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.

lacing up corset 1.jpg

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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.

Susanne – Newport Beach, California

Susanne and her husband.

When I met with Susanne for her initial consultation she had three must-haves for her gown: “Grace Kelly-esque,” a full skirt with box pleats, and a sleeved jacket with Alençon lace — the rest was up to me. I really had fun creating her gown because like Grace Kelly’s, it’s actually made up of four separate and quite complicated pieces; Susanne’s “gown” consists of a jacket and skirt, and a corset and crinoline (neither of which are seen).

The gown is made from Italian silk duchesse satin, French Alençon lace, and lined with silk taffeta.

The lace on the jacket is not a solid piece of lace nor is it cut from the same pattern pieces as the jacket. It is made up of roughly 6″ x 9″ motifs that were cut away from the netting on the original lace panel and then hand stitched on top of the duchesse satin  jacket (after all the seams were sewn) so that there is no disruption of the floral pattern of the lace — even at the side seams — which is a detail you will only see on a couture gown.

The same is true of the lace around the hem of the skirt; each 6″ x 9″ motif was placed so that it looked like the flowers were “growing” up from the bottom of the skirt. This gown is one of only three gowns in seven years that I didn’t sew every single stitch of with my own two hands; my mom (an excellent seamstress in her own right) was visiting me in New York and helped me piece the lace to the skirt. Sitting together with her, with the skirt laid out on the table and each of us with a needle and thread in hand, is a memory I’ll always cherish. I love sewing and I love my mom!

I also love covered buttons, and Susanne’s gown had a lot of them; they went all the way down the center back of the skirt. I always make fully functional covered buttons and button loops because I think they are so pretty; if you wanted to, you could actually unbutton this skirt all the way to the hem, even though you’d just end up seeing the inside seams of the lining and it would take forever as there’s about 130 of them!

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…)

My Sister and Her Bridesmaids

Yesterday I wrote a post about how my sisters, cousins, and I used to play dress-up at my grandparents’ house when we were little, and it made me think of my sister’s real wedding last summer. While we were still very much “playing dress-up,” our roles were reversed from 25 years ago; she was the bride, and I got to make her and her bridesmaids’ dresses. The one thing that is still the same, though: her ridiculously big grin — though now she has all of her adult teeth!

Colette – St. James, Barbados

Colette came to me with an interesting design and logistical challenge: she would be 7.5 months pregnant on her wedding day! This is a portrait I drew of her and her daughter, in a flower girl dress that I made to compliment her mother’s gown, in pencil on vellum, 8.5″ x 11″.

Cristóbal Balenciaga: The Master

A velvet cape on display at the exhibit, as photographed in the accompanying book, "Balenciaga: Spanish Master," on page 40. I love the collar.

Two weeks ago, my parents were in town visiting and I took them with me to see Balenciaga: Spanish Master, at the Queen Sophía Spanish Institute on Park Avenue. I’d been wanting to see it for a while, but decided it would be really meaningful to bring my mom, who loves beautiful clothes and who would probably remember some of the ones on display from the 1950’s and 1960’s.

For obvious reasons, I loved the exhibit, but there was one particular part of it that will stick with me forever. There was a display of 3 black dresses with the accompanying placard below listing the provenance of each garment and two paragraphs about Balenciaga and his black dresses. As I read the text and got to the second paragraph I had one of my I’m-so-excited-about-sewing-and-fashion-that-it’s-almost-pathetic moments and yelled at my mom — in the loudest whisper possible, of course — to come and read the placard:

“In each of Balenciaga’s ninety-three collections there was always one black dress cut and sewn entirely by him. Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel described her friend as ‘the only couturier. He is the only one who knows how to cut a fabric, and mount and sew it with his own hands. The others are just draughtsmen.'”

My mom smiled and looked at me and said, “Well, that’s exactly what you do!”

And it is; all of the gowns on my blog and website were created with my own two hands. I think it’s so important as a designer to really understand not just how to sketch a pretty, idealized, elongated croquis and hand it off to an atelier or sample room to create, but how to turn it into a real garment on a real body, without help from anyone else. I love that Balenciaga fundamentally understood this, and lived it throughout his entire career, even though he was Balenciaga, and didn’t have to. He was as dedicated to the craft of dressmaking as he was famous for defining fashion and I believe there is a correlation between the two. His conviction and reverence for the actual act of dressmaking are part of the reason that we collectively refer to him as “the Master,” a moniker coined by Christian Dior, a genius by anyone’s standard, who declared Balenciaga “the master of us all.”

Gabrielle Chanel on Cristóbal Balenciaga

“[Balenciaga is] the only couturier. He is the only one who knows how to cut a fabric, and mount it and sew it with his own hands. The others are just draughtsmen.” — Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel

From a placard at Balenciaga: Spanish Master, at the Queen Sophía Spanish Institute.