A Tale of Two Pillows, Part 2: A Wedding Anniversary Gift For One of My Brides

frog-closure-2My last post was about the first pillow I ever made. This post is about the last pillow that I made (perhaps latest is the better word to use, since I’m sure I’ll make more in the future). It also involves a mother—this time not mine, but one of my brides’— as well as a surprise gift: a first wedding anniversary gift for her daughter. And, thankfully, the craftsmanship of this pillow is markedly improved over the first one!


Cecilia, my bride’s mother, got in touch with me around the holidays wondering if I could make a pillow with the same frogs I had made on her daughter Sarah’s wedding dress. Her  first wedding anniversary was approaching and she wanted to surprise her daughter with a special gift and thought this would be something unique that her daughter would really appreciate.



They had all loved the wedding gown I made the year before, especially the front frog closure on the jacket which referenced their Chinese heritage from the mother’s side of the family. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a tangible reminder of that element of the gown, instead of just photos or having to take the dress out of a box to see?

frogs-wedding-jacket.jpgI thought it was a great idea, and was flattered to be looped into another important milestone in this wonderful family’s life. This is what I love about my job: that I get to do this thing that I absolutely love to do which creates something with so much meaning and significance for my clients and their families.

good luck knot frog-closures

I happened to have enough fabric left over from making her dress that I could do it, so I got to work, replicating the frogs and ball button closure that I had initially created for the front of the jacket that went with the wedding gown, this time, for the front of a pillow.

wedding-jacket-frogs-frontWhen designing the original gown (which I’ll devote an entire post to in the future—for now I’ll just stick to the frog parts) I researched Chinese knots and chose a good luck knot to recreate in the same Italian silk duchess satin as I made the rest of the gown. The button is a monkey’s fist knot.

The whole point of this pillow was to have the exact frog closure on the pillow as the wedding dress, but as I was making the pillow I got carried away, thinking of all the even more complex and elaborate frogs I could make; I had to restrain myself! There now exists in my head an entire suite of frog embellished couture throw pillows! I started daydreaming of all the other pillows I could make, inspired by all my other brides’ dresses. I loved this project and hope to make more wedding gown inspired pillows for my brides, whether as a reminder of their wedding gown, or ring pillows for the ceremony.

frog-closure-pillowIf you’re one of my past brides and you’d like a keepsake pillow made with the leftovers of your fabric, or if you’re a future bride and you like the idea of a ring pillow made made to match or compliment your dress, let me know!

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Avi’s Moroccan Inspired Wedding Gown

moroccan inspired wedding gown.jpgWhen I first met Avi she told me the sweetest story of how her fiancé had proposed to her: he had taken her on a surprise trip to Morocco to get in touch with her Moroccan roots, tracked down the mud-brick home where her father (who passed away when she was a younger) had been born, and that’s where he asked her to marry him. The trip had made an indelible impact on her and as she began to plan her wedding decided she wanted to honor her Moroccan heritage in her wedding dress; not only as a tribute to her father, who would not be there to see her get married, but as a wedding day thank-you surprise to her husband for sparking a new appreciation for her family’s origins. [SIDENOTE: Shout-out to her husband for being so awesome!]

I loved the idea and the sentiment behind it. After discussing all the other details about her wedding and personal style—she would be having a destination wedding in Savannah, Georgia at the end of August and having an outdoor reception, so a breathable, not too heavy gown was a must—we started figuring out what “Moroccan inspired” would mean in the context of her wedding dress. We looked at all things Moroccan: tiles, rugs, and traditional Moroccan wedding dresses festooned with embroidery. The latter would be way too literal an interpretation, and the other things didn’t spark the degree of personal significance that seemed necessary given the original intent of the gown.

moroccan caftan 5.jpgI asked if she had any Moroccan family heirlooms that I might be able to see for design inspiration and after some thought she mentioned an embroidered caftan that her Moroccan grandmother had given her when she was little and which she wore as a child. The only problem was she didn’t know where it was or even if it still existed!

moroccan caftan 2A phone call to her mother in Pennsylvania solved the mystery of the Moroccan caftan (I wonder if that’s a Nancy Drew book?). It was in a box in a closet somewhere, her mother was sure, and she would bring it with her next month when she came to New York to join Avi for her next appointment with me. Perfect!

moroccan caftan detail.jpgI was really excited to see the caftan up close when Avi came back with her mother a few weeks later. Ever since the design consultation I’d been thinking about a technique that I’d always wanted to use on a wedding dress that would be the perfect vehicle to incorporate Avi’s Moroccan heritage in a subtle but significant way: I would reinterpret the embroidered motifs on the caftan using intricate hand-sewn bias applique. The scale and method would be different, but the scrolls and motifs would come straight from the caftan. Something new from something old, and perfectly unique to Avi!

