Thursday, July 11, 2013

Train Roots: Grandma texture me to sash sis

Last summer I posted a teaser photo of a wonderfully creative 1950's pin-up inspired dress with a lot of texture.  The couple will soon be celebrating year one, while photos and stories are trickling to me.   The brides sister (whom I am making  a sash for from the same grandmother's dress for her wedding this October) wrote this post about J's dress.

Bellow are some of my process photos to better share the detail. 

 One thing that J was crazy about the 6 yards of lace from her grandmother's dress.  She wanted to use as much of it as possible.  We created a way to blend it into the skirt pleats and trim the pockets.  They were only visible when J's hands were in them.

J, also wanted color and texture.  She had spotted the chiffon ruffles I had done on three dresses years earlier and wanted to incorporate it.  She loved the light fringed quality from the raw edges as the ruffles fray. These ruffles are all made my by hand from cutting thin strips of Chiffon.  Very time and labor intensive.

I wish I would have counted them all.

I lay the ruffles out balancing color and height.  Pin each one on.  Some are hand sewn and some on machine.

Mirrored close up

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Train Roots: Dedicated to Waist Less - Part 2

I had planned the second part of this story to be much timelier.  As life happens it changes our minds and ideas and it just didn’t seem right to tell it until now. 
Since posting the first part of this story in August I have experienced the passing of three women all due to of various types of cancer, all whom have children that are my friends or clients I have come to know well.
Jen’s Mom passed a few weeks after the post (she was able to read it and smile), within a few days Paula the mother of my childhood best friend.  Paula was smart, quick witted, and an inspirational woman with so much spirit and stories or advice.  She a look that let you knows when you are out of line.  In October my friend and co-workers mother passed.   As you can guess there has been much traveling and spending time remembering over the past few months. 

While you are traveling to see family and friends over the coming days appreciate them and appreciate your health.  While indulgence is lovely in the moment, bundle up and go for a walk afterward. 
Thanks and Grace to all!
Train Roots:  Dedicated to Waist Less – Part 2

Adding lace scallop trim on 3/4 length sleevs
Two months came and went.  In that time I had finished the lace and details the dress was just waiting on the back.  I met with Jen for the final fitting.  When she walked in she was notably thinner in her checks and neck, but she looked healthy.  She nervously climbed into all of her undergarments and headfirst into the dress.  The zip went to just above her waistline I could see that it was the waist to rib zone where unless you keep losing weight or have a rib removed (the Eden complex) that zipper is not moving.  Looking at the top shoulder line the zipper could over lap.  She was so close!!!!  She had come so far and was soooo close, I couldn’t say no.   I measured the gap eye to eye said “Three weeks Jen, if you can lose a 5/8 of an inch in three weeks this dress will fit you.  It will be tight but it will fit.”  As I mentioned earlier, I never offer this option because it is stressful on me and the bride. I completely believed in her and watched her shed those pounds.  I decided to wait until one week before her wedding.  If it zipped up she had achieved a major goal and worst case scenario I would put in a corset. She was so thankful that she said “If it doesn’t zip, I will pay you double for your patience and the rushed alteration.”  Shake and done.  

Three weeks later she walked in a nervous wreck.  Proving exactly why I do not condone weight loss at the last minute.  I noted that her eyes looked a little brighter blue than they had in the past.  Amazing what changes can do.  Once again Jen nervously climbed into all of her undergarments, petticoat and headfirst into the dress.  I zipped to the same place on her waist and glanced at Jen’s friend Sarah.   Together we held the dress shut and slowly inch by inch worked the zipper up the top.  Jen was so nervous she had not even realized.  I could see she was pacing in her thoughts and I think holding her breath.   I peeked at her around her shoulder into to mirror (she is a good 6 inches taller than me) her face dropped when she looked at me and she mistakenly thought the worst.  I grabbed her around waist and hugged her so she wouldn’t fall and said “No, Jen your zipped!”  I stood with her for a few seconds until she started to acknowledge this and move.  Then we got the mirror so she could see the back.  The tears of triumph, relief, happiness, stress and anxiousness all came pouring out.  Then she said she felt like she was poured into her dress.  That just made me crumble knowing how hard she worked and that she saw herself that way.  That day was about deciding if she was comfortable enough in the dress to wear it the way that it was or if we should air on the side of caution and put in a corset back.  I reminded her that she achieved a major personal goal. She wanted that dress to zip and she did it, and all of her friends and family knew what she had just accomplished and how important it was to her to wear the dress.  As soon as she heard that and the reality of a corset set in and the stress of the moment dissipated she said, “NO! You’re right. I did this, and I still have a week before the wedding.  I can maintain and maybe loss another pound or two.”  The bubbly Jen that I met in January started to shine through again.  I was so happy for her achievement.
I know that she is not done yet, this has become a lifestyle change for her so she can live a long and healthy life with her perfect new hubby on the farm that they will someday have.   

