The Fairy Wedding of Charles Sherwood Stratton and Queen Lavinia Warren
Picture it: New York City, February 1863. Charles Sherwood Stratton (better known by his stage name, General Tom Thumb from his very successful career with his distant relative P.T. Barnum) marries Lavinia Warren in a lavish ceremony. Celebrity weddings have been a spectacle for generations and this one was no exception. Weary from news of the civil war a celebrity marriage served as a bit of levity from the ills of the country at the time. As the New York times reported it:
What lived on from this event for decades to come was the children's pageant-type activity and frequent fundraising performance, the Tom Thumb Wedding. I had not heard of this phenomenon myself until I discovered this print of a photograph from the 1930s:
Tom Thumb Wedding Sept. 14th 1939
Thankfully, the internet exists and it was easy to find out more about this problematic ceremony. Betsy Golden Kellem wrote a nicely detailed article about the history behind Tom Thumb weddings earlier this year. I love learning more about old timey things in an effort to sort out how we used to do things and how we as a society can do better in the future. While I like the idea of teaching children about manners, formalwear, and the value of making and keeping promises, I don't know if this is the best way to go. Surely there is a better way than performing a heavily misogynistic ceremony that infantilizes people with dwarfism and brainwashes kids into buying into the Wedding Industrial Complex.
I also found this story by the New York Times in 1991 that put a less creepy spin on Tom Thumb Weddings. While we aspire for young ladies to want more out of life than a fancy party that lasts one day, I can see many pluses. Perhaps we should teach the next generation what to realistically expect out of marriage instead of stopping at the wedding day. Maybe this is the way to lay out how to budget an event, learn how to respect each other more and/or how the greatest day of ones life probably shouldn't be the day they throw a Love Party.
I'm all for resurrecting the Tom Thumb Wedding. Fundraising for a good cause is always nice. It's a fun theme for a kids dress up birthday party. Plus, who doesn't like cake? I still think there is a better way to go. What improvements can you think of to make? Personally, I would start with two brides because all my favorite weddings have two brides and often twice the lovely gowns.
This was Laura's grandmother's dress from the Turn of the Century (most likely 1890s-1910s). She came to visit me with her mother as she wanted to wear it. It was too small in the waist, wasn't long enough for her torso, and she didn't care for the high neckline covering her elegant clavicle.
Laura's Mother had worn the dress to her graduation in the 1950s or early 1960s. The women of her graduating class all wore white dresses and while many of them were poofy brand new frocks with cupcake skirts and fitted bodices, Laura's Mom simply took a tuck in the skirt of this cotton lawn dress to make it a length in keeping with the style of the times.
I love when families bring me photos of what their garments were up to in the past. Laura's Mom had lovingly removed the machine stitched tuck she took in the mid-century before they came for their consultation fitting with me.
This was Laura's wedding dress when she brought it to me. Not only was it too small in the waist, the bodice wasn't long enough for her torso and she didn't care for the high neckline as it covered her elegant clavicle. I suggested we simply remove the skirt from the bodice and build a new bodice in a style Laura liked so as to preserve this dress for future generations should someone want to return it to its original state. Plus, I love bridal separates as it is easier to work one or both of the pieces into your wardrobe so you don't end up with a "one and done" dress.
After separating the skirt we discussed how Laura was hoping for a V neckline.
I suggested McCall's 9422, a Misses Blouse from 1953. The V-neck portrait neckline with a short sleeve fit with Laura's need for a less buttoned up look. I suggested we begin with a muslin as I had to alter the size of the pattern. It was easy to see the neckline was still too high.
Just before I met Laura, I bought a large lot of antique clothing. The woman to whom they belonged said they were her mother's and grandmother's clothes. The house was built in 1916 and while moving in the ladies packed their older clothes into cedar chests that were stored in the attic of the newly built house and seldom looked at again. Several night gowns of fine cotton lawn that were in less than perfect conditions (including visible antique mending) matched Laura's skirt nicely. The fabric was so fine and delicate that I didn't want to have to do much altering.
Learning about the brides I work with and their families is among my favorite things about sewing on heirloom gowns. Laura initially mentioned that she had worn the dress when she was 14. Imagine my delight when deep into our summer of fittings it was revealed that she wore it for her 14th birthday to a Victorian themed tea party in an antique house. I was lucky enough to have Laura lend me these photos to scan so I could share this charming slide show with you.
Once we had a bodice, we had a chance to make some detail decisions. I saved these eyelet, cotton blouse fronts from an antique top that someone delicately dismantled and hoarded in their sewing room until their demise. I hate for things like this to go into the trash so I have a drawer I stuff things of this nature in when I come across them. While looking at the eyelet work in the skirt, I knew I'd finally found a purpose for this beautiful textile. We took out two of the center sections, folded under the finished edge and hand stitched it to make it the size we wanted.
