An Alaskan Antique Wedding Dress

Tracy Popken
Emily came to me with her grandmother's wedding dress, made for a classic Southern belle. 

The exquisite lace and tulle cascaded down the skirt, but there were holes covering the front panels everywhere the bride's hands had held the dress up to dance and walk.  The ruffled panels were not at a flattering height.  The skirt was too long, the hem had a number of tears, probably from being stepped on, and Emily wanted it to be more modern for her Nashville outdoor wedding.

She brought me an inspiration image of a sleek modern pale blue we decided to meld the two into a slim satin top with a deep v back, and a full flowing lace skirt.

The lace was so incredibly delicate that I decided to have Emily sign a special waiver agreeing that if the dress tore or fell apart on her wedding day, she wouldn't sue me.  I read a story about a seamstress sued for tens of thousands of dollars when the zipper she sewed into a wedding dress popped!  I really wasn't sure how this would all turn out, but with a dress this lovely, a design this beautiful, and a bride this nice I really wanted to try my best.  I mean, she had flown from Alaska to meet me!

Before and After

I started by cutting the top off of the skirt.  It's always an exciting moment when you take scissors to an antique dress!

Then I cut out broad sections of the front panels that were beyond repair -removing about 16" of width from the dress- and resewed the remaining pieces hand.  Slowly.  It was so delicate that the stress of going through a sewing machine would likely damage it further. To make sure it wouldn't tear so badly again I carefully hand stitched a layer of sheer mesh to the back side of the lace, strengthening it for the first 18" where it would be grabbed and lifted to walk.  

With the skirt safely positioned on a mannequin in my studio (and my favorite audio book "Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day" playing) I worked my way around the dress repairing all the little holes and rips.  A lot of them.  About 13 hours of hand stitching, if I remember correctly.  (more than one audio book worth for sure!)   I actually find work like this really soothing.  With every year I sew,  I find my patience and concentration lengthening, like a marathon runner, but sewing.   It's the patience earned from having threaded 10,000 needles. 

Then it was time to make the custom top that I would sew onto the antique skirt.  I ordered a few fabric samples, deciding on "morning mist" 4 ply crepe from Mood Fabric in New York, lined with matching silk charmeuse.  Since Emily was having to fly in from Alaska to see me, we only had one fitting planned between our first meeting and her picking up the dress, so I had to get it right the first time!

Thankfully my work was really close, with only a few changes to make, and when delivery day came it was practically perfect!  (I'm like one of those teachers that never gives a 100.  As an old seamstress once told me, "only God can do perfect, but we will get very close.")

I was thrilled weeks later to see myself tagged in her gorgeous pictures on Instagram.  Such a success!!!  I'm so proud to have been part of making her day so beautiful - Thank you, Emily!