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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Mother’s Day Tribute: A Tale of Two Pillows, Part 1.

Last Christmas was the best Christmas ever; not only because I got to decorate like a fiend, but because while I was home I finally found—after a fruitless eighteen year search!—a bunch of things I had sewn when I was a child and teenager that I’d long worried had been accidentally thrown away. I burst into happy tears when I pulled this from a box and held it for the first time in probably more than 20 years.

pillow-frontIt’s a pillow I made as a Mother’s Day gift for my mom when I very first started sewing. It was the first non-Barbie-clothes thing I ever made, and it is The Most Important Thing I Have Ever Sewn because it taught me the importance of craftsmanship and construction in relation to design.

I had secretly taught myself how to sew when I was 6 or 7 years old and once my mom realized I had been sewing on my own, and I had her real permission to use the sewing machine, I decided I would make her something special for Mother’s Day. 

pillow-closeupI put a lot of thought into the design, but even more heart; both literally and figuratively, as you can see! Limited by what fabric was available in the scrap drawer, I chose white felt, which was leftover from when my mom made me lamb’s ears to wear as a three year old when I was one of the stable animals in the Christmas party nativity scene; pink corduroy, from a pair of old pants I had grown out of; and denim that had most likely been my dad’s yard-work pants, or at least used to patch my dad’s yard-work pants, I’m not sure.

To stuff the pillow I used a bag of cotton balls that I had pilfered from the cabinet under my mom’s bathroom sink, because what else would you stuff a pillow with when you’re a little kid? The bag was half empty, though, so my pillow ended up being a little bit flat.

pillow-edge-3Sewing multiple layers of denim is a pretty ambitious task for anyone, let alone an 8 year old novice, but I wasn’t going to let my inexperience get in the way of making a sumptuously ruffled edge for my pillow. You can tell that I constructed the top and bottom ruffle first because, a) they’re sewn inside the seam, and b) there is actually some semblance of a ruffle; by the time I got to the vertical sides of the pillow I had run out of fabric and there was just barely enough to cover the last side, with not a single pleat and no folded edges to hide the frayed raw edges of the denim.

pillow-backWhen I had it all finished I was so proud of this beautiful thing I had made to show my mom how much I loved her and I just knew she would love it too! She would think it was the best gift ever and be so proud of it and show it off to all of her friends.

I decided that the best way to give it to her would be to place it on her bed (where I was sure she would display it for the rest of her life!) so that when she walked into her bedroom she would see it and know that it was obviously a gift I had made for her. I waited anxiously all Mother’s Day for her eruption of surprise and gratitude, but it never came.

pillow-edge-1What did come, however, was the pillow— right back into my bedroom! My mom put it in there, assuming I had accidentally left it in her room, as if it was one of my toys I’d forgotten to clean up. I was devastated, and brought it back to her, telling her that this was my Mother’s Day gift and that I had made it for her to put on her bed.

I don’t think she really knew what to do at that point, and we are an honest bunch of people, my family, so she told me the cold hard truth:

“But Colette, it doesn’t match my bedroom.”

(SIDENOTE: In the mid 80’s my mom redecorated the main floor of our house with peach carpet, and peach everything everywhere, so of course this pink and blue pillow did not match, but Mom, that wasn’t the point!)

She also delicately tried to explain to me that my sewing and craftsmanship might not yet be good enough for permanent display. She had every right to make that call; the tailored wool jacket that she made in her university sewing class in 1965 was the most perfectly crafted thing the professor had seen in all her years of teaching (another blog post for another time), and Jane’s Peach Palace, as my parents’ house eventually came to be called by my older siblings, had certain aesthetic standards to uphold!

Now, if you’re worried that my mom is some sort of cold, unfeeling aesthete because my pink and blue pillow wasn’t good enough for her, to her credit, she kept a bouquet of tissue paper flowers (with bright green pipe cleaner stems!) I made for her, probably when I was even younger, in a vase on her bathroom vanity for years. Of course, the tissue paper was peach, though…

pillow-cornerSo the Freudian subtext of this story is that I’ve spent the rest of my life sewing maniacally to prove to my mother that I can make something worthy of her praise and adoration, but the more accurate take-away from this experience is that I learned at an early age that it’s not enough to have a great idea, or to be well intentioned in your creative endeavors—you also have to be able to execute your idea at the requisite level.

