Riane's Convertable Wedding Gown
April 21, Portland, Ore. — I
walked into the bridal salon with my sister-in-law-to-be, expecting one of the dresses she was about to try on that day to be ‘The One.’ And I was okay with that really… I was recovering after all and didn’t mind not having any extra stress, good or bad.
She ran her fingers over the white, lacy, frothy gowns, rack after rack like a child in a candy store. The mirrors hung floor to ceiling and the chairs were upholstered in velvet. Whether they get it or not, every bride wants this experience.
But then she told me what she wanted.
“What if there was a way my wedding dress had a short dress under it so the outer one can come off during the dancing?” she said. "Then I wouldn't have to leave my party to go change."
Then all of a sudden I was so excited — I grabbed hold of her hand and just grinned.
Not only would she not have to miss any dancing to go change, but she also would have a cohesive ensemble that was truly one of a kind.
I wanted to make that dress.
She tried on a dozen dresses in different styles, fabrics, and silhouettes that day.
She smiled at the way one had lace that curved around the back of her neck, but the smile disappeared looking down at the mermaid fit that trapped her legs. Not a dress for dancing.
Another gown had a beautifully layered skirt, with a variety of interesting texture combinations that she liked, but it was strapless. Again, not favorable for dancing.
I jotted down the elements she liked about each dress, making a separate list for the firm dislikes.
One thing about Riane is that she is a woman who is certain of what she wants. It makes my job easier.
She didn’t find ‘The One,’ that day, but I had my lists and was excited to start sketching.
I hadn’t done anything creative in months leading up to that, so I was nervous to try, but very inspired by the information she’d given me.
Another thing about Riane is that she LOVES to dance. I knew the ability to move in the dress was a leading priority.
Elements she wanted for her dress:
- Removable outer skirt with something more comfortable underneath
- Lace straps
- Not too poofy
- Sweetheart neckline
- Not too much beading
- Some kind of belt
- A true waistline
- varied textures in the skirt
- short scalloped lace trim on both skirts
Over the next week I came up with a few sketches based off of our list.
She chose the first sketch, which happened to be my favorite for her, so at that point I was even more excited.
We went to Mill End Fabric Store in Portland that Saturday and she picked out that materials, and I had that pattern drafted and fitted by the following week.
“You are the artist, I trust you,” she’d say. Music to any designer's ears.
Music to every creative person’s ears.
Riane was by far the easiest bride I have ever worked with — she was at every fitting on time and scheduled extra time in case I needed a bit longer. I’m sure the fact that she was about to marry my brother may have had something to do with it, but in the few years I’ve known her, that seems to just be how she is: easy going, thoughtful, straightforward.
She never showed any sign of being stressed out at the idea of having someone with a brain injury working on her precious dress. That alone gave me some much needed confidence to do a good job. She was patient with me and I am so appreciative of that.
I worked in spurts, sewing all day and then taking a few days to rest or picking a few hours at a time when I felt well. Altogether, the time I spent was about two full days for the bodice, two for the short skirt, one for the full overskirt, half for the couture waistband (I got to practice one of Mario's favorite secret techniques), and another three or so days for the lace appliqués. Lots of hand-work, but my friend, Susie Cray of ‘Susannah’s Styles,’ spent an entire day helping me attach the lace to the bottom of Riane’s overskirt.
Riane and I designed the gown together with the couple’s first dance in mind.
They choreographed a formal foxtrot that was split in the middle with my brother, Andrew, spinning Riane out and removing her overskirt as a fast-beat country swing song came on and the overskirt came off, revealing her short 50’s style dancing dress underneath.
Then they busted out into some of the most extreme country western swing dance I have ever seen, with Riane flying through the air, inside down, and backwards, short dress swishing. The guests cheered and were totally surprised.
The dress bodice had shirring at the sweetheart neckline. The organza overlay had hand beaded and appliquéd lace that curved around Riane’s neck, shirring again at the nape of her neck and curving down the sides to V at the waist in the back, making a statement with three inches of gathers at the princess lines that added more fullness to the bell-shaped, scalloped-edge short skirt.
The full overskirt included five layers of fabric that faded overlay to lining in both shades of white to cream and sheer to solid, creating an illusion of depth and a pearl-like glow that I like to incorporate into my work. The top layer was pure white organza with a silver sheen to it, with appliquéd lace and beading around the hemline. The next layer below that was a creamy ivy leaf embroidered sheer gauze that just barely peeked through the top organza and added an interesting visual effect. Below that were layers of crepe satin and satin to add structure and fullness without need of a crinoline.
There were snaps and hooks that secured the overskirt at the right side, as to be easily removed during the first dance when spun to the right, and to avoid seaming down the front or back of the skirt
Both skirts (full and short) had reverse pleats in the side seams to allow for even more fullness (and twirling splendor) without adding bulk to the bride’s tiny waist.
Her hairpiece and garter were made of white Swiss netting and hand beaded lace that matched her dress. The garter had a Guava bow to match the color from the bridesmaid dresses. I used leftover fabric from my bridesmaid dress...
My bridesmaid dress for her wedding presented a few minor challenges that were great fro getting my mind back into dressmaking thinking. I got it started before Riane's just to get my feet wet. I got a swatch from David's Bridal that matched the other girls' dresses and went to the fabric store. David's Bridal patents its colors so I didn't find an exact match, but after layering a slightly too orange on top of a slightly too red, the color match was perfect. It was chiffon over silk cotton, so everything had to be marked, thread-traced, and basted by hand before I could sew, but the dotted pattern on the chiffon made it easy to spot the grainelines.
I used the same skirt pattern as Riane's underskirt with the added fullness on my dress because I was excited to dance too.
I would have been happy to see Riane fall in love with a ready-made dress in the store that first day in April, but it really did bring me so much joy to get to be a part of Andrew’s and her special day and create a gown perfect for dancing and catered to her every smile-item on her dress wishlist.
It was SUCH a gorgeous wedding. Did I mention the ceremony took place in a floating gazebo at sunset??
I worked on the dresses much more slowly than I ever did pre-brain injury, but in many ways I feel like having this dress to work on--one that was so stress free and exciting was the best thing for my brain to focus on for the time being.
It gave me something rewarding to do that I enjoy. It was also so fun to use the new tools I was given during my time at the Couture Atelier in London last summer and at F.I.T with Mario and my many brilliant professors at school.
Click to see the full gallery below from Riane and Andrew's fairytale wedding as shot by Kel Ward Photography at Neal Creek Resort in Scio, Oregon.
Needing family phots done? Wedding photos? Senior photos? Maternity photos? Whatever photos you need done, contact Kel Ward. She really is the best. She's quick, experienced, and extremely good at what she does, not to mention easy to work with. Shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or text/call (503) 939-6781 for inquiries!