Saturday, April 18, 2015

Miss Petra and the Sailor: BGD Violet Dress


Good evening, kittens! Tonight, our beloved Houston Rockets are playing in the first round of the NBA playoffs and I need to do something with my hands, so that I don't explode with sports angst. Right now, I'm having a lot of violent feelings about the Mavericks and Dallas, as a whole. Example: Maverick? What kind of mascot is a Maverick? Obviously a rocket, that LAUNCHES FROM THE GROUND WITH FIRE, is inherently better and more terrifying than a horse that is too dim-witted to be trained.

Ahem. Right. Breathing deep. Not speaking ill of a whole city of people, because of a basketball game. Instead, I'm going to talk about something that makes me breathe easier: my newest BlueGingerDoll Violet dress.

Or a variant of it, anyhow. This blue-and-white striped jersey, part of that infamous Girl Charlee order last summer, was begging to be made into a dress. With the amount of traveling we've been doing lately, I also needed another travel-friendly knit garment. I can't handle wrinkles and wovens just don't pack well. However, some tweaks were in order, to make Violet an appropriate pattern for this fabric. Let's discuss the changes, shall we?


While I adore Violet's half circle skirt, it wouldn't work in a striped fabric. The way stripes turn into frown lines, when cut on a curve, gives me the all-overs. My hips should not be making a sad face, y'all. To prevent such a dreadful occurrence, I instead added a simple dirndl skirt, which allowed the stripes to stay parallel to the hem. Crisis averted! To gather this skirt, I just did the standard two lines of basting stitches, scrunched them up evenly, and attached it to the bodice. I've never had much luck with the gather and sew at once method, but this works like a charm anyway, even on knits. Why mess with a good thing?

The other major change I made was to omit Violet's bodice piecing. I'm just not enough of a masochist to do all that stripe matching. Instead, I overlapped each piece by the seam allowance and traced off new bodice pieces. So easy! This also allowed me to reshape the armhole curve a bit more, to better perfect that shoulder-to-sleeve area.

Finally, I omitted the center front gathers. It wasn't actually my intention to take away all of Violet's identifying features, but this fabric just refused to hold those horizontal gathers evenly, especially when going from blue stripes to white. I gave up, rolled my eyes, and declared that this would be a scoop necked dress. I had wanted that all along, of course! Of course.



Behold! Imperfect stripe matching!
I'm going to need to alter the shape of the Violet's sleeve cap, if I sew it in stripes again, so that there's more fabric room to match stripes.

It does not escape me that I took the Violet and unwittingly turned it into a Moneta. We'll pause here for a bad sewist confession. I don't actually know where my Moneta pattern is, y'all. It has been sucked into the mysterious abyss of my sewing room and utterly disappeared. A Faux-neta is as close as I'm getting, unless I decide to retape a whole new pattern. That's an even dimmer prospect, because I love the fit of this unpieced Violet! 

It's a simple dress, sure, but I find myself constantly reaching for it. My true sewing love will always be wovens, but there's something to be said for how easy knit dresses are both to sew and wear. This one has been in heavy rotation, since coming off my machine. That it only took three total hours to sew makes it an even sweeter little piece. Everything was stitched together with a lightning bolt stitch, including the sleeve and skirt hems. They seem to be holding up well, in comparison with my usual twin-stitched finish, but we'll see...

 

There's not much more to say about this cute, little dress, but I do have other news share! I promise not to inundate y'all with promotions for my Burda classes, because Idle Fancy exists for pretty dresses, but I did want to satisfy any curiosity you may have. As you know, last month, Sam and I traveled to Fort Collins, Colorado, in order for me to film two separate classes for BurdaStyle Academy. Ali actually just posted a fun blog post over at Burda about my experiences there, complete with some backstage (double chin inducing!) photos. It was a blast, from start to finish! So much so that I've actually added an additional, smaller class, to my schedule this spring.


Even better, all three classes will be live over the next month! Woohoo!

Starting April 30th, I'm teaching Pattern Grading for All Sizes, which will discuss different methods of resizing sewing patterns. We'll talk about ruler grading, shift grading, and slash-and-spread grading on a myriad of pattern pieces, in order to make your patterns either larger or smaller. Afterwards, we'll go over some standard fitting alterations to better personalize your graded patterns! This class will run for six weeks, during which time you can ask me as many questions as you'd like and have my complete help, through the process.