Fitting this fine fabric, cut on the bias was a chore that required many fittings. In the process I shortened the skirt by lowering the waist to a larger section and leaving the excess fabric inside without cutting so the option of reassembling the original dress was still a choice.
Laura found some antique hems that her grandmother removed from other antique garments and saved for a rainy day. One matched quite nicely and we used it to create a bit of a peplum before I applied a waistband cut from the nightgown we used for the top. This peplum also served to cover some tiny holes and a few stains that faded but did not completely come out during the soaking and spotting process.
It was such a delight getting to know Laura. She converted to Judaism prior to the wedding. I also hemmed the ends of her chuppah cover which was a lovely bunch of yardage she purchased for a very reasonable price at the fabric store. I've seen many a creative chuppah cover over the years, but this certainly seemed the easiest.
Unfortunately there is not a picture of her grandmother in the original dress, but Laura did have one from around the time her grandmother was wed. Can you see the family resemblance?
As we wrap up the majority of this year's Rose Festival events and the sailors return to sea; today we explore Mother Dear's 1960s Rose Festival antics. She's pictured above as Miss Fleet Week in the mid 1960s with Earl Mossman, the self proclaimed "Mayor of Broadway" and a mystery lady. Comedically crowned Miss Fleet Week in the Merry Khana parade of 1967, she's seen here wearing a pink leotard with black gloves seated on a mink stole because if there's one thing that hasn't changed in Portland, it's the rain and chilly weather that almost always accompany Rose Festival week. Peter Corvallis shot this photo for The Oregonian.
Vaudvillian performer, Earl Mossman continued to entertain until his dying day and was known for bringing talent and entertainment to Portland in the December of his fascinating life. He would come into my grandfather's store and ask if Mother Dear would be available to join his bevy of attractive ladies in any number of parades throughout the years. Photo by Chuck Von Wald, The Oregonian.
Here we see one of Mother Dear's first rides as one of Earl Mossman's "Visiting Councilettes." The newspaper clipping points out that "Mary Lynn is planning a career in television and is one of 25 students attending the exclusive National Academy of Broadcasting in Washington, D.C." They go one to explain that the Academy was run by Alice Keith, "The First Lady of Radio." She was associated with the Victor Company, long before it joined Radio Corporation of America and at one time taught music at Columbia University. I imagine Ms. Keith was very experienced by the time she was running the Academy. They also mention Mother Dear's modeling in her days at St. Mary's Academy and an appearance on Konnie Worth's Telescope Show on KGW-TV.
The whole crew would stop by the Ray Bolger Clothier location on Broadway where this photo was taken.
Earl Mossman knew better than anyone that it is not what you know, but in fact WHO you know. Joe Fisher Ford loaned him what we think is a 1964 Ford Galaxie convertible. What Mother Dear remembers about this photo now is the pink linen suit dress she was wearing. Also that this parade was to hell and gone out in North Portland. I believe it was one of the first few St. John's parades which began in 1962.
This heavily decorated car from Fred Bauer is one of my favorites. The Glass Palace serves as an excellent backdrop for this kitschy covered Chevrolet convertible courtesy of Fred Bauer. This photo is a fine example of the value of a good photographer. Photo Credit: Leonard Bacon, Staff Photographer, The Oregonian.
This is a profile snapshot of the same car/float. Bonus points if you can spot Mother Dear in this photos. It took me awhile. Hint: You can't see her face.
I've been watching my dear friend's seven year old son while working on this blog post. He's become quite an expert at spotting Mother Dear in vintage photographs. First he said it was because she was always in white. After pointing out she's wearing black in this photo from 1965 we determined the best way to spot her was to look for the person dressed a little differently than everyone else.
This amusing clipping from a St. Patrick's Day parade also served as advertising for the show Mother Dear was doing at the time. I remember her telling me about the Merry Khana parade as a child. It was a lit evening affair that picked up in 1925 where the original idea left off. The first illuminated nighttime parade in Portland was atop our street car system in the year of 1907 when we began celebrating the Rose Festival.
1967 may have been her last parade. Clowns in billowing suits with elastic cuffs and hems were filled to the brim with miniature bottles of alcohol. Firefighters spraying "leggy" and "curvacous" women (and their Ed Hamilton furs) with their hoses. By 1972, the last year of the Merry Khana, retaliating parade goers were dousing the crowd with water balloons, ice balls and gutter water. In this newspaper clipping, you'll notice the firetruck and fighters who may have started it all when they kept spraying the convertible of councilettes in front of them. I trust they were all fully "gassed." After doing some googling I found a much better copy of the above clipping here along with a slide show of many 1960s Rose Festival photographs from the Oregonian.
