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Handmade, Handed Down

An Heirloom Gown for a Modern Bride

Rachel’s grandmother wore this gown in the 1930’s.

It was made by hand by her great-grandmother, an Irish seamstress. The challenge to this restoration was to salvage what could be reused, and to modernize the fit.

It didn’t seem possible to renovate this family heirloom.

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What Can Be Salvaged?

She brought in the dress and we decided that the exterior lace gown was in good condition with the exception of slight sweat damage in the underarms. The silk slip-dress underneath was dry-rotted and stained beyond our repair, but we could use it for fitting and patterning purposes to create a new one in its image.

Meticulously Pieced Back Together

We carefully removed the sleeves and opened the side and shoulder seams to determine how much fabric needed to be added and where. Using only the fabric of the removed lace sleeves, we were able to piece in the needed extensions and replace the damaged sections. It was meticulous work – all the added lace was pieced in to continue the pattern of the lace on each piece of the garment. The end result was that it looked like it had been made in 1930 just for her!!

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Marika’s Pretty Polka Dots!

Design from the Bottom Up!

Sepia Inspiration Collage

Marika’s wedding look was equally about the shoes. She’s a shoe-maker who designed and built her own heels, and the dress had to match. We customized her 50’s style gown with a polka-dot print mixed to match the metallic silver color of her shoe leather.

Dots in the Details

To be sure the dots lined up symmetrically, we cut the bodice pieces and then printed on the dots. A handful of test prints were done to test color, size and pattern before printing. Ultimately we decided the print looked best when the dots were compressed closer side to side than top to bottom. Printing the dots in a triangle pattern on the skirt made them look more delicate around the hipline than a solid line.

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Silk ribbon finished off the waistband and edged the crinoline underneath. The hardest part for her was choosing from a pile of vintage buckles!

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Thank you so much for the fabulous dress!

Marika, Custom Couture

Can the soak save it?

Some Vintage Treasures Need Some TLC

Can It Be Cleaned?

In some instances, the best way to clean a vintage gown may be to soak it. There are some rules to be able to do this successfully. The best candidates for this are pieces of vintage trim, a section of a garment that can be removed and soaked on its own, or dresses that are only one layer of fabric (no linings or crinoline). The fabric that you are cleaning has to be able to be fully submerged and fit loosely into the water so it is cleaned evenly

Helpful Suds

I’ve had great results with CMDesigns’ Vintage Textile Soak and 7th Generation’s Liquid Dish Soap. The Textile Soak does a great job erasing stains from silk and pulling the yellow tint out of what-should-be-white vintage textiles. For tougher stains, like around a hemline, I work the dish soap into the stain with a toothbrush.

Try It Out!

You can do this in a plastic dishpan or your bath tub. For a dishpan, I use ½ tablespoon VTSoak, for a bathtub filled to 3” deep, I use about 2 tablespoons.
1) Fill your pan or tub with lukewarm water straight out of the tap – deep enough to submerge your textile.
2) Add your VTSoak and stir it with a plastic or wooden spoon until it’s fully dissolved.
3) Ignore your sweaty palms and drop your entire garment into the water, using the spoon to agitate the water around the fabric.
4) The Textile Soak works so fast you can see the water change to yellow with 5-10 minutes!
5) As soon as you are happy with how it looks, drain out the water and fully rinse the textile with warm water. If the water gets too dirty, keep changing out the water and repeating the process until it you’re satisfied. I’ve also let a dress soak for two days before rinsing.
6) Lay it flat on a towel to dry

Any fabric to be cleaned should be tested first! Find an area at the hem or extra fabric inside the garment to spot test any cleaning product before soaking the full garment. Treat your vintage beauties with love.

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Helen’s Purple Print

Springtime Lilacs

Helen chose a fully custom flowy gown of silk charmuese and spun silk. Pleating on the front into the underbust seam, and the pleated waistband highlight her small waist, while flattering her curves. The low neckline front and back add some drama, while the purple printed flowers with amethyst bead details add both a playfulness and a sophistication to the gown.

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Helen says...

I was determined to have some purple in my wedding dress, but I couldn’t find a bridal shop that would sell me anything but plain white! At my friend Antonia’s wedding, as the bride sat in her stunning custom-made gown, I got talking with her dressmaker, Jocelyn, about what style dress I should wear for my wedding day. Jocelyn suggested a long, floaty gown with an high waistline and long layers of silk. When she offered to make it for me I felt so lucky to know someone who could make a bespoke dress for me. Designs were emailed back and forth and I was able to contribute to the designing process to get exactly what I wanted. The purple was matched to the colour I had envisioned, and samples of screen printed silk were sent for me to look at so we could get the pattern right too. It was difficult arranging fittings as I live in England, but luckily I was able to visit Carla in London to have a mock up of the dress fitted. The dress was perfect on the day. Everyone commented on it’s uniqueness. It was wonderful to wear such a beautiful and well made dress that I had helped to design and that was individual to me.