On May 4th, I'm teaching Curvy Pattern Alterations, which is a quick one-hour Power Session covering full figure pattern alterations. We'll talk about three different styles of FBAs, full hip adjustments, and full bicep adjustments. This class will run officially for one week, during which time you can send me absolutely any question you have and chat about all the alterations.

Finally, on May 23rd, my second full class, Pattern Grading for Plus Sizes will begin. This class will take the base Pattern Grading class and add a whole slew of extension videos, specific to plus sizes. We'll go through all three methods of grading, plus how to use slopers to copy favorite styles, curvy pattern alterations, and plus size specific grading rules. This one doesn't have an official link yet, but I'll let you know when it's live!
 

I'm both nervous and thrilled about these courses, friends. I've heard really great things about Burda's teaching software and can't wait to start breaking down pattern grading with students. They're techniques I've been using on vintage and indie patterns, since I returned to sewing, and they really opened up my sewing world. Once you can make any pattern your size, so many style limitations disappear. It's been a bit surreal doing professional sewing work, but it was such fun getting back in a classroom setting. The academic in me geeks out about teaching anything, but teaching techniques for a hobby I love was a truly wonderful experience.
 
So, that's all my Burda information! If you're interested in the classes, you can find out more at the BurdaStyle Academy site.  If you're not interested, don't worry. There will be periodic updates about these classes, at the bottom of posts, but otherwise nothing is going to change on Idle Fancy. This blog is still all pretty dresses, all the time. My next project involves a dishy Hawaiian print I bought last week. I'm thinking...wrap dress! 

Also...

GO ROCKETS!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Miss Petra and the Rose Clones: BGD Violet Dress


Good afternoon, my darling wombats! Today, we're going to discuss that most beloved of all sewing projects: the comfort sew. Personally, I am a total creature of comfort. I adore cozy things anyhow, but times of emotional upheaval have me reaching for favorite books, baked goods, teas*, and--yes--sewing patterns. Sometimes, all you want is a happy ending, whether in literature or a guaranteed success of a dress. 

While March has had some wonderful happenings, it's definitely been an emotional month. Amid the excitement of filming two classes for Burda in Colorado and visiting our dearest friends in Nebraska, we were also coping with my brother's hospitalization back home. He's fine now--Thank heavens and Xarelto!--but his diagnosis had some potential health ramifications for my whole family. Consequently, some big decisions (namely: timeline des bébés) rose up last week and demanded immediate attention from Sam and myself. Add into all that a gravy of food poisoning, writing deadlines, and potentially needing a new roof, then you come to my mental state, these past few weeks. We're not even going to talk about how my best friend/soulmate of fifteen years is moving to Chicago**, or else I'll turn into a blubbering mess. 

*Books: Aunt Dimity's Death by Nancy Atherton, Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters, and Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
Baked Goods: Pumpkin Bread in the fall, Lemon Blueberry Cake in the spring
Teas: Yorkshire Gold from Taylors of Harrogate

**Moment of bragging: Steph got a FABULOUS promotion and was plucked from Dallas by very wise people, indeed. She's going to be brilliant and completely conquer the Windy City, armed with beautiful coats, two delightfully quirky cats, and an indomitable sense of adventure. Plus, Sam and I are going to visit all the damn time. Chicago sewists, I may be inflicting a lunch/fabric shopping adventure on y'all this summer, if you're game. 


Obviously, a comfort sew was needed. 

Last fall, I pattern tested the BlueGingerDoll Violet dress for Abby and was instantly smitten. The curved v-neck and blocked bodice are such pretty, interesting variations on the basic knit dress. My test version was basic black, but I knew more colorful iterations were in my future, with the final pattern release. Last week, while contemplating The Fabric Closet of Doom, my eye was drawn to this cabbage rose jersey from Girl Charlee and the possibility of a Violet swirled out before me. Is there anything more comforting than secret pajamas made up in a large scale floral print? I think not. 

There are only a few Girl Charlee fabrics in my stash, ordered in a fit of knit excitement last spring. They were such a mixed bag, quality wise, that I haven't braved another order. My turquoise Bonnie dress has held up shockingly well, however, and this rose fabric was washed twice with no ill effects. It's a medium weight cotton jersey, with good stretch in one direction and moderate stretch in the other. The ends curl like the devil and its recovery isn't the greatest, but it also doesn't bag out after a day's wear. Plus, well, ROSES. Enough said. 


