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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I'm a Sucker for a Wedding

Weddings can be stressful, but they're also beautiful and special, and I happen to believe that every bride should have a chance to have her special day. Which is why when my friend Jasmine showed up at my house late one night a few weeks ago asking if I could help her turn a second-hand wedding dress she had bought for $25 into her dream dress, I said yes despite my being in dental assisting school and the wedding only being about a month and a half away at the time.

This is the starting point of the dress. It's fairly 80s, but not one of the more extreme styles, so I don't have to fight it too hard to update it. It does have a few inherent problems that need to be addressed before I can really get creative, and they mostly revolve around one simple fact: Jasmine is Mormon, and we Mormons have some pretty specific modesty standards. They're not as extreme as some people think, but this dress does violate them a little bit. (However, the slip on the dummy is not a sign of some weird need for the dummy to be modest--it just helps clothes slip on and off of her more easily.)

First problem: the neckline. It's a little too low in the front, and it leaves the shoulders mostly bare. I will be adding a little bit of fabric to the shoulders inside those sleeve points (which are staying). It won't show a lot, but it will cover the bride's shoulders, and it will replace the fabric-covered-elastic straps that currently hold the dress up. They will end up mostly covered by the light grey chiffon drape that will raise the neckline just a little in front and trail down the back from the shoulders. Obviously, this will be an aesthetic change as well as practical. I chose it (and luckily the bride liked it) because I hate alterations for modesty that don't blend in to the design. I think they draw attention to themselves in all the wrong ways. Purely aesthetic problem in this picture: those pearl pompoms down the front. They were also on the sleeves. They have all been removed.

Next problem: the opening in the back. Back necklines don't have to be extremely high, but this opening does go to low, so I will be filling it in. I have removed this bigger pearl flower and tear drop things, again, for purely aesthetic reasons, and I removed the pearls edging the opening so that when I fill it, they won't be sitting there announcing that something has been changed. The bride is also hoping to find and antique (or antique-looking) brooch to replace the pearl flower.

You may be wondering how I can possibly add fabric to this dress without it looking tacky. That's not as big of a problem in this case as it could be. First of all, the bride wants a non-traditional dress, so the fabrics that will be changing the style are also adding color, which means I didn't need to match this specific fabric. "Foul!" you cry. "You're adding fabric to the bodice that you claimed wouldn't be noticeable!" Luckily for me, the dress itself will supply that. The angle of this picture is not ideal to show the original length of the train, but the other picture I took made it look way longer, so this one won. We will be leaving some train, but a much shorter one, so I get some matching fabric and a little bit of lace from that. I am also shortening the sleeves to create a late 18th century style sleeve like this. Since the opaque fabric in this style of sleeve only goes to the elbow, I get to take off not only some of the base fabric, but also a fair amount of lace applique and pearls/sequins. Since the same lace was used all over the dress, and it has a fairly busy pattern, piecing the lace back together should create a near-perfect disguise for the seams I will have to add in closing up the back.

This is the inspiration for where Jasmine wants the dress to go, although we will definitely be doing a lot of our own designing too, as already evidenced by the sleeves. We are going with an overall smokey color, but some of the original off-white dress will show, and we're introducing some other color as well. (For any of you who are familiar with Mormon wedding ceremonies, this dress will be for the reception and pictures, and she will be wearing all white inside the Temple.)

I have already cut off the sleeves, though I haven't added the ruffles, and I have already shortened the train. To do that, I detached the beaded lace edging beginning at the sides of the dress and going all the way around the train, but leaving it attached in front. With the dress still on the dummy, I marked where I wanted the shortened train to end, then I took the dress off, turned in inside out, and laid it down, folded along the center back seam. This allowed me to create a symmetrical curve, and I just "eyeballed" a nice, smooth curve from the center back to the sides. I put the dress back on the dummy to see how the train looked spread out, and it wasn't quite right, but my second try achieved a good shape.

Since there is no hem on the original dress--the lace is the edge finish for the skirt/train, I did the same thing. I machine stitched the lace back to the train beginning from each side in turn and working toward the center back seam, and cutting out the excess lace from the center back. (I used a zipper foot to sew the lace on because it is beaded.)

beaded lace skirt trim

lace that has been re-attached to the new train edge
As you can see, the lace does not have a smooth line to the edge, but instead curves up and down. I felt the easiest way to attach this and still achieve the original open look of the lace (which is still there in the front) was to sew the lace on to the smoothly-curved edge of the train, making sure that the lower points in the upper edge of the lace stayed above the edge of the fabric. Then after it was all sewed on, I went back and trimmed the excess fabric about 1/2" from the stitching line. It looks nice, and I am ready to work on some of the more complicated changes.

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