Reworking Vintage Wedding Dresses

Phyllis Inspiration 22 Comments

We have just finished the anniversary celebrations of the young couples in our family. I am reminded by them every year, of the sewing marathon that went on in my home in preparation for those weddings. Oh my, I was so thrilled when my niece, Beth, asked me to make her wedding dress. She wanted a simple dress for a garden wedding. I set about to find antique or vintage lace. While traveling, I happened upon a small shop that was filled with many beautiful things, and hanging in the back were two very old wedding dresses.

I asked the shop owner if I could purchase both dresses and she gave me the group price of $75! I practically jumped over the counter to pay her, took my treasures and left. The lace alone was worth so much more to me because it would make my wedding gown creation very special. Beth could choose the one she wanted and then I would save the other gown.

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One dress was a very old French lace gown that was barely intact. I knew the lace could be selectively cut and it would be perfect. But it had to have tender loving care. The other was a couture gown from Bergdorf Goodman with the date 1974 inside.

Beth and I set about to design her dress using the French lace in the godets of the skirt. She preferred the French lace and it was perfect for the look she wanted.

About the time that we were settled into our plan, my son Eric asked his girlfriend, Katie, to be his bride! Now we had two weddings, and the festivities were about to begin. Katie loves vintage fashions and after a lot of subtle hints, I figured out that she wanted the other gown. So we made our plans to remake and revise the Bergdorf gown.

Did I mention that they set their wedding dates 5 days apart? And one bride was in Tennessee and the other in New York? It was actually so much fun. We mailed photos back and forth and settled on ideas for Katie’s dress. Long before the days of texting, this was our only option!

Beth came to Birmingham often for her fittings and, thank goodness, Katie moved to Birmingham several months before the wedding. To add even more fun, my sister Janice (Beth’s mom) was making the bridesmaids dresses for Beth’s wedding. As the weeks progressed and the dresses were all coming together, we pulled in my Mom to do the “finger work” as she called it. I remember the three of us sitting in my sewing room working our hearts out and laughing about this.

The week of the weddings came and Beth was first. When she came into the garden, I thought I would burst into tears. How could this little girl grow up so fast and now be walking through the garden in her princess dress? She was lovely.

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When her wedding was over, we all packed up and went to Louisiana for Katie and Eric’s wedding. It was a beautiful day and I was overwhelmed at thinking that my son was grown up and getting married. We all have experienced these emotions. It is a joyful time in the lives of families.

At each wedding, crazy thoughts kept rolling around in my head. Did I hem the dress straight? Are the ribbons long enough? Did I use the right lace trim? Then I thought it’s just as it should be. There is nothing more beautiful than a bride on her wedding day.

Have you or someone you know reworked a vintage wedding dress?

Comments 22

  1. I have altered many wedding dresses so that brides could wear their mothers’ dresses. I remade the tops for dresses that I added the skirts of the mothers’ dresses so that brides could wear part of their mothers’ dresses. The most interesting dress was the one I totally redesigned and made from a dress that the bride brought to me. She liked the lace fabric on the original dress and wanted me to use it. The newly designed dress was totally different from the original one. (The original dress was the one the bride wore in her first wedding to another man!)

  2. I remember an article some years back about another wedding dress that you did for one of your family . As I recall the bride’s initials were featured in the train of the gown which I thought was quite unique! What amazing talent and wonderful nemories

  3. My late sister made the wedding dresses for her twin daughters who had a double wedding approximately 30 years ago. Her work was beautiful and the dresses were meticulously fashioned. I have thought many times through the years about her patience and focus as she prepared the dresses and organized the wedding and reception for that wonderful event. Yet, she appeared calm, gracious, and smiling the evening of the wedding. A steel magnolia!

  4. Lucy, one of my granddaughters, was recently married in a church in Ireland. The wedding was private and the church supplied celebrants. On the 25th of June at 7:00 Lucy and her husband, Darrell will be given their Birmingham reception at my home and the bride will wear my wedding dress, remade by her mother Debbie North Fort Meyers, Florida. A reception was held for the couple there. When Lucy saw for the first time my simple 1951 wedding dress with its long sleeves and short train, she was thrill with its ivory satin, the fabric she had decided upon before she knew of my dress. Having had no daughters I thought the dress might never be used again, but because it was made by Flonnie Cooper, a relative and the owner of the much loved Highland Shop in Birmingham’s Five Points South I had lovingly preserved it. The dress had to be enlarged a bit and its long covered buttoned sleeves replaced with several kinds of antique lace. Some came from the lace and ribbon factory owned by her mother’s grandfather and several kinds of treasured antique lace from my great grandmother’s collection. Debbie and emailed and talked on the phone about the exciting possibilities for the dress and Lucy loves it and is delighted with the contributions from both sides of her family. Because there is to be another reception with the groom’s family in the Carolinas, Debbie has made a bouquet from a foam ball covered with hand made satin flowers. Many of the flowers are centered with brooches from members of both of Lucy’s families. I sent a gold and pearl brooch from the late great grandmother here, for whom she was named, and a silver Celtic Cross with colored stones, which my late husband, Joe and I bought on a visit to Ireland years ago. Lucy wanted as many loved ones as possible to be represented in her gown and bouquet. It has been a wonderful experience following Lucy’s ideas about this unique creation, which I have yet to see. The reception will small with only family and a few close friends attending. While dreaming of the dress I have been busy readying family heirlooms for both the bride’s and the groom’s table. My sister, Ann, and her husband, Jim, are bringing each a cake as their gift and champagne and strawberries from Florida will arrive tomorrow with the bride and groom. Generations of three families will be blended in our sunset wedding celebration as the glowing colors fill my garden and home. What a joy!

