Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic
Category Archives: Weddings
February 24, 2012Posted by on
My sister’s 1930s wedding was more “Hollywood glamour” than Depression era style. (Here’s Part 1 in case you missed it.) Of all the items I created in such a short time-frame for her special day, I was the most pleased with how her headpiece turned out. But I also had fun with the details of her bridal gown and the flower-girl’s dress.
I subtly embellished her custom wedding dress with beads and feathers. (Once again, I was disappointed that the photographers didn’t take a lot of full-length shots I was hoping to have for my portfolio).
My sister loves and has studied the Japanese language & culture, so she included a few Japanese touches in her wedding (more about those details in a future post). Because of the popularity of Asian influences in the 1930s and ’40s, the Japanese elements blended well with the overall Art Deco style. Thus, we decided to incorporate this into her dress with a custom hand-beaded appliqué of a Japanese crane that wrapped around the side of her dress.
My favorite part of the wedding gown was the train of feathers. When I suggested the feathers to my sister, I didn’t really expect her let me use them on her dress, so I was delighted when she agreed with the idea. I love that the feathers added something wonderful to the back of the dress for the wedding guests to look at during the ceremony. (Very Ginger Rogers.)
After the ceremony, the photographers captured one of the few full-length shots of the gown as the happy couple descended the stairs.
For the reception that followed the marriage vows, I used a few safety pins to bustle her train to keep it up off the ground (so that she could move among the guests more easily).
As you can see in the next photograph, I also pinned together the points of the double train on my copper bridesmaid dress and looped it over my arm for the reception.
The job of the flower-girl was filled by our cousin Lucy, who was four at the time. Her dress was made from the same fabrics as the bridal gown, along with some left-over fabric from my own wedding dress from two years before.
The sash was of the same copper-colored fabric used for the bridesmaids’ dresses and tied in a knot in the front – the perfect way to secure an active little girl’s sash to avoid constant re-tying!
Lucy wore a few bridal feathers in her hair, and the trim at both the skirt hem and edges of the ruffled sleeves had a feather-like look. (I also used a little of the same trim on the edges of the crane appliqué on the bridal gown).
And nothing else captures the vintage 1930s feel quite like a sepia-toned photograph:
More about the vintage location, how some guests dressed for the theme, and overall retro wedding details in a future post…
January 25, 2012Posted by on
This past Sunday night, I finally got the text I’ve been waiting to receive since I started this blog…
Just two words – “found em”. The CDs of my little sister’s wedding photos had been found! (They had been missing for nearly eight years! Turns out my parents had them and they had been buried in a bag inside a desk.)
So the last couple of days have been spent sorting through all 1200+ pictures from that day back in 2004. Since there is so much to cover, I have decided to divide the wedding into 3 separate posts: The Bridesmaids, The Bride & Flower-girl, and The Retro Details.
Let me explain the back-story – no, there is too much. Let me sum up.
When my sister got engaged, I had promised to design and build the following items around a 1930s theme:
- Custom wedding gown AND headpiece with veil – both with hand-beading
- The necessary bridal undergarments to go with the dress
- Retro dresses for 4 bridesmaids – all different designs
- A flower-girl dress
- The ring-bearer’s pillow
All this was going to be my wedding gift to my sister – she just had to pay for the materials.
My sister and her fiancé decided to move up their wedding date when they learned that the perfect location for their Art Deco style wedding was available much sooner than expected.
I got the bashful phone call from my sister: “Can you still make all the dresses for my wedding…in 2 months?”
Only for my sister.
Looking back, I honestly have no idea how I managed to do everything in such a short timeframe. We had (luckily) already purchased the fabric for all the dresses before the date changed.
I think the only thing I was truly disappointed with was the fact that the wedding photographers didn’t really take any full-length photographs of the dresses – they were too focused on capturing faces. I was able to crop a few things out of crowd shots and use some pictures that my uncle took (specifically for me) to supplement a few really wonderful shots by the photographers. (Word of advice to future brides: make sure you ask your photographer to zoom out and worry about framing & cropping things later!)
Aside from a few minor details not being completely accurate for the time-period, it all turned out rather well in the end. (Of course, every good wedding has a flaw or two.)
Ester’s dress was the easiest to produce. I used a reprinted 1930s pattern that was available in stores at the time. So I was able to buy the pattern in her size and fit a mock-up a couple days later.
Caroline was the youngest bridesmaid. (I believe she was 10 at the time.) Her dress was a combination of 3 different modern patterns that had the elements I was looking for to create a Thirties style dress that would be age appropriate. The godets at the hem were so pretty when she moved.
