Thursday, January 6, 2011

Preserving Your Wedding Gown

Overbay Photography
What does dry cleaning mean to you?  To me it means cleaning the garment, pressing it, putting it on a hangar so that the next time I want to wear it, it looks great.
I would like to warn you that not all dry cleaners are experienced at cleaning wedding gowns.  When I took my daughter’s gown in to be cleaned, it had a lot of black on the bottom edge, from a fun-filled night of dancing. This was actually two feet from the end of the train, since the dress had been bustled. There were no other stains, since she was careful not to get food or wine on it.  It’s one of the most important nights of your life, so you want to have a good time.  Since the dress touches the floor, any dirt on everyone’s shoes can get onto your dress.
The cleaners assured me that it came clean and that there were no problems.  It was bagged and boxed to be preserved for future use.  A couple of weeks later, I opened the box and took out the dress.  It had a huge amount of red stains all over the bottom of the dress, that weren’t there when I took the dress in.  I was horrified (especially knowing what the dress had cost).  The dress no longer had beautiful tucks making a slenderizing waistline.  The fabric, which had been cut on the bias, had stretched out of shape and hung limply with no body at all.
I found, through a friend, a person who had been a chemist and now owned his own dry cleaning business.  He looked pityingly at the dress and said it looked like a dishrag that was worth about $200.  He said that he thought he could clean it, but that the fabric might not have the body and luster it had originally.  He said that the cleaner had laundered the dress with detergent and had not dried it thoroughly.  Because the dress was silk, the moisture had caused the blood red stains.
I left the dress.  After two months, the dress had been cleaned, but had not been pressed.  He told me the bodice would have to be taken apart and the tucks would have to be reworked, requiring an experienced seamstress.  I told him I could do that.  He looked at me skeptically.  He said that if he had the dress pressed, he would have to dedicate one person to that job for at least two days and would have to charge me by the hour.  I said OK, but he didn’t follow through, and I finally had to pick up the dress in a plastic bag, all wrinkled.
It took me 15 hours to take the dress apart, rework all the tucks in the bodice, and iron the dress, the outer slip, the crinoline, and the inner slip, which had to be done with high heat, being careful not to burn it.  Medium heat would not bring back the luster.  When I had this complete, and hung it on the hangar, it didn’t hang properly.  Because the outer layer of the dress was silk and the inner layer was a man-made fiber, the silk shrunk when it was washed, but the slip did not.  Then the entire hem had to be taken apart, along with the stiff hem tape because the dress was a full 2.5 inches shorter than the slip.
I finally got the dress back together, and it really looked like new.  Because I have 40 years of experience sewing, I was able to do this, but even I was feeling pretty sick with the notion that a Paloma Blanca dress could be ruined by someone who was supposed to be a professional.
Be very careful.  I asked if they were experienced with wedding gowns, and of course they told me yes.  Try to find a professional to clean the dress, and you might not have to go through this much grief. If you find yourself in a similar situation and it’s worth it to you to preserve your gown, call me.  Maybe I can revive your gown, too.   I love the idea of a daughter wearing her mother’s gown, if it’s truly beautiful now, it will still be truly beautiful in 25 years.

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