Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Dress, or How I lost my mind and turned into a "bride"

This is an overdue post that I've been meaning to process for a while. So now as I sit on an overly turbulent (now they call it "rough air" -- can I use to to exfoliate?) flight back from training in Atlanta, I'm catching up.

I tend to be a fairly pragmatic person, so the big expenditures on stuff that can't be re-used isn't my bag. A lot of brides are buying their dresses used on eBay and selling them after the event. How practical! I'm practical! Why, then am I going through making a wedding dress? And why is said wedding dress being made of silks, with hours of handwork? And a dress that can't be reworn anywhere else? A dress I plan to pack away and carry around with me for the rest of my life, in box? Isn't it a waste? What happened to that reasonable girl???

It is not, as one might think, because I majored in fashion design. Hell, I could have designed it and had someone else make it.

Maybe it goes back to the sewing machine. I was very tempted to sew the whole thing on my great-grandmother's sewing machine. The sewing machine I learned to sew on. The one I used through high school. The one I will pass on to my son or daughter one day, along with its story? The story of this machine is fairly personal, but the takeaway is that this machine is made of memories of my grandmother (even though we never used it together) My grandmother is quite a seamstress, as was her mother, and...? before her? I can only guess.

My mother taught me to sew by pinning the seams and sending me off to run the stitches. After each seam, I would return and she would pin the next seam. She says she doesn't know how to sew, I guess because I later ran off to art school to learn how to sew *correctly,* which is a lot more stressful.

Whether she sews or not, she embroiders, tats, knits, quilts, does blackwork, and god knows what else. Growing up, there was always a craft, a scrap, a project, something. When I made my dress for a high school dance, I knew the pride in replying "Thank you, I made it." usually met with surprise.

No surprise. This is what you do, isn't it? You learn from your mother, and she from hers, and so on. And when a baby is born, the ceder chest is opened, and all the things laid out. Grandma so-and-so made this piece of lace. This was the veil I made for my wedding, here is you first communion gown...

So of course you make the wedding dress. And of course it is impractical, and hopefully made beautiful for no reason other than, this is what we do. And it will be worn once, and then kept forever, and someday, I will pull it out of my cedar chest and say "here is the dress from my wedding. I made it of silk, and my mother embroidered it. And then it was put away, and all for the sole purpose of this moment, and all the similar moments that will follow as you pass it down in its bits and pieces along with the fragments of lace, linen, sweat, pride, and memory that I have received from my mothers and grandmothers.

If I had the time, I'd love to hand make every element of the wedding, ceremony, and decor. I love crafts and I like design (duh). But that isn't something I have time for, and I know those fancy flowers won't keep.

But the dress, it has to be impractical. No $200 Target dress will do, nor will selling it so that someone else can use it, to keep it recycled. It is a selfish thing, a manifestation of history and personality and love. A thread in the fabric of my family story.

Impractical? Maybe, but not as much as the beer donkeys I also wanted for the wedding.

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