My mum left school at 16 to become a seamstress, she worked for leading designers in Australia and made wedding dresses for a number of years. When she became a mother of 4 she stopped working fulltime but it didn’t stop it being a big part of her life, with a semi industrial machine at home she made the school uniforms for all the girls in my primary school! She also inherited the job of fixing, hemming up and creating clothes for all of us kids. She made every dress up costume I ever dreamt up, including a little mermaid outfit when I was 4. She warned me that if I had a full tail I wouldn't be about to walk around but I told her to do it anyway, and she did!! She also made my year 12 formal dress, a low back long gown.
So as long as I can remember I wanted her to make my wedding dress when I got married. We spoke about it all the time, so when it came to the day that I was engaged I excitingly told her, now we have to make my dress! As the super cute mum that I have, she told me that if I wanted to buy one that it is completely fine, that she doesn’t have to make it if I don’t want to – as if I felt I had to go through with it as we had spoken about it since I was a little girl. It was never about the dress but that fact that my mum made it. I didn’t care how it would turn out, I knew I would love it no matter what. Regardless of that, I know my mum is an amazing seamstress and it will be beautiful.
As I am a girl that has wider hips, a style that was fitted at my waist and goes out after definitely suits me better. I also didn’t want something tight the whole way down as I wanted to be able to comfortably move around, dance and eat as I pleased without worrying about my dress. I also wanted straps as strapless just doesn't suit me as nicely. These were things that I knew off the bat. So from here I started to research styles to see what I liked the most. I ended up finding some inspiration dresses, where the bodice was lace with a sweetheart neck line and lowered around the back, with a smaller version of a Cinderella like skirt with tulle.
So, the next step was to go try some dresses on and see if this style best suited me or not. I grabbed my best friends and mum and off we went to a number of stores around Sydney. I was so nice to be able to try on any dress regardless of price as we were going to make our own! The sales ladies were a little perplexed when we said we didn’t have a budget, that we would try on anything! We obviously were not the usual customer as my mum was asking questions about the lining, the way it is fastened, how many layers of fabric it has and then writing it down and taking photos of these details!! But when price or how long it was to order came up we shrugged it off, not caring about these details! It was quite funny when the sales assistant came back to check on us and my mum was under my dress counting layers!!
This settled that the original style I was going for was the favourite of everyone, and now we had an idea on material and how we were going to go about it. Next up we needed to source some fabric. It’s not easy to have access to this kind of quality fabric as a general customer and we didn’t have any connections with people who are purchasing fabric anymore. However, after quite a bit of research I found a place out it Cabramatta! This is known in Sydney as the Vietnamese mecca of Sydney. This place has the highest population of Vietnamese people in the world outside of Vietnam! I discovered that this place isn’t only the best place to get Pho noodles but also amazing fabric! So off my mum, dad and I went to Cabramatta for the day. A little old Vietnamese man ran the store with his wife and he was just a total ball of sunshine! He went running around giving us options and calculated all the metres of fabric for us, he honestly was an expert in wedding dress fabrics!! We decided on some really beautiful lace from Paris of the bodice, satin for the lining and tulle for the skirt layers. I never really knew there were so many colours of off white to pick from, but our guy was really helpful and we were done in no time and only a couple of hundred dollars later. So of course, we had to celebrate our success with some local Pho noodles before we went home!
This project was the best excuse my mum had to finally get her sewing machine out of the garage and up to her apartment, where it had been since they moved into their new home. My dad didn’t want it taking up a room, but now he had no choice! It was really nice to see my mums face light up to having this new project. Since my brothers and I left home she hasn’t made many things for us, so I think this really gave her a sense of purpose and a feeling of being needed. She really did take this on like a paying job, she would test everything out and make a number of options in cheaper fabric for me before using the purchased fabric, she even wouldn’t come to things because she was working on it!
Since we didn’t have a pattern, we were making up everything as we go. Getting pieces of fabric and pinning it on me to make the bodice. Sewing it together, trying it, nipping and tucking it, adjusting it, undoing and re-doing it. It was really a working progress where I was dropping into my mums place every week on my way home from work to try on the latest bit she made, and deciding between options she came up with. I think this what I treasure most about the whole process, how we together created this dress with a labour of love. Not once did we argue about anything, it’s not my mum’s nature. She is the most down to earth and positive person I know. Since I don’t know much about sewing (I know I am a terrible daughter!) I would ask for things that weren’t easy. I would say 'can’t you just put this like this?', and she would remind me that it’s not that easy! However, I would come over next time and it would be done! My mum often asks me where I get my creative side from, but she doesn’t realise that I get it from her, she is extremely creative.
Bit by bit my dress was coming together and each time we both would light up with excitement on what we had done. On top of this my mum also put her hand up to alter and fit all of the girls bridesmaid dresses.
I think once we had finished the dress it dawned on my mum what she had created. I could tell she was so very proud to have me in a dress we made together on one of the most important days of my life. I have always been ‘dad’s girl’ as we get on like a house of fire, so I think this was a very special thing we had together to bond over and remember for the rest of our lives.
My mum has an even worse fear of public speaking than I do, so she has never spoken at my brother’s weddings, I told her that she doesn’t have to do a speech but asked if she could do the toast after the ceremony, that she just needs to go a congrats and get everyone to raise their glass. She reluctantly said yes! When it came to do it on the day she actually put together a full speech, talking about how we made my dress, and I was just so proud of her. I know how hard it is to talk in front of people but she pushed through her fears to tell a story that was so important to both of us.
When you have dreams and ideas as a kid of what things will be like when you get older, normally they never quite match your expectation as you have dreamt of them for so many years. I was worried making a dress with my mum would suffer this fate but amazingly it was quite the opposite. I didn’t know just how special it was to me and just how moving it would be to go through this process with her.