When my number one never ending DIY project made state honor choir for the second year in a row, I knew she was going to need a nice dress for the performance. I could have raided her closet, or even mine for something that would do, but I knew she would also need a dress for her Christmas concert and for...well...Christmas. Will she wear it more than three times? Probably. She is still growing in the upward direction and I don’t doubt she won’t fill out a bit here and there, but I built in some grow room to give the dress some longevity while still making sure it fit her now.
So the decision was made. I was making a dress! I didn’t have to ask her if this was okay. She may be 12 and have a very distinct fashion sense, but she still loves it when I make her a dress. My only hard rule was as much as possible for this dress had to come out of the stash.
As of the first of the year, my stash had grown to the alarming stage of notice by The Awesome Husband, which we all know is horrifying. As stashes go, mine occupies 3 large bins that live in our storage container and a three drawer stack in my daughter’s closet. The problem was the bins in storage were full to the point of bursting and the drawers were having issues closing. The Awesome Husband made several comments about the bins. He had officially noticed. As a result, I’ve spent the last year going through my stash. I have recycled some, given away some more and sewn up more than either of those.
Living in the remains of my stash were two lengths which were very much special occasion fabrics. One is a very lovely silver-gold shimmer rayon, which I offered up along with the lovely green and black flocked acetate taffeta. I told Thing1 she could have both (skirt and blouse combo) or opt for a dress out of just one. She latched onto the taffeta without so much as blinking. Considering I bought the fabric a few years ago with the sole intent of making it into a Christmas dress for her, it was a match made in sewing heaven.
Fabric in hand, we progressed to my stash of patterns. These only get mentioned in a vague “you left a stack of patterns out” sort of fashion. I’m always getting more, but the sheer quantity seems to have escaped notice. After some discussion, we narrowed the patterns down to two, at which point, I made her choose which dress she wanted. New Look 6497 was an early favorite during the pattern search, so I wasn’t at all surprised when she latched onto it in spite of being sleeveless and we are heading into winter. The girl has very definite ideas about what she likes to wear!
We did some measurements, I did a lot of tracing and making a few minor adjustments to the pattern before spreading out the fabric. The most significant adjustment was length. The pattern offers knee length and floor-ish length. The Girl wanted mid-calf. She stands 5’7” these days, with quite a lot of that being in legs. I chopped 4” off the longest skirt length, figuring I would make more adjustments when she tried on the dress. The length held out to the end, with a 1” hem, plus ⅞” hem facing stitched at ¼” from the cut edge, so right at 1 ⅝” total hem.
Where I spent money - lining and velveteen. I had a few pieces of lining in my stash, but I wanted either black taffeta or satin for the lining. In addition, I offered up the design option of velveteen in the front bodice v-section and the back bow. The girl was delighted by the choice, giving instant approval into my design changes. JoAnn’s had both taffeta and satin, but after fondling both, I opted for the satin. Cost of lining and ½ yard of velveteen was exactly $13 after coupons. I later discovered I had four navy zippers but no black ones in my stash. I have never sewn anything navy, so I don’t know why I have zippers in that color. I’m blaming sewing gnomes. I picked up a zipper at Wal-Mart for $1.82. My last expenditure was a sparkle buckle for the bow. I had one in my stash, but managed to break the center bar while threading the velveteen through it. Hobby Lobby, with coupon - $3. If I factor in the original cost of the fabric from Fabric.com of $15.92, the total cost for the dress is just under $34.
The last time I sewed a fancy dress of this scale was for my senior prom/4H/Home Ec project between my Junior and Senior years in high school. The dress consumed most of my teenage free time that summer. I had a month between pattern selection on choir concert, between work and family, I had four weekends to sew up a dress out of a fabric I knew was going to require a ton of fussy sewing and finishes.
|Skirt left to hang while I worked on the bodice.|
The skirt went together quickly; all ten panels of it were done up with French seams. I left the side zipper seam open and moved onto the bodice. Since the bodice was fully lined, I didn’t have to worry about French seams, I could plow through it with a standard seam allowance. Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead. Except, my standard seam allowance these days is ⅜” because I serge off ¼” to finish all my seam allowances. I haven’t sewn ⅝” in forever and it was princess seams. Both princess seams on the fashion fabric AND the lining took two tries each. The worst part, the problem wasn’t even in the eased area at the bust. It was at the lower front. There was swearing. Thankfully, all four times the error ended up falling inside the seam allowance, so the lovely little holes the needle left in my fabric after I pulled out the stitching are neatly concealed inside the bodice. I had enough of both fabrics to recut the front side bodice pieces, but I sure as heck did not want to and I couldn’t guarantee I wouldn’t screw them up either.
|All those pretty french seams!|
The pattern calls for the bodice to be stitched up except for the shoulder seams and the zipper seam, then stitched together at the neckline, with understitching up to about an inch on either side of the shoulder seams. Then the shoulder seams are stitched on both and the lining stitched in place. I have never had good luck putting a lining in this way. My shoulder seams never look fabulous and I’m never happy with how the lining looks. I opted to stitch the bodice complete, except for the zipper seam, and join the two completely at the neckline, understitching the whole neckline. I knew this meant more handwork on the armholes, but I knew I could make them look good, so I went for it.
