Monday, February 11, 2013

It's Wedding Dress Season!

I like to think that my brides are a unique group of strong, creative, independent women.

Gone are the days when women felt pressured to get married right out of high school. Gone are the days when you had to be married in order to live together, or risk being labeled a floozy (as my dad used to say) or disowned by your family! The social revolutions in the 60's put an end to most of that. Hooray for the 1960’s when a whole generation rebelled against traditional values! Women were given more of a choice in things. In regards to weddings and bridal dress, some still clung to the traditional white gear. However, at the time it was more fashionable to go with less ostentatious styles. Cotton fabrics were more suitable for the mindset of this generation. Brides wore styles like the peasant dress and could've easily gone barefoot and had the ceremony in the woods. In the end, if you didn’t want a long white dress with a veil, it wasn't such an issue any more.

My beautiful mom and her gaggle of bridesmaids. 
My grandmother Mary made all the dresses.

I started making wedding dresses in the early 80's. The women interested in getting a custom dress from me were looking for something different, something more personal to celebrate in. Not only were they looking for something that they had a part in creating, it would have elements of style and color that were reflective of their own personality and sensibilities. In the last couple of years it seems we have returned to weddings with all the trimmings (similar to the 50’s)! With it there comes all kinds of big and small salons, hundreds of dresses off the rack to choose from.. There are also more independant designers like myself, offering one of a kind designs custom-made for the unique bride, or what the press refers to as “the alternative bride”. Luckily, there is a place for everyone to find a dress these days. My favorite statement about a wedding dress is taken from the colonial period, “you just have to have the best dress in the room”.  

These days, the options are endless!

It can be long, short, or have a bunny tail. 

It can have color!

It could be black for all that matters...
Photo by: Patricia Sullivan

Aspects of the wedding dress and it's different styles resurface over and over again in history. Trains and veils go in and out of style in the same way that white does.


 For a long time the white dress, in one fashion or another, has held a firm grip on the bride’s imagination.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Some of My Highlights from 2012

Bias Dress Hits the Red Carpet

It's always a great day when someone like Amy Sedaris is spotted in one of my dresses, especially on the red carpet or the David Letterman show. This has happened periodically since Amy first showed up at my store "The Dress" in the early 1990s.

When Sarah Jessica Parker invited Amy to the New York City Ballet fall gala event this year at the Lincoln Center (Valentino designed all the costumes). Amy purchased this dress for that event and here she is walking the red carpet. She told me later that it was a real show stopper and everyone wanted to know about the bias dress. 

People are always really surprised when they see that those are individual strips sewn on. For this one, I actually cut up another dress I had made. I took it all apart and cut bias strips out of it and made this dress instead: it's very similar to the dress on the cover of my book.

A Summer Dress for Brandon Holley of Lucky Magazine

Brandon Holley is the editor-in-chief at Lucky Magazine and I've known her since she was in college and hanging out on the Lower Eastside where my store, "The Dress" was located. For a while she worked at the famous Max Fish (the first bar in the area) and look where she is now! The last time I saw Brandon we were fitting her in a darling brown cotton apron dress I had made for her wedding rehearsal dinner. 

We reconnected when I had my editor send over a copy of my book. A lot of the dresses in the book were familiar to her from walking past the windows of "The Dress" on Ludlow Street. 

Brandon at the fitting.
Anyway, one thing led to another and before I knew it she was at my new studio and we were discussing summer dresses. We talked about style and fabric and after trying a few things on we settled on this style. I did a sketch of the general idea with some fabric swatches which in the end were all beautiful Liberty of London cotton prints with a cotton organdy petticoat underneath!


Creative Sewing Lessons at Josephine's Dry Goods

A major perk of visiting my family in Oregon twice a year is that I teach creative sewing workshops at this great fabric and sewing shop in downtown Portland. Everyone is always a little surprised to see how much sewing goes into making one of these party dresses regardless of which techniques they use!  

Click here to view more images on my Facebook page of projects that some of my students worked on in classes in 2012. If you have a shop that could accommodate a class like this, click here to learn more about workshops.

Here is one of my students putting her own creative spin on the scrappy skirt:
lots of assorted black silk scraps, silver thread, and lots of top stitching.