When I showed them my sketches and explained the idea they loved it and we were all so excited to see it come to life the following summer.

bias tape draping closeup.jpgTo do the applique I first “draped” some ideas on the mannequin and made some fabric treatment samples, deciding which elements from the caftan would be best articulated with the bias applique. Then I drew out the whole border in pencil, to scale.

bias applique sewingA lot of tracing paper and measuring and design tweaking later, I had the final pattern and was ready for the task I’d been day dreaming about since Avi’s design consultation: sitting at my table, twisting and turning and pinning and stitching countless yards of bias tape by hand, following the pattern I’d drawn. If I’ve ever been in my happy sewing zone this was it!

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This is exactly the kind of intricate, tedious, repetitive task that I absolutely love to do!

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moroccan inspired wedding gown corset.jpg

moroccan inspired corset.jpgAvi’s mom flew me down for the wedding to help lace up the corset; she told me she didn’t want to worry about getting it wrong if she tried to do it herself, but moreover, after all the work I’d done to make such a special gown for Avi they couldn’t imagine her wedding without me being there.

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It was an honor to attend Avi’s wedding (as it is with each of my bride’s weddings that I attend). It’s so fulfilling to do something that I love so much and which means so much to my brides and their families.

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The wedding ceremony took place at Temple Mickve Israel, a beautiful historic synagogue in Savannah and one of the oldest in the country.  I made Avi’s veil with edging to match the corset and applique.

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The night before the wedding there was a Moroccan wedding party, complete with traditional good luck henna tattoos.


moroccan inspired gown backAfter the ceremony all the guests were taken to the wharf for a surprise riverboat trip down the Savannah River to the reception venue.

wind gust wedding dress.jpg

It was windy on the boat! (Which was nice, because it’s hot in Savannah in August!)


The reception was held at a 200 year old fort on the banks of the Savannah river, Old Fort Jackson. Avi changed into a short version of her wedding skirt that I had made just for the reception, which involved lots of dancing and was lots of fun!


Photo credits for Avi’s wedding photos: Jade + Matthew Take Pictures

Avi’s wedding planner: Bonnie Kaar, First City Events

Avi’s florist: Amy Harvey, Harvey Designs

What’s a Design Consultation Like?

Since people often ask me how do they go about having me make a gown for them I thought I’d write about a particularly memorable bridal consultation I had last year, and since it’s also about Mother’s Day, it’s kind of pertinent for this weekend!


At the beginning of March 2013, while busily finishing two gowns due at the end of the month, I got an email from a bride enquiring about a gown. I told her that I didn’t have time to do a full design consultation until April but offered to let her stop by my studio to see me and some nearly finished gowns in action.


Since this could possibly be her and her gown in the future it might be nice for her to see the actual process up close, so she stopped by briefly one evening and I showed her the gown I was working on and let her look through my portfolios. The following week she scheduled a formal design consultation in May; her mom would be coming to town for Mother’s Day weekend and was really excited to meet me.


Typically, for a design consultation I set aside an hour to meet with the bride at my studio and discuss every conceivable wedding detail; look at my fabric treatment samples and sometimes even try on existing gown samples that I have. Then, based on all the information I’ve gathered I will do sketches and meet with her again in a week or two for her to see the design options I’ve created. This bride’s mom was only going to be in town for the weekend and really wanted to be there to see the sketches, so I agreed to do the whole process within a two-day window!


