The Story of the Dress – Part VI The Amazing, Beautiful and Enchanting Wedding

Catherine and John were married this past weekend!  She looked absolutely beautiful in her dress and John was very handsome in his tux!

Mrs. Catherine Game and Mr. John Cawood

Most of my “art time” for the three weeks before the wedding was spent on tweaking her dress – completing the beading, trimming seams, tacking down the lining and hemming the underlining, lining and dress.  On Catherine’s last visit up north before the wedding, I took the bodice in about 1″ on each side seam creating a perfect fit, showcasing her figure.  I cut the hem line for the lining and underlining and proceeded to hem both.  As I worked on covering the remaining stains with beads, new design challenges emerged.  Working with the original bead designs from my mother’s dress, I tweaked and adjusted the final composition, while keeping in mind what went on the left front skirt panel would also go on the right front skirt panel (and the same with the back) to follow the symmetry of the dress.  One side held quite a few stains, while the other only had 2-3 small spots but both sides received equal beaded treatment.  When it was all said and done, it looked beautiful and no stains were seen!

Back in March, I opened a cupboard door looking for something and out fell an old tattered white cardboard jewelry box. I bent over to pick it up and realized it held an old necklace and clip earrings that had belonged to my Grandmother Alma.  As I held it in my hands, I couldn’t believe what I saw.  The strands of beads matched so closely to the beads from my mom’s dress!  What a synchronicity!  I showed it to Catherine on our next visit downstate  and she decided to wear it with a little bit of tweaking.  Instead of two twisted strands of beads, she wanted only one and we shortened the length of it by about 2 1/2 inches.  Removing the old dark cording that was twisted with the strands, lightened the weight of the necklace and I added a string of the very tiny seed beads from my mother’s dress.  The clasp on back was broken, but I went to our local bead shop, Twisted Sisters, and purchased a lobster claw.  With the one strand removed,  a hole was now available for the claw!

During the ceremony, Catherine looked up at John. Notice her necklace once worn by her Great-grandmother Alma Woodward.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?  Well, the necklace wasn’t quite finished when we arrived at the Kettunen Center, but I thought I would have plenty of time to complete it.  After all, we arrived on Thursday evening, a day and a half before the wedding would begin, at 3 p.m. that Saturday.  On Friday, many hands pitched to wrap small white lights around grapevine which suspended from the dropped ceiling, transforming a basement into an enchanting dance hall.  Saturday morning rolled around and we all were very busy, perhaps extremely busy, finishing decorating the reception room, setting up tents, hanging fabric on the outdoor arbor, putting centerpieces on the dining tables, etc.  Hugs and introductions were made as guests arrived!  The joy and excitement built as many important people in Catherine and John’s lives, met the others for the first time.

A hydrangea from John's mom, Becky, floated in a round vase, with a bundle of sticks tied with milkweed fiber, moss, votives and a dried milkweed pod holding the table number was placed into a sand weighted wine bottle decorated the tables.

The time was zooming by too quickly!  At 2:30 (wedding to begin at 3!) I arrived to our room where Catherine and her attendants were getting dressed.  As I moved around to get my dress, I realized, “Oh my god!!!  I didn’t get Catherine’s necklace finished!” I scrambled over the bed, only to realize I couldn’t find my little magnifying glasses to attach the lobster claw.  I looked about and saw Laura, a friend of Catherine’s who also happens to have a terrific art background.  “Laura!” I squeaked, “I can’t see to put the hook on, could you do it?!” With unending calm, Laura said, “Sure!”  and with deft assurance, she completed the necklace!

As the necklace was placed around Catherine’s neck (and of course I could not see clear enough to fasten the tiny clasp – helped once again by Laura), she turned and I saw my beautiful confident daughter physically surrounded by some of her closest friends with many “threads” encircling her from her maternal line:  part of a necklace once owned by her maternal Great-grandmother Alma she wore around her neck and her dress made from one once worn by her maternal GrandMary and sewn by her mother.  In her hair she wore a beautiful hair ornament created by Catherine the week before.  Four generations of women were represented!