  5. Both gowns are exquisite and will make treasured heirlooms to be handed down to brides in future generations. God bless them all!

  6. The beauty of these one-of- a-kind made-with- love dresses is a treasure forever. This is true for both wedding gowns and christening gowns. My college roommate made my wedding dress. I wanted a simple dress with beautiful beading and lace. Judy and I ended up at Waechter’ s Silk Shop in downtown Asheville. My budget did not make it possible to buy such a dress. These were the days when the dress was described in great detail in newspaper announcement. Thanks to my friend I was able to have this beautiful memory. My granddaughter, Nella, had a handmade christening gown that was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. It was made in Huntsville, Alabama, by a family friend. Nella and her dress were featured in Sew Beautiful about nine years ago. And it is called finger work! Your dresses are those one of a kind made with love masterpieces. As always, thank you.

  7. What a wonderful story! Using vintage dresses and old lace to create new wedding gowns for young brides seems to bring life full circle. Those gowns were especially beautiful because they represented generations of love, including your own love for the brides.

  8. What an absolutely lovely legacy you, your sister, and your mother have created for these young women! A treasure! Thank you for sharing bridal beauty!

  9. You are so talented and both girls are so lucky to have you, your sister and mom to give them the gift of a beautiful wedding dress sewn with love!!

    A lovely story…:: to live forever in a special family!

    Thanks for sharing your story!!!

  10. I remember reading an article about Katie’s wedding in one of your wonderful magazines a number of years ago. Her wedding was absolutely perfect, and I think I remember she may have worn your veil. I especially loved not only the gorgeous lace but the monogram you did for her. It’s lovely, and those are my initials, too! You are one of the most creative, talented people I “know!”

  11. Your story brought tears to my eyes, beautiful reading just beautiful!
    Congratulations on your historical making of two wedding gowns that
    can be passed on through your family with a story attached to them!
    Phyllis you make beautiful and loving stories and keepsakes for many of us and I thank you. Enjoy your day, Carmel

  12. My sister-in-law’s sister wanted to wear their mothers wedding dress for her upcoming wedding. Sadly it had been stored on a hanger in the garage of her AZ home for 30+ years. Knowing I sewed, they asked if there was any way to repair the disintegrating lace on both shoulders. Fortunately I had 6 months to make the repairs as I painstakingly wove “new lace” into the dress. It was perfect and that was my wedding gift. Since then I’ve gone on to combine the dresses of mothers & grandmothers into brides bags for daughters & granddaughters from the silk & lace of damaged or dresses that are to small for anyone to wear. Now that’s delightfully fun.

    1. I walked out of two films, one about 8 years ago, the other about 6 months ago.The first was Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s &#;ai08Ch2r2sma” – mainly because I was tired and hungry and it was the 4th or 5th film that day at a festival.Recently I walked out of the Aussie Modernized “Macbeth” mainly because I was quite bored with how lame the whole thing was….and trying to hard to boot. Sad. The source material was way too good for this adaptation…

  13. What a priceless gift you, your mother and your sister have given to these young women not only in the dresses themselves, but in the love, dreams and personal labor each of you put into these garments. Absolutely priceless!!!

  14. I wore my mother’s wedding dress at my wedding. After taking in the waist and removing the shoulder pads, it was perfect! The veil did not hold up but I purchased one of my choice and added mom’s orange blossom tiara. Everyone was thrilled to see me wearing the dress I have two daughters and maybe one day they will wear it.Mary C

  15. I sat here and cried tears of joy….you are so fortunate to have your family. My daughter wore my dress…..she was beautiful in it…I have saved it…have five grand-daughters…four left to be married…hopefully one day one of them will want to wear it also…
    Your story is beautiful…but the best part are your memories of you and your mom and sister all sitting around together.♥️

  16. What beautiful gowns! You are blessed with a wonderful talent and these lovely ladies have a wedding dress they will cherish forever and perhaps pass on to future generations.

    My grandmother sewed for a living, raising four children as a widow. She made my wedding dress, sewing thousands of seed beads onto the dress in a floral pattern she designed. She incorporated lace and sequins and it was the most beautiful wedding dress I’ve ever seen. Not that I’m prejudiced or anything!!

  17. Having seen these dresses in person, I can say they are stunning! You captured the spirit of both these beautiful girls! An inspiration to all of us!

    1. Beth’s wedding was very special. More so since my grand daughter, Ann, was one of the bride maids. Pictures were all beautiful.

  18. What a special gift you gave both these young brides by sewing their gowns, it’s something they will have sweet memories of their whole lives. I love that you incorporated vintage lace and dreams into each wedding dress. They are truly family heirlooms!

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