By: Aïda Barsoum
When our daughter declared her intention to marry, we were taken by surprise, to say the least. Between holding two jobs and pursuing her musical interests on the side, Shirley had always seemed too busy for romance. However, one day in late winter, she introduced us to Stan and they announced their plans to marry that very summer.
A further surprise was Shirley’s decision to make her own wedding gown. She was fond of vintage clothing and had a precise idea of how she wanted to look on that special day. Since I had made my wedding outfit many years ago, the project proved to be feasible and Shirley was determined to go ahead with it, even though time was short.
Thus it was that on a cool April morning, we found ourselves in a section of town well known for its fabric shops. As we made our way down the street, however, entering several of the shops, we became increasingly indecisive. The choices were too numerous: fabric textures, guipure or netted lace, sequins or no sequins, style and use of edging and, last but not least, shades and matching of the various “whites”!
By mid afternoon, when we finally made our choices, we were in the last shop on our route, a fact which may well have played a role in our making up our minds. We returned home with superb lace and satin and, a few days later, we set to work.
Now the trouble with special occasion dresses is that one only makes them on special occasions. As a result, the opportunities for a home seamstress to acquire and perfect the necessary skills are infrequent. For Shirley’s dress we had to use boning to properly fit the bodice, sew transparent material invisibly, and make a crinoline petticoat to give a handsome shape to the skirt. Since none of these techniques were familiar to us, we experimented with test material as often as possible, a difficult thing to do on a tight deadline. An additional hurdle was that Shirley’s vintage pattern, though lovely, had not been designed as a bridal gown; this made adaptations mandatory, especially to accommodate the lace overlay.
Shirley and I quickly came to an understanding on the sharing of the tasks. She was the main architect of the dress, and on her rested all the design decisions; she also cut the cloth and handled the sewing machine. I helped with the fitting, shopped for any additional items we needed, and did most of the hand sewing. If a problem arose, we discussed the solution together, sometimes looking up advice in sewing books or on specialized websites.
I particularly enjoyed the hand sewing because I could do it at leisure, when the house was quiet.
My sister Ellen had been the one to suggest that I sew it myself, which would have been a first in our family. Ellen had married a few years earlier in an elegant, but discrete, ready-to-wear suit. Although her proposal was tempting, I hesitated, lacking confidence in my own skills, but Ellen insisted. And I knew that she had plenty of audacity for both of us.
My mother, my sister and I went shopping for materials downtown, at a large textile store which contained a bridal section. Service in that establishment, now long closed, was of the old fashioned sort, and we were at once firmly taken in hand by an experienced saleslady. Under her guidance we chose the main fabric, the overlay and trimming laces, and the hat.
In the months that followed, my sister and I arranged to meet at her home once a week and we worked on my dress together. About two weeks before the wedding I brought the garment home; it was nearly finished, except for the bottom ruffle which involved a river of cloth and appeared to me unmanageable. Fortunately, my aunt Frances had come to town for a visit and was staying at our house. Aunt Frances, a retired professional seamstress, was quick to notice my confusion with the huge ruffle and she came to my rescue. She also assumed the all-important task of the final pressing of the dress.
Shirley realized her dream of making a unique wedding dress and looked glorious wearing it. Ellen did not see it, for she had passed away, but I thought of my darling sister and reflected that she had had a share in the making of this wedding dress too.
Bio: Aïda Barsoum
Originally from Egypt, I came to Canada with my family as an adolescent. I had a strong interest in writing, but circumstances required that I consider a more straightforward avenue to employment and I chose to study mathematics, which I also enjoyed.
After a few years as a statistician and as a teacher, I embarked on a multifaceted career as educator, cook, healer, and resource manager (read: mother).
During those years I occasionally had bouts of intensive writing, as when I started a newsletter at my children’s school.
Besides writing, my interests include bird-watching, gardening and playing the guitar.
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