These adorable snapshots look to have been taken on the first floor of the Veteran's Memorial Coliseum. I have my own closely held memories of The Glass Palace and am always excited to see it in person or on film. Click any of the pictures above to view them as a larger slide show.
I have my own various Rose Festival memories. Back in the late 2000s, I received a call from Bill of The Beaterville Cafe. Initially he wanted to know if I would be a Beaterville Babe, but thought I was more of a Beater Queen type. I had many a tiara but thought that the role of Queen would require something more dramatic. Despite poor quality photos, I bid on a rhinestone crown I found on eBay. It originally belonged to a woman in Pennsylvania who won a beauty pageant in the 1960s. It now resides in my Vintage Emporium on display up high for all to see. Turned out it was much larger than it's measurements implied.
I rode with the Beaterville band in many a parade from Good In The Hood to the St. John's parade. On one occasion a team of my lady friends joined me as we rode in the Starlight Parade along with The Rebuilding Center.
Alicia came to us wanting to wear her Grandmother's wedding gown from 1960 that her Mother also wore in 1985. It wasn't far from fitting when she brought it in. She was fairly fond of the style of the dress and didn't desire to change anything. It looked well loved when we first had a look at it.
This dress just needed a little help. It nearly fit, just barely not zipping all the way up and being tight in her shoulders. An easy fix if you can find the right fabric with which to create some under arm gussets. I was fortunate enough to have just bought a dress that was reconstructed in the 1970s from what we presume was a family dress from the late 1950s or early 1960s. They had added a bunch of polyester satin with a heavy ruffle at the hem to compensate for the lack of length. They used the organdy fabric from a 50s/60s dress (similar to this and our Red Headed Bride's dress) to make a more columnar skirt that fell from an empire waistline and was more in keeping with the bridal trends of the 1970s.
Brown spots like the ones seen above don't usually come out all the way, though we are mighty skilled at fading them beyond obviousness. For roughly $100-$150 (depending on the dress) we will spot, gently hand launder and press vintage wedding gowns that are capable of being submerged in water. Certain fabrics and things with elaborate ornamentation should always be professionally dry cleaned.
Initially, I thought this would require sleeve removal, but we ended up extending the gussets into the bottom of the sleeve a bit.
In the end, this dress cleaned up beautifully and we rented Alicia a 1950s cotton hoop skirt to keep her cool on the big day and to fluff out the fullness of the skirt. The first photo in this post nicely exemplifies how the petticoat, crinoline or hoop skirt beneath your gown can drastically change the whole look. Sometimes with very little effort one can make a family gown or close fitting vintage dress be the dress of your dreams. This dress required approximately 4 hours of labor.
I went looking for content for Mother Dear Monday and ran across my stack of 1950s salesman sample cards from Fashion Frocks Inc. out of Cincinnati, Ohio. As I recall, these came into the antique store Mother Dear and I used to work at in the 1990s and early 2000s. Always a lover of 1950s fashions, I was immediately taken by the delightful fashion illustrations. As a seamstress, to be able to feel the texture and weight of the fabric swatches let me imagine exactly what these garments were like and better acquaint myself with vintage fabric types. Many of the dresses are half sizes or juniors like these plaid dresses that look much like Mother Dear's 1950s frock. The blue dresses feature a novelty print of hat boxes. Sadly, the swatch presented is from an unprinted portion of the fabric.
Fashion Frocks Inc. was a dress manufacturing company from 1908 through the beginning of the demise of American made ready to wear clothing in the 1970s. You might find recruitment adverts in the back of magazines boasting how one could ear an extra $23.50 a week selling door-to-door or later, in a party environment as made popular by Tupperware.
My collection of over 80 cards includes annotations by the salesperson. Mostly math regarding deposits and shipping or sizing changes. While semi irritating to the collector, I like this as it reveals what garments were popular and/or getting multiple purchases.
Many of these garments are offered in specialty sizes with lots of code. Small sizes with shorter torso lengths for Misses and Juniors. "Half sizes" are often designed for less hourglass shaped figures. As my dear friend's Mother always says; "Back then, you didn't get fat until you were old." And people rarely made direct mention of it as I'm certain it was considered quite rude. Note the grey-ish blue hair on an otherwise wrinkleless face and a body illustration that doesn't particularly differ from the other models. Everything is styled and described very slimmingly.
