Tuesday, October 21, 2008


It was my Barbies who served as my first dress design clients.  I still have those early creations somewhere, all packed together in a little-girl flowered suitcase:  Tiny metalic tube dresses, evening gowns that involved head removal to get them on... My first human-sized garment designed without a pattern was a Hallowe'en Costume for my first Highschool Party.  I went as a princess in a flowing green-polyester-curtain gown, complete with a matching cone hat.  My Dad even said, why don't you start designing clothes for yourself?  
My relationship with my Mom's 1934  Singer "Feather Weight" (I sew on it still) was rocky at first. I  went through a lot of the scrap fabric that was piled in ragged cardboard boxes in our basement and yards of thread before I learned to thread the machine correctly and adjust the tension and stitch length for each project:   knit, denim, or naugahyde.  I followed patterns first, practicing sewing basics and techniques.
  But eventually, at my Senior College vocal recital and on the opening night of my first Broadway show (pictured here with Natasha Richardson at the Cabaret opening) I wore gowns of my own design.    I named my "line" after my fellow college vocal students' affectionate term for wonderfully gaudy and oversized wardrobes of Star Opera Singers:  Divawear.
So it was only fitting that my wedding dress would be made out of a tablecloth and a sheet.  Okay, it wasn't any ordinary table cloth.  
And it wasn't  just because of our limited budget (9,000 dollars for everything).   After the love of my life proposed to me in a Canadian Bay, my Mother pulled a bag out of the bottom of her linen closet.  In it was an exquisite linen table cloth salvaged from the house of my Great Grandmother.  Mom suggested that I use it to make my wedding dress and my first worry was that I'd be destroying a family heirloom.   But I packed it in my suitcase back to New York and when Ted and I finally found the perfect location for our special day, I set to work.  I was acting in a new play at American Repertory Theater in Boston at the time and brought my little Feather Weight back to my cast housing with me.  As I am wont to do, I started doodling at rehearsal and came up with a sketch of my dream gown.  But since much of the tablecloth was handmade lace, I needed an under dress.  I didn't know the Boston fabric scene but DID know how to find TJ Maxx and Marshall's and so I headed for downtown.   I bought a 600 count cotton king-sized sheet set for 30 dollars that was almost the exact shade of ivory as the antique table cloth.  I knew that
I'd never be able to find modern linen that had the same  movement and flow as the tablecloth and this sheet set had an almost satin finish.  It would look beautiful through the lace.  I thought through my design and decided that the only other thing I needed were snaps, beading, and matching thread.  Between rehearsals and performances at ART, I began to sew.  The great thing about having an entire sheet set is that not only did I have plenty of material for mistakes, but I had pillowcases for storage and transport.  But making the first cut into the tablecloth proved an emotional moment and after much procrastination and careful measurements, I gritted my teeth and closed the scissors into the linen.  I was committed!
I ended up hand-sewing much of it as I find hand-sewing to be easier and more precise for delicate work.  I sewed tiny fake pearls  into translucent sequins onto the just the upper bodice.  I wanted something sexy AND traditional, ornate AND subtle all at the same time.  What is more expressive of you as a bride than something you designed yourself?  
When Mom and Dad came a week before the wedding to help with setup,  Mom put the finishing touches (a hem & ivory tassles) on what was left of the table cloth to make a shawl/sash that I wore draped over my arms (a veil felt too artificial for me) and I found ivory espadrilles (I knew I'd be walking down the aisle on a lawn) at DSW that I then decorated with scrap lace and pearls.  My darling new sister-in-law, Marie, (a future guest blogger!) designed and made me the most exquisite pearl grape-cluster earrings and matching bracelet.  And last but not least, my cousins Kim and Kris  pinned fabric flowers into my hair and my fellow renaissance girls Penny and Elizabeth taped me into my dress! (thank you, Topstick, double sided tape!  A fashion-secret must...)  But unlike my Barbie dolls, I was able to put it my gown on without removing my head!
It took months of gradual designing, but after all, I was stitching generations of my mothers and grandmothers into my wedding dress.  As I sat and sewed, I thought about what it meant that I was getting married, what it meant for all of us as women over generations.  I even quilted my Great Grandmother's monogram in a prominent place on the front of the underskirt.  Did she ever dream about a life that her great-granddaughter might lead in New York City? 
I hope you have found your own "line", in what you choose to wear out into the world each morning.  Express your own inner Diva!

1 comment:

  1. I remembered a posted this photo of myself and Natasha Richardson from the opening night of Cabaret. I wanted to write here that my prayers go out to her and her family after the recent skiing accident. She is inspiring to watch as an actress, like a delicate glass clock where you can see the inner workings. Every night, she would climb the dressing room "tower" and kiss every sing actor on the cheek and say, "Good show!"
    She is true theater royalty.
    We're pulling for you, Natasha!


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