by Laurie Atwater
Growing up in Portugal as a little girl, Emilia learned to sew because “all proper girls learned to sew.” It was a different world then. At the time, Emilia hated working with the needle and longed to be a hair stylist.
“I thought I would like it,” she explains, “but when I actually went to work in a salon, I did not like it at all!” So it was back to the needle. She apprenticed for several dressmakers in Lisbon and was relegated to doing errands and odd jobs at first -- until she made a beautiful blue coat and a red dress for herself. “Who cut this? she was asked by the woman she was working for. When she told her that she had done it alone, Emilia was promoted from buying buttons and making deliveries to cutting patterns herself. It soon became apparent that she had a rare talent. Her eye was so keen that she did not need to make a paper pattern to work from. After taking measurements, Emilia was able to create a perfect fit by eye and cut directly into the fabric!
After several years of apprentice work she decided to blaze out on her own and worked successfully as a dressmaker in her native country for a decade before marrying and emigrating with her husband to the United States. “I wanted to see what was on the other side,” she says laughing. She moved to Cambridge where her family had settled and within months, her husband who had worked in the shoe business in Portugal had a job with Stride Rite. Her husband later started an industrial cleaning business and the couple moved to Lexington. Emilia still lives in Lexington and her children have grown up here.
All the while she has been building an impressive reputation as the dressmaker for brides and Mothers of the Bride. “People come from all over,” she says. “Sometimes I am surprised by how they find me!” Emilia has even restored an antique gown for someone down south who had gotten her name through multiple referrals. “She said that my name kept coming up, and that’s why she called me,” Emilia says modestly.
Most brides come to her with an idea or a picture. “But I always have my own ideas too,” Emilia comments. “I will sketch something for them if I think it will work better than what they have envisioned.” Emilia considers not only the figure of the bride, but the personality of the woman as well. “It is very important,” she says, “to make sure the bride is comfortable in her gown,” Emilia says. It is as much about her personal style as it is about fit.
One of Emilia’s special touches is to create different looks for each of the bridesmaids in the same fabrics and colorations. “Each girl is slightly different,” Emilia syas, “because not everyone is flattered by the same style.”
In Emilia’a showroom you will find headpieces, shoes, bags and perfect dresses for your little flower girl. She also creates many one-of-a-kind mother of the bride gowns and special occasion dresses.
“It is not something that people are used to -- having a dress made especially for them,” Emilia says, “but it is what I love to do!” Each bride deserves to have a gown made just for her.