"A Fashion Must... your most becoming figure ally is this slim line Town casual, with emphasis on the beautifully tucked shoulders and a self belt assuring and unbroken line. A dress that's a real treat to your figure... with it's gored skirt and sleeves just below the elbow. Cool...comfortable...and so flattering. Jeweled buttons latch you in this dress of many wonderful hidden design secrets."
Lynn Mally (UCI Professor Emerita, History) has a fascinating blog that revolves around what older women in America have worn from 1900 to today. It features a post of Fashion Frocks where she further discusses sizing in posts found here and here.
I love sets of things whether it be match-matchy or contrast fabric. I just took some quick snapshots with my phone to share some of these in today's post. All of these cards have been scanned at high resolution and made available in a PDF format that you can instantly download in my Etsy shop. It's certainly an excellent choice of clip art for your many vintage fashion projects. You may enter coupon code 25PERCENTOFF for a 25% discount at checkout.
I love that they have different fonts to match the style of the garment being offered. This Sari inspired gold print dress doesn't seem as "exotic" to me as they were pitching it. I do appreciate the veiling simply tied over her smart coiffure, though.
Though this is clearly how I would have been earning extra pocket money if I had been an adult living in the 1950s, you didn't need to excel at sales. It's clear to me from all the markings and the sheer quantity of cards that the original owner was quite the saleslady, or she had one big party where she sold every woman in 10 square miles dresses for the whole family. It seems like these are multiple seasons of dresses from what I estimate is the mid 50s. 1956-1958 based on the basque waists, willowy torsos and fluid full skirts. The back of many cards have line drawings of the reverse of the garment with a snappy sales pitch and detailed description. Others illustrate the company's integrity. The Good Housekeeping Guarantee seal has been the stamp of approval for good products since 1909. Few people know that it was (and still is) a limited warranty in the form of a refund, repair or replacement if a product carrying the seal is found to be defective within two years of purchase.
The University of California, Irvine has a collection of 124 style cards from the 1952 Spring collection in addition to letters from the company to Fashion Frocks, Inc. representatives, delivery schedules, a stock list, and a broadside detailing bonus gifts for sales representatives with large orders. While I don't have any of those goodies, the back of a few pages had a good deal of information about the company itself.
The details in these cards astound me. Possibly best of all particularly from a consumer standpoint, is that each sheet details whether garments are meant to be Dry Cleaned or if they are Guaranteed Washable. They went to many lengths to test fabrics for strength, colorfastness, shrinkage and washability.
Love! Full skirted, cotton house dresses are my idea of ideal comfort. While I'm always partial to wrap around styles, these zip fronts are inspiring This card of fancy house dresses is also available for purchase on Etsy from another seller, currently offered for $21.
The details in these dresses are quite amazing for what seems like a moderate price. Particularly for not having to go far for purchase if a Fashion Frocks Inc. representative lived in your neighborhood. While many women were home sewers, it must have been nice to have the option of a button front dress with panniers at each hip without having to do all the work yourself.
I also presume many women would buy these garments for their rapidly growing children who needed fancy frocks more frequently than their Mothers. These "Can-Can" cottons are delightfully displayed, while charming fashions for Young Glamour girls are boasted as easy care, washable party dresses. Which I'm certain both young and old could benefit from. The card on the left can be purchased from Burst of Vintage on Etsy for $26.
Very few of these dresses come in loud or novelty prints, the one pictured here being the boldest I found. Many of them are made out of "Miracle Pongee," a fabric you will never forget after handling it's synthetic silky smoothness.
For me, The Sweatered Dress is the most interesting of the whole bunch. It's base of "crisp, tweedy herringbone with a rich look" is actually a seersucker Everglaze cotton with a "throat-hugging knit sweater-yoke." Both are guaranteed washable.
There were several duplicates. Not too many, just enough to make one wonder; "haven't I seen this one already?" while flipping through the 2 inch thick stack. The "Orltop" was my favorite and not just because it's red, white and blue. They have some very subtle differences including a brown swatch and indicating red was no longer an option in the more recent card. There's a dollar increase in the price and I can't says I blame them. Eight button holes and scalloped pockets really add to one's production costs.
There were even a few socks and shirts available for men. Presumably, these were purchased by wives made to feel guilty while shopping, to shop even further. I love how much these reveal about marketing and advertising techniques of the past. There are a few more featured on Darling Betty's blog.
I have four duplicate frock cards (pictured here and directly above) I thought I might be able to part with. Why not have a little contest I thought? Follow me on instagram, Facebook, twitter, pinterest or tumblr* and comment below to let us know you're following along. You'll be entered into a random drawing to win my duplicate Fashion Frocks Cards. If we have enough entries, I will split them into two lots so there will be twice as many winners. Drawing will occur at our Nina Simone listening party, this Friday April 22nd at the Emporium and you need not be present to win. Though you should feel free to stop by between 7-10pm to listen to Nina Simone records and drink whiskey with us.