Brian escorting Joan up the aisle.

Our son Brian escorted me to my seat, I thought how quickly time appears to move and how important these traditions are in bringing family together.

Russell walks Catherine down the aisle.

As Catherine walked down the aisle, escorted by her father, she beamed and her dress shimmered in the afternoon sun, with light bouncing off of each curve and drape of fabric.  In a quantum world, where we are so connected in ways we don’t fully comprehend, isn’t it fun when the universe presents us with gifts and opportunities that create so much enjoyment!

PS – Thank you, Megan Ziegler for the use of your photos!

Their first dance as a married couple!

Story of the Dress Part V – Crunchtime!

Short of one month before the wedding and the dress is progressing along!!  The bodice returned from the cleaners without a trace of the sewing machine black grease! Whew!  After working to get more stains out of the skirt, I discovered I created new unattractive watermarks.   Next step, take  the skirt part to the cleaners to have the watermarks taken out!

It’s interesting how something bad, like a grease stain and watermarks, can actually turn into something quite wonderful!  After picking up both sections at two separate times, each part returned pressed and looking much better than when I left it!

I sewed the skirt on without an issue and even the invisible zipper went in quite smoothly!

Catherine and John came back up north this past weekend.  She tried on the dress and about an inch was taken in on each side.  Catherine put on the dress again, and she looked beautiful.  The beading was taking shape and the bodice, now, was a perfect fit!  I worked another couple of hours on gathering and sewing netting for the skirt underlining.  Catherine walked into the sewing room and said, “Look at all this poofiness!”  Poofiness indeed!  It was time again for another try-on of the dress, this time with the gathered netting sandwiched between the two underlinings.

Amazing, simply amazing!  Standing before me, looking at herself in a mirror was my beautiful daughter, glowing.  The underskirting gave more shape to the dress and support to the train.  Words cannot fully express all the emotion that came to my mind.  It was a dream come true.  I proceeded to have her turn with her back toward me as I began to plan out how the train would “bustle up” for the reception.  The pinned up train just added one more beautiful dimension of folds and highlights to the dress.  The beading, hemming, and sewing on hooks are the only items left to do and those will keep me very busy until the wedding.

I think of our matriarchal line and how important those family connections are.  I have such gratitude for my mother who took the time to teach me how to sew.   Thanks, Mom!

The Story of the Dress – Part IV

Before I start this part of the story … my website is currently under construction.  You may find my artwork website by pasting into the search line!  Sorry for the inconvenience, but when construction is done, you will have an  easier time staying up-to-date with my blog and artwork.  You’ll also be able to easily order my art through PayPal!

Last weekend we made it downstate with the bodice, the skirt and the invisible zipper.  The goal was to sew the bodice to the skirt and put in the invisible zipper.  Well, that was accomplished, at least the first time through …

On the 8-9 hour drive down, I realized I wanted to put tiny piping between the bodice and the skirt.  At that point, I also remembered I had wanted to put the same piping at the top edge of the bodice, prior to all the beading I recently finished.  “Ah well”, I thought.  “I’ll just hand sew the upper piping on after we’re home.”  We drove to the fabric store to pick up the piping and the special invisible zipper foot.    Shopping turned into a scavenger hunt!  Three stores, numerous packages of varying white seed beads, bronze beads (both of which I remembered on the drive), silk thread, piping, polyester thread, sewing machine needles, hand sewing needles, beading needles, an invisible zipper foot and 2 1/2 hours later, we headed back to the apartment.

Upon arriving at the apartment, we ate lunch and said “See you later” to our men.  Out came the sewing machine and before I knew it, the bottom tiny piping on the bodice was in place.  How beautiful and what an elegant touch it made!  Next, I aligned and pinned the skirt onto the bodice.  The sewing commenced and to my dismay, I found a pucker off-side in the front!  I felt like I was back to my old 4-H projects ripping out the sleeve to get rid of that pucker.  I re-sewed and another tiny pucker showed up!