During the consultation we talked about everything from the groom’s attire to the wedding cake (this bride had sent me a power point presentation of all her wedding planning and inspiration photos, which I fully appreciate – the more information I have the better!). They were scheduled to come back on Sunday afternoon to see the sketches but as soon as they left on Saturday I had a mini panic-attack: how was I going to come up with this girl’s wedding gown in such a short amount of time?! Should I cancel the next day’s meeting and tell them I needed more time to gather my thoughts and do the sketches? I put it out of my mind for the rest of the day and went out to dinner with a friend, who reminded me that I work best under pressure anyways!


The way my creative process works is to shift focus to something completely different for as long as it takes for the ideas and information I’ve gathered to sort themselves out in the back of my mind and percolate on their own time. Then, once I’m ready to sketch, I’ll go through my fashion history books, old sketchbooks, and style files (which are my encyclopedic collection of magazine tears––an analog Pinterest, if you will!) to see what details pop out at me for the particular bride I’m sketching for. I never really know what I’m going to design for the bride until I put pencil to paper and start drawing.



I sketched two new options; the first of which I lingered on longer with my pencil. There was something about it that kept speaking to me for this bride but I had no idea if she’d like it or not. I also pulled some sketches I’d done previously but never made from my archives.


When they arrived to see the sketches I prefaced the reveal with, “Keep in mind that this is just a starting point, so let me know what you like and what you don’t…obviously I didn’t have as much time to think about these as I usually would.”


Not sure how they’d react, I prepared to for the worst while they silently inspected my sketchbook but thankfully the opposite happened: the bride pointed to sketch number one and said, “I love this one, I think it’s just perfect, it’s so me!” 


Then the mom, who had remained uncharacteristically silent up to this point, piped up enthusiastically, “As soon as I saw that drawing I knew my daughter would pick it because it is just so her! How did you come up with it? Everything about it—it’s just perfect for her!” She went on to explain that they had spent the previous afternoon unsuccessfully trying on gowns at other salons, and decided she needed a certain type of waistline and bodice, none of which existed anywhere, and all of which were right there in my sketch. She was so impressed with how I had figured out each of those specific lines and proportions all from just meeting with them for an hour.


So there was a reason I had spent more time on that first sketch; it was this bride’s dress! (Neither of these photos are of her gown sketch–gotta keep the design a secret until her August wedding!)

With the gown picked, we started talking about a veil which I sketched right there next to the gown drawing. As a general rule, if I’m going to make a bride’s dress and she wants a veil I like to make it too. That way it is perfectly suited to her and her gown and can be made to highlight or compliment certain important details of the dress.


In any event, the best part about this consultation was the special note the mother of the bride sent with the deposit check letting me know what a special Mothers Day it had been for her to spend it with her only daughter and to see the gown I had designed that was just perfect for her… That’s what I love about my job: being an intimate part of important life events and providing something that creates special memories for families. I’m so excited to get working on this particular dress, you might have seen bits and pieces of it on Instagram.

Kate’s Bodice


This is a bodice I made for my couture bride, Kate, who was referred to me by her bridal stylist, Jackie Weppner, of Merci New York, after experiencing a wedding gown nightmare: the custom gown she had purchased from another designer didn’t fit her torso and they were frustrated and confused by a variety of aesthetic concerns with her particular gown which had not been an issue when she had tried on the original sample and bought the dress.



(The gown she had first tried on was most likely an actual runway sample; this is something brides should be aware of before buying a gown: designers will often send their runway samples out for trunk shows, but the production version of that gown can vary significantly in construction, fabrication, detailing and even design in order for them to be cost-effectively reproduced.)


When we all met to discuss what I could do to fix the problems there were only two months before Kate’s wedding. I had another gown to finish for one of my brides getting married at around the same time as Kate, so it would have been impossible to make an entirely new gown. And though Kate was at her wit’s end, second guessing the purchase of her gown in the first place and wishing she had found me sooner, Jackie and I were certain that I could address all the issues she had with the original gown by re-designing the bodice, replacing the interior of the skirt and creating something that she would feel spectacular in.

Kate Barone & Dominic Tropiano

She wanted to feel light and tiny in her wedding gown, and the original bodice weighed her down and swallowed up her tiny frame. The way it was constructed gave her – for lack of a better term – a mono-boob, and she wanted her bustline to be defined, yet minimized. She was uncomfortable in the gown and kept feeling the need to pull the bodice up to cover her bustline.  The interior of the skirt needed to be replaced; the skirt layers were prone to be tripped over, and the lining was too tight for Kate and her husband to do their choreographed first dance in, which required her to be able to kick up her leg. Essentially, I would create an entirely “new dress” and re-purpose the existing outer skirt layers.