*Already follow us on all the social media you use? Just share this blog post and tag me before leaving your comment.
Our Redheaded Bride (a loyal customer of AlexSandra's Vintage Emporium since she was in high school) was married in March of 2014. She'd been engaged for sometime and knew she wanted to wear her Grandma Jean's dress. Megan was introduced to me by her Aunt and I had met Grandma Jean in the past. It was particularly exciting to work on a bride's family dress with the original wearer at most fittings with a positive and enthusiastic attitude.
Often, it is difficult to decide whether to wear a family gown or buy something brand new. When we met for her initial consultation. She was concerned that some family members thought she had unrealistic expectations, thinking she could fit her modern-day plus-size body into the same dress tailored for her Grandmother's 26" waist. They encouraged her to look at contemporary gowns. She found they lacked the enormous full skirt and sentiment of her Grandmother's dress. Seeing the price of modern gowns was quite a shock to her mother who had bought her own dress at a shop going out of business for $100. Even Grandma Jean only paid $150 for her gown, though in 2016 dollars that $150 has the buying power of roughly $1223, which is not an unrealistic price for a modern wedding gown.
Jean was married in 1959 in this embroidered organdy overlay gown with taffeta lining, much like the fabric used to make Mother Dear's prom dress. Jean's dress features a scalloped hem and a tremendous full sweep skirt. She originally purchased and had it altered to fit her at Lipman's here in Portland, Oregon.
Megan is such a good sport! You can't even tell how nervous she is that her wedding is less than two months away and she doesn't have a wearable dress. The first thing I do when trying to enlarge a dress is to remove the sleeves, open the side seams and let out any darts. So many wedding dresses are voluminously gathered at the waist, the trick is to get the bodice to fit and spread the skirt out to accommodate the new waist size. There were three large bows on the skirt and we removed two to potentially use elsewhere. At first I thought they would make interesting straps if we needed more room. Fortunately, our Readheaded Bride and Grandma Jean are of similar heights. The dress had rather evenly aged to a lovely candlelight and with no obvious stains we elected to forgo the steep cost of cleaning.
Side gussets were created out of the same type of embroidered organdy fabric. I cut them from a horrible 1970s dress redo of a 1950s dress that I picked up on the cheap. There is a similar scrolling branch pattern, though when the color matches nicely enough, the bride needn't worry because the under arm location is covered for the most part.
In this photo of the Father of the Bride giving her away to her groom, the gussets are visible, but do not detract from the dress. The armholes were finished with vintage bias tape stitched on by machine and then finished by hand.
I adore sentimental Megan. In an age where many brides forgo any veil at all or a fascinator/bridcage at the most, Megan found she also had Grandma Jean's veil. There was just one tiny hole in it and I suggested we press out the tulle and she wear it as is. The matching organdy bow sealed the deal for me!
We let this dress out 12" in the waist. Removing the original closure and creating a corset back was critical in achieving this. I'm fortunate that my dear friend, Britta once worked for a pageant shop where she learned many invaluable skills that would never cross my old timey vintage sewing path. As I have done in the past, we commissioned Britta to help out. Unlike the corset kits you can now purchase online, this was custom created by Britta for Megan. Individual loops sewn into a boned edge (for extra stability) laced together with a satin ribbon over a modesty panel made from the dress redo fabric. We also cut into it make our Third Generation Bride's dress fit. There's still enough left over for one or two more of these type of dresses to be altered from one poorly done, sad reconstruction. Once we decided the straps would be hand stitched to fit properly, we repurposed those bows. One resides at the bottom of the corset back, as seen above. Can you find the hole in the veil? Many small flaws aren't readily visible in the vast majority of photos.
It's very rare that the original owner of a family dress makes it to the wedding. These are the photos I delight in. Family gowns can give reason to join together and create something new out of the evidence of stories from the past. When we were finished Grandma Jean whispered to me, "You have magic in your fingers." As I reached in the pocket of my dress for a handkerchief I dabbed my dewy eyes and offered her my sincerest of thank yous.
Megan and Brad were married in Everett, Washington at the historic Monte Cristo Ballroom. Brad was stationed overseas and flew home for the wedding. The ceremony and reception were both held inside the building but some pictures were taken walking around downtown Everett near the waterfront. They celebrated their second anniversary this month.