Courtney’s dress was the most challenging because she did not live in the same state. Amazingly, it all worked out because she came for a weekend visit prior to the wedding, and I was able to fit a mock-up on her. Her dress was a combination of 2 modern patterns – a blouse and a skirt. I kept the patterns as separates to make it easier and mailed the skirt to her un-hemmed. That way, she was able to have it hemmed to the perfect length after she had purchased her shoes but before she came back for the wedding.
Then there’s my dress. Like Ester’s dress, mine was also a reprinted vintage pattern available in stores at the time. Although it wasn’t my first choice in a design for myself, the double-train attached to the back of the skirt made it unique. It was the last dress I made for the wedding, and it was never completely finished on the inside (but at least you can’t tell!).
More to come about the bridal gown and flower-girl’s dress…
October 10, 2011Posted by on
While I wait for my sister to unearth her discs of wedding pictures from almost eight years ago so that I can do a complete post, here’s a bit of a preview – her 1930s style bridal headpiece.
My sister brought me these pictures of vintage headpieces for inspiration:
I created a paper mock-up and we tweaked the curves to be the most flattering shape for her face. Then I made a wired form and covered it with the same fabric used for her wedding gown. Since my build time for the entire wedding was limited by a change of date, I saved some time by using a piece of store-bought lace that had an art deco feel as the background for the beadwork.
Despite the rush, I somehow made time for the hand-sewing with beading (which was echoed on her dress) and I believe I managed to capture the 1930s look pretty well.
And here’s the bride positioning her headpiece & veil on her wedding day:
Stay tuned for the wedding dress & more in a future post! Read more about the bridesmaids’ dresses…
April 30, 2011Posted by on
The Bride’s sister wore white?! Isn’t that… improper? Inappropriate? BAD FORM??
Did you know that brides and their maids in ancient times actually dressed identically (including heavy veiling) because they hoped to confuse evil spirits? The superstition was that a mischievous spirit wouldn’t be able to figure out who was the real bride, and she would be kept safe from its horrible curses. This is why there are stories of bridegrooms being duped into marrying the wrong woman – he couldn’t see his bride’s face until after the ceremony, and sometimes a family could pull a switcheroo and marry off a different girl. Shakespeare even made use of the surprise bride in plays like Much Ado About Nothing.
Modern weddings use traditional etiquette standards that are customary, but aren’t always as old-fashioned as you might think.
Up until and even during Victorian times, western brides usually wore their “best” dress (which wasn’t always new) as their wedding attire because a white dress was expensive and hard to keep clean, unless you were upper class. One new trend that has become modern tradition began when Queen Victoria chose to wear white as a bride in 1840. (She even dressed her attendants in white.) Before white dresses were common and affordable, western brides would often accessorize with white (the symbol of purity) – white bonnets, white feathers on a colored hat, or white flowers.
Modern day brides tend to choose bridesmaid dresses in one of their wedding colors. And up until recently, it seemed many brides selected ugly dresses for their attendants so that the bridal gown would not be out-shone. (Ironically, a fashion faux-paus can be even more distracting than something pretty!)
And that’s your quickie history lesson for the day! Here’s why Pippa’s dress actually worked:
- It was understated elegance at its finest – she looked amazing but didn’t look like the bride. (Or at least not like a Royal bride.)
- She looked like an extension of the bride’s train as she helped Kate outside the church.
- She didn’t look out of place in the midst of the tiny bridesmaids who were also in white.
- She looked modern but her dress gave a nod to 1930s bias cut evening gown – just as Kate’s dress had a retro 1960s feel.
- By dressing her sister in white, Kate was following a Royal tradition that Queen Victoria (the biggest wedding trendsetter in history) herself used for her attendants.
April 29, 2011Posted by on
When Kate Middleton stepped out of the car finally revealing her wedding gown to the world, I immediately saw a modern version of Princess Margaret’s lovely 1960s dress. And it was simply beautiful – of course I love anything that has even a hint of retro style.
Many people immediately started comparing Kate’s dress to the dress that Grace Kelly wore to her wedding in 1956. The fabric of Grace’s dress was also lace over a similar bodice, but I think that it may have been the inspiration for the details of Kate’s dress while Princess Margaret’s gown was the inspiration for the overall silhouette and cut of Kate’s.
Let’s compare all three elegant gowns.