The cutting out of this dress was, shall we say, eventful. There may have been a horrific rotary cutter incident, in which my front skirt piece was completely cleaved in two. I then may have screamed in horror, thrown a pincushion in disgust, and flounced out of the sewing room in a tantrum. Maybe. After some pinot noir and an episode of The Mindy Project (Stephen Colbert's guest appearance as Danny's new priest was my everything.), I returned to cut another skirt front. I was just able to eke out the new piece, but there wasn't enough fabric to prevent those rose clones around the waistline. Sam claims it doesn't bother his eye and I'm going with it, because this dress is otherwise lovely. Besides, it's a comfort project, remember? I refuse to be hypercritical of this dress, kittens. 

The construction, luckily, was an absolute joy. I switched back and forth between my serger, for major seams, and my sewing machine, for the more fiddly bits. A lightning stitch, which is easier to control than serging, is my modus operandi for sleeves, neckbands, and other areas that need extra care. Violet's curved v-neck is formed by subtle gathering at the center bodice front and darting on the neckband, which was a blast to construct. Like I said above, this isn't your average knit dress! 

The shoulders, waistband, and gathering are all stabilized with clear elastic, to prevent stretching over time. I took a pretty narrow hem--a half inch--which was turned with fusible knit tape for stability, then top-stitched with a twin needle. The sleeves were also turned and twin-stitched to finish, which brings me to an esoteric wondering, friends. What is the ideal look of twin-stitching on a knit? I've been experimenting with my tension, trying to find that perfect balance between security of thread and minimal channeling. However, I don't even know that channeling is verboten. Sometimes, in the secrecy of my sewing cave, I admit that it actually looks cool on a solid hemline. Neither my mother nor my grandmother sewed with knits, so I've come to most of my knowledge later in life, from the internet. Most knit tutorials end with "then top-stitch with a twin needle!" That's great and all, but my science background insists on more detail. Does channeling make a hem wavier? Does low tension make the hem weak over time? What would happen, if we zig-zagged a hem instead?

I swear, some days I'm tempted to pull a Christopher Kimball and turn this blog into America's Test Sewing Room. Sewing tutorials and books so often tell you how to do something, but rarely why. I crave the philosophy behind these actions, the nitty gritty details about what happens if you do something else. Does backstitching dart tips really increase the chance of bubbling? By how much? Which is truly better, tying them off or narrowing your stitch and clipping the ends? Do these answers change according to fabric type? I suspect tying off is always better on silk, but I wonder if backstitching is a-okay on medium-weight cotton. These are the musings of my overactive mind. 


Oh, right. We were talking about this cute dress, before I devolved into the sewing mysteries that keep me up at night. Let's forge ahead! I'll try not ramble about whether or not to baste across and down pleats. 

If you ignore the brief cutting mishap, this really was a comforting project. Fit-wise, everything is spot on for me, thanks to a narrow shoulder adjustment and some grading between sizes. Abby drafts on a D-cup, so I usually trace off a size based on my full bust measurement, which is a novelty indeed. This one is a size 20 through the bust, grading in to a 14 at the waist and out to an 18 at the hips. Why, yes, my proportions are ridiculously dramatic. I wonder why RTW dresses never fit me correctly? Curious...

In the end, I adore this dress, rose clones and all. It's right in my sweet spot, style wise: the perfect mix of comfort and pretty fabric. Black background florals are, hands down, my biggest fabric weakness. I want to buy them all! Fingers crossed that this particular fabric launders well, over time, because this dress is destined for heavy wardrobe rotation. You will also see Violet again, in the near future. There are a few woven projects on my sewing table right now, but then I'm going to play with a polka-dotted version of this dress. Bring on the warm weather sewing!

Note: The Violet pattern, from BlueGingerDoll, was given to me in exchange for testing the original version last fall. This post assesses the final pattern, not that tested version. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Miss Barbara Goes Her Own Way: Vogue 9023



Good afternoon, friends! Today's dress is not one I'd planned on blogging. While I don't mind reading about wadders on other people's blogs, writing about failed sewing projects is not my favorite thing. It's bad enough putting all that time, effort, and fabric into a dress I abhor, but to then spend an hour rehashing it all? Egads. I'd rather be eaten to death by carnivorous snails. 