When Mother Dear was growing up on top of Council Crest one of her neighbors was Bill Berry, a confirmed bachelor. He worked at The Clothes Horse in downtown Portland. One day he confessed to Mother Dear that he would always wake up early on Sunday morning (after a lively Saturday night) to see what The Bolger's were wearing to church. Especially on Easter, which was never a disappointment. Though these photos are from December of 1959 and seasonally inappropriate, you can see why a fashion forward gentleman might rise early to catch the ensembles of the Irish Catholic clothier family across the street. While Mother Dear and I were looking at these photos today I said, "you're wearing wool." She pointed out, "that dress was silk."
I do love the vast potential of the internet. While searching to see if google might know the correct spelling of Bill Berry, I was delighted to find Sentiment: A Memoir by Cheryl Krkoc which recounts her life being raised by immigrant parents. There was a passage about her father's many connections in every town. Her parents frequented The Clothes Horse and made friend's with Bill. They would go for steaks and drinks at The RingSide where Cheryl and her sister would sometimes be invited and Bill would choose drinks he thought fit their personalies. She remembers him once wearing a full length fur coat. He was certainly a dedicated follower of fashion.
At my Grandmother’s funeral Bill Berry arrived with an entourage of no less than five. As MD was shuffling people out of the church, Bill came up to her with his sympathies and apologized for taking up her time. He just wanted to see what she was wearing to the funeral.
With a twirl her voluminous purple wool cape it billowed out, revealing her Mother's purple and pink marbled glass rhinestone pendant center stage as she said, "I hope I didn't disappoint."
“No, that’s exactly what I envisioned you would be wearing."
Though we stopped going to mass when I was three years old, Easter was still a time to get dressed up and go visit relatives for dinner in the afternoon. Evidently, it has always been so as this photo of Mother Dear and Uncle Bill visiting California cousins at Easter in 1949 proves.
The other side of the family was not to be neglected.
Here Uncle Bill and Mother Dear are seen with cousins including JoAnn and Sharon who we have recently rediscovered after they followed my Facebook Fan Page. We've been sharing photos of family members back and forth, many of which have never been seen before by the recipients.
This photo of Uncle Arthur, Aunt Helen and their sons is also from Easter 1949. I find it's a lovely example of spring fashions for men, women and boys for that year. I revel in dated photos as we often don't know exactly when the vintage we find is from. I have found that training with dated snapshots, magazines and movies you can really hone the skill that answers the question, "How old is this?"
Our Easter table was always decorated with paper maché rabbits and panoramic sugar eggs that I would stare into and make up stories about. I shared a paper maché bunny with the neighborhood in my Easter hat window with some decorative egg picks to which I added tiny round brooches. What Easter traditions does your family observe?
Kelsey brought me her Mother's 1978 Lorrie Deb satin wedding gown that neither fit her body nor her style back in 2012. She wanted to wear it and I was happy to help. It probably looked just like this to begin with.
Kelsey had already removed the puffy, chiffon sleeves. She wasn't thrilled with the high neckline and had made a pinterest board of bodices she liked. They were all lace tops with keyhole backs. She bought several lace samples on Etsy and we found that trying to find something to match online was tricky. Finally, I was inspired by a dress Mother Dear had her Mother make in the 1970s.
It was an A line maxi dress cut out of a quaker lace tablecloth and lined in blue. She wore it to her parent's 40th wedding anniversary party in 1978 accessorized with a satin ribbon to match the lining and an antique ivory brooch on top. My Grandmother was a by-the-book sewer and Mother Dear was forever making her construct things in a manner she felt was wrong. But lucky for us she did it anyway. People who don't sew always have a lot of ideas about things, but the how to is often missing. I love how this project mirrored the interactions my Mother and Grandmother had making our inspiration dress. I usually describe bride's by nicknames they earn during their fitting. At this point, we began referring to Kelsey as Tablecloth Bride.
sI cut a section from the center of the tablecloth that looked like it might suit our needs. I loosely trimmed it and kept cutting away at every fitting. You never really know what's going to happen or what the end product will actually look like when refashioning dresses and gowns. Brides with a good attitude, a creative mind and an overflowing imagination are my best clients. This also requires a good deal of trust for a successful outcome.
I'm always very cautious when it comes to this type of work, because if you mess up there aren't always a lot of good ways to correct mistakes. I like to overthink things before getting out my scissors. This results in many fittings. I only charge a consolation fee for the first visit so that brides don't skimp on fittings. They and the time in-between them are valuable for brainstorming and creative contemplation.
A little trimming made a big difference! Next we had to figure out how to connect the top to create a keyhole.
I lopped a piece out of the tablecloth that I thought would suit the shape of the neck. But it wasn't long enough. The bride suggested adding some florets.
