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Labors of love.

A grandfather's silk parachute from Word War II becomes an exquisite train on a granddaughter's bridal gown. A mother's chiffon wedding gown rescued from a tree in the aftermath of a tornado becomes a daughter's dream dress. This is how accomplished seamstress Sandra Ashford, of The Ashford Collection, makes family heirlooms into dreams-come-true.

From restyling and resizing mothers' gowns for daughters' tastes and figures to constructing a bridal gown from a sack full of heirloom lace, Ashford has seen it all in her more than 30 years in the business. "I love hearing the history of the garments and fabrics people bring in," she says, "and I love being part of such a special occasion in people's lives."

Those histories are sometimes surprising, sometimes humorous, sometimes bittersweet, and always heartwarming, according to Ashford. Working with the gown rescued from a tree (after a 1992 tornado in Brandon) was "extra special," Ashford says. The dress, worn by Pam Deloach Joyner in her 1982 wedding, was boxed in the attic, and even though the attic and the dress's box were blown away in the storm, the gown itself landed in a nearby small tree. To the family's amazement, there were no tears in the chiffon dress, which was later refashioned for daughter Meg Joyner Barefoot's wedding in 2009.

Because each bride's unique personality is best reflected in her wedding gown, Ashford says brides want to add their own styles to refashioned heirlooms--or, in some cases, vice versa. One bride purchased a Vera Wang gown for next to nothing at a water damage sale and wanted that gown refashioned with the lace from her mother's gown. (It also had to be taken in from a size 10 to a size 2, which was no small task, given the intricate inner garments characteristic of Vera Wang gowns.)


"I love working with lace--it is an art form," Ashford remarks. She comes by that love honestly, too; both her mother and grandmother were talented seamstresses. She recalls her grandmother's dedication to her cutwork, sewing until the last second of daylight and giving every girl she knew a cutwork tea towel as a graduation gift. Ashford, who learned to sew in eighth grade, quickly found in sewing a lifelong passion and career.

From teaching classes at a sewing shop to supplying orders to Neiman Marcus and running her own retail shops in Jackson, Ashford's experience in sewing includes children's clothing, christening gowns, mother-of-the-bride dresses, nightgowns, and, of course, bridal gowns and accessories. But custom work has always been her favorite.

The beauty of custom work is that brides can change their minds during the process and that's okay! Ashford laughs. Such was the case of the bride who, in the process of having her mother's gown refashioned from a high-neck, long-sleeved, and full-skirted to a strapless, slim silhouette, wanted to incorporate her grandfather's silk parachute from World War II. The parachute was in mint condition, and Ashford removed the heaving cording and added Alencon lace to transform it into a train for the gown.

Brides who decide to purchase a new dress still find creative ways, with Ashford's help, to incorporate heirlooms into their weddings. "I've refashioned mothers' wedding gowns into rehearsal dinner dresses for their daughters," Ashford recounts, "and I also make ring-bearer pillows and garters from heirloom garments and fabrics, and I also restore and redesign veils."

"Some mothers have always hoped their daughters would wear their dress, and some never dreamed of it," Ashford continues, "and the brides want to wear the dress, but they want a more modern style or need a different size." And that's where Ashford works her magic.


Contact Sandra Ashford at 601.954.3333 or
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Title Annotation:made in mississippi
Author:McNair, Ann Shivers
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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