Friday, August 24, 2012

Train Roots: Dedicated to Waist Less - Part 1

I like to start my custom appointments by finding out a little about the couple through the bride’s eyes. How and where they met, what they like to do together, most importantly a few descriptive adjectives about the “other half” in her words.  These topics help me to design a dress keeping their values and priorities in mind.

Last January I asked a bride-to-be Jen to describe her man-to-be.  She smiled, her eyes welled up and she said that “he is perfect”.  A creative, good, old fashioned, Mr. Fix-it who is caring and honest without losing sight of himself.   Then she shared with me the moment when she knew he was the one. It was when he asked her if she could do anything or live anywhere, in any way, what would her answer be? Jen replied with living on her own small farm with her own chickens, a goat, a pig, cats and the other basic farm animals accompanied by her own garden.  Without hesitation he told that they would do just that. She just crumbled while telling me this story… Did I mention Jen is a veterinarian?
Moving on to the dress! I then learned about Jen’s mother and the significance to Jen being able to wear her mother’s dress.  Jen’s mom was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer about a month prior to our meeting.  She was just beginning radiation so there was no telling how much time she had. Jen said “I’m sure you hear this all the time, I am going to lose weight.  Seeing my mom go through this has hit me like a ton of bricks.  I have to make personal changes for myself and my health.  If I don’t take care of me, than I might not be there for this perfect person that I am going to marry. Wonderful opportunities should not be wasted by poor living choices.”   Hearing her comment honest and pointedly hit me like a ton a bricks. I was speechless for a few seconds.
I will never forget Jen’s first appointment. She was a whirlwind.  While glowing with excitement for herself and sharing this personal story, she was anxious with hope and downtrodden with the recent news of her mother’s cancer diagnosis.  After learning all of  about Jen, my take away was the importance of repurposing and utilizing an item to it’s fullest potential for sentiment, good-old fashioned craft and elbow grease (remember Mr. fix-it),  and the fun of it.

Original state before reconstruction
 Inspecting the dress and collaborating with Jen’s photo ideas came next.  Jen admitted that she is an outdoors farm girl with no fashion sense.  All the pictures she had were collected by her sister Heidi, who was with Mom out of state, and whose opinion she totally trusted. For a dress from 1968 it was not bad.  Modest neckline, lace sleeves, full skirt mock lace tiers with an over lay reminiscent of a curtain, but not to over the top.  The biggest problem was the lace that trimmed the entire dress was adorned with sequins that had been glued on.  The glue was visibly yellowing with age.  NOTE to readers: Although gluing is cheaper it will not stand the test of time.  If you truly want your dress or headpiece to last run away from the glue and pay the extra for the real hand sewing and craftsmanship.  Glue is for quick & dirty projects, Halloween costumes and Martha Stewart crafts.  