Yet, here we are. Talking about this damned pink dress. There are two reasons for this: 
  1. There is no review of this pattern, Vogue 9023, anywhere on PR or in the blog world. When considering a pattern, I always look at available reviews, so it only seems right to catalog my knowledge of a mystery dress. 
  2. I love a timely and amusing comeuppance, even at my own expense, so couldn't resist posting a dress that can only be described as "unflattering." The universe has a wicked sense of humor, doesn't it? 



Alright, let's discuss the Pink Dress of Horror, Terror, and Mild Dismay. How did this happen? What was I thinking? Well, as we've discussed, I'm going to be on camera soon and it was requested that I wear long-sleeved, solid colored clothing, not in black, red, or navy. Unfortunately, I'm a prints girl and, on the off day I don't wear prints, I'm wearing--you guessed it--black, red, or navy. Something had to be done. 

That something, my brain decided, was ordering three lengths of ponte from Fabric Mart. I ordered the same fabric in cobalt blue, mint green, and this watermelon pink. That was my first mistake. Ponte is not my favorite fabric on the best of days, as I find the label too liberally applied. Ordering ponte online can result in anything from a matte, unstretchy, almost scuba-like fabric to a shiny, drapey, stretchy fabric that you would swear was jersey. Then, we have the incredible variance in fiber content. This one is on the poly side of ponte at 89% polyester, 7% rayon, and 4% spandex. Seriously, y'all, what was I thinking? Heavily polyester ponte is dreadful, especially when you live in Texas. This particular one is shockingly lightweight, doesn't breathe at all, and shines like a disco ball. Its only saving grace was the price: $4/yard. 

When it arrived, I had to chuck my plans of a pretty Burda dress, meant for stable knits. Despite being a two-way stretch fabric, it's just too drapey for such a pattern. So, I went pattern hunting and came up with Vogue 9023. Here, we have my second mistake. 

I swear to you, that hemline is not curved. The camera angle + my posture are doing strange things. 


First off, Vogue 9023 is a legitimately cute pattern. It's a knit dress (obviously), with underbust gathers, an empire waistband, pleated front skirt, short and long sleeve options, and the choice of a jewel or vee neckline. In my quest to be a Grown Up, I was taken in by the pattern illustration. Look at that woman above! Doesn't she look professional? This pattern, my brain insisted, would be an effortless work piece--secret pajamas, with a tailored, office appropriate design. I had struck pattern gold!

Never mind that I look dreadful in empire waists. Or, conversely, that the ponte I bought was so thin that it would show every line underneath, from booty lumps to facing edges. This dress was going to be bangin'. In a mature, professional way, of course.

Ha! To quote the grand Horowitz, "As if." 

There is a fairly substantial slip under there and still those lines show.
Run away! 


In my doggedly optimistic way, I cut into the pattern and fabric. Based on a bit of flat-pattern fitting, I performed an FBA and did a substantial narrow shoulder adjustment. Thanks to the magic of knit patterns, the FBA was terribly easy: I just added 1.5 inches to the underbust curve and tapered it back up to the side seam. This was going to be fantastic! I was going to have the best dress ever! 

Construction was beautifully easy. The details were done on my sewing machine, with a ballpoint needle, and the seams were serged together. The neckline is finished with a facing, while the sleeves and hem were stabilized, then twin-stitched in place. Everything came together wonderfully, in just a matter of hours. The sewing gods were on my side. 

Then, I tried it on. Despite under-stitching, the neck facing rolled like the devil. The shoulder was still too long, thanks to the excessive stretch of the fabric, and all the careful pressing in the world could not keep my hem from waving. Worse yet, the waist was impossibly big, but somehow the fabric clung to my butt, like a rabid squirrel on a pecan tree. I tried it on with a slip, which marginally helped it, but then the fabric showed both the facing lines and the slip's hemline. Curses!

I showed Sam and he tried to be diplomatic, really he did. A few quotes, for reference:

"It's very pink! You look good in pink."
"You have arms and it shows that!
"Once you cinch in the waist, I'm sure you'll like it better, love."
"Why, look! That's a squirrel over there, clinging to a pecan tree. It reminds me of something."

This is the face of pain. Why am I wearing watermelon polyester? What have I done?
Look at your life! Look at your choices! 

Back to the sewing room I went. Brandi Carlile's new album was played at a very loud, very ranty volume. 