That is the bedrock principle of my design philosophy, creative process and aesthetic, and as devastating an experience as this was as a little girl—adding insult to injury, a few days later I heard my mom yelling out from her bedroom, “Where’d all my cotton balls go? Who took my cotton balls?” To which I, deflated, had to confess—it served a much greater purpose than if she had showered me with compliments and kept the pillow on her bed like I had hoped.

pillow-edge-2.jpgI love my mom and everything she’s done for me in my life. She’s my biggest fan and greatest champion, and I owe so much to the many wonderful things she’s taught me, the sacrifices she’s made for me and my four older siblings, and the constant love and support she provides for our family.

It’s impossible for me to look at this pillow all these years later and not smile at the earnestness with which I created it; every stitch reads like a journal entry to me of my best effort at the time. I love it and wouldn’t change any of its frayed, un-mitered corners for anything.



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!

bias applique 3.jpg

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

bias applique.jpg

moroccan applique.jpg

moroccan applique corset.jpg

moroccan inspired applique 4.jpg

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.

lacing corset 2.jpg

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.

lacing up corset 1.jpg

walking the aisle.jpg

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.

moroccan wedding henna.jpg

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.

Grandma’s Tatting

I recently went to my aunt’s house in Florida to get some much needed sunshine in the middle of winter. In one of her guest bedrooms she has a framed, shadow-boxed piece of unfinished tatting that my grandma was working on before she passed away (in 1963). A year ago I blogged about my paternal grandfather, Grandpa Komm, who was a tailor and who I like to say I got my sewing genes from. But my mom and her mother, my maternal grandmother, gave me some sewing genes too.

According to my mom, Grandma Inez would sit down and tat lace whenever she had a free moment. She could never just sit still; she always had to be doing something, even when she was “relaxing.” She tatted only this particular pattern and used it to edge handkerchiefs and pillow cases that she would give as wedding gifts.

I never met my grandma, so having this beautiful piece of her handiwork makes me feel a special connection with her. And the fact that it’s unfinished, that the pearl cotton is still wrapped around the bobbin in the shuttle, ready for her to pick up the next time she had a spare moment, seems to make it that much more personal. Sometimes the most inspiring works are the ones that never get finished.

Sewing History, Part IV: The first time I ever got laughed at by adults…

After my mom had found out that I had been secretly sewing Barbie clothes with her old green Bernina (without having ever been taught how to use it) she actually sat down with me and showed me how to sew backwards and make a zig-zag stitch. I think she might have even explained what all the specialty machine feet did and that they were not, as I had suspected, miniature mouse traps.

Knowing that I had her support and I didn’t have to hide my new hobby from her (or anyone else) was quite liberating…

One weekend two of my mom’s sisters (both of whom were avid seamstresses like her) were visiting and the three of them were in the TV room, most likely watching some BBC costume drama, and — surprise! surprise! — I was off down the hall sewing. I had run out of bobbin thread and started winding a new one, which I had always done by hand. As I wound the bobbin — something I’d done seemingly a million times – I had this flash of inspiration: that I would invent a machine that could wind bobbins! Immediately, knowing that there were three very seasoned seamstresses just a few steps away who would certainly be dying to hear this amazing news, I ran down the hall to the TV room — bobbin in hand — interrupted their movie, and boldly announced that “one day I’m going to invent a machine that will wind bobbins automatically!”

They all looked at me and then each other and burst out in laughter. I couldn’t figure out why my genius idea had been met with such ridicule — why weren’t they showering me with praise for the obvious technological advancement I was going to contribute to the world?!

“You’ve been winding all those bobbins by hand?!” said one of my aunts.

“Your sewing machine already does that!” said the other.

I think my face probably went purple and I started to cry. I asked my mom why she didn’t show me this feature when she taught me how to use the backstitch function and everything else; in between her laughter she said that it had never occurred to her that I didn’t know how to use the bobbin winder because I had been doing so much sewing that I must have already figured it out.

They tried their best to restore my bruised confidence and took me back to the sewing room to show me how to wind a bobbin with the machine. I sat there, just thinking over and over again: I wish I had learned this such a long time ago… it would have saved me so much time. And embarrassment!

