I seem to have a habit of dreaming up madly ambitious schemes for my sewing (see also: sewing a blazer the afternoon before heading overseas). This particular scheme has been a long time in the dreaming. Every year I attend the Midwinter Ball. Buying ball gowns can be an expensive business so before last year’s event I thought about making my own but didn’t have the confidence in my skills. This year I was more determined.
(Warning: epic post ahead. But lots of photos!)
My initial inspiration came from Rockstars and Royalty’s collection at Fashfest 2013. I particularly loved the effect of the tulle over the sequins – the way the textures worked and how the overlay dulled the sequins so they weren’t so in your face. With this in mind I bought all the silver sequins (on a semi-stretchy tulle) and all the blue silk chiffon left at Lincraft when they had a half-price sale (that was so long ago I’m not even sure if it was early this year or some time last year). I wound up with about 4.5 metres of the sequin fabric and 3.5 metres of the chiffon. (Or maybe it was 3.5 and 4.5? Not a whole lot for a full-length dress anyway.)
The original plan was to go with a full-length Anna, mainly because that was the easiest maxi pattern I had. This later morphed into thoughts of hacking together the Flora wrap bodice and the Gabriola skirt, although the thought of unpicking sequins from all those seams was daunting.
Plans changed again with the first toile, made in early May, which was a Flora bodice so heavily modified it probably wouldn’t even count any more (deepened the neckline plunge of the wrap, made it with a centre front seam so it wasn’t actually wrapping, hacked out the back so it plunged almost all the way to the waistline) with a waistband for length and a full-length, half-circle skirt cut in two parts so it would fit on the fabric.
Yeah, I know nothing about pattern drafting and it wasn’t great. The bodice gaped every which way and all those horizontal lines across the stomach weren’t that flattering. But I’m keeping the toile so that when I learn a bit more I might be able to salvage the ideas (I especially loved the plunging back).
Then I found out the ball’s theme this year was 1920s. I did a bit of googling for 20s-inspired patterns and came across this very helpful post from School of Moxie where she basically did all my research for me (click through to see the most stunning 1930s Coco Chanel gown). I decided to use the same pattern she chose, Vogue V8814, and attach the chiffon overlay at the bottom of the long bodice for the best use of the fabric lengths I had.
Second toile time. I knew the full circle skirt wouldn’t fit on the fabric so I sort of guessed what would fit, measured that far in from the hem corner of each piece (about 40cm) and redrew the side seam straight down from the waist corner. I’d done a similar finagle with the Flora circle skirt, although for a much smaller adjustment, so hoped it would work again.
Uh, no. Not sure if you can see in the photo, but it wound up with weird triangular bits sticking out at the hips. Attractive! The toile and I went to see my mother. “You always have the most interesting sewing problems,” she said. Eventually we worked out that what was going on was the bodgy alteration I’d made to the skirt pattern actually meant the side seams were cut across the grain at the opposite angle to what it was supposed to be and therefore it wasn’t playing nice when it met the grain angle of the bodice piece. Then I decided there probably wouldn’t be enough of the sequin fabric to cut a full circle skirt from anyway.
The final answer was to draft an A-line underskirt, to cut out of the sequins, and cut the full circle skirt as per the pattern out of the chiffon so it would end up nice and full and drapey on top. We also added underarm darts to the bodice to reduce gaping at the armholes (that’s a problem I often have with patterns – not sure why?). I used ribbon for the straps instead of making them from fabric, inserted an invisible zipper, and lined the dress with cream ponte, which was super comfortable. Oh, and I added a flapper touch by attaching a scarf/cowl/thing made from the blue at the shoulders (well, it was safety pinned on for versatility) although I seem to have failed to get a photo of this in action.
Let’s talk sequins: as with the Sparkle Lane jumper (which I sewed up after I was done with the bulk of this gown) I didn’t bother picking the sequins out of the seam allowances. Too many seams and it takes sooooo long. I did, however, cut them off the seam allowance for the zipper, which I also strengthened by stitching in some satin ribbon on the wrong side of the stretch tulle backing. That was it. Only bent one machine needle during the whole sewing process.
I didn’t finish the inside seams because a) I didn’t want to inflict sequins on my tetchy overlocker, b) neither the tulle backing of the sequins nor the ponte fray and c) realistically I’m only going to wear this once or twice and it’s not going through the washing machine. The chiffon frays atrociously so it was French seams all the way there and I bought and learned how to use a narrow hemming foot.
So, the wash up. I was happy with the sparkles (although, yes, it was rather in your face) and the final dress looked basically like what I’d pictured early one. I wasn’t completely happy with the fit in the end. The bust darts may not have been in quite the right place, although that could have been due to how the straps were fit, and the bodice was a wee bit looser than I might have liked. But it fit in with all the “proper”, shop-bought gowns on the night.
Would I sew a ball gown again? Maybe. I think to look more professional I’d go with less glitzy fabric and perhaps a simpler pattern. Way back when I had the first gown-making impulse I bought Simplicity 2580 because the halter-neck version is rather like a super expensive designer gown I fell in love with in David Jones. But I never sewed it because I couldn’t find a quality-looking stretch fabric. Now that I know ponte exists … maybe I’ll reconsider.
(Midwinter Ball Vogue V8814 gown; wedding wrap made by my mother; good luck pearls from grandparents; husband and regal expression, stylist’s own)