Dresses of a year

Before you have children, everyone tells you that once you do your time will disappear. And you think, ok, sure, but you really have no concept of how things will change in your life. How much longer everything takes with a small person in tow. How your own time pretty much condenses to the few hours between dinner and bed, plus the unknown length of nap time. But that time can add up into some pretty serious chunks of sewing (as long as you adjust your tolerance to mess and don’t mind the only time the dining table gets cleared is when you want to cut out fabric…).

Herewith projects sewn, photographed but unblogged in 2016 because some things have to give. In roughly chronological order.

170107dresses7Three Seamwork Kennedy dresses. (Yes, there are only photos of two.) I quite like this pattern, although it is a tad short. I was really unsure about the sack-like trapeze silhouette, but this pattern convinced me as long as it’s fitted around the bust and shoulders, it’s ok. These were in my nursing stage so I added the exposed zippers, which worked well but now I no longer need access are of an awkward length (almost to the natural waist where they’d probably look better ending just below the bust). The first was made in a polyester textured navy and white stripe stretch fabric from Spotlight, inspired by this Karen Walker dress. I raised the back neckline so it doesn’t have the V and ties. I’d wear it more if I hadn’t used a gold bias binding around the neck and sleeves which is very scratchy. The purple tropical print was the second and most successful. This is a silk/cotton blend with a seersuckerish texture bought at The Fabric Store years ago. Made for the Canberra Sewing Crew’s autumnal high tea and worn heaps, even to work with tights and a blazer. For the third version, I lengthened it into a maxi dress for my birthday picnic. I love the look of this but the feather fabric (“peachskin” from Girl Charlee) is a) slightly sheer and b) quite sweaty so it really needs a slip underneath and since I don’t have one, has hardly been worn.

170107dresses6

One Acton dress pattern testing for In The Folds. In the few years I’ve been regularly reading sewing blogs, there have been two or three kerfuffles about pattern testing so I signed up for this as much to see what was involved as for the pattern (although I do like the silhouette and wouldn’t have volunteered for something I wouldn’t wear). I thought Emily wrote a good blog post about her process (after the fact) and I was impressed with how she ran it – especially having a closed Facebook group for all the testers so we could see each other’s progress and get quick feedback from Emily on muslins, fitting and the like. The top of this is a cotton-spandex knit from Spotlight, originally bought to make leggings, and the skirt is silk from that same long-ago trip to The Fabric Store as the purple tropical print above. I also modified this slightly for nursing, extending the straps at the front to the waistline and attaching them to the top of the bodice with press studs (I think I’ll go back and sew them on now to make them more secure). I sewed this right before winter and it promptly got too cold to wear a floaty silk skirt so it hasn’t been out of the wardrobe much. I’d like to make another version, View A this time with the plain A-line skirt.

170107dresses5

One chameleon two-piece ball gown. The problem with all the ball gowns made so far is they get worn once or twice then never again, not being especially practical dresses. This year’s was going to be totally different. I used the short version of Vogue V8921, which hits about knee-length, and used the pattern to draft a maxi skirt, gathered at the waist instead of pleated, that buttons at each side seam behind those crossover panels. The dress is made of silk jersey (from Mood, more on that in a moment) and the skirt of polyester chiffon with a burnout floral pattern from Spotlight that I dyed blue. I was thrilled with the execution, which came out as a whole how I imagined, but I was displeased with my fitting skills. It was these photos that made me realise my post-baby body needs an FBA on patterns not a larger size. The dress on its own is too large in the back, so the crossover panels droop badly and pull the side seams to the front. It’s sitting on my sewing desk waiting for some large darts to be put in back in the hope that will fix many of its problems.

170107dresses4

One glorious emerald Anna dressThis was a pretty quick, I-need-something-glam-fast dress to wear to Fashfest and it’s turned out to be one of my two favourite makes of the year. I just feel fabulous every time I wear it! It’s the tried-and-true Anna bodice with a scooped out back plus a self-drafted pleated skirt (if by self-drafted you mean “lie fabric next to ruler and pleat until it’s the right width”). But the thing that really makes it is the fabric: more of that silk jersey from Mood. I’ve wanted to sew with this for years but it’s always been prohibitively expensive – until one late night browsing the Mood website for something else entirely I stumbled across it at 15 per cent of its usual price (A$11 a yard!) and, well, the only question was which colour to buy. I got 3.5 yards each of three colours (I still have a bright red/orange to sew) quick smart. But the next morning when I thought to share this bounty with instagram, lo it was changed to 15 per cent OFF the regular price, per haps alerted by my order? This stuff is an absolute dream to sew and it feels like wearing a waterfall. I’ve worn this dress so much. (Yes, it does need some bra-strap-holding thread chains in the shoulders; I know this but haven’t bothered.)