Remembering September 11th, 2001

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday; the second Tuesday of my sophomore year at Parsons — and because the first week of classes never really counts — my first real day of fashion classes. (At Parsons everyone’s freshman year is the same and you don’t declare your major until the end of that year.) For me, Tuesdays were like Mondays because I had arranged my class schedule to have Mondays off — a permanent three day weekend! — so I woke up that morning especially excited to start the week; I was finally doing exactly what I had dreamed of for so many years: studying fashion in the heart of the garment district at Parsons’ storied Seventh Avenue fashion campus.

As I got ready for school that day I emptied my backpack of the contents of my trip to the beach the day before: an empty canister of Pringles, a whole bunch of sand… As I went to take my camera out I hesitated, wondering, is there any reason to keep this in here? I probably won’t need it. I can’t imagine there will be anything worth taking pictures of today… so I left my camera on my kitchen table and went of to catch my train to midtown, proud of myself for having left early; the week before our teacher had stressed how crucial it was that we all be on time for class and that she always started class promptly at 9 a.m., and I was determined to make a good first impression on her and show what a serious student of fashion I was.

I can remember remarking what a beautiful late summer day it was while walking to my subway station, how bright and blue the sky was — more blue than usual. To this day, whenever I go out on a clear day I compare the sky to how it was that morning. If it’s that same deep, brilliant bright blue I’ll say to myself, it’s September 11th blue, and then feel a pang of sadness, confusion and anxiety and wonder if anyone else does the same thing.

I got to my classroom early, around 8:46, and while unloading my backpack realized that I needed to get some things from my locker downstairs. I debated whether or not to take my cell phone with me just in case someone called — but who’s going to call me in the next 5 minutes? — so I left it on my desk. When I got back it was blinking; I had missed a call from my parents and there was a voicemail waiting for me. Why would they be calling me at 5:50 in the morning, their time? Without bothering to listen to the message I dialed them back but the call wouldn’t go through. So I tried to call my voicemail but I couldn’t get through to that either. Oh well. I thought nothing of it and spent the next ten minutes looking over my notes from my very first fashion-design-at-Parsons homework assignment: a Shopping Report, and rehearsed all the keen observations I had made the previous week while “studying” at Bergdorf’s, Barneys and Saks Fifth Avenue.

At about 9:03, I looked at the clock and wondered where in the world was this teacher who had made such a big stink about starting class right on time. It’s past 9 a.m., who IS this woman?! Everyone else seemed to be wondering the same thing, and within ten minutes we had gone from a room full of strangers to bonding over the fact that our teacher was a complete hypocrite and had just given us license to be as late as we wanted for the rest of the semester.

Around 9:15 she finally appeared, and, with no apologies or explanation as to why she was late, immediately led us into a discussion about our Shopping Reports. I had taken the assignment very seriously, and was really excited to share all of my insights: how each store used lighting to create a certain ambiance depending on the price point or target customer of the particular clothing on display, how various brands or types of merchandise were clustered next to each other and all these other things, which at the time, seemed of the utmost importance. I jumped right into the conversation and for the next twenty minutes or so, I was completely engrossed, but not so much that I didn’t notice that there was a bizarrely constant stream of fire engines, police cruisers and ambulances blaring their sirens below our third floor window on Seventh Avenue. But again, I thought nothing of it. Since that day, however, every siren I hear makes me cringe and wonder if it’s all happening again.

At about 9:40 our guidance counselor and Tim Gunn, who was then just the recently appointed chair of the fashion department, came into our class to announce that, “Two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center towers and it’s possibly a terrorist attack and the city has shut down all trains and tunnels and bridges in and out of Manhattan, so we’d like for you to take a ten minute break to gather your thoughts, make some calls if necessary, then come back and continue your class.”

I’m not sure what was more shocking: that any of this had happened and was perhaps going to continue to happen or that we were expected to come back to class in ten minutes and continue talking about the subtle things that high end department stores do to make you feel special while you are shopping. People were losing what matters most while I was sitting there talking about what matters least. I felt absolutely horrible, and felt even worse when our teacher acknowledged that she had known what was going on and it was why she had been late. She came down here and started this most superficial of conversations knowing that our friends and neighbors were being blown up?! I couldn’t comprehend it. All the excitement and hope I had felt that morning on my way to school about my future was gone and replaced with a complete sense of futility about everything I was doing and the fashion world in general, which would take years for me to overcome and make sense of.