|Armhole at the top, understitched neckline at the bottom.|
Stitching in the lining at the armholes can be tricky. It takes patience and planning. First step was to machine a line of basting stitches onto the fashion fabric. I used the standard ⅝” seam allowance the pattern called for, but shifted my needle two ticks into the seam allowance, which put the mark at just a smidge less than ½”. I clipped the curves to my stitching line and pressed the armhole to ⅝”. The lining was the same, except I shifted the needle two ticks outside the seam allowance, which put it just shy of ¾”. I clipped to the line and then used the line as my pressing guide. The lining was now right at ⅛” smaller at each armhole, neatly fitting into the shell of the fashion fabric without anything showing. I fell stitched the armhole lining into place.
|The inside bits, lining all stitched down.|
I attached the skirt to the bodice before I did the hand stitching on the armholes, and Thing 1 slipped it on. She only managed to stab herself twice on the various pins in the lining. I knew this was my only opportunity to make any fit changes. Beyond this point, changes were going to put holes in obvious places. The dress fit like a dream! The time I spent measuring her and all the pattern pieces and making tiny little adjustments on those bits of paper were well worth it.
|Hong Kong finishes always look so pretty.|
My next challenge was the zipper seam. I knew doing a french seam could be done below where the zipper would be inserted, but I have been less than pleased when I have attempted this. I decided to do a Hong Kong Finish on this seam. I have loads of fat quarters. I stock up when JoAnn’s runs them for $1 or less a piece, washed, pressed and folded away. I pulled out one with a black and white swirl print that mimicked the flocking on the dress and turned it into bias binding. There are loads of tutorials on Pintrest for this, so I won’t go into the process. I get around 5 yards of bias from one fat quarter. More than enough for two runs down the one long seam. This was the first time I did an invisible zipper in a side seam and it took two stabs to get it straight and even. Once again, I managed to have all my screwups fall inside the seam allowances!
|The zipper is so invisible, you can barely see it!|
I rummaged through my stash and found two rolls of ⅞” wide black polkadot grosgrain ribbon. Sometime in the last year, Sewing Artistry did a piece on Instagram or her weekly email newsletter on grograin ribbon as a hem facing. I can’t remember which, but the post stuck in my head and I’ve been using it here and there with great success. The poly grosgrain ribbon tackles curves like bias, and with a careful application of heat (and a good press cloth), the ribbon can be formed to your hem curve without needing a lot of easing on A-line hems. A bit of measuring told me I had 5 ½ yards of a-line shaped hemline which I knew would be the perfect application of a ribbon facing because easing acetate taffeta and making it look good was not something I wanted to attempt. I didn’t have plain ribbon in my stash, but no one was going to see the facing and Thing 1 thought the ribbon was fabulous, so polka dot hem facing it was! I ran a line of machine basting at ¼” from the edge of the skirt, lined up the ribbon and stitched it into place.
I was still dreading the hem on this dress and put it off to stitch the lining into place at the waist and along the zipper. There was nothing left but to tackle the hem. My biggest fear was the stitching showing on the face of the fabric, but I could not see a way around it. This time, Bluprint to the rescue! There are so many wonderful couture sewing classes available. I highly recommend the ones by Kenneth King and Alison Smith. One of Alison’s classes tackled heming a lovely skirt. She put a woven interfacing into the hem allowance, which gave the hem extra body and a bit of weight, plus when the heming was done, it was stitched to the interfacing and not the fashion fabric! I could do this! I took a medium weight woven fusible interfacing and bias cut it into 2” strips. These were fused to the fashion fabric with a press cloth and a ton of steam. This process gave me a very pretty hemline on the outside, along with permanently curving the ribbon to the right angle on the inside. I let the dress hang for 24 hours after all the fusing/pressing. I carefully stitched the ribbon to the interfacing with a stitch I learned watching Kenneth and Alison, but heck if I can remember what it was called! All I know is not a single stitch of my hem shows on the face of the dress, and the hem is neatly secured and pretty on the inside!
Thing1 loves skirts and twirl and particularly, skirts that twirl. Ten panels of skirt with 5 ½ yards of hemline equals serious twirl. Each fitting required a twirl session. I knew early on that a waist stay was probably going to be a very good idea to help carry the weight of the skirt and all the twirling. I used the same grosgrain ribbon from the hem facing, adding a skirt hook just inside the zipper opening. It was a pretty simple change but it really helped the way the skirt hung the next time she put it on. Little things!
The last thing to do on the dress was the bow. The pattern calls for the bow to be removable and placed at the upper back of the bodice of the dress. It snaps into place. I had enough velveteen for a small design change so I gave Thing1 the option, she could have the bow as designed or we could put it at the waist on the front. Sparkle bow buckle on the front won before I even finished explaining the options. I cut a 3 ½” wide strip of velveteen to make a waistband with a ⅜” seam allowance and a second strip of the same to make the ribbon “ties” to dangle down the front. The waistband was stitched in place from the bodice dart, all the way around to the zipper opening. The remaining band wraps across the zipper opening to two giant snaps to close the waistband after the dress is zipped up.
|Give me model!|
This dress is serious frosting. It is gorgeous and completely impractical for day to day wear. Thing1 absolutely adores it. I enjoyed the heck out of making it! As an added bonus, the dress was 100% complete a full 4 days before she needed to wear it. I didn’t spend frantic hours in the depths of the night to get it finished. I took it slow, approaching each challenge with very little stress. I was blissfully relieved and hugely pleased when it was done and immediately sewed up a maxi skirt in less than an afternoon, which I rocked as choir chaperone. I want to make another time consuming, mentally taxing sewing project, but this time for me. I have my eye on a tailored vest out of a wool houndstooth.