First we have Kate arriving:
See the similar lines of Princess Margaret’s dress? Notice the pleats and the shape of the neckline:
Aside from the fuller skirt near the waist, the silhouette is remarkably alike:
Even the pleats of Kate’s train look like a modern, more controlled version of Margaret’s:
Kate and Grace have different skirts (pleats where one is flat, natural waistline versus high waistline) and different necklines. Kate’s veil, however, is the same style as Grace’s (it even has a scalloped lace edge) and you can see how both gowns are alike in placement & use of fabric types:
Grace Kelly was a “Hollywood Princess” before becoming a real princess so, naturally, her wedding dress was designed by costume designer Helen Rose.
Princess Margaret’s dress was designed by Norman Hartnell. Her wedding to Antony Armstrong-Jones was the very first televised royal wedding.
British designer Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen was the designer who brought Kate’s dream to life. She created an amazing dress for a modern princess with a nod to the past. I’m sure I’ll be making a dress based on Kate’s for some bride in the future. =)
Happy wedding day Princess Catherine! You were exactly as your groom said – “beautiful”. May you live happily ever after with your Prince.
(Royal Wedding 2011 photos found at The Telegraph.)
January 22, 2011Posted by on
Last fall, I had the privilege of creating a 1950s retro wedding gown for a friend’s co-worker. Camille, the bride-to-be, had wisely decided to contact me almost a year before the wedding date to begin the process of having her dress custom made. At the initial meeting, she gave me a rough hand-drawn sketch of the style she had in mind, and we discussed elements not included in the sketch (fabric, hair-style, veil, heel height, etc).
I recorded her detailed measurements (a full page worth, not just bust-waist-hips) and she departed with the task of finding the proper undergarments for her dress.
Like most brides, Camille had the goal of losing some weight before her wedding day. Therefore, we postponed a mock-up fitting until it was closer to the actual date. That gave me the time I needed to research the pattern, draft it, and go fabric shopping; and it gave her plenty of time to find the perfect lingerie and shoes.
I started my quest by examining vintage sewing patterns and Fifties style-lines. I narrowed my models down to two vintage pattern envelopes (both from 1957) that best captured the look Camille depicted in her sketch. From those two designs, I was able to thumb through my own collection to find patterns with the same seam-lines, piece together two dress patterns, and draft a sleeve pattern from scratch.
We knew that the dress needed to be a soft white (not bleach white or yellowy ivory), so I hunted for a cotton lace that was soft to the touch and could be tea-dyed to the desired color. After extensive searching, I got lucky when I found a white, vintage-looking cotton lace for sale online. I ordered the lace from the fabric site and a 1950s style petticoat from Petticoat Junction. (Later, when lace was in season in the fabric stores, I did see the exact same lace on the shelf, but at a higher price.)
With the hybrid pattern, I was able to start making a mock-up in the size that would best fit her measurements. I used a cheap bed sheet and some old scraps of lace from a past project to construct a prototype dress with only one sleeve, which allowed Camille to simultaneously see two versions of the dress when she came for her first fitting.
The mock-up fitting gave me the chance to mark the neckline, sleeve & hem, zipper placement, and adjust a few seams so that everything worked with her undergarments. And Camille was able to decide that she liked the ¾ length sleeve for her dress. With the pattern perfected on her actual body, I was ready to cut the dress from the real fabric.
But first, I had to play mad scientist and attempt to dye the lace with tea. I experimented by dyeing some small swatches of the lace to test the time needed in the tea to achieve the desired color. Then I bought a large white plastic trashcan that was big enough to hold the amount of tea needed to submerge all the pre-wet lace at the same time. It took an entire box of “pitcher size” teabags to brew a tea strong enough to achieve the color I needed. When the timer went off, I transferred the dyed lace into my washing machine full of plain water and spun it out before putting it in the dryer. The tea bath had given the lace a wonderful vintage appearance.
I repeated the tea-dyeing process with the tulle for the veil and then bravely took a chance with the store-bought petticoat so that everything would be a matching soft white color. (Fortunately, the satin taffeta fabric I bought to go under the lace was already the perfect color and didn’t need any dyeing.)
Once all the fabric was prepped, I eagerly began cutting out the actual dress for assembly. I cut the lace sleeves and skirt with the finished hem length on the scalloped edge of the material, which eliminated the need for a sewn hem – especially time-saving since the skirt’s hem measured 5½ yards around! The only lace edge I had to “hem” was the neckline, which I finished by adding a section of the scallop onto the edge of the neck.
The satin taffeta underskirt was a different pattern shape, and, therefore, needed to hang for a few days to let the bias stretch with gravity before I could mark a hem to line-up with the lace overskirt and petticoat.
