And they lived happily every after...
THE WEDDING FAIRY GODMOTHER
If you asked 5-year-old Sarah Kolis what she wanted to be when she grew up, her answer would have been “a fashion designer”.
Today, not only is Sarah making her own dream come true, but she has devoted her career to making other women’s dreams come true as well. Her business, Sarah Kolis Designs, is dedicated to designing and sewing custom wedding dresses and gowns.
Sarah resides in Novi, Michigan, where she grew up with her mother, father and three sisters. She had innate love of fashion and at a very young age, and, when her aunt, a quilter, taught to her to use a sewing machine, her passion for sewing was born. She recalls her first project, a strawberry pin cushion, made from an American Girl Doll sewing kit, that her Aunt Dian still has proudly displayed in her home.
She soon began sewing everything she could, gaining skill and experience on the sewing/serger machine that her parents purchased for 10-year-old Sarah. Her reluctant sisters served as mannequins as her love for sewing continued to grow under the encouragement of her parents, aunt and private tutor Miss Vicki.
But, as Sarah tells us, “sewing wasn’t cool when I was in high school”. So, even though she wore her own designs, her friends and her boyfriend, now her husband, didn’t even know she sewed. She only shared her passion with her teachers.
But all that changed when, at 17, her art teacher, insisted on paying Sarah to make a custom gown. So, at the ripe age of 17 she opened an LLC and launched her own business.
While acquiring her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Apparel and Textile Design at Michigan State University, she spent summers working at David’s Bridals in the alterations department, honing her sewing and people skills. She discovered her love of silk and fine fabrics, and a few years later Sarah began to focus her business solely on gowns.
When we asked her just how many she has made over the years, she said she had lost count, noting it was well over a hundred. But there is one gown that she created that she will never forget – her own wedding gown.
When Sarah said “yes” to her high school sweetheart, who clearly now knew she sewed, she embarked upon a creation of her own design. The dress required 415.25 hours, a trip to Dover, England to master the Tambour hand-detailing technique to apply the 129,022 individual cascading beads and rhinestones, 39 yards of fabric sourced from all over the world, two pockets, four layers of material plus an underskirt and a metal cage, seven skirt panels, and 20 try-ons. No wedding dress is complete without a veil, and Sarah’s handmade veil was extra-long and wide. The dramatic rear bow on her gown was made from a silk duchess satin material. The result? A walk down the aisle like no other. Oh, and by the way, in her spare time, Sarah also designed and created: eight color-coordinated bridesmaids’ dresses, each style from different materials, a mother-of-the-bride dress, a flower girl dress, a rehearsal dinner dress, a bridal shower dress, her mother’s and two sisters’ bridal shower dresses, a bachelorette party dress, two engagement photo-shoot dresses, an engagement party dress, her mother’s and three sisters’ engagement party dresses, a replica dress for her favorite childhood rag- doll, Madeline, and the ring bearer pillow (needle-pointed by her mother). Sarah literally became her own fairy godmother!
For the last six-and-a half years, Sarah’s full-time job was working from development to production as a pattern maker for car seats in the auto industry. This financially enabled her to take risks and to grow her personal business to what it has become today. And as of February 2022, Sarah Kolis Designs will become full-time job! Her business focuses on alterations and custom design gowns. The process can range anywhere from two fittings to an entire year of concepting, pattern making and creating a dream dress.
Her inspiration comes from the people she sews for, the fabrics she uses and her love of vintage clothing. Her favorite part of the process? Well, besides the actual sewing, which she says she literally could and does do all day (and sometimes night), is when she puts in the waist seam – attaching the top and bottom of the dress to finally see the shape and design come to life. But the best moment of all is experiencing the excitement and emotion from her customers when the completed gown is revealed in the mirror.
In her home studio, Sarah and her Baby Lock machine, which she claims transformed her sewing, make dreams come true. Surrounded by mannequins of all shapes and sizes, beautiful fabrics, spools of thread, a heavy-duty iron, and some newfangled gadgets, she is the sole owner and creator of Sarah Kolis Designs. Her only assistants are her two cats and occasionally her husband who keeps her company when she sews late into the night.
But she wouldn’t have it any other way. Sarah’s advice to those who seek to sew for a living? Well, she says not to be afraid of your seam ripper and that “done” is better than “perfect”. But the most valuable piece of advice she says she can impart is to figure out what you love the most and then focus on it. Once you find that, it is no longer a job, but just doing what you love every single day.
And they lived happily every after...
Sarah's sewing room
One of Sarah's favorite parts of the process is when she puts in the waist seam – attaching the top and bottom of the dress to finally see the shape and design come to life.
Photography credit: 1st and 5th images by Jenny Shriver Photography | 2nd, 3rd and 4th images by Stephanie Kassly Photography