I began by painstakingly hand stitching the scallops to the front of the bodice, the lace around the neck hand stitched to itself and we left the back loose until we got closer to finishing and could figure out the best way to wrap things up back there. The answer turned out to be lots of snaps and a few lace appliqués.
I do all of my machine stitching on a 1954 Singer 99K portable machine. It is a workhorse that I can (for the most part) maintain and repair myself. This dress was a just little too small for the bride. I let out both side seams and when replacing the weak nylon zipper with a staunch metal one, I found a great deal of excess fabric to let out at the center back that provided us with a perfect fit.
Precise trimming and a good deal of Fray Check transformed this into something people are unlikely to recognize as a tablecloth.
Next, we had to decided what to do with the hem. The bride didn't care for the original satin, high/low ruffle hem and removed it herself to save on labor costs. I had just purchased a 1930s wedding dress with a square train and thought that might look interesting with her dress.
We ended up making a smaller pointed train with just one corner. This was the most difficult task on this project. Joining the hem of the tablecloth on a curve in front to the pointed back in a symmetrical way on the side seams was quite complicated.
Tablecloth Bride did so many things for her wedding herself. She handmade her hair flower from the chiffon sleeves and her Grandmother's handkerchiefs with added birdcage style detachable veil. She was a delight to work with. I love a creative and challenging project and this certainly provided loads of both.
For a majority of the year The Portland Civic Theater Guild puts on a reading at the Old Church the first Tuesday of the month. This is in part because local actress Lannie Hurst spearheaded a movement in the 1960s to save the leaky Old Church from demolition. It's such a beautiful example of American Gothic architecture with all it's little details, that I can't imagine it's paint peeling and people seriously considering taking it down. Last week we discussed Lannie Hurst, her wedding dress and her contributions to saving the Old Church. These photos were taken on an excursion to see The Guild in 2013. It was a beautiful day and I took the opportunity to be photographed in the Lannie Hurst Memorial Parlour.
I wore a 1957 reproduction Butterick B4513 pattern dress I made to wear to Doug and Mary's wedding nearly a decade ago. I made it for a smaller me, but the back half of the waist is elastic and the bias binding that binds the underarms as well as the front and back of the bodice tie into straps wherever you like, making for a very adjustable fit. I tie them over my bra straps to keep from having to wear a long line strapless bra in the heat. This dress is great because it is simple to make and with a properly sized belt, it can fit a variety of my sizes.
This was a quick and easy dress that I highly recommend. I used a poly Charmeuse by Hi-Fashion Fabrics that was made in 2003. It was left over from my late 1990s-early 2000s addiction to buying yardage at the monthly 40% off fabric sale at Fabric Depot. I whipped this out in a hurry using many shortcuts as I often do for clothing I am making for myself. I didn't cut out the sides of the circle skirt, only the waist leaving the selvages in tact for two reasons. Beyond saving time not cutting, the selvage serves as a finished edge that needn't be serged, pinked or otherwise dealt with. It is also printed with the year the fabric was manufactured so in the future, it will be easy for people to tell this is a reproduction dress and not true vintage. I also did a quick rolled hem with my serger. This usually saves me from having to add length to a pattern. This dress always gets lots of compliments from friends and strangers alike. I think it's the bold chrysanthemum print in black and red on a creamy white background. A full skirt always garners a good deal of attention.
Before the reading, ladies of The Guild serve coffee and cookies and socializing occurs. Please note the thoughtful comedy and tragedy vases on the table. We caught them setting up, before all the action begins.
The lights are dimmed to indicate the show is about to start and we all shuffle off to grab a seat in the pews.
Readings are preformed in front of this magnificent organ on a stage where music stands and microphones are set up. The performance we saw was an edited version of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. A cast of four. Douglas Webster, Chrisse Roccaro, Kurt Raimer and Debbie Hunter.
As I recall, the opened with Madeleine, a peppy number filled loquacious lyrics. "Madeleiene's my Christmas tree, she's America to me, I know that she's too good for me." If you're a Françophile like myself and a musical lover, I highly suggest you take in this show any time you're lucky enough to find it being preformed. But it's not all fun and games. Recently a dear friend of mine was discussing how sometimes she like to unwind from the pressures of preforming with a good cry. This one about Les Vieux from the 1975 Jacques Brel movie does it for me everytime.
I'm always extra excited to see people we know performing and I was delightfully surprised to see long time customer, Debbie Hunter.In a charming 1950s Mexican cotton skirt with sequins.
There's a lot of socializing afterwards where we are introduced to new people...
And reunited with old friends. Debbie's Mother-In-Law is Miss Patty of Romper Room. We purchased and sold her 1959 wedding gown complete with a snap shot of her dress which you can see in it's Etsy listing. We were all pleased we got the same outfit color coding memo.