With some hesitation, I went outside and looked down Seventh Avenue, not sure what to expect. Up until then, on a clear day in New York the Twin Towers were the topographical equivalent of Mona Lisa’s eyes; it didn’t matter from what avenue you looked at them, they always seemed to be directly at the end of that avenue, glittering in the distance like the Emerald City at the end of the Yellow Brick Road. As a New Yorker, nothing made you more proud than that sight. This day should have been such a day, but all you could see looking south was a deathly gray fog obscuring all of Lower Manhattan. After this surreal “ten minute break to process things” I went back upstairs still somehow thinking I was supposed to finish class. No one else was there so I packed up my stuff and started walking with a girl from class to her high-rise apartment which was within walking distance of the school — maybe we’d be able to see something from her roof. Maybe seeing it would make it real because it didn’t make any sense.

We were on Eighth Avenue and 41st Street when a random passer-by (I can’t say stranger because no New Yorker was a stranger that day) announced incredulously that Tower 2 had just collapsed. How could that happen? and if that really had just happened how much worse would the death toll be now? I imagined the next few weeks being full of funerals, possibly now of people I knew (but thankfully it wasn’t). And what would New York City be like with only one tower? Of course at the time I never even considered for a moment that its surviving twin would fall down too. But it did, and before we even got to her apartment. By the time we got to her roof there was nothing to see but a vast grey fog of dust and smoke over Lower Manhattan that was wafting over to Brooklyn and a horribly sickening, empty space above it where the Twin Towers, and all the people in them, should have been.

Sewing History, Part III: The First Time I Ever Got Busted…

Me, looking very intense – and matchy-matchy, at age seven. It could be a mug-shot, right?

As with any criminal, addict, or person engaging in some kind of unscrupulous behavior, I got sloppier and sloppier about covering my tracks. (My tracks, of course, being that I was seven years old and using my mom’s sewing machine to make Barbie clothes without her knowing.) The more “high-risk” sewing I participated in, and the more excited I got that my little Barbie clothes were turning out to actually look like real Barbie clothes, the lazier I got about keeping the whole thing a secret. At some point, every addict wants to get caught; the possibility of being found out, of tempting fate and authority, only adds to the rush…

So I took my little Barbie clothes and my Barbies out of the sewing room — which was out of the way at the end of the downstairs hall where my mom never went — and started playing with them… In my bedroom, in the family room, on the staircase; all places where my mom, were she to pay me more than a passing glance as she went about her day, would find me out and get me in big trouble!

Or so I thought.

Eventually she did pass by me and did a double take, “Where did your Barbie get those clothes?!” At this point my mom probably was thinking that I was a criminal, that I must have stolen them from somewhere because she knew she didn’t buy them and how else would I have acquired them? — but I was too excited to worry about what she might really be thinking. The moment I’d been anxiously anticipating had finally arrived!

“I made them myself.”

“No you didn’t. You didn’t make those.”

“Yes I did. Don’t you recognize my old pink corduroy pants?”

Flummoxed, she took a closer look and the expression on her face went from confusion and shock to amusement and even pride as she recognized my old pants, repurposed and scaled down to fit a Barbie.

“And see this one, Mom, this is your old shirt!” I said as I pointed to my favorite outfit on my favorite Barbie, which had this very Yves Saint Laurent Safari Collection thing going on. It consisted of a pair of khaki colored trousers, an off-white t-shirt, and this little shawl that I had made from a scrap of open weave grass-cloth that came from I don’t know where, but it sure added a nice textural accent to the ensemble.

“But you don’t know how to sew…” she started to say.

“I taught myself!” I replied, before she could even finish, “I couldn’t wait until you thought I was old enough for you to teach me, so I went and figured it out all by myself.” I was brimming with pride, and by the time she had processed what I had just said, she was too.

My Very First Wedding…

People always ask me how I got into making wedding dresses, have I always been obsessed with weddings or something? Not that I could think of; I never even considered bridal design as a career until my senior year at Parsons (even though I had made a couple of wedding dresses for family friends in high school and college).