I took a total of four inches out of the waist, top-stitched the facing in place, and steamed the hem and side seams to death. Victory! Well, sort of. The bodice fits much better, but the skirt pleats pull, after being taken in. The hem was less wavy, but still not up to my usual standard. 

It's really a bit dreadful. This pattern would be so cute on someone else, but it's just not for me. Empire waists emphasize my magnificent bosom, sure, but they also make me look like I'm all hips below that. My waist, being so much smaller than everywhere else, is absolutely lost. In the end, this dress is an almost success. The color is great, but the fabric clings. The neckline is really lovely on me, but the skirt portion is, yes, unflattering. The whole thing is perfectly fine now, as you can see in pictures, but I still actively loathe it.

This dress is simply not me. 

Also, small rant: This fabric wrinkles really easily, which completely defeats the purpose of a knit dress! I should not be ironing ponte all the time. What the hell, polyester? Are you actually good for anything?


In retaliation against this dress, I have finished another shirtdress and cut out three circle skirts. Vengeance is mine! Luckily, there was one other thing that took my sartorial pain away...

I saw Fleetwood Mac in concert, last weekend!



As a graduation present, my wonderful Aunt Beth and Uncle Jerry bought me a ticket to the show, and I tagged along with them on Sunday. It was a phenomenal show, y'all. My lifelong lady crush on Stevie Nicks was magnified by fifty. A tambourine has never looked so glamorous! Poor Sam has been forced to listen to Silver Springs at least a hundred times, in the days since.

Meanwhile, I now want a really dramatic black dress.

And a top hat.

And a tambourine. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Miss Vivienne Finds the Spot: 3/4 Circle Skirt


Good evening, friends! As with every other Wednesday this semester, Sam is teaching a late night capstone class (The Allegory of the Cave: Rhetoric and Film*) and won't be home until after nine. While I miss the bearded one, this means my Wednesday nights are filled with sewing, blogging, and catching up on The Paradise. There are worse ways to spend an evening!

Tonight, and many nights recently, I've been musing over personal style. My thirtieth birthday is later this year and I keep catching myself saying things like "This dress feels too young for me" and "That's a lot of pink, yo." While I think the ageist way we approach style is ridiculous, I do find myself naturally gravitating away from certain pieces of my youth. (Not florals. Florals for life!) I'm craving saturated colors, a little more sex appeal, and heightened glamour. Hell, I've even been building a Pinterest board and stalking my style icons (specifically: Heather and Ulrika) for inspiration on the matter. 

What's more, in March, I'm spending three days on camera and was specifically told to wear business casual outfits in solid colors. So, of course, I just sewed a polka dotted circle skirt. Nothing says adult glamour and business casual like GIANT POLKA DOTS OF DOOM. 

Nope, there's nothing super twee here. 

*Doesn't this class sound fascinating? I helped brainstorm the film screenings and readings for it, which was a blast. Tonight, they're discussing An Education and a piece by bell hooks, as related to feminism and educational inequality. Undergrad Mary would've been ecstatic over that pairing. 


Who am I kidding? Polka dots will always be welcome in my wardrobe, increased attention to glamour or not. Some loves you can't and shouldn't outgrow. Polka dots are timeless! This particular fabric was bought, at least, seven years ago at Hancock Fabrics and is a non-stretch cotton pique. My original intention was to make a pair of retro shorts with it, but I never ever wear shorts, so it sat in the fabric closet instead. When I decided to make a quick 3/4 circle skirt last week, it seemed the perfect choice. 

Unfortunately, it was printed just a hair off grain. With any other fabric, this wouldn't be such an issue, but the eye notices dots that have gone askew. That would have driven me insane! To mitigate the matter, I cut the skirt itself mostly in line with the dots, while the waistband is completely on grain. Trust me, there is nothing more uncomfortable than an off-grain waistband! No pattern placement is worth that sort of twisting. I did a two-piece outer waistband, so that the dots wouldn't march off quite so horribly and it turned out pretty well. An untrained observer, so used to RTW shenanigans, wouldn't even notice! Or so I'm assuring myself, anyhow. 

I didn't have quite enough fabric to perfectly match those side seam Vs. Circle skirts are such fabric hogs. 


After figuring out how to finagle those dots, this was a cinch to sew up. There is nothing easier than a circle skirt with a straight waistband. I've become so accustomed to the complicated rigors of shirtdresses that this almost felt like cheating!  There's an invisible zipper at the left side seam and the insides are all serged in dark gray, as a finish. I even took the quick route on the waistband, securing the inner facing by top-stitching the outside. So easy! 