Mother Dear: Prop Comic. Give my Mom a knife and fork and she'll make them into a candlestick phone and create six to ten minutes of material in a Chaplin like manner. A checker at the grocery store recently turned off his register and refuse to ring up Mother Dear until she explained to him why she always looked so happy. She was a bit taken aback. I pointed out that I don't think people are very good at being happy and don't know how to do it. We decided it pays to have a good sense of humor.
1957 Butterick b4513
The staircase at The Mallory is tremendous and always reminds me of a scene in Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn as bookworm turned model by photographer Fred Astaire. The camera couldn't catch me coming down the stairs but we did get a shot showcasing the tremendous volume of the skirt.
Obviously, we're fans of the May Musical. Perhaps you'll join us this year? They are so delightfully old fashioned at The Guild that you may purchase your tickets at the door or mail a check to the address listed at the above link. Come and see some of this amazing architecture for yourself!
My favorite thing about vintage clothing and particularly vintage wedding gowns and dresses are the stories. Hearing daughters and granddaughters tell tale of their loved ones and learning about a human being's life from the threads that clothed their bodies. Mrs. Peter Leopold Hurst was born Frances Lanier, though I always knew her as an actress friend of Mother Dear's that everyone called Lannie. Not to be confused with MD's friend Lambie. Lannie passed away in 2010 and when the family was trying to figure out what to do with her wedding dress, our mutual family friend Suzanne (Portland is very small) immediately thought of AlexSandra's Vintage Emporium. I was lucky enough to get the ostrich feathers, but not the hat or belt she wore. Though we don't know the year Lannie was married despite a lengthy obituary in the Oregonian, her crepe backed satin dress feels like silk and is an ode to the style, quality of manufacture and materials available in the mid 1940s.
In 1967, Lannie began a campaign to save the Old Church, Portland's oldest church building on it's original site. She gathered together the community and found the resources and talent to buy, remodel and save this Old Portland treasure. By 1972 it was designated a national historic landmark. You can find out more about it here.
This is the beautiful Lannie Hurst Parlor, adjacent to the church and named in honor of Lannie, her initiative and efforts.
Once a month throughout the school year, The Portland Civic Theater Guild puts on 45-90 minute readings in front of the tremendous organ inside the Old Church. Mother Dear meets up with her actress pals from the past and afterward they head over to "The Mallory" to have lunch at Gracie's. A business (usually a local theater) sets up a display at the center table where they serve coffee and cookies before the performance. Occasionally I attend with MD and last April after advertising in the program the month before, The Guild asked me to bring my wares down to display and discuss my shop for a bit. Since this occurs in the Lannie Hurst Parlor, I thought it the perfect time to have my buddy and master era hairstylist, Kristen Behlings don Lannie's dress and share it with the ladies at The Guild.
I was really excited to get a picture of Kristen in Lannie's wedding dress in the Lannie Hurst Parlor.
This business causes one to contemplate the mortality of human beings on a regular basis. Things like this fill me with an abundance of emotions. To think that a dress might be the reason that people continue to talk about your life and achievements six or more years after your passing is an interesting thought. Reuniting a garment once filled with the flesh of a woman who did things for the betterment of the city of Portland with a building that would no longer exist if it weren't for this one person makes me happy. Sparking a memory of someone who has shuffled off this mortal coil with older people who may have a harder time remembering every day things, feels like giving a gift. Seeing a glow of recognition on an otherwise downward turned face is one of my favorite rewards in life.
Some of Lannie's best advice was on the subject of age. "I delight in my age," she said at 64. "I delighted in every age I have lived. Each has it's sense of marvelous treasures." We should all be so lucky.
Now this dress will become another woman's wedding ensemble. Who knows what she will go on to accomplish. All we know now is that she's going to have excellent taste. We can hope that she will be able to enjoy every age she lives. Find a gallery of studio photography of this dress below. Click on any to fill your screen with an image and click your way through. Find it for sale on Etsy here.
"Alexsandra helped me transform my great grandmother's turn of the century dress into my dream wedding dress. The dress was way too small for me, but through some seamstress magic, Alexsandra was able to not only create a dress that fit me well but also preserved the original design, should someone down the line want to restore it to it's original condition. Alexsandra is available by appointment only, which is very convenient and it's never hard to find a time. Appointments are fun and often include the witty banter of her mother. She was masterful in taking my wishes and vision and making them come to life in a practical way, always keeping cost in mind and making sure that the project expense wouldn't spiral out of control. I am so happy that I chose to work with Alexsandra and support a local business instead of sinking a bunch of money in to a generic poor quality dress from a box store."