I finished the back of the gown (from waist up) with shanked buttons of vintage shell from my collection of old buttons. During one fitting, it was unanimously decided that the best way to complete the retro dress was to add a handmade matching lace belt with a small silver buckle right at the waistline – a perfect 50’s accessory. The shoulder-length veil and cute round-toed heels in a subtle blush-pink were the perfect complementary details without being distracting.
Camille had her wedding on a perfect autumn night in her own backyard with a small group of family & friends as witnesses. She made her entrance from the stairs of an apartment above her garage and descended to her waiting groom beneath a beautiful old tree. Her soft white dress glowed in the warm light of the decorated backyard. It was wondrously nostalgic – like Audrey Hepburn had stepped out of an old movie.
Wedding photography by Jamie Coupaud.
January 15, 2011Posted by on
While I believe that bridal & formal store chains have their value, it has been my personal experience that there are many things they won’t tell you or explain to you until it is too late. This means you will need to know enough on your own to work “around” them.
Over the years, after examining & fitting so many wedding & bridesmaid dresses from chain stores, I have made an interesting observation – one that almost always guarantees the customer will need alterations. The sales clerks will convince you that you need a dress at least one size bigger than you actually do. When they determine your size, they only measure bust, waist, and hips. Then they refer to a size chart that shows the standard body measurements that are used by the company to make the dresses they carry in the store. In most cases, your bust & waist measurements will fall into one size, while your hips will be in the next size or two up. So you are told to order the size that fits your hips, since “you can always have the rest taken in.”
Unless the skirt is a form-fitting pencil style, the hips should not determine the size you order. It is always best to use your bust measurement when ordering your size because it’s the part of the dress with the most fit. Formal dresses typically have extra-large seam allowances, and can be let out an inch or two if there is an area that fits a little too tightly – provided there is no beadwork in the area that needs to be let out. Straps and hems almost always need to be shortened no matter how well the rest of the dress fits. (And if the sample you’re trying on fits, don’t let anyone convince you to buy a bigger size!)
I consulted with one bride who had tried on a spaghetti-strap dress at a chain store and it fit her almost perfectly. Then they measured her and told her she needed one size larger according to her measurements. She questioned them about it since the sample had fit so well. They told her the sample was probably “stretched-out” from being tried on by so many people.
Trusting their advice, she ultimately had them order the larger size, and it wound up being about two sizes too big in the bust – the only part of the dress that was supposed to be tight! She didn’t learn how expensive the alterations would be until she had paid for the dress, and then it couldn’t be returned or exchanged.
She learned that many of the clerks at chain stores do not know much about the construction of dresses and are only following the company procedures when helping you choose your size. Unfortunately for you, this almost always guarantees the store makes a profit from alterations in addition to the sale. By the time you have your heart set on your dream dress, you have to be willing to pay for the necessary alterations – which can often cost as much as the gown itself.
I was like many a bride-to-be and did not know what style gown I wanted to wear on the Big Day. I decided to go to a chain store, but only because there was no charge to try on dresses. I had a general list of styles I knew I did not want, so I suspected many of the dresses I took into the fitting room probably wouldn’t thrill me. Because I am so small, all of the dresses available were one size too large. So I knew that no matter what, any dress would require alterations.
The night I tried on wedding gowns was during the week, so it was a very light customer night with only one other betrothed in the store with me. The sales floor associate would only pause for a few seconds to tell me that I looked “beautiful” each time I emerged in a new dress to consult the mirror. It seemed she was only out to make a sale and really didn’t care which one I chose. A few times I tried to tell her why a style was “wrong” for my body, at which she would disagree with a quizzical look on her face. She apparently had little to no training on how to dress different body-types.
After analyzing the different dress styles on my body, I was able to decide which looked best on me. While the cut & silhouette of the off-the-rack dress was great – despite being too big on me – there were other things I didn’t like about it. Mainly, the cheap, scratchy tulle (or net) on the outside felt horrible when I put my arms down at my sides. I also noticed many of the fake pearl beads covering the bodice & scattered over the rest of the dress were loose – I had already seen a few roll away as I stood there. The dress had not even left the store and it was already losing beads! The materials were cheap, and the machine-sewn beadwork was poorly done.
There was only one thing I could do. I decided to make my own dress in the same style, but with a sheer organza overlay instead of scratchy tulle, and with prettier & more secure hand-sewn beadwork. It fit me perfectly, and it was the first of many other wedding dresses I have constructed. I also made my veil.
After learning of the plight of so many women in their dealings with bridal chain stores, I realized there were many who would appreciate all that is a custom dress.