University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 1/1995
Making something borrowed something new

     Dianne Davies Watkins, Delaware '79, has a collage in her
living room that includes individual photographs of herself, her
mother and two of her sisters, each in the same dress. Sort of.
     Watkins' mother was married in the wedding gown in 1954.
Watkins' older sister wore it in 1981; her younger sister, in
1989. Watkins herself wore it in 1982.
     For each of the 1980s weddings, Watkins altered the style
and fit of the dress to suit whoever was wearing it. After
majoring in textiles, design and consumer economics at Delaware
and sewing wedding gowns on the side while working for textile
companies, Watkins was well-prepared to alter the family
heirloom. Today, Watkins restores and restyles wedding dresses
for paying customers.
     As owner of Bridal Designs in Burlington, N.C., Watkins
alters old wedding gowns, creates new ones, makes bridesmaid and
mother-of-the-bride dresses and designs outfits for other formal
     "I customize everything, right down to the stitch. It is so
personalized," she says.
     Watkins says the business she started three years ago
doesn't suit everyone. "People who find me and want special
attention are appreciative, but the majority of girls I meet
would just as soon buy something off the rack at a bridal shop.
My clientele is a very small group," she says.
     Often, the women who seek Watkins' help have a special look
in mind but haven't found what they want in regular stores. One
customer videotaped a hosiery commercial that aired on television
because she liked the model's dress. She showed Watkins the
commercial, then the seamstress designed the dress.
     "I just like to make dresses," Watkins says. "I like to
create things, to select the fabrics and put the ideas together."
     Watkins' main love is restoring wedding gowns to wearable
condition. Although wearing a mother's wedding gown still is not
as popular as buying a new one, Watkins sees a trend developing.
     "The girls seem to want more simple dresses. They find that
their mothers' dresses fit the bill and that they only need to be
adjusted or changed slightly," she says.
     Watkins does the fittings for customers in the 1880 house
she shares with her husband, Fred, and their 6-year-old son, Ben,
on the family's 200-acre farm. In keeping with her motto to offer
customized service, she'll do alterations-ones that take up to 1-
1/2 hours-while the customer waits. She uses a building next to
her house to create and cut outfits and to store fabrics.
     Watkins' background with fabrics helps her understand what
materials will look good with different dress styles. After
graduating from Delaware, she worked for a handful of textile
companies on the East Coast in jobs ranging from a dyeing chemist
to a roving quality specialist. Even while doing that, she was
sewing bridal and formal wear on the side.
     "I learned a lot at Delaware. I took classes in construction
of clothing and manufacturing courses to understand how fabric is
put together and how it reacts to certain situations. I use the
information every time I handle a garment. I know what fabrics
can do, why things wrinkle, why colors don't match. Those are
technical things I put to use in my business," she says.
     In addition to formal wear, Watkins makes family heirlooms.
Her baby blankets with the child's name, date of birth and a
little bear in the corner have become popular.
     She also takes special requests. She recently made a wedding
gown for a young woman who's already happily married. After a dry
cleaner ruined her original gown, the woman asked Watkins to make
a replica. She had planned to be buried in her original wedding
gown-hopefully many years down the road -and she wanted to have a
similar dress ready-to-go in her closet. With a small piece of
material salvaged from the original dress, Watkins also made a
christening gown for the woman's unborn child.
     Many of Watkins' customers invite her to their weddings.
Sometimes, she even helps the bride and her bridesmaids get
dressed before the ceremony.
     "I get to be such good friends with them," she says. "I help
out, and it's fun. I make new friends, and they're friends I
wouldn't have if I hadn't sewn their gowns."
                                -Marylee Sauder, Delaware '83