“Grrr, but no problem. I can do this …”  soon turned to, “good enough for now, I can readjust it when I get home.  Joan, remember the goal is to get it to fit Catherine.”   She tried it on and we oooed and awed looking at the result on Catherine in the mirror!  With the pins marking placement of the zipper in back, I began sewing the zipper in place with the invisible zipper foot.  “We are making progress,” I thought.  As I adjusted and moved the heavy weight of the satin skirt, to my horror I discovered a small 1/4″ smear of sewing machine grease!

“The cleaners should be able to get that out,” I told Catherine.  “If not, we have lots of beads to cover it!”  Being done in by a spot of grease and a pucker was not on my agenda!

Now, there is nothing like the feeling of a smooth zipper sliding easily up and down after its sewn in place; unfortunately, that was nothing like the feeling I was having.  The zipper started gliding fine, until it hit the thick seam of the bodice/piping/skirt.  “Damn …”  I thought.  “I should have trimmed that seam before sewing it in!”  As I continued to force the zipper down, it began to split open.  “Arrghh!!!”

Working the zipper pull back and forth, we managed to get it on track.  Catherine tried the dress on again.  She looked beautiful!  Seeing her in the dress at this stage (tiny pucker, tiny grease smudge and partially split zipper) made it all worthwhile and I knew these minor aggravations were nothing in the big picture.  I now knew where the zipper belonged for a good fit.  Pleased with the results thus far, we packed it up to be worked on another day.

Yesterday was that day!  While working at Art Works, I took Catherine’s dress as one of my projects; I ripped out the zipper and ripped off the skirt, show and telling the dress to friends who stopped by.  My dear husband came and took the bodice to the cleaners so they could work their magic on the grease spot.  Good news!  I called today, the spot came out and it’s ready to be picked up!

Working on Catherine’s dress is just like life; you do what you can, when you can, ask for and take help where needed.  Simply, keep on tweaking until you have the result you want.   I’m off to the cleaners!

The Story of the Dress – Part III

After being gone for two weeks, I began anew on Catherine’s dress.  Pictured above is the first stage of phase I, on the left is the old tulle with the seed beads, on the right their new home in waiting.  I carefully took my seam ripper and to my delight, found as I gently pulled on the string from another chain stitch, most of the beads easily unstitched from the tulle, but stayed on the thread.  Go figure!  Only a few rogue beads took off to the far corners of my sewing room!

My tiny needle deftly went through the fabric to pick up some tiny seed beads.  Oh no!  The first bead I picked up with the needle did not slide across it, but stopped about 1/4 inch from the point of the needle.  Panic came to heart and then I remembered not all seed beads are made the same!  Setting that bead to the side, I found three others that easily slid onto my needle.  I sewed them on in a similar fashion of how they originally were applied, with one exception – I did it by hand, no machine.  Pick up three beads, stitch down, bring the needle up about 1/4 ” from where I started, slide on three new beads, and stitch down where the previous three were stitched down.  Now, I bring the needle up at the end of the line.  It somewhat makes a loop around, every three beads.

Below is the result of what I accomplished.  It is fun to see the difference of the beads being directly on the satin verses the tulle.  My goal is to complete this first section of beading and to attach the skirt for a fitting before the magical mystery invisible zipper is applied!

Completed first section of beading! Hurrah!
Part of the completed seed beading!

The Story of the Dress – Part II

Original Vintage Beading from Mom's Wedding Dress

On Wednesday, I put the first stage of beading on Catherine’s wedding dress bodice.  Her dress is being created from her grandmother’s wedding gown.  My Mom, married in March of 1951, wore a dress made from cream duchess satin, with a beautiful long train, long sleeves with a v shape coming over the top of the hand, fitted bodice and stitched beading on tulle that accented the upper shoulder portions, connecting across the back of the neck and throughout the Peter Pan collar.  Tiny satin covered beads fastened into loops went up the front of the dress and at the wrists of the sleeves.