Discolored glue and sequins have gotta go!
 To transform this dress for Jen I would remove and replace the glued lace with a pretty alenconé scallop trim lace.  The lace that we used had come from a 1950’s dress that a friend of my mother’s had donated to me to use for parts for someone else. (Love it when dresses can merge!)  The reoccurring image in Jen’s photos was the shoulder less elbow length sleeves that are so popular this last year.  That was an easy transformation for the style of this dress and could also be trimmed with the same alenconé scallops to pull the dress together.  The main concern I had was the size difference, approximately four inches too small to be exact.  Jen was insistent on losing the weight to make this dress work without having to fully remake it. I do not encourage this practice as it usually is in light of personal vanity.  Time and time again the bride waits until the last minute to shed the pounds stressing her out and affecting everyone involved, often gets sick because she’s not eating well, and then unrealistically expects the dress to be alterable at the last minute.  What Jen was trying to achieve was different and she was doing it for all the right reasons. Knowing the worst case scenario, I could swap the zipper for a corset back, I agreed to go along on this one with the stipulation that I have to see a severe change in size by the first fitting or I would automatically put in a corset.
Jen’s first fitting was in March a little ahead my preferred fitting timeline but accommodated for Jen’s mom.   She wanted to at least make it to a fitting in case she could not make it to the wedding.  Despite doctor’s orders she got a plane from Arizona with Heidi, Jen’s sister. By this fitting I had replaced the lace on the skirt, let out the dress in all possible seams, cut away the old neckline and shoulders so we could set finished placement of lace on the neckline and on the ¾ sleeves.  When everything was pinned mom was looking at what would be finished dress.   Aside from meeting Jen’s mom in person when she was told not to travel, and the fight or will in her eyes, my second shock was Jen.  She had made lifestyle changes! Walking to work and healthier eating had allowed her to drop a gracious inch and a half in the two months since I had first met her.  That lose paired with the alterations I made to the dress meant she had only another inch and a half to go.  I know the look of stubborn determination and saw it in her eyes.   She was going to fit into this dress.   Knowing what she had accomplished in the last two months and that she was dropping the weight the right way, for all the right reasons, there was no way I could not be supportive.  Against my normal fitting schedule I suggested waiting until one month before her wedding to do her final fitting allowing her as much time as possible to continue healthy weight loss.  If at that time we would need to we could add the corset in the back. I wished her mother best and safe travels, and gave Jen the same look stubborn determination and praise to keep at and off she went.
…To be continued.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Train Roots: To Sleeve or not to Sleeve?

Joanna came to me 6 weeks before her wedding. She had heard about Twice Blushed through National Cleaners, my preferred drycleaner, who specializes in restorative cleaning. 
Joanna walked through my door and said “I hope you can help me”, and began to unwrap the dress bags telling me the significance of her gown’s story.  When I saw her dress I was stone struck speechless.  My thought was Grace Kelly meets White Christmas or Singin’ in the Rain. It had the grace and glitz of iconic 40’s and 50’s movie glam and so beautifully made.   The story was as precious as the dress itself.  It was made for Joanna’s maternal Grandmother in London in the 1950’s and was worn as the receiving gown for the reception.   A full floating light weight skirt constructed of yards of Bias cut silk tulle attached to a low square neck line sleeved top that was dripping with shimmering sequins. Underneath was a separate boned strapless slip also made from the silk tulle.  The slip could have been worn as a dress on its own, undoubtedly a perfect design.   After her grandmother wed in the 1950’s the dress was carefully packaged and saved for the first daughter, Joanna’s mother who married Joanna’s father, in the early 80’s and also wore the stunning dress.  Way to go against the 80’s sleeves and massive bum bows!  The dress was again saved for another daughter that would be Joanna.  So fantastic to have a stunning treasure like that in the attic!  Sadly when Joanna got her hands on the dress it had been passed about a few times as family’s migrated and moved.  She acquired it in a black plastic garbage bag.  Yeah, my eyes nearly popped out of their sockets, thank goodness for great drycleaners.

The heartbreaker to Joanna’s story is that she lost her mom as a child.  To Joanna this dress embodies her mother. She would have done anything to make sure she was wearing in on her big day. Which brings me back to Joanna hoping I could help when she walked in, “Is there any way you can make it fit?”  My favorite loaded question.  1st off the tulle was so fragile I was honestly afraid to touch it, let alone work on it. 2nd is my personal rule when reworking dresses, don’t destroy the integrity of beautiful vintage.  The zipper had a three inch gap through the lowest rib section.   As did the under slip.   By looking at the stitching I could tell the entire top was built by hand due to the intense beading and sequins and any work that I would do, would also be by hand.  Of course, there is no additional fabric and no way would I be able to find a fabric match in that short amount of time.  The best option was to keep the integrity of the dress and make it fit Joanna by removing the sleeves and converting them to side seam insets.   While explaining this to Joanna, she said that the sleeves had been removed for her mom then reattached after the wedding because they were too snug so she was fine with that option.  I did remind her that turning them into insets means they can never go back on as sleeves they would be permanently gone.  She was determined to wear the dress.  The under slip had no sleeves to spare so I had to create a panel to inset where the side hook closures were.  

