A Wedding Dress!

Two months before my wedding, my mom flew down for a week, from her summer paradise in rural Nova Scotia to steamy North Carolina, to make my wedding dress with me. She made most of her clothes as a teenager, and sewed my sister and me a fabulous wardrobe for our American Girl dolls (which I gave to the Goodwill in a haze of teenage stupidity...sorry, Mama). But it had been a while since she had undertaken an ambitious sewing project, and I had very little experience sewing clothes. So of course we decided to use a Vogue pattern from 1940 on notoriously tricky fabric (slippy slidey silk charmeuse) for a very high-stakes project (the goal is to wear only one wedding dress in a lifetime) under a very tight deadline (one week!). I must get my over-inflated ambition from somewhere...

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Of course it was way harder than we thought. Way. Harder. (This is a behavioral pattern I am grateful to have inherited from her, even though it gets us into trouble sometimes: get an idea, have full confidence in our ability to accomplish it based on very little evidence, start doing it, realize it is way, way more difficult than we realized, find a way to do it anyway, or some attainable version of it at least, repeat.) Luckily the brilliant folks at Mulberry Silks, where I bought the fabric, connected us with Sharon Campbell, an accomplished dressmaker with an MFA in costume design, a cat named Ruth Bader Ginspurr, and a wealth of indispensable guidance and expertise to share with us. She altered the muslin version my mom had made to fit me, and helped us make a schedule for the week that, should all go well, put us on track to finish before my mom’s flight home.

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So, we rose early every morning, put on Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits, and got to work in my almost-but-not-quite-finished new studio space that had been filled with sawdust just days earlier (speaking of overly ambitious projects). It’s rare these days that I get to spend time just with my mom, and it felt so great to be working together on something that was simultaneously very important and meaningful but also totally extravagant and kind of absurd. These are my favorite kinds of projects.

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Mabel “helped”.

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And, we almost finished! But not quite. The day my mom was due to fly home, we were still feverishly hemming and adding the final touches. Sharon to the rescue, again! I delivered to her the almost-done dress, plus a bag of scraps and crumpled pattern pieces. She finished the hemming, fixed an issue with the fit in the back bodice (silk charmeuse can stretch if you’re not careful enough, so one of the pieces had mysteriously grown too big), and got the whole thing polished up perfectly.

The dress fit just right, and I felt truly fabulous (which is lucky, because Robert Oliver looks dang good in a suit, so the bar was very high).

Thanks to Merritt Chesson for all of these photos!

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Margaret Hennessey