The Craft of Couture Sewing

On a dreary winter day, the windows of Coastal Bridal Boutique on Main Street in Orleans glitter with fairy lights, casting a golden glow on the gowns displayed behind translucent curtains.

Owner Jessica Kidd has come a long way from her first exposure to sewing. She learned a lot from “a bunch of older hippies,” she says, recalling days spent with fellow Deadheads stitching patchwork skirts by hand in the back of a VW van to sell at festivals.

Adjusting a modern gown worn by Marlayna Costa, a stylist who works with Kidd in her shop.(Photos by Agata Storer)

She didn’t plan to become a dressmaker. Shortly after graduating from high school, Kidd got a job restoring oil paintings. An apprentice to famed copyist Gregory Stapko taught her how to mix her colors, she says. She soon shifted to hand-restoring damaged photos, and eventually transitioned to digital restoration — and was laid off, she says, when “everyone and their brother started doing that stuff with apps.”

In hindsight, the layoff was a good thing. “My mom bought me a $40 Kenmore sewing machine,” Kidd says. She started making children’s clothing and selling it to friends.

Coastal Bridal owner and couture dressmaker Jessica Kidd learned her way around vintage clothing working with Maureen Leavenworth of Vintage in Vogue.

Kidd landed a job as a seamstress with Holly Kristin, a fashion designer in Frederick, Md., near Washington, D.C. There she learned to create or adapt a pattern based on the designer’s sketch of a client’s dream dress and to sew a loosely stitched, unadorned muslin frock, known in the industry as a “paper bag.” After a series of fittings, this simple garment would give shape to a stunning, unique wedding gown.

Kristin taught Kidd the craft of couture sewing. “It’s different from what you might be doing if you sewed hems on pants all day,” Kidd says. To be a couture seamstress, you need to be able to sew an invisible hem on a wedding gown, picking up a single thread of silk with each stitch, or peel off and replace lace. In all, sewing “things you would never put through a machine.”

Kidd’s machine waits while she takes up techniques that must be done by hand. “I spend just as much time hand sewing as I do behind the machine,” Kidd says.
Appliqué details on a 1970s silk chiffon wedding dress.


Kidd didn’t know if she’d find a way to continue this specialized work when her husband accepted a job as a vet tech at the Wellfleet Veterinary Hospital in 2017. Without ever having visited before, the couple moved to town in the darkest days of December to find that they were the only year-round residents on their cul-de-sac. They loved it. “Every night,” she said, “we would look at the stars.”

But stargazing can only get you so far, and Kidd had to hustle for work. She took a job at Monty’s on Commercial Street in Provincetown. Then, in the spring of 2018 she met Maureen Leavenworth, owner of Vintage in Vogue. “Seams bust and zippers break,” Kidd says, and Leavenworth was looking for someone skilled to mend delicate pieces.

Leavenworth, whose consignment boutique is beloved in Provincetown, also had a wedding dress outpost in Orleans. “When I walked into her vintage bridal area it took my breath away,” Kidd says. The only experience she had with vintage clothing was when she’d redesigned her mother’s 70’s-era wedding dress for her own wedding, but Kidd’s couture training made her a perfect fit.

A consigned gown redesigned for Kidd’s shortie collection. “We’ve had things around for ages,” she says, that remade as short dresses “are totally unique, cute, and fun.”

Within a year, Leavenworth’s bridal business had outgrown her Orleans shop. When retail space opened just two blocks down Main Street, she signed a lease with the understanding that Kidd would manage the store and eventually take over the business.

That happened late last year. In addition to the gowns she inherited from Vintage in Vogue, the shop features modern dresses, some new and others secondhand, which Kidd has fun updating. In a recent TikTok, Kidd brazenly hacks off the bottom of a formal gown to create a “shortie.”

A modern dress from Kidd’s line, featuring cotton lace appliqué over a soft English tulle.

For her own line, Kidd creates detachable accessories like drapey cowls and diaphanous wings — flourishes that give brides different looks for the ceremony and the reception.

“I was always an artist,” the Virginia native says. “It just took me ten years to find my medium.”