170107dresses1

One Cotton + Steel + Chalk fab floral dress. Like most of the rest of the sewing sphere, when I saw the Rifle Paper Co. collaboration with Cotton+Steel I had to get some. 2016 has been the year I discovered rayon properly – its drape! its feel against the skin! – so for me there was no question about the substrate and Miss Matatabi only had red left by the time I finally went to buy some. Lucky I love red! I wanted to try out the Cotton+Chalk Rosie dress pattern that came with a Simply Sewing magazine and am happy with the pairing of fabric and pattern. I also love the piping I added at the waist panel. I’m not happy, however, with the fit – I just couldn’t work out the sizing properly and even though I took the side seams in heaps the neckline gapes something shocking plus the zipper bulges. I think part of the problem is the bodice is too long – I’m working on a new sloper so I can try to adjust these things before I get sewing. But these issues haven’t stopped me wearing this a whole lot as a casual dress. (Psst… I can’t remember how I discovered this but Rifle Paper Co is doing another fabric collection, this time inspired by Alice in Wonderland. I think it’s out a bit later this year.)

170107dresses10

Two Cynthia Rowley rayon sundresses. These are a really wearable muslin and the actual planned dress, and I’ve worn them both heaps. The spotty one (at right) is the other of my two favourite makes for the year, but I’ve failed to get photos apart from a windy, footless impromptu few at MONA in Hobart. The pattern is Simplicity 1873, which I’ve had for years and made up once before, in a perfectly pattern-matched plaid taffeta that was much too short – a problem exacerbated by a flighty skirt. This time I lengthened the skirt (or maybe used the pieces from view A instead of C?), scooped the neckline out ever so slightly and added pockets (and colour blocked the skirt on the spotty version). There was a bit of faffing around with the seam allowance in the side seam but I’m really happy with the fit. I also love how full the skirt is – the front has three panels, with the seams hidden in the pleats. The orange/purple zebra-esque fabric is rayon from Spotlight, bought originally to make a Sewaholic Cambie with to imitate this dress from an episode of Awkward:

170107dresses9

but I couldn’t face fitting that pattern properly (again), so used it as a muslin for this one. I cut it on the crossgrain for the direction of the orange zig-zags and then didn’t have quite enough for the skirt so one of the back two panels is pieced. I was worried about the weight of the extra seam (it’s about two-thirds of the way down) but it turns out to be a total non-issue. The red spotted fabric is a rayon crepe from Tessuti and seen all over Instagram. I took both dresses on a recent work trip to LA and was secretly thrilled when another of the reporters asked if the spotty one was Gorman (how good is it to be able to reply, “No, I made it”?).

170107dresses8

Miscellaneous un-selfish sewing. First birthday Oliver+S field trip cargo pants (minus the cargo pockets and adding adjustable elastic) made from a worn-out pair of my jeans. Christmas and first birthday Oliver+S Pinwheel tunics and dress. Seamwork Almada using vintage kimono silk for trim.

Not pictured: Tote bags from a Japanese bag book for all the women I give Christmas gifts to. A dopp kit from the Grainline Portside set for my brother. Two True Bias Sutton blouses (and fabrics bought for a third, which totally counts, right?). Metres and metres of birthday bunting. Three MadeIt Patterns Groove dresses. Second birthday Brindille and Twig Pocket Raglan Dress and Big Butt Pants matching set. Two balloon ball covers traced from one a cousin gave us. Bandana bibs for a dribbly teether.

Advertisements

Challenge accepted: ball gown edition

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!)

photo 2

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.

A sketch I made at some point during my working-out-what-to-do phase
A sketch I made at some point during my working-out-what-to-do phase

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.

Photo 8-05-2014 2 52 07 pm

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.

Photo 21-05-2014 10 14 15 pm

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.

This was, obviously, before I sewed the straps on properly
This was, obviously, before I sewed the straps on properly

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.

Photo 18-06-2014 6 01 09 pm

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.

Photo 18-06-2014 7 43 03 pm

(Midwinter Ball Vogue V8814 gown; wedding wrap made by my mother; good luck pearls from grandparents; husband and regal expression, stylist’s own)