All dolled up
Making gowns was a one-year project
By: Susan Jones
| Posted: Friday, Nov 01, 2013 03:15 pm
Sherri Dickson never quite got over playing with dolls, except now, instead of dressing Barbies, she’s taken to fashioning elaborate gowns for her two triplet sisters, and five of their closest friends.
It’s taken her a year to design and sew these eight dresses, which are complete with hand-cut lace, ribbons, bows, sashes, bustles and overskirts.
The women wore the costumes last week for a private masquerade party, organized by Dickson, but first they set out on an around-town tour to show off their garb and to pose for a friend’s photo shoot. As they traipsed about town in their finery, they looked like butterflies flitting in the autumn leaves. They also looked slightly out of place in their gowns, like characters in an opera about the 18th century. One and all, they carried the show off with aplomb.
Little inconveniences, such as driving a car despite having heavy four-foot trains trailing behind them, or sitting on bustles, prompted a smile or two from these ladies.
“Lots of material in this,” said Sharla Ozeroff, as she threw yards of fuchsia- pink, rosette-patterned fabric over her arm before climbing into a car.
Incongruous or not, the ladies put on their sunglasses and grabbed their modern-day cell phones, keys and purses before they hitched up their multiple layers of crinolines and skirts to reveal no-nonsense driving shoes. Then away they went to see and be seen against the fall leaves in front of the University of Alberta’s Convocation Hall.
“I’m pleased,” said Dickson who finished sewing the last dress just two days before the party. “There were a few hiccoughs but for the most part they turned out the way I imagined them.”
Sherri Dickson (nee Fedorak) and her sisters Carlene Tutt and Deanna Daly grew up in St. Albert and graduated from Paul Kane High School. All three are nurses by profession, but in addition, Dickson studied fashion design at the University of Alberta.
“I started sewing in Grade 3 and I stuck with it. I studied fashion at Paul Kane,” Dickson said.
She is fascinated by the way women’s clothing changed through the centuries and a few years ago began designing period-style dresses for herself and her sisters for Halloween.
“I wanted to design a modern gown with a historical silhouette – beginning with the 1560s era. I wanted modern to meet historical. But I had to be very careful because I wanted to be true to each era. I realized I either had to go all the way or just be partially historical,” she said.
Last year, Dickson decided she wanted to investigate and explore the fashion styles of past centuries by making even more dresses. She asked co-workers and friends if they would like a fancy ball gown.
“I figured, ‘Who doesn’t want to get dressed up?’” she said.
At first she planned to make 12 dresses, but along the way some of her friends dropped out, either because of family or work commitments.
Dickson admits her unusual hobby is expensive, but each woman purchased the fabric for her own gown, which averaged about $150 each.
“My husband plays hockey. When it comes down to cost it’s pretty much the same,” Dickson said.
By January of this year, Dickson had chosen ready-made costume patterns, which she then redesigned to fit her own ideas.
“I could draw my own patterns but it’s time consuming,” she explained.
She invited everyone to have a peek at the individual dress-design drawings and showed them swatches of material so they could decide what they wanted before purchasing the many yards of material that each floor-length gown required. For the most part, Dickson chose drapery fabrics that were less costly than patterned brocade and silks.
“Sherri let us help create the gowns. Together we chose the style and she had samples of material for us to choose from. She had a vision and we said what we liked and that’s what she made,” said Janel Goodwin, whose burgundy and lace gown features a Little Bo Peep style cutaway skirt.
Once the patterns were altered, Dickson made each girl a trial gown out of inexpensive broadcloth.
“I altered each dress and made adjustments for each girl. The broadcloth became the pattern,” she explained.
Dickson teaches clinical nursing and works shifts, so her sewing, which began in February, was relegated to days off. As the gowns began to take shape, the girls had to come in for fittings. Since some are new mothers and others are also working as nurses, the scheduling became tricky and often came down to yet another party-like gathering that allowed everyone to play dress-up.
The finishing touches required hours of work spent hand-cutting the lace fabric on some of the dresses. Some of the gowns required braided cording, while others needed prettily tied bows.
The backs of the outfits are as intricate as the fronts. Carlene Tutt’s striped dress features pink and white bows on the back of the skirt, while Kathy Christenson’s white gown must be laced at the back with blue ribbon.
To add authenticity Dickson made the crinolines and enlisted the help of her sisters to make masquerade masks and parasols.
Her sisters also helped by doing some of the sewing. They made flowers to go with each gown and on the day of their masquerade, the triplets helped everyone put their hair up in period-style ringlets and ribbons.
“This was her dream,” said sister Deanna Daly. We wanted to make her dream come true.”
Ironically Dickson does not sew clothing for herself or her sisters.
“It’s cheaper to buy,” she said.
In the past, friends and family members have asked her to sew bridal gowns, but she always turned them down. She didn’t make her own wedding gown.
“There’s too much stress in a bridal gown. It’s one thing to make a Halloween costume and another to make a gown that must be perfect for a wedding,” she said, adding that she has no favourites among the costumes.
“To me they are all beautiful. They are all so fun for Halloween and the colours are amazing. I hope they’ll wear them again,” she said.