Whitney’s Maine Maxi

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For one time in my life, I found someone that was on my page...There was never a fear, never a stress, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Whitney, Custom Couture

The best of both

Her Favorite Dress

Whitney put on her favorite dress for me. It was a lovely jersey knit maxi with a full skirt sweeping the floor and halter neckline that highlighted her strong shoulders. Then she held up her inspiration, her mother’s wedding dress. It was a 1960s A line shift that stopped just above the knees, with a high crew neck and no sleeves. Over it was worn a a long sleeve lace jacket. It was a very cute ensemble, but did not have the same feel as Whitney’s favorite dress. Can we make a new gown that is all Whitney’s style incorporating elements of her mother’s gown?

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The silhouette of Whitney’s custom wedding gown was drawn directly from her favorite dress. The gathered halter top cinched in at her narrow waist, the skirt skimmed her hips and fell straight to ground with soft fullness.

To honor Whitney’s mother’s gown, we focused on the lovely flowered lace. Inspired by the design, Jocelyn created a silk screen of the lace pattern, which we used to print on the new gown’s waistband. The subtle white print on cream fabric gave elegance and personality to the gown. Using a section of lace fabric, Carla cut around individual flowers in the form of a narrow band creating a racer back shape for Whitney’s dress further highlighting her lovely shoulders. Now her mother’s flowers were wrapped around Whitney’s waist and cascading down her back. As a final touch, buttons reused from Whitney’s grandmother’s wedding gown were placed along the side closure of the finished gown. A new brand new gown using vintage elements. Seeing Whitney’s smile as she tried on her finished gown let us know we had successfully highlighted her unique style!

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in her own words...

I can’t imagine what it is like for a sale’s clerk to ask, “Is this your dress?” Yet, I am certain I know what it feels like to walk down the aisle with an unflappable “Yes!” It is not a dress of another’s dreams; it is a dress that honors me. It is a dress that was made for me. It is the dress that was crafted with careful hands for that day. With each stitch, and each choice, I was considered and consulted. Every detail is chosen in tribute to a special person in my life, lace from Mom’s wedding dress, Gram’s buttons, my love of printing.

I am not the sort of person that likes to shop in major department stores. My first time trying on a wedding dress in a big retail chain was awkward. A lovely girl I had never met, continued to tell me, “This one looks really good on you.” Mom would turn up her nose, knowing that I was going to say, “It just doesn’t feel like me.” She has heard the same sentiment, different words, continuously, since I was 14.
So I took other measures, online, vintage shops, consignment stores. I tried on white dress after white dress and my fiancé would say, “It is really nice, but it doesn’t look like a wedding dress.” I kept trying to convince him that I was not like other brides. He already knew that, though. When I realized Fermata Designs was in my budget, the hunt was over. Nick didn’t have to look at any other “not-so-wedding” dresses and my mom would be included through photos and e-mail. I was in caring hands, now.

I explained the wedding and what I wanted for that day. I showed Carla our invitations and the crafts I made for the wedding. She cried, we shared a moment. I knew I would have nothing to worry about. For one time in my life, I found someone that was on my page. So I imagined and she created. On a very gray day in Maine, I exchanged my vows, looking like the prettiest form of me I can look. There was never a fear, never a stress, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Whitney

Antonia’s Crinoline Craze

Fit for a Queen!

On this rare occasion we were able to make a gown for another dressmaker – she came to us with research images, color ideas, and even drafted the pattern herself!

Since she lives oversees, we worked via Skype and email to finalize details on her custom gown.

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Petticoats and Custom Printing

For this dress, we used Ahimsa 3-ply silk in its natural ivory color and a white silk crepe lining. Two vintage petticoats were altered and combined to achieve the right amount of fullness in the skirt. The use of a screen-printed cornflower design was Antonia’s idea, and Jocelyn drew the screens and printed each garment piece by hand.

A Classic Shape with Modern Punch

The flattering and classic 50’s shape and minimalist pattern highlights Antonia’s tall slender frame. Additionally, the dramatic silver tone flowers, printed asymmetrically on one side of the dress, added interest to the back of the dress as well as the front. Her bright blue accessories and flowers gave this classic style a completely modern punch!

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Jocelyn and Carla's care of my dress right up until the day gave me peace of mind and I really felt the best that I ever had on my wedding day.

Antonia, Custom Couture