The hem is also machine-stitched, instead of my usual handsewn finish. If a fabric betrays me by being printed off-grain, I'm not spending two hours catch-stitching an endless hem on it. Plus, this pique is pretty damn hefty and took the machine stitches beautifully. Woohoo!


There is some sick part of me insisting that navy-and-white polka dots are so classic that they're basically a neutral. I don't need the rationalizations, however. I really love this little skirt and its grandiose polka dots. It goes fabulously with my collection of bright sweaters and the coral Keds I'm currently obsessing over. Besides, my kid sister turns 18 this weekend (Happy Birthday, Lainey Love!), so clinging to my youth is an expected reaction. I'll ride it out a little longer. 

My chicer aspirations can attack the box of pretty, bright pontes that just arrived on my doorstep. I'm contemplating a few versions of this 11/2014 Burda dress, but we shall see...

Note: If you, too, would like a 3/4 circle skirt, check out Devon's new tutorial over at Miss Make. It's an exquisitely detailed guide to drafting something similar. (I use a side zip, instead of a center back.)

Friday, February 6, 2015

Miss Clara Predicts an Early Spring: McCall's 6696


Hello, lovelies! Perhaps you thought that, with the end of 1000 Shirtdresses, I would be finished with McCall's 6696. However, spring looms in Texas. That means the lighter, brighter fabrics in my stash are demanding buttons and collars of their own. While I do have many other things on the docket, I made two shirtdresses in late January, especially for those warmer months: one floral and one plaid. Even better, I finally photographed one of them! 

This pastel cotton lawn has been in my stash for five or six years. With Liberty-like softness and all those pretty purple flowers, it's ideal for a sweet, springy shirtdress. (God, that's a lot of alliteration. Forgive me, friends.) Unfortunately, it was also really, really narrow. With four-and-half yards, I was just able to squeak a sleeveless 6696 out of it. 



After five previous iterations of this pattern, there shouldn't be more to say about it. However, I went for a different finishing route with this one. After all that sitting around in a closet, this particular fabric deserved extra flourish. With such a dainty print, why not throw in a few pretty techniques, as well? 

Instead of my usual shirtdress methodology of Topsitching All The Things, I instead hand-sewed all the details. The button bands, waistband, yoke, and hem were secured in place, using simple slip stitch. Meanwhile, the armholes were finished with self-bias tape and a catch-stitch. It all made for a beautiful, clean finish. Woohoo for unnecessary attention to details! 

One certain detail really makes me swoon over this dress, however. Instead of picking clear buttons, or contrasting ones, I covered eleven half-inch buttons with the same floral lawn. Sure, they blend in in these photos, but they add a lovely, feminine touch, in person. My fingertips hurt for two days afterwards, but it was worth it! Oh, sewing...




There's not much more to say about this dress, dear ones. The only fit change I made was to raise the armholes another half-inch. So interesting, no? In the end, this is a fabulous dress for spring. The colors come off a little washed out, in the winter light of these photos, but they're quite pretty in real life. It's going to be cute with a coordinated cardigan and espadrilles. 

Best of all? Next week, our temperatures hover around 70 degrees. It's always nice to actually wear the dress you've recently spent five hours hand sewing! 








Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Miss Mavis Goes to the Opera: Vintage Simplicity 5238


Good evening, friends! Tonight, we're going to talk about three things: vintage patterns, sewing with velveteen, and loving the monsters. Let's deal with the monsters first, shall we? You know the ones I'm talking about--those flawed garments that we love anyway. The dresses with wonky darts or holes from seam ripper "incidents" that see heavy rotation in our closet, nonetheless 

This dress is one such monster, I'm afraid. I love it, but it's definitely not perfect. You've been warned.





It all started with a pattern. I'm not one for New Year's resolutions, but I would like to use more vintage patterns this year. I've collected them for eons, but was excessively lazy about sewing them up, during grad school. Tracing, grading, and making multiple muslins wasn't my idea of blissful sewing. Imagine that! Now that I have more free time, however, the prospect of a long process isn't nearly so grim. 