Aside from the beauty and irreplaceable sentimental value of the dress the work was quick.  First I removed the sleeves and opened the sides of the dress.   At the fitting i double checked the seam gaps so I could create the appropriate size inset, and then got to work.

When Joanna picked up the dress she was ecstatic, teary, relieved, and looked wonderful. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Train Roots: 2 to 1

Corey passed my studio on a Saturday in November of 2010.  She excitedly came in with her fiancés to find out more about what Twice Blushed had to offer.  Her eyes started to light up with excitement, as she told me about her mother’s wedding dress from 1968. Typical 60’s style dress but contained beautiful lace, unfortunately like most dresses passed on from mother to daughter, the dress would not fit Corey.  As I was telling Corey about possible directions we could go with her mother’s dress she confessed that she made the mistake of shopping to quickly and purchased a dress at a sample sale while visiting friends back home in Cali.  She realized to late it’s not really what she wanted, since all sales were final, she was stuck with it.  Ladies, let this be a reminder, don’t drink and shop!  If the bridal boutique offers you champagne only drink one glass or you are likely to make a bad choice, forget to ask pertinent Q’s, and often over spend.  Lucky for Corey, she found me.
Corey and I met a few weeks later for her consult appointment, both dresses in tow and prepared with photos of design details she determined liking after her quick dress splurge.  (Thank you Corey for being wonderfully prepared!)  She wasn’t kidding, the lace on her mother’s dress was stunning!  I had never seen lace like this. It looked like hand crocheted flowers blended with hand embroidery on silk organza, lots of creative potential to work with.  Then we looked at the dress Corey had already purchased, plain, typical strapless mermaid with a train.  The only intriguing thing about this dress, also the reason Corey was interested in it, was the unusual color sort of a lavender undertone to a deep ivory almost champagne.

Before of Mothers dress left, sample gown right.
We began to widdle through photos setting aside the ones that were consistent in design and theme leading us to the lace pattern we created.  To my surprise Corey asked if it was possible to dye to the lace.  (In my mind I was excited about the possibility of dying fabric; however the risk factor is always there especially when you’re dealing with unknown fabric that can’t be replaced.)  Expressing the caution I explained that we could but we would have to sacrifice some lace for color testing, and once I cut apart your mothers dress there is no going back.  Without hesitation Corey said let’s try it! We talked lace color options and finished walking through the design changes. In all the combined reconstruction consisted of: remove gathered bust line pattern to a smooth standard bust, side seams and bum shaping alterations,  deconstruct mother’s dress, test lace pieces, actual dyeing of lace, cut apart and create the appliqué lay-out then sew on, and finish with a bustle. 

A week later, as requested, Corey dropped of paint chips as a guide for dye test. The colors ranging from milky tea to latte…fitting for a Seattleite.

swatches of dye test samples
Meanwhile, I started talking to a friend of mine Kelly, who does the costume crafts Seattle Repertory theatre, about some dye techniques we could try on the fabric.  The good old way of throwing fabric into a pot of color wouldn’t work.   The lace would come out a different color from the organza.  Not good. The organza needed to stay the sheer color it was, so it would not show in the areas that stayed in tack.  Kelly tried variations of fully tea dipped which had minor changes to the organza to painting the lace by hand.   After seeing the swatches Corey was set on the coloring of the hand painted technique.
Lace appliques cut away from organaza

While Kelly painted, I began the dress modifications, allowing me to focus on the lace as soon as it was finished.  Seven hours spent just cutting the organza away from the embroidered lace.  Next is pining the lace on in different configurations to the dress to determine the most attractive pattern that flatters the curves of the gown.  To give you a sense of how much work goes into a custom gown, from testing the lace dye colors, cutting out the lace, to finished sewn on appliqués, the lace portion of the dress took 34 hours.  It was lovely and so personalized. 
Reworking the bust and creating lay-out of lace appliques.

