Not short at all :(
Back in January, a mother and her best friend came into the fabric shop I work at to look at satin, chiffon, organza, lace in all of it's forms: appliques, fabric and trims for a bridal gown. I worked with them. After the third trip, this time with the bride-to-be who lives out of state, they purchased yards and yards of heavy duchesse satin, chiffon and a light-weight lining from someone else who works there. Mother intended to make the gown, which is a knock off of an Anne Barge gown. Go to this URL and flip the page four times. It's the wide V neck gown on the left page. I think she said $3,500.
In February mom broke her foot. It didn't heal and it didn't heal and she had an operation on it and it took it's sweet time healing. She was on crutches, going up and down stairs both at home and at work on her tush, scooting around the garden planting flowers for the church decorations the same way. But she couldn't handle moving around a table, pulling yards of fabric with her, laying out a pattern etc. She is still in pain daily.
So in June her best friend (I knew her first) comes in and whispers to me "would you even consider making the gown????" I listened to her, took a look at her woebegone face, and said "yes". When she realized she heard me correctly, I thought she was going to cry.
My mother's reaction...."You said WHAT???!? Did you tell them you have never made a wedding gown???" My mother is not one to raise her voice in that manner.
The bride has an unusual figure. Long torso, tiny ribcage and waist, not much bust, wide shoulders and 39" hips! She looks good in wrap dresses and A-line skirts. period. They had purchased a Vogue pattern to base the gown on. It would need to be modified - neck, cut of armholes, shape of train, perhaps width of skirt and add a full lining. Plus the decoration under the bust, but that was something mom could do for her daughter.
The photo session for the portraits was in a few weeks. It was postponed.
Fitting #1: Fitted muslin mock-up based upon the Vogue pattern on bride. eeeah. She's even smaller in the bust. Ripped out empire waist seam across the front, Reshaped bodice, pinned and marked.
Cut out gown, sewed it together - the duchesse satin is a lovely heavy, stable fabric. Did I mention heavy? The seams that should fold over and lay down, don't - they roll. So the neckline and armholes are stay stitched by hand catching the lining and satin and avoiding the full chiffon overlay. eeeah yet again. The lining is too light weight for the satin. It's one I only recommend if they want a light weight slinky gown with a lot of drape. Trouble in River City. All three fabrics begin shredding as soon as a pair of scissors slices into them. Fray check is my friend, but makes them stiff and harder to work with...what to do, what to do....
Fitting #2: The shoulders aren't quite narrow enough, the armholes are typical and don't have quite the right line at the top (nit picky little detail here, but it matters). I later rip out the stitching for the top part of the armholes and re-cut them a bit straighter, which gives the shoulders the correct shape and still covers the bra straps (thank goodness). The bride, who really is a lovely person, wants the neckline an inch lower and the whole bodice tighter. eeeeaah! I tell her that A-line cuts are supposed to skim the body and the fabric will pull around the ribcage if I make it that tight. "But...can you do it?" I roll my eyes and say of course and mark the bodice. More ripping - well no, I cut off the cloth covered bridal buttons and a little bit of fabric on each side of the back opening shaping the cut so that it flows into the original seam at the hip.
I decided to cut off every other button loop on the new piece of loop trim for the center back leaving a little space between each button (O O O O) so they don't look like an 18" line of white m&m's (OOOO). The design is simple enough that I feel that would look like overkill and both mom and daughter like the look. A touch of glue at each cut, two lines of tight stitching to ensure the loops won't pull out and into the bodice it goes.
Bridal buttons have to be the hardest ever to sew on. There are no holes; you sew through a tiny mound of cloth on the back of the button - I use tiny little needles and it's still tough to push them through. I chain stitch them on - in that I attach one and tie a knot and run the double strand of thread under the satin to the next spot and repeat. To make it very unlikely one will be able to pop off.
I have seen the light at the end of the tunnel for a while, but it's a very long tunnel and I have stumbled a couple of times.
Fitting #3: Checked the fit of the bodice, cut of the neckline, width of the shoulders, cut of the armhole - perfect! whew! Then she said "Do you think the neckline is low enough? Another 1/2?" I didn't hear her. Okay, I looked at her and didn't' respond. Marked the hem for the final length.
I cut the train. When asked the bride decided on a 6" train. Mom said okay; I nodded. The gown really called for more. I shaped it to 24-28" and finished the seams on all three layers except for the few inches close to the hems. Sewed the hem tape on the satin layer, pinned all three hems.
Fitting #4: The next evening - just to check and tweak the hem before I finalize it.
Hemmed all three skirts using three different methods, the satin by hand and finished the seams near the hems.
Discovered a tiny hole in the chiffon on the bodice a little above the bust. Major EEeeAH :(( I debated, I deliberated, I went over pros and cons of different ways of handling it. Honest to god I cut off the front bodice, laid a piece of chiffon over the bodice of the gown, cut it for the side seams and stitched them on the sewing machine so they are done in the usual method, finished those seams. Then I shaped and appliqued the chiffon piece over the rest of the bodice by hand - armholes, shoulder seams, neckline!!! Yes really! I do a LOT of handwork and it looks totally normal. I don't believe anyone would realize unless they turned it to the back and studied it.
