Those of you who have been one of my clients or know me well know that I name ALL of my dresses “Stella.” It is, of course, a reference to a play, and subsequent movie, by Tennessee Williams. There is an iconic scene where the protagonist hollers drunkenly up at his estranged wife, “Stella!!!!!!” with intense frustration. Some dresses are like that… I have to put them in time out… they cause me to drink… I swear at them. They treat me like their drunken estranged spouse. Sigh. Most of them are good, and the moniker is just a joke. Then there are some who not only live up to her namesake but who challenge me to the utmost.
Let’s talk about a May bride and her “Stella.” She ordered it from a trunk show in Los Angeles nine months ago. A custom gown coming from a distance is always a challenging thing. The dress arrived in the bride’s hands TWO WEEKS before her wedding. Her wedding planner recommended that she contact me to help with final tweaks to the dress.
It always cracks me up that both designer and client think the dress will fit perfectly. Let’s face it … two women with the same measurements will NEVER be the same shape. It’s just a curse we females have to bear.
At any rate, what should have been a small tweak turned into a huge project. The dress fit her perfectly from the waist down, but from the waist up, it was a disaster. There was just not enough fabric in the bodice to cover the bride’s buxom figure and the side seams weren’t in the correct place. She and I agreed that the best course of action was for me to replace the bodice if I could find the fabric.
I went to three stores and found something extremely close. After I got the bodice apart, I realized that it was rose tulle that was creating the tint to the gown and not rose satin as I originally thought (it was three layers of fabric). I went back to my go-to shop for bridal fabric where they had 30 different shades of skin-tone tulle. I had a very hard time discerning a match as all of their lights were florescent, so I took home four different shades of blush hoping one would match. In the fading light of day, it seemed that I did find a match and proceeded to rebuild the bodice.
When the bride came for her next fitting, I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief when the bodice fit her beautifully and all I had left to do were darts and decorate the neckline.
Or so I thought.
I got the dress sewn back together and went to take a photo of it with full midday daylight streaming through the windows of my studio and realized that the bodice and the skirt did not match. I proceeded to utter a stream of colorful metaphors that would have made even the crustiest sailor proud.
I sent the bride two photos… one of just the bodice and all my beautiful embellishments and one of the whole dress with instructions to call me as soon as she was able.
I waited 30 minutes before realizing that I had a narrow window of time that I could make it to the fabric shop and back before my final clients of the day. Bear in mind that it was a Friday afternoon, the shop is on the border of downtown Houston, and the bride’s wedding is now a week away. I grabbed my keys and headed out the door, hoping I was making the right decision.
While on the road, the bride called me, and I explained everything and gave her three options: we could leave it as is, I could take the whole dress apart and take out ALL the tulle, or I could take apart just the skirt portion and replace the tulle with what I had used in the bodice. She decided on the latter telling me that she hated the rose tint anyway. (The bodice in its reconstructed form was not nearly as rose pink as the original.)
Friday night, I disassembled the dress. I took apart all the skirt panel “sandwiches” and replaced the tulle. Saturday, in between normal bridal appointments, I assembled the dress again. It was mid-afternoon when I heaved a premature sigh of relief. I hung the dress on the hanger and stood back to survey my work. I sank into my chair and began to sob. The dress hadn’t changed color. More swearing, more drinking. I played a few crossword games and took many deep breaths before going back to look at my charge. So, what was left? Maybe the ivory satin I’d replaced in the bodice had weird undertones to the fabric used in the skirt. It was the only thing left.
I released the side seam of the dress and proceeded to release one of the “sandwich” panels so I could take a peek. I held the ivory satin up to the satin of the skirt panel and gasped. It was white. Here’s where the saying “truth is stranger than fiction” comes into play. I took the whole panel off the dress and took the whole “sandwich” apart. I turned the satin over. The BACK was ivory and the FRONT was white. Un-freaking-believable. I have NEVER, in my 40 years of sewing, seen that particular weave of satin before. I’m not certain if it was the cheap stuff, something really expensive, or something the designer had made specifically for them. I was truly gobsmacked.
I knew what I had to do. I took my ivory swatch from the bodice to the fabric store and matched it. Took the dress apart for the third time and replaced the satin in the skirt this time. It worked. It was perfect now.
I hadn’t told the bride about the satin yet. I decided to wait until the fitting, which was scheduled for the following day. At this point, I was 22 hours into the dress, with 6 of those unchargeable because I had missed the very weird anomaly of the two-toned satin. Sunday afternoon seemed an age away at that point.
Unfortunately, the Sunday appointment got postponed until Monday due to a blackout from a rainstorm. (I’m seriously NOT making this up.) When she arrived Monday, I managed to tear her zipper while trying to get her into the dress. (I’m not making this up either.) I was far beyond crying at this point. She had another appointment to get to and said she would catch up with me afterwards. This gave me a few more hours to swear at Stella.
I zipped down to the fabric store for the nth time and bought TWO zippers (trying to head Murphy off at the pass) and rushed home. I spent three more hours on the dress, doing final finishing touches AFTER I replaced the zipper. I didn’t want anything else to go wrong.
The bride arrived around 8:30 PM Monday night. We both crossed our fingers and carefully zipped her into the dress. When she looked in the mirror, she got that wistful misty-eyed look on her face and started to swish her skirt. It’s the universal sign from women of all ages (even Drag Queens!) that they love their dress. I was so relieved that I almost started crying in front of her. I held it together long enough to complete our transaction and present her with a card and a bottle of wine. (After all, she broke my record of time spent altering a dress – 25 hours!)
As I closed the front door, my head gently hit the wall and the tears fell and splashed on the floor at my feet. I’m certain they were part relief, part gratitude, part guilt, and part sadness. The latter because I’d really grown fond of the bride. After all, she wasn’t the Zilla; her dress was.