As the big day crept closer, the stress of planning an out of state wedding paired with final exams caused Corey to shed a few pounds.  That perfect fitting garment had to undergo some quick alterations.  Sadly, all of that beautiful lace work transferred flawlessly a month earlier would have to be somehow adjusted with a center back alteration.   Unfortunately, given the short time frame, the only way to make this dress fit was taking it in through the back.  Regardless Corey, made it through finals, looked lovely, and even though her dress started out as mistake purchase it was beautifully sentimental and truly one of a kind. 

Happy 1st anniversary you June birds!

Happy 1st anniversary you June birds!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Train Roots: A real "Vintage Modern"

Maya was one of my first 6 customers back in 2010 when I was still settling into my Ballard studio.  She brought me her grandmother’s wedding dress (and a yard of matching lace) from the late 1950’s.  Even though the dress was white with a Chantilly lace overlay and completed with a center front gathered bust line, it was more fashion savvy than classic wedding for its time.  Grandma was a trend setter and the style worked great for the vintage modern concept that was so popular that year.   Most importantly the dress was stunning on Maya, and still in great shape despite the delicate nature of the lace. 
 Giving the perfection of the dress there was little to be done other then adds-ons.Maya was dreaming of cap sleeves and an interesting neckline. We looked at some example photos and the neckline from a lace dress I had in stock to determine shape and get started. 

Since the one yard of lace was so fragile I did not want to build the straps and then alter.First I did a mock-up of the sleeves and neckline and fit them with dress to get the curvature of the shoulder seams and determine attachment points to the dress.The actual sleeves were backed with tulle then organza to give them a little extra strength, since the lace would have shredded if it was supporting all the weight.

The beautiful simple nature of this dress was screaming to be paired with a veil.Since we had plenty of lace scraps I cut out small appliqués and scattered them along the veil edge.

 The end result was picture perfect!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Train Roots: Korean tradition to contemporary rehearsal dinner

I love this dress story because it weaves tradition, sentiment and personal style into a dress that has mileage far beyond the wedding and it’s a great conversation piece.

Back in April 2010, Kim, a young woman new to Seattle came to me asking if I could turn her mother’s wedding Hanbok (traditional Korean dress similar to a Kimono) into a contemporary yet classy rehearsal dinner dress.   Ah, YES, I would be honored to help with such an amazing project!  
Before phtoo of Hanbok
Kim and I sat down to talk about the design and her personal style; classic, timeless, strapless, straight skirt with a hint of contemporary design, slightly formal with black satin buttons down the back.   As we were talking I learned about traditional Korean wedding (attention-grabbing to me as my better half is Korean but grew up in the states). Sadly, I found out that Kim’s father had passed when she was in high school which immediately makes the sentiment of her mother’s dress far more powerful as he is present in spirit through the fabric.  

Flash forward 10 months later when I started the dress in January 2011.  Might I add that I was scared out of my mind to cut apart this traditional garment!  It had been a long time since a dress really made me that nervous.  My first thought was that I was breaking (at least) a few sacred Korean rules and in my afterlife I would suffer the wrath of their fox lore.  Off course I triple checked my pattern lay-out and made sure to avoid age and wear spots and that the embroidered cranes were all flying in the same direction and not cutting them in half.  Red crowned cranes are a sacred symbol in Korean and other Asian culture, the bird is a symbol of luck and represents spiritual immortality and longevity as birds mate for life.  After I got past cutting, the dress went to together without a glitch.  Kim and I designed a separate black jacket to make the dress more versatile and incorporate the two piece top element of the Hanbok.  We even designed a necktie for her fiancé with a small piece of the Hanbok fabric, including a crane. 
cutting out dress and tie design

After having a great time getting to know and working with Kim, my fav photographer, Jason Fukura, graced us for a mini photo shot with Kim (these photos can be seen on twice blushed homepage To ice the cake, the wedding was going to be in Pennsylvania and I was to ship the dress to Kim’s mother before Kim arrived.  Upon delivery her mother opened the package and called Kim.  Tears of love, loss and joy… “It’s beautiful.”  

Fabulous finale