It bugged the bride that the darts in the chiffon were so pointy. They looked like a pin up doll from a old war time movie! I explained that 3-1/2" of chiffon along the bottom of the bodice, folded into a dart only 4" long equals pointy. And that the only way I could rectify it was to elongate (and curve the end) of the dart so that it went over the tip of her bust. She understood. While I was doing the overlay of chiffon, I modified the front darts as requested. It doesn't look funky or unprofessional as I feared it would.
I gratefully turned over the gown two weeks before the photo session so that mom could do the layered decoration under the bust. I was soooo very vastly relieved to be done with my portion.
I never wanted to see it again.
That wedding gown came back to haunt me.
The Monday before the photo session, I get a call. "Hi, it's...." My heart sinks. Mom is almost in tears and I can hear her best friend in the background. They can't get the stabilizer shaped correctly to use as the foundation for the decoration. I say fine, how about tomorrow? I then realize she needs all the time she can get and agree to go over after I get off at 7:00pm that day. I spend an hour cutting it to shape for her and we have dinner. I tell her if she can't do it call me by Thursday afternoon, not Friday morning.
I get the call I am expecting. I start on it Thursday night and cancel my Friday get together with my best friend.
I can't get a really good look at the details for the decoration. The top layer might be one piece of fabric twisted and ruched; it might be two. I can't quite tell and I don't have the time to experiment.
I covered the foundation with the strange lace they chose. It has a sheen to it and looks like fibers laid over each other randomly and pressed into place. Reminds me of a "modern" Formica kitchen counter from the 50s/60s?. Cut a wide piece of chiffon, tucked the top of it under the top of the foundation piece and stitched it so that it doesn't show on the outside. Hung the gown on my display stand (I used to compete in clothing for the re-enactment group I am in, and still exhibit)Then I stuffed the bodice with fiber fill to give it a bit of shape to work against as I poked and prodded (not what I did, but what it felt like).
I threaded 7 needles at the same time to work on the overlay decoration. Ran basting stitches vertically down the chiffon for 3 1/4" at each spot the little medallions were to be fastened. Then drew up the thread to gather it under the decorative bits. Knotted those off and proceeded to gather/stitch more loosely for an inch below each of those. Sewed on the top seven sets of tiny medallions (8). Then moved to the bottom of the band half way between each of the top gathers and draped the fabric, which I had cut wider than needed to achieve the lower part of the oval on the chiffon. I cut off the excess, anchored the bottom edge and began taking small stitches to ruche the remaining fabric, tugging it up or down toward the edge of the medallion to achieve the desired effect. The stabilizer for the foundation can't handle the ruched chiffon, it starts drawing up, so I fight that. geeeessh! Thankfully I am persuasive. Sewed on the bottom six sets of medallions. It's not perfect, but it's close (horseshoes et al comes to mind). At this point I am absolutely exhausted.
Pic is a bit fuzzy, but it is the only one I have of the back. And it's obvious the fabric pulls in the bodice just the way I told her it would. They don't care. I take a good look at the full page ad they have for the gown. What do you know, it doesn't lay down prettily on the model either.
I worked until 3:30am Saturday morning to finish it, at which time I email her mom to let her know, set my alarm for 7:00am and go to bed...ahhh...blessed sleep...3 hours of it. The lady who is making the veil is due at 8:00am to shape it based upon the train. I wake up before the alarm, shower, bag it up, take it out in a downpour and drive through the main street we both live off of through two flooded sections. The bride is buttoned into the gown and has glowingly given it her stamp of approval by the time the lady shows up.
She had been walking back and forth and bending and twisting so we could see how it moved and I'd call "stop" to take a picture. I didn' smooth it down or tug on it so that it laid prettily for them; I was far too wiped out to care. My little perfectionist's soul is not happy with it.
Mom says "I'm so glad we talked her into a train" I laughed and said "You talked her into a 6" train; I simply cut what I felt it needed" So it helps when they consider you a friend, and it doesn't hurt if you have a good eye for proportions. It is gorgeous, just the right length and an elegant shape; absolutely perfect, everyone loves it. I am assuming that the designer gown has a train; I have no idea what it looks like.
Mom described me as her guardian angel!
I hurry home to have breakfast and go to work for my usual eight hour Saturday stint, thankful it's a short day. I'm a zombie all day.
Its' fairly typical to gain a few pounds while you are engaged. I don't think she will, but she doesn't have any leeway. If she gains two pounds I don't want to hear from her.
My mother's reaction...."I'm so glad we went to Country Club Plaza in Kansas City to purchase your gown. Do you remember asking the clerk if she had it in tall? (I'm 5'8") And when she did, you said "This is IT!!"?" I disappointed her by saying no. My mom and her cousin picked out my gown. It is wonderful, looks like an 1800's frontier school marm getting married! Ivory (which upset dad who felt it wasn't white enough) with a lace yoke, modified leg of mutton sleeves with a lace overlay, 12" wide lace on the hem of the gown, 10" wide lace on the edges of the long veil. Quite unusual and not as fussy as it sounds. We went on to talk about how the plaza flooded before we picked up the gown, but it came through just fine. The fountains on the plaza are lovely. It is a really old shopping area set on the river. Mom shopped there as a teen and young bride with her mother.
I know, I know, way more detail than you ever wanted to read and I've lost almost everyone already. There are friends who have asked how it went, friends I groused to as I struggled, friends I would love to show what I do. Plus I wanted to document this to remind myself never ever to agree to a wedding gown again.