Featuring in Vogue Australia, see the island wedding of the year celebrating our very own Makaira Lee Calder, RUBY Art Director & husband Kane Calder. We sit down with Kai's mum & seamstress extraordinaire, Jeannie Oyagawa, on what it took to create Kai's wedding dress & bridal party pieces from RUBY patterns.
"I was so emotional and immensely proud seeing them all in their beautiful outfits, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. It was like all those years of creating together with Kai had been practice for this moment."
Where did you learn how to sew?
My mum made most of our clothes growing up but mum’s sister my Aunt Stella who lived next door to us did this as a business. Every spare moment I had I would stand by her machine watching her as she made beautiful garments for her clients. I would pick the offcuts off the floor and make clothes for my dolls; I was about 9 years old. I started making my own clothes at the age of 12 and to this day love making myself an outfit for any occasion. Through word of mouth, I take on jobs for my friends and family for a special occasion. I love the challenge of making a complicated style from scratch and bringing their vision to life. This gives me so much joy to be a small part of their special day.
When Kai approached you to create her wedding dress and bridesmaids dresses, that must have been a special moment! How did you start to create and collaborate on the design?
It was a very special moment. Kai always loved me sewing her clothes while she was at school. She never wanted to buy clothes off the rack because she always wanted to have something different. Growing up she had always said that she wanted me to make her wedding dress and I felt honoured that after all these years with her being in the fashion industry she still wanted her mum to make it.
Kai had a few references that she had found and was quite set on a two piece from the beginning. Our creative process is one we have done for years. Kai comes to me with an idea, I interpret this with a sketch and then we start to have a play and do a mock with calico. We spent the weekends making our way around fabric stores and found a beautiful ivory silk linen which was perfect. Four months out from the wedding I received a text from Kai saying “PLOT TWIST. I’ve been thinking, everyone is going with straight skirts I think I want to do a fuller skirt. When will I ever get to do poofy in my life??” My immediate reaction was “Kai… we’ve already bought 10 meters of fabric”. She sent through images from Chanel Haute Couture circa 1999 and I knew that this was so Kai, I loved it and was also glad that the fabric would still work.
How many pieces did you make for the wedding in total?
Kai’s wedding skirt & top
6 bridesmaids outfits
7 silk slip dresses for Kai and the bridesmaids to get ready in
My grandson Issey’s little short suit
2 flower girls outfits
My sister’s skirt & top
Tell us about the RUBY x Jeannie Collab
From the beginning Kai knew she wanted RUBY to be part of her special day and it’s so lovely that the feeling was mutual. She would chat wedding ideas with Deanna and drew inspiration from her existing designs. I remember Kai spending nights going through the RUBY archives collecting lookbook shots to photoshop together her dream lineup. Deanna, Anna-Lise and Emily so kindly let us have access to the RUBY pattern library and we were able to adapt each piece in order to bring Kai’s vision to life.
What styles are the patterns based off and how did you find to sew them?
The patterns we used to make the bridesmaids pieces were: the Tatiana Minidress, Firebird Suit Pant, Cher Bodice, Firebird Tie Maxi Skirt, Cher Minidress, Bonnie Cross-back Top & the Naia Linen Slip. I used the Remi Bodice for Kai’s top and the top of the Calvin Minidress for my dress. I also used the Andie Satin Slip pattern to make silk slips for the bridal party to get ready in.
Making the patterns is the most time-consuming part of making garments. Using the RUBY patterns was a massive help that made it so much easier. With most of the garments I was cutting them a couple of days before the girls came for their first fitting; there was no need to make a sample first and the first fittings were perfect. Once they left, I put them aside because in my mind that was done!
"As the girls started to arrive we tried their dresses on. The first two were perfect and I held my breath as we fit the final outfit. Mollie walked out in her two-piece and it was perfect. I actually started crying, I couldn’t help myself, it wasn’t just relief but the girls just looked so beautiful. Each piece was really made for them with so much love."
How long did it take you to create the dresses from design, fitting to completion?
We bought the fabric just before Christmas last year with the intention of starting during the holidays. I have never started anything that early in advance and I should have known this time would be no different. For me, a lot of the process is going over it in my head and getting my head around the construction. There were many calls made to my older sister Joyce who is an incredible seamstress who I look up to and has been my sounding board throughout my life with all my creative endeavours.
I didn’t start cutting until March so the whole process from cut to completion took 3 months all up. Initially I would sew for 2-3 hours on the odd night, but it wasn’t until the last month that I buckled down and did 2-3 hours of sewing every night.
Kai had 6 bridesmaids and only 3 of them live in New Zealand. This came with its challenges as I am an extremely pedantic sewer, the fit is everything to me. Luckily the 3 girls who were abroad had similar measurements to each other and to myself, so I was able to fit parts of theirs on myself. For their final fit we actually got one of the girls sisters to come over and try the dresses on and hoped for the best. We arrived in Fiji a week prior to the wedding and I asked a girlfriend of mine to borrow her domestic sewer to have it on hand should anything go wrong but that was a road I really didn’t want to go down. As the girls started to arrive we tried their dresses on. The first two were perfect and I held my breath as we fit the final outfit. Mollie walked out in her two-piece and it was perfect. I actually started crying, I couldn’t help myself, it wasn’t just relief but the girls just looked so beautiful. Each piece was really made for them with so much love.
Was there ever a moment when you had doubts or felt overwhelmed?
I am a perfectionist so things can take me a little longer. Towards the end there were a couple of times when I started to panic but Kai always had faith and would say “you’re nearly done mum!” this made me laugh as she probably had no idea how much I had to do but I have always appreciated her extremely positive (and relaxed) outlook on things and this definitely did help me push through.
What was it like seeing Kai in the wedding dress standing with all the bridesmaids?!
I was so emotional and immensely proud seeing them all in their beautiful outfits, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. It was like all those years of creating together with Kai had been practice for this moment. I’m sad it’s all over but I will cherish this experience forever and feel honored to have been able to do this for my daughter.
Do you have any advice for young sewers and pattern makers?
Remember why you started. 9 times out of 10 it will be for pleasure so make it that! Enjoy the process and take each unpick as a learning experience. Sometimes things just don’t go to plan and sewing while frustrated just leads to more mistakes. I am a big believer in putting your project down and coming back to it with fresh eyes.