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?