In this photo of the original bodice (with the lace removed) over top of the one I made from her measurements you can see how the original was nearly two inches too short in the waist; no wonder she felt like she was constantly on the verge of a wardrobe malfunction in the original gown! In addition, the bodice had several layers of fabric where much fewer would have sufficed, and this unnecessary layering created the bulkiness that Kate didn’t want, especially around the neckline, where the thickness of the seam allowances created an unflattering ridge.


To make Kate’s bodice I used my special bustier construction techniques to create a light-as-air but highly constructed bodice that would give her the wrinkle-free, flawlessly defined figure that she was seeking. As you can see from the next photo, it’s sturdy enough to stand up on its own, but thin enough that light streaming through my window on a sunny afternoon filters right through it.


The waistline of the original gown had been rather abrupt, where the opaque, dense bodice met the ethereal, airy skirt. I changed it so that the juncture of the two elements seamlessly melded into each other, and adjusted the angles and proportions of the dropped waistline to be more flattering to Kate’s figure. And, as always, I added functional lace covered buttons to the back of the bodice (where there had been none on the original).



When the gown was complete we were all extremely happy with the results, no one more than Kate herself. While wearing the gown during the final fitting with her mother present, as well as Jackie, and her wedding planner, Lauren, she ecstatically proclaimed, “It’s perfect, it’s perfect, it’s perfect, it’s perfect! This is exactly how I always wanted to feel in my wedding dress!”


If you’d like to see Kate in her gown on her wedding day, her wedding, photographed by Christian Oth Studios, was featured on Style Me Pretty recently. Special thanks to Jackie Weppner of Merci New York, for the referral, and to Kate’s wedding planner, Lauren Sozmen, of Loli Events, who was extremely helpful in coordinating fittings with the bride who lives in Ohio. And of course, congratulations to my couture bride, Kate, and her husband Dominic!

Taking Measurements for a Couture Gown

Most people think that all you need to know to find a piece of clothing that fits is your size — or at most, your bust, waist, and hip measurements. That’s not the case with couture, where extremely detailed measurements are taken to ensure the perfect fit. When I measure a bride for her wedding gown I will take as many as sixty measurements!

It’s not just about the measurements in inches (and quarter-inches), but the ratios between those measurements and the overall proportions of the bride’s body that I take into account when creating her gown. What is her posture? What are her best features? What features is she self-conscious of? Even, how will she look next to her husband? All of these observations help me to determine exactly where that style line needs to be on that particular body to be most flattering to her. Inevitably, from one person to the next, it’s an entirely different place.

When you create a couture gown for a woman it becomes possible for her to wear a style that she never thought she could because that style is reworked entirely to flatter her unique characteristics. Ninety percent of whether any given design looks good on any given figure is determined by the way it fits that body. It’s amazing how making every seam and detail intentional can so profoundly enhance a woman’s beauty.

(The photos I’m using to illustrate this post are actually pictures of me wearing some of my wedding gown samples; I draft all of the original patterns from my measurements and fit all of my original samples to my own body. After all, I’m always there when I need to fit something — especially when I’m pulling one of my crazy sewing all-nighters! But more about that in a future post…)

Consider the Groom

Something that I think is critically important in determining what a bride is going to look best in is to know what her groom looks like and what the two of them look like together. Weddings have become so bride-centric that the groom is often overlooked, but this day is just as much about him as you. It is about the two of you becoming one, and you should choose garments that visually reinforce that idea.

When I design a gown for a bride, finding out about her fiance is one of the first things I do. How can I make something for this bride that will not only look beautiful on her but also be complementary to her husband and make him look his best?

Remember that the most important pictures you will look back on from you wedding are the ones of you and your husband together and you don’t want your dress (or your hair or makeup, for that matter) to draw unnecessary attention to itself, or overpower your husband. (Think about all the wedding photos from the 1980’s — how many brides regret the lacy beaded pouffy shiny satin sleeves?!)