A low whirring accompanied the soft “chug” sound that Blanca Silva’s sewing machine made as her hands carefully guided white fabric under the pulsating needle and thread. Afternoon sunlight poured in through the big, open windows of her shop on Santa Maria’s Main Street, Blanquis Bridal, as the local seamstress made some routine touches to the small garment.
Silva designed the lace and cloth dress for a young girl’s first communion, she explained in Spanish, her son Fernando Herrera translating for her.
“She does all types of dresses,” he said. “Dresses for quinceañeras, first communions, but the most popular are for weddings.”
Main Street traffic noisily sped along outside one of the few places in Santa Maria where brides can find someone who’s able to hand craft their wedding dress. The store is Silva’s space where she walks each bride through the fabrics, styles, and possible baubles for their special dress.
There’s also Angelita’s Fashion & Jewelry next door, another place where you can find skilled seamstresses, but Blanquis Bridal is the new shop on the block. It opened in November after Silva moved her shop from the Fiesta Mall on North Broadway to her own location downtown.
Santa Maria brides often find they have few choices when it comes to getting a tailor-made wedding gown, Silva said.
“She knows she’s definitely one of the few,” Herrera said. “She’s one of the few that really know about women’s clothing and sizing and all that, and custom dresses, most definitely.”
Originally from Huajuapan De León in Oaxaca, Mexico, Silva started making her own dresses when her first daughter was a little girl, she explained. Around her hometown, locals, acquaintances, and friends kept asking where she got her daughter’s dresses.
“She would say that she’s the one who made them,” her son said. “That’s when she decided to learn, and do it as a business, because people were asking about it, to make them for their kids.
“She started taking courses at her community school, like a trade school, and little by little started buying her own fabric, experimenting,” he added. “And she bought one sewing machine, and then she started buying more sewing machines.”
Eventually it came time to make her first wedding dress.
So, was she nervous?
“Mucho!” she laughed.
Her “primero vestido,” or first gown, needed a lot of alterations before Silva—and the bride—were satisfied, she explained. But “poco a poco,” little by little, she made the dress look and fit perfectly.
Over the years, Silva learned how to create patterns, work with different fabrics, make all kinds of frills, and fasten jewels. There’s always something to learn: “Siempre, siempre,” always, always, she said, and she’s currently taking an online course with a famous designer from Mexico.
“Little by little she has figured out what is really needed to make the perfect dress, and has found out secrets, little tricks to make them perfect,” Herrera said.
Silva said that every dress inspires her, because each represents the distillation of her knowledge and skill over the years. But each project is also a chance to give a bride her dream dress.
Santa Maria couple Luis and Nathalie Bernardino have been in love for more than four years, and on Nov. 25, 2017, they got married and celebrated at Spanish ranch-style locale in Nipomo with friends and family.
When preparing for the wedding, Nathalie wanted to honor a long-held family tradition, Luis translated.
“She didn’t want to break the tradition of having the dress tailor-made, perfect to the way she wants it,” he said.
Nathalie came to Blanquis Bridal at the recommendation of a friend, with a dress in mind, Luis explained.
“She was looking for a dress that was tight to the body, but a little loose around the legs,” he said. “She wanted to have a unique dress, not just something that’s at a store and you buy it. She made the dress just like she wanted it.”
Silva said that Santa Maria brides come in looking for dresses that fall in one or two categories: classic or modern. The classic gowns are more “puffy,” Herrera said, and hang and flow from the body. The modern style is more fitted to the body but can include a long or flowing train.
Nathalie wanted the modern style.
It was a process, however. There were several appointments following the initial meeting, which covered the measurements and the vision of the dress. Just like her first gown, Silva wanted everything to be absolutely perfect for Nathalie’s dress, Luis said.
“She’s like a perfectionist, she would want the dress to come out really good,” he said. “She wants the customer to be satisfied, that’s what we got from her.”
Effectively executing a dream dress requires a lot of up-front and continued communication between bride and tailor, Silva explained, and every meeting matters. She definitely works to make it enjoyable for the bride and anyone she brings along, she explained.
“The way the store here is set up, she wants that openness for clients to feel calm and relaxed,” Herrera said. “The openness helps her clients feel good and helps her put more attention on them.”
And a bride’s dress requires a lot of attention. Nathalie has had a vision for her dress for years, Luis translated, ever since she saw a photo and article in a wedding magazine about a bride, her dress, and her day.
“She wanted to feel that way, special,” he said. “To have her own dress, not for everybody to have, but just her. She thought about it and asked how to create it.”
Every bride brings something different to the table, Silva explained, and it’s her challenge to apply all her knowledge to what each bride wants.
Some want lots of lace, others prefer satin. Some want a long train, others want to keep it short. And the variety of fabric flowers, glittering gems, and filigrees all appeal to differing tastes.
“She said she likes working with everyone because each new bride is a different experience for her,” Herrera added.
The day comes when the dress is finally complete, and soon after, the day the gown is put on for its intended ceremony.
For Nathalie, it was an emotional moment.
“It was a really beautiful dress; she looked gorgeous in it,” Luis said. “The makeup artists couldn’t even finish because she was in tears, she was so happy when she put the dress on.”
The dress shone at the ceremony, Luis said, and during the reception, among the crowd of 350 guests, the bride was unmistakable.
“She would glow, you could always tell where she was,” he said. “You could just walk into the party and you know who the bride is, that’s how you could tell the dress was made to her.”
That spells the difference between a store-bought and tailor-made gown, Luis said.
“There’s nothing that compares to a dress that is just at a store to a dress that you want to create,” he said. “There’s so much difference, you have to see the difference.”
Many brides ask that their dresses are never repeated, Silva said, so it stays a unique pattern and design.
Nathalie is among that population.
“We just wanted to have that dress made for her,” Luis said. “No one else would have that dress because she was the one that came up with the ideas for it.”
With the way that Silva works, even similar dresses couldn’t be truly the same, because each bride is unique. Her proportions are unique, her tastes are unique, and her wedding is unique, she said.
That’s why everything Silva does is from scratch, with the old-school techniques of tailoring paired with all the modern machinery and accoutrements available.
“Every bride is very, very different, so yeah, she makes her own patterns, she makes her own fittings, she makes everything,” Herrera said. “That’s really important, because the patterns are an exact fitting of the bride’s body. It doesn’t come in large or XL, it comes in with the exact measurements for the brides.”
Silva also takes regular trips to the Garment District in LA, Herrera explained, to procure the fabrics that are in style or are requested by her clients.
Brides usually approach her for a dress at least four months before their weddings. That much time allows Silva and the bride to explore exactly what they want and to refine it, she said. The bride gets to enjoy the gown on her wedding day, but Silva gets a different kind gratification once she’s completed another wedding dress.
“She enjoys it a lot, it’s her passion,” her son said. “Every time she does something, she’s very proud of the creation, and every dress inspires her to do new things. There’s always something new, and every dress she makes inspires her to do the next one.”
Contact Managing Editor Joe Payne at [email protected].