The Girls Club Learns to Make Aprons

I thoroughly enjoy teaching these girls to sew. Beginning this fall we started making aprons of all kinds. Aprons are a perfect project to learn sewing skills. The cotton aprons were made to sell at The Girls Club Store: La Tiendita. 
This is the crew of girls who were working on the aprons.
The fancy pinafores were made by the older girls for the younger girls to wear to a performance of the Mad Hatter at Thompson Square Park.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mary's Vinyl Bag History

A tip to anyone that might want to try sewing vinyl bags: 
you need a special Teflon foot and feed dogs... otherwise 
you might go insane!!
 Besides making dresses, I spent a lot of my time in the 80s and 90s designing and producing make-up bags and vinyl accessories. I've literally made hundreds, if not thousands, of these bags. It all started in Portland, OR, when a friend of mine who was a stylist suggested I make cases for make-up artists to keep their brushes organized. One thing lead to another and before I knew it I had a little business! I designed and produced vinyl accessories for local hair and make-up salons, boutiques and departments stores like Nordstrom, Henri Bendel and Barneys.

My studio was piled high with
bags in all shapes and sizes.

We always tried to do things ourselves back then. I kept my distance from the garment district, which was like another world (and not a particularly friendly one at that!) We made our own way- I would hire my friends from the neighborhood who were good seamstresses. We worked for days on end- long hours and late nights. Chinese take-out, rice and beans, and lots of cafe con leche! It's easy to romanticize the scene now, but the bags weren't easy to make and the vinyl fabric is hard to work with- it 's a tug-of-war. As I recall, by the end, I  always had one really stiff neck! I still like to make a limited edition of bags every year.

My first studio in Manhattan on Eldridge and Stanton - 1984                                                                                               We found this huge blackboard on the street in perfect shape. It was great to write orders on. I borrowed a portable Singer sewing machine from my friend since I didn't bring one with me. I really have to hand it to those old Singers!! I made tons of stuff on that little thing until I got my own industrial machine a year later, also a Singer and old even when I bought it. Believe it or not, I'm still sewing on the same industrial machine today!
Red plaid taffeta, black and white polka dots, 
stripes- a new fabric for every season! I used 
whatever I could find that was unique. Sometimes,
I would enhance the fabric myself by quilting 
it or having different bias tapes made.
 Make-Up Cases - 1982
It all started with these. The first store I sold them to was
"Faces" in Portland. I used polished cotton and covered the
inside with clear plastic.
I ran across this shop one day on a 
deserted street near Eldridge and Grand.
The owner let me pilfer through his old stuff
while he reminisced. The indistinguishable
old shops in the Lower East Side were a
great treasure hunt back then.
This is part of an advertisement for 
my plaid bags that appeared in 
Seventeen magazine.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


I am very excited to announce that my web store is officially open today!!! Just in time for the holidays, I'm now selling some great gifty items online: aprons, make-up bags, spools of ruffles, just to name a few. There is also a fabulous quilted party dress and a variety of twirly skirts! All of these items are available in limited numbers and are handmade, one-of-a-kind pieces. Also available are some signed copies of The Party Dress Book, which makes a great personalized gift. Last but not least- sewing lessons and consultations (more details can be found under the product description) can be purchased through the online store and given to loved-ones. Lots of options- take a look! Hope you like the new look of my blog, too!



Monday, May 21, 2012

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My How Time Flies!!

Spring is just around the corner and I'm getting ready for my next trip  to Portland, OR for a new series of creative workshops @ Josephine's. My first workshop on March 31st is geared for the artistic sewer, perhaps someone who's using sewing in their creative process...or someone who likes to deviate from the directions on a innovator! We will be making samples of each of the technique I talk about in the book and discussing how and where to use them to enrich your sewing vocabulary.  I think one of the most important things I want to get across in my book is about all the options available to you during the process of creating something  from the beginning of the process to the end and of course you can always change that too.  Check out the creative workshop page for  details.

Furthermore, my pattern Maker Lily Uhmn was here over the holidays. She has been working in Paris for the last couple of years so I was thrilled to have her here to work on a pattern for a shirt waist dress I've been meaning to explore forever... 

Lily Uhmn, Pattern maker

Monday, September 5, 2011

Couture Camp

For five weeks i ran couture camp at the Lower East Side Girls Club, something I started with Lyn Pentecost (executive director and founder of the Lower East Side Girls Club) back in the nineties. I have always been advocate of sewing as a means to boost self-esteem with young people, and enjoyed working with the 18 teenage girls (plus one boy) that partook in the program.