This first stage of beading began by duplicating the beaded pattern.  By laying the existing beaded section on top of the current bodice and pushing pins up through both layers from the back inside portion of the bodice I marked the design.  Next, I pulled away the old beading and used large basting stitches near the pins to have a temporary stable pattern to follow.  I removed the straight pins and then carefully removed the beads form the old section.  I marveled as I discovered some type of machine was originally used to sew each bead in place with a chain stitch.  Chain stitches can be a potential problem if the wrong thread is pulled !  I thought of all the times my sisters and I had pulled out Mom’s old dress from her cedar chest, to try it on to see how it would look on us!  It was a miracle it was still together!

As I pulled the thread and watched the beads fall into the container, I noticed how some of the bronze colored beads had lost their finish.  “Oh, it must have happened at the dry cleaner”, I thought.  Suddenly the image of my sisters and I pressing the dress (numerous times) came to mind!  Perhaps the cleaner, or more likely, perhaps a very hot iron by young girls, altered their tone.

I began stitching each bead just above the large basting lines, referring back to the original pattern.  About 2-3 hours later, the first stage of the first part of the beading was completed!  I snapped a photo and sent it to Catherine. “It’s the perfect design for the dress!” she replied.

Working on her dress brings such enrichment to my life.  First, it marks time, time before I existed, time in my childhood, time now and looking at how much time there is before her wedding.  Second, it helps me to touch to my maternal lines, and the lines of women and the roles they played as partners in marriages.

Marriages have taken place for all kinds of reasons:  from love, to societal expectations, to making a secure future, to joining family resources and many more.  My husband and I base our marriage on love and respect, and I see Catherine and John are doing the same.  It’s what I know; it’s a wonderful way to begin building lives together!

Threads from old beading on left, new placement on right!

The Story of the Dress Part I

Catherine and GrandMary with GrandMary's wedding dress

Shortly after their engagement, Catherine and John started to think about their wedding plans.  They considered what kind of wedding they wanted, Catherine considered what kind of dress she wanted that would make sense with the type of wedding they wanted.  She wondered if GrandMary would mind her 1951 wedding dress being remade to fit Catherine.  I called my 79-year-old mother and asked for permission.  My mom stated, “Well sure!  I won’t be using it anymore!”

This past summer we visited Mom and sisters, and at that point, my mother’s dress officially changed ownership.  In the evening, we pulled the dress out and assessed its condition.  The yellowed, heavy duchess satin from the 1951 wedding bore old stains of celebratory wedding cake and punch.  Even some of the delicate beads had lost their coating.  Catherine took it to an eco-friendly cleaner and we were thrilled with the results!  Many of the old stains were removed, others lightened and the yellow was gone!

In August, I began deconstructing the dress to determine how much fabric was usable.  I cut and sewed a demo bodice out of another fabric to be certain Catherine would have a dress that fit.  After the fit was established, I ripped the demo to use use as a pattern and I cut her new dress from my mother’s old one.

Catherine and I discussed alternatives if the pattern pieces would not fit around some of the minor stains that remained.  We decided, being the creative folks that we are, we could come up with a solution!  We also discussed the story of the dress; who it belonged to, the time period, the maternal line that it touched from my Grandmother Alma seeing her oldest daughter being married, my Mom wearing it, my Aunt Katherine standing beside her as maid of honor, my sisters and I trying it on while growing up, and now to Catherine.

Our Catherine who with her “live simply, respect the earth, eco-friendly way of living”, chose to have her dress for her milestone of a day, be one with meaning.  Just as a painting tells a story with each underlying pencil mark,  brush strokes and layers of paint, I recognized Catherine’s dress, a work of art in its own, has a story to tell, too.  Each stitch, each bead, and yes, each unresolved stain (until it’s decided how to resolve it) creates part of the story.  In fact, it is those marks that help to alter , shape and form what the dress will be, just as our own marks and resolved stains that touch to our very fibers help each of us to shape and form who we Be.