But last week I was sorting through a box of slides from my childhood and realized maybe there was some longstanding precedent for my eventual career path. I found these photos of me playing dress-up with my sisters and cousins at my Grandma and Grandpa Komm’s house; I had totally forgotten that one of our favorite childhood games was to play “Tarzan and Jane’s Wedding” in their front yard. I was always “Jane”; my cousins, Brandon and Justin, would take turns being “Tarzan.”

I wish I could claim these photos as evidence of my first attempt at bridal design or at least bridal styling, but I’m not sure how much of it I can (or want) to take credit for as I was only three, and my sisters and cousins — my bridal attendants, as it were — had probably been fighting over who got to drape me with this table cloth or that. Plus, the dress (if you can even call it one; it looks like it might actually be a curtain) really doesn’t fit that well, as you can see by the fact that instead of holding a bouquet of flowers from Grandma’s garden — she grew the most beautiful peonies, roses, snapdragons, dahlias, etc. — I’m holding up my dress so I don’t trip.

I don’t know how we came up with the idea of “Tarzan and Jane’s Wedding.” It must have either been because my grandparents had this massive, beautiful weeping birch tree on their front lawn which had vine-like branches that drooped down low enough that we could swing from them like Tarzan, or because there were no clothes for boys in Grandma’s dress-up trunk and so we needed a creative and intentional reason for my groom to be shirtless… Maybe it was a combination of the two. In any case, it was a pretty cute premise for a pretend wedding, and clearly what set me on the path to become a bridal designer twenty years later…

P.S.: This last photo, with my sister next to me, makes me think how 25 years later we would all be playing “wedding dress-up” again; this time, she would be the bride, it would be a real wedding, and I would be responsible for the “costumes”…

My Grandpa Komm was a Tailor

Grandpa Komm in his carport, with an arrangement of Grandma's favorite pink peonies from their garden, on what would have been their 69th wedding anniversary. (She died 8 months before this photo was taken and he died 6 months after.)

I like to think that I got sewing genes from both sides of my family. My mom used to sew her own clothes, her mom made beautiful tatted lace, and my dad’s dad was a tailor. Today marks the 101st anniversary of his birth, so I’m writing a tribute to him — my Grandpa Komm. He is one of my greatest inspirations and I am incredibly proud to carry his last name.

My grandfather, Wilhelm (William) Komm, was born in Schildesche, Westfalen, Germany in 1910. His father was a bricklayer who was drafted into the German army in 1916 and served on the Russian Front, leaving his wife and six children to survive the rest of the War on their own. They never had anything to eat; my Grandpa told my dad that they would share one egg between all of the children. In the sixteen years that he lived in Germany he had only experienced a full meal once, and it was long after the War; he was out begging for food in the countryside, and a compassionate farmer led him to the one empty seat at the table with his hired hands and said to him, “Sit down and eat, Son.”

Because he had been severely malnourished as a young child growing up during the War, by the time he was a teenager he was a slight, sickly kid and unfit for hard labor. At the age of 14, instead of becoming a bricklayer like his father, or a harness maker and upholsterer like his oldest brother, he was sent to be an apprentice in the local tailor’s shop because it was indoors and not physically demanding.

Two years later, in 1926, the family immigrated to Canada and settled in the small prairie town of Cardston, Alberta. They didn’t speak any English, but luckily the woman who ran the hotel where they stayed for the first few days spoke German and found out that my grandpa could tailor. The following morning she took him to the tailor’s shop on Main Street and he started sewing right away. For his day’s work he was paid one dollar. It was the first money that anyone in his family earned in Canada. I’m so proud that he was able to do that for his family. (And especially proud that he earned it by sewing!)

It’s impossible for me to imagine Grandpa Komm as a pale, sickly kid. I always knew him as the picture of health and vitality. He lived to be 3 weeks shy of his 96th birthday and kept himself busy doing all kinds of things, including  mending and alterations for friends and neighbors, right up until the very end. Literally. Just a few hours before he suffered the stroke that caused him to pass away, someone had stopped by his house (yes, he was still living in his own home — with a driver’s license!) to drop off eight pairs of pants for him to alter… I can only hope that I’ll live to be 95 and still be making the dresses that I love so much to make!

Grandpa Komm's sewing room in the tiny bedroom under the staircase, in the house he lived in for 64 years. (I took this photo about a year before he died, when I was there for my grandma's funeral.)