I created for her had to be taken in almost 7 inches, but the dress we designed turned out to be perfect for her athletic build.

Because I did all the final construction in one marathon burst of sewing, and because I tend to get both loopy and really creative when I am tired, I put a lot of little touches into Jessica’s dress – There is a tiny piece of my wedding dress sandwiched between layers of antique lace on the underslip (for something old, and for a happy marriage), and the seaming on the inside is finished in blue mattress ticking (for something blue, and because it was such a cool material).

Shantung sash, mattress ticking detail, and the silk underslip

A layer of ruffles was attached to the bottom of both layers of the slip so that she would have more movement and shape at the bottom of the dress, and then the entire slip was washed to get the starch out and hung very carefully to dry.  Around 2 am I found myself sandwiching two layers of silk and a little metal divot  into the button form and hammering the whole thing together while re-watching Lip Service online (a somehow more engrossing Scottish version of the L Word), which again makes me wonder why my downstairs neighbors never complain. Around 3 am, because I am insane, I thought it would be a great idea to re-watch the extended version of Lord of the Rings while starting on the sash.

Done, done, and done

6 weeks of hand-wringing later, we have a dress: reembroidered French lace with a cream silk charmeuse lining and underlining, a 5-panel skirt with godets at the sides and train, a border of appliquéd lace, 11 handmade buttons covering the sipper, and a blue silk shantung sash with bow. These aren’t the best pics, but they’re enough to show that I actually made it. It looks  better than the muslin, though I think the muslin has a kind of devil-may-care charm to it, don’t you? God, I hope it fits.

Update – During the last stop on our epic, three-week tour of the East Coast, the wife and I drove to Washington, DC to have a final fitting with Jessica, who found it hilarious that I watched Lord of the Rings while making her dress. When we arrived in DC I was reminded of why people (including J’s soon-to-be-husband) call it “the swamp” : imagine air so thick that you can almost see it, broken by occasional spells of monsoon-like rain, and you will have a pretty good idea of what DC is like, and why I don’t really miss it.

Check out this button/sash combo. Pretty good for 3 am, hmm?

Anyway, I got to the fitting to find the bride, who is a lovely and down-to-earth person, with her best friend and sister, who are also both lovely, incredibly tiny and pulled-together ladies. I felt my road griminess (three weeks in a car, sleeping on various couches, floors, and La Quinta Inns can really do a number on your looks) even more acutely at that moment, but on to the dress. Fabric has a terrifying tendency to shrink when you sew, and I had given myself maybe 1/4″ of wiggle room in case Jessica needed anything let out. I had also completely enclosed the bodice seam and lapped to zipper to within an inch of its life – in other words, if it didn’t fit, I would be paying for Jessica’s trip to David’s Bridal myself.
We had a very scary moment when the zipper wouldn’t go up, but a little butter and bacon grease (I kid, I kid) and it zipped. Near-perfect – only 4 inches too long and one strap was longer than the other. A simple fix. Now, Jessica, go get married!

Yes! It fits!!!!!!!


Fitting Woes

3 May

Though I’m hardly dealing with as many dress orders as Kleinfelds, I still have my fair share of ladies to make happy, and every single thing that I make is treated with as much love, care, and sometimes frustration as a parent feels for a much-loved and infuriating little child.

Every time I bring a client into my little workroom and we start talking about what she wants, I have to find the perfect balance between reality (strapless is pretty but you’ll be tugging on it

this is terrible pic, but you get the idea.

all day) and fantasy (you want to look like Kate Middleton on a $700 budget?  Sure, we can figure something out!).  Half the fun for me is getting to know each person who puts on one of my dresses – I want to find out what makes them tick, what they hate, what they are excited about, everything – and so when I can’t go through that process with a bride it presents an extra challenge.

An even bigger challenge is not being able to have multiple fittings. One thing that every designer simultaneously loves and dreads is the try-on. Anyone who sews can tell you how terrible the moment can be when you take something you’ve been toiling away on off of the dress form and actually put it on a real person. Suddenly you see that the straps are too long, the neck is too wide, the hem is wonky and the whole thing should just be set on fire. Since my ‘atelier’ has two cats, one wife, and no magic sewing bluebirds or mice, I take it extremely personally if they try something on and it doesn’t fit exactly right the first time. There are tears, cussing, foot-stamping, and things thrown at walls, and that’s just me.

A friend from college recently got married in Geneva, and since it isn’t in my budget to just jaunt to Switzerland, and also since I love a good wrap dress, we decided to make her a simple stretchy one with a colorful slip. We compared Pantone color swatches on Skype and looked at different styles from the Mignonette website. Anne and the lovely folks at Fishman’s Fabrics here in Chicago helped me choose between silk jersey and a miracle fabric called Hollywood Stretch, and then we grabbed some Tiffany-blue silk shantung and a more muted silk jersey in dark teal to make two different slips.

Therese, Oro, and Heidi Wrap Dresses from Mignonette

I eventually decided to combine elements from the Oro, Heidi, and Therese dresses to make a simple dress with a little bit of movement at the sides to make the dress a little more Euro – timeless but still fun, like my dear friend.

She went to Geneva to study polio at the WHO, met a lovely man, and three years later is not only a wife but also stepmother to an 11 year-old daughter. The couple wore matching outfits for the day (she wore the dress I made and he wore a bright turquoise shirt and white pants, very Swiss).  She has the biggest smile  – I can’t wait to get some really good photos to post here.

Update – some pics did arrive, and I won’t post too many of them here, but I couldn’t resist putting just a couple up – they are the cutest pair, even with their faces blacked out, don’t you think?

K and C at their Geneva Wedding

I can't believe the dress fit so well considering there were no fittings!

Off White St. Louis – The Highlights

3 May

Anne Dress, me, Darcy Dress

Well, that went off with nary a hitch (ha-ha).  Enormous thanks to Brea Photography for the gorgeous photos and for organizing the event, and to Anne for doing all the driving.

I sewed my heinie off until 5 am the day before the event, making me wonder if we do in fact have downstairs neighbors, and if so, whether they are bartenders, because they never seem to notice that I am sewing until late into the night. Either way, I’m grateful.

For Off White I decided to show some old designs, including my collaboration with Jane Van Cleef for my own wedding dress, now called the Van Cleef, the Jasper, which I wore for my wedding breakfast, a new convertible point d’esprit confection called the Darcy, and the Anne Dress in cream shantung.  All the way down to St. Louis I panicked about how I would show the Darcy’s transition from full-skirted gown to fun reception dress (or, as I like to call it “Look, I have a skirt!” to “Oh wait, no I don’t”) on the runway.

Van Cleef, Jasper, and Darcy Dresses at Off White St. Louis

Brea did an amazing job transforming a former glass factory into a perfect showcase for indie vendors of all sorts. I loved being part of a community of such incredible talent – why would you buy something off the shelf when you can have something personalized, handmade, and gorgeous to boot?

I met some other wonderful designers  as well as milliners, ceramicists, stationers, and all sorts of other people who make me wish that I could get married all over again (oh wait – I do have to get married all over again. Ah, well).  Delicious smells wafted from the catering kitchen into the main event area, and every table had gorgeous floral arrangements, many incorporating unusual elements like tree branches and cherry blossoms, hand-cut paper banners, and hand-sewn tablecloths.

cake, wood carvings, and more cake!

See below for a link to pics from Off White and more goodness, and for a taste of the incredible day!

Mignonette Designs on Flickr