First out of my stash: Simplicity 5238. This cocktail dress from 1963, a favorite of Erin's, seemed like a painless way to reenter the world of vintage. It's a one dart bodice, with a box-pleated skirt and two sleeve options, long or short kimono sleeves. Even better, my copy was a size 40, which aligned pretty well with my high bust (40 inches) and waist (35 inches). One FBA and I should've been good to go!

So, I was. Three bodice muslins later. Oh, vintage ladies, your undergarments provided such amusingly improbable dart locations! During the course of my alterations, I:
  • Added a side bust dart, through a two-inch full bust adjustment (Muslin 1)
  • Moved the front waist dart one inch toward the center seam, lowered the side dart (Muslin 2)
  • Curved both darts, to make up for some underbust pooling (Muslin 3)
  • Adjusted for a sway back (Muslin 3)
  • Changed the shoulder slope angle (Muslin 3)
I also decided to eliminate the skirt's center seam, since it's just a pleated dirndl. With this particular dress, I actually changed the pleat orientation entirely, to better preserve the fabric's pattern. 




Then, we come to the velveteen. That's right, the velveteen. Heaven forbid a fabric this pretty be reserved for rabbits contaminated with scarlet fever. When I saw this black cotton velveteen, with its swirling copper floral pattern, I snatched it up for a Mood Sewing Network project. It was originally going to be a blazer, then a Kim dress, then a coat. When I looked at the suggested fabrics for Simplicity 5238, however, velveteen was first on the list. Sartorial kismet!

Of course, this pattern does have a center front bodice seam and a bias-cut back bodice. I cut the pattern out in one layer, to match those seams in an appropriate manner. Unfortunately, the skirt pieces were really wide, when compared with the 46'' fabric, so I had to center the skirt on a different line of the floral. It doesn't bother my eyes, looking instead as if the pattern builds, as we go toward the hem. That's pure, dumb luck, y'all. 

Center front pattern matching, like a boss!
Center back seam!
The back bodice matching isn't quite as on point, because trying to find a visually
agreeable bias origin point is a pain in the ass. 

When it comes to construction, velveteen is finicky. Pressing it incorrectly can cause the pile to crush and seams can't be unpicked, then altered, because sewing will make permanent lines on the fabric. To make everything easier, I used a towel draped across my ironing board, to prevent a crushed pile. Similarly, I used a very light hand with the iron itself, paired with heavy steam. (More tips on sewing velvet and velveteen can be found in Elisalex's recent blog post.) 

My other major velveteen tip? Don't wear nice things, while sewing it up. Velveteen frays like the devil, while you're sewing, and the pile turns into fluffy balls of doom. Fluff gets on everything. I serged those seams, as soon as they were sewn, and faced the hem, sleeves, and neckline with silk organza, to combat it. I was still covered in the stuff. 

Silk organza not only lends more structure to those areas, but prevents fabric deterioration. Woohoo! I sewed the velvet and organza right sides together, flipped the facings to the inside, then catch-stitched them down. Similarly, the zipper is a traditional zip, hand-picked in place. This particular piece involved quite a few hours of watching Phryne Fisher solve murders, while hand stitching all those bits in place.


Silk organza hem facing! I like visible catch-stitching, instead of blind stitches. Don't tell my grandmother.

Everything seems alright up to now, doesn't it? I didn't crush the pile or accidentally misalign my center seams. How does this dress deserve monster status? Well, check that bodice fit, kittens. The weight of the velvet, paired with a little bit of stretch, means that my perfectly fitted muslin didn't translate over. The whole thing is a touch big and those darts refuse to lie flat. With any other fabric, I could probably steam them into submission, but that's not an option here. There is some bubbling on the front, which definitely wasn't there in my final muslin. Alas, I've discovered the problem with sewing a velvet garment toile out of easy-to-please cotton...

Here's the thing, though. I really love this dress.

Rationally, I know that the bodice is imperfect and that the whole thing looks like an ill-fated attempt to upholster a blonde, but whatever. It's soft and warm and the fabric is gorgeous. There's something so delicious about wearing yards of lush, dramatically printed velveteen. My judgment may be twisted from reading about that rabbit as a child, but I adore this fabric and this dress. Perhaps I'm not completely batty, however, because Sam agrees with me. He's plotting to buy tickets to some fancy theater event soon, so that he "can dress up in a three-piece suit and take me out to show off that dress." You've got to love a man who loves your monsters, don't you?


Note: Fabric for this dress was provided by Mood Fabrics, as part of my participation in the Mood Sewing Network.