The ornately beaded gown spent decades wrapped in a sheet from the time grandma was a bride until her granddaughter walked down the aisle.
Both brides were beautiful and the dress was a focal point each time, thanks to the loving restoration work by dressmaker Camila Sigelmann, who made it possible for Amee Huppin Sherer to be married in Grandma Marian Huppin's 1925 wedding gown.
It took Sigelmann about 40 hours and a lot of luck to find beads to match the originals, to repair and reinforce the gown, to make some modifications and to create a matching head piece.
"It was a real honor for me to work on the dress," Sigelmann said. "I understood that not only was I working on a dress for a very important occasion but that it had a lot of family history. That gives the project a whole other dimension."
Sigelmann, who teaches apparel design at Seattle Central Community College, has run her own dressmaking business for about six years. She is one of a number of seamstresses across the country who restore antique wedding dresses and create new, custom gowns for brides. Amee found her in the Yellow Pages.
It is a special and honorable profession for the dressmakers who have the opportunity to participate in some of the most joyous moments of family life. They speak of their work with pride and enthusiasm.
Victoria's Bridal has been in the business for more than 20 years, making everything from contemporary to traditional gowns to theme weddings.
Choosing to have a custom-made wedding dress is more a matter of style and personal service than of price, said Denise Mahmood, store manager of designer Victoria Glenn's shop Mahmood. She said formal gowns from Victoria's start at $1,000 and tea length dresses start at $600. Prices vary considerably, however, based on fabric and style. The cost of a custom-made gown includes fittings and alterations, which can cost up to $200 extra when buying a manufactured dress.
Another dressmaker, Laure Rancich-Flem, cautions brides not to look at custom-made gowns as a way to save money.
"If someone comes to me and has found a dress in a magazine ... I cannot make it cheaper," Rancich-Flem said, unless the bride wants to make changes in the dress such as using satin instead of silk.
The dressmaker said the best reason to call a seamstress is because you want a special gown tailored to your body and your taste.
"If you're going to do custom work it's usually because you cannot find what you want in ready-to-wear. Maybe you don't want a traditional gown, or you're hard to fit ... or you just want something very untraditional in fabrics, colors or styling," Rancich-Flem said.
She recommended trying on some manufactured gowns and looking at bridal magazines before deciding to talk to a dressmaker. A trip to a bridal store will give a woman a chance find out what dress details she likes and what looks good on her.
All three women agreed on suggestions about how to find a custom dressmaker. The first thing to do is ask for recommendations from friends who have had custom gowns made or who have hired a seamstress to create other clothing. Brides without personal recommendations can ask at a fabric store for a list of dressmakers who specialize in bridal gowns.
The next step is to call some dressmakers, talk to them about their experience and see some of their work. This process should start about six months before the wedding.
Mahmood said brides should ask a dressmaker how long she has been in business, how many dresses she averages a month, if she's overloaded with work and if there are other seamstresses working for her on contract. Ask to see the dressmaker's portfolio book and some actual dresses she made and request a list of references.
Rancich-Flem said that once you and a dressmaker have talked about the details of your actual project, you should request a bid, including creation and design time and materials cost.
Sigelmann said the dressmaker and the bride, and possibly her mother, need to be able to forge a good personal relationship because they may be working together for up to six months.
Her clients tend to be working women and mature brides who have clear ideas about wanting something a little different in a wedding dress.
The dressmaker found the Huppin gown an interesting challenge; it was also an emotionally and intellectually intriguing project.
"It was a very special dress," Sigelmann said. "I found myself wondering what her grandma was like and how did she feel when she wore the dress."
Donna Gordon Blankinship is a freelance writer living in Seattle.
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