Three Things You have in Common with a Designer Dress
Here's a sneak peek at the insides of two wedding gowns I've beeen working on this summer
What's inside matters most
Every design has a designer
A designer always cares about their design
Be it our media our our mothers, there's no shortage of resources conveying the idea of beauty coming from within. One way or another, we've all heard that it's what's on the inside that matters.
The same applies to clothing.
I've been sewing since I was four years old, but it's only been in the past year that I've started to learn more about the "couture" garment and how to pay more attention to what's inside the ruffled and sequined exteriors of an evening gown.
There were eight weeks in London under the exacting rule of Lucy, a Mediterranean woman with a full head of tightly wound curls and a perfectionist’s stride. She studied under several ateliers around Europe before launching her own brand ten years ago.
Then there was a semester of lessons from Mario, who grew up studying under a tailor in Columbia before following his teacher to New York in the late 70’s to work for a couture house. He doesn’t care so much about things being perfect as long as you understand how they work.
With Lucy, sewing was a means to an end, to a beautifully finished garment for sale. But to Mario, at over sixty years of age, it was the end, like a living, growing, language.
“No pins,” he would say though a thick columbian accent, with one hand in the air and two wispy eyebrows drawn together like charging bulls. “Your fingers are the pins!”
I’ve always looked at sewing like an outlet for creativity the same as I would cooking or painting. Thanks to my grandmother, I just happened to know a bit more about sewing than I did anything else. But I still felt like I had no idea what I was doing, and I didn’t enjoy it because every project turned into a massive contest with the forces of trial and error.
I didn’t enjoy sewing because it was frustrating, but I did enjoy creating. So whenever I zipped a model into a dress for the first time and I was satisfied with how it looked, it all felt worth it. I didn’t mind what it looked or felt like inside because no one else would ever know there were raw edges and lumpy seams.
In our culture it’s easy to be pulled into a world obsessed with outward appearances. It’s nothing new, but I do think our access to social media exacerbates the problem. Relationships, activities, and decisions easily turn into photo-ops for our Instagram feeds and Snapchat stories.
It makes it easy to neglect the raw edges and lumpy seams of our own lives, because of the idea that as long as everything is pretty on the outside of the stories we project, no one will know if our linings have french seams or not. We have the tools to mask what’s really going on in our hearts, but should we use them?
One of the wedding gowns I’m working on now was coming together beautifully, but I was in a hurry. I thought that if I rushed to the end I could have more time to focus on embellishments. I thought that adding a few beads here and there could make up for the skipped steps. But when my bride-to-be stepped into the dress I knew there was a problem with the foundation.
I went back in and spent twice as much time as I’d spent on the entire dress up to that point, building a corset--something that will never be seen by another person--into the dress. When she tried it on again, the difference was like night and day.
It got me thinking about the root of what I do and how it can be applied to life as a whole.
Couture garments aren’t always beautiful on the inside the way you might expect, but they do have extremely well thought-out and executed foundations.
There are thousands of hand stitches holding everything in place that will later be removed. There are painstaikenly measured marks that will be erased. There are perfectly matched corners and shiny seam tape that will just be covered up. There’s beautiful fabric in the lining that won’t be seen.
But all of those tiny details add up. Each grain of fabric that has been properly prepared will lead to a better fitting, better feeling garment -- one that also looks better inside and out.
There are many details in our day to day lives that we don’t pay much attention to, and then there are others we probably pay too much attention to. The truth is, a hundred hand sewn beads or sixteen yards of Swiss lace can’t cover up problems in our foundations.
But that’s okay because its not up to me to fix those problems. There’s one dressmaker, with strong hands and thousands of years of experience cutting out stories from the finest fabrics and mending broken foundations with the upmost attention to detail.
My fingers are rough from being peirced by needles. His hands have holes in them too, but they're a lot deeper than mine, and it wasn't by accident.
The truth is, trying to add a filter and crop out the messes, or trying to repair our own snags in our lives won’t really make us look look better. Using the tools society hands us to help mask and embellish ourselves is the difference between a fifteen dollar dress on the rack, and a fifty thousand dollar dress that’s been custom made by a master.
We don’t have to try to go back and re-finish seams that are already overlocked into place because with Jesus, somebody already has. The same hands that embroidered each diamond-studded star into the velvet sky, hand-painted the very flecks of gold in your eyes, wove the freckles into your skin, and created you into a work so prized that it could only be purchased with His own life.
It makes me feel excited to be alive and it makes me feel so honored to create in the image of the One who created me. I’m excited that I don’t have to be perfect on the inside, and I’m so honored to be worked on, constantly, by Someone who who is.
My time with Mario helped me learn to enjoy the sewing process as something so much more than a means to an end, and it’s helped me understand that our lives are more than that too — each designed to find an immaculate foundation in Christ, with the same label on our hearts as found on butterfly wings entire solar systems in motion.
Creating something and cherishing it gives me a glimpse of what it means to be created and cherished.
I forget these things a lot. Written out it seems so simple. But I do forget. And that’s ok, because that’s the point.
We are created and we create. We love and are loved, relentlessly, by the One who created us.