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

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.

pillow-front

 

What’s a Design Consultation Like?

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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

CK-sketches

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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!” 

colettekommsketchbook

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.

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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.

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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.