Sunday, May 14, 2017

Diana's Wedding, Part 2: Drama in the Sewing Room

Remember how I said Diana had already bought a wedding dress?

She assured me that it would just need a few minor tweaks to make it perfect. The top was very plain, so she asked if I could spiff it up with a layer of lace. I figured that wouldn't be too hard. So she brought the dress to my sewing room and we took a look.

And I had to be brutally honest with her: the dress did not fit.

The biggest problem was that it was too tight across the bust, and there wasn't enough fabric in the seams to let it out. In the hands of a more skilled alterations person, it might have been workable, but it was beyond my abilities to do it justice for such an important occasion.

So yeah... Mom, can you make my dress after all?

By now it was mid-November, so there were just three months until the wedding. It meant we had to take yet another trip to New York in early December to buy fabric.

We had discussed the general style of the dress; she wanted a strapless sheath with sleeved lace overlay. We had pictures with us of similar dresses. For the first hour or so of shopping we concentrated on finding just the right lace for the overlay, figuring that it would be the hardest thing to nail down. And we were right. She couldn't find just the right lace to match her vision.

Then we were in a store called, appropriately enough, Diana Fabrics. She looked at laces and didn't see anything, so we started for the door. There was a bin of sparkly fabrics near the door, and I jokingly held up a length of a sheer organza with aurura borealis sparkles on it and said, "How about this?"

She stopped dead in her tracks and gasped. "That's it!"

Now, you have to understand that Diana is not a Sparkle Princess type of person. She was never into the frilly glittery stuff while she was growing up; it was all about understated elegance (remember the black wool skirt? Even when she was little, she had style). So I was completely shocked when she fell in love with this sparkly, shiny fabric. And instantly we knew it wouldn't work for the style of dress she thought she wanted. We had to make some major revisions.

We retreated to a deli for lunch and sat sketching ideas. Once we were done eating, a new dress had taken shape and we returned to shopping with new enthusiasm.

The Work Begins

The dress was drafted in PatternMaster (of course) and I put together a muslin for the first fitting.

The shoulders were just a wee bit too wide, but overall the fit was pretty good. She's wearing a purchased petticoat underneath to give it a bit of fluff.

The real dress starts to take shape. The bodice fit wasn't quite right, and we both felt it was too plain this way, so I added sleeves and a waist sash to the final version. And yes, I put pockets in the dress. Gotta have pockets.

Final Fitting

The final fitting was the week before the wedding. You can see that I added sleeves, plus a two-layered organza overskirt. All it needed at this point was some adjustments to the hem and she would be ready to walk down the aisle. She's holding her bouquet of heather.

The back of the dress was specially designed to show off her tattoo. Part of the finishing work also included tacking down the top of the zipper; I kept that for last just in case there were fitting tweaks.

Construction Details:
Shoulder princess bodice, gored flared skirt. Bell sleeves cut on an angle and finished with a two-thread rolled hem with variegated embroidery thread in aurora borealis colors.

Now that Diana's dress and coat were done, I had a few days to think about what I was going to wear. I reached into my stash and found a navy blue wool, and made one of my favorite styles: my "J. Peterman" dress. It's a button-front dress with kimono sleeves and a shawl collar. And then, because I'm a total glutton for punishment, I made myself a coat with some light blue Mark Jacobs wool given to me by a friend, using the same pattern design as for Diana's coat, but without the fur.

Next: You're Invited to the Wedding!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Diana's Wedding, Part One: Plans and Changes

It really was my intention to write about the sewing I did for Diana's wedding. But life has a way of intervening: while all of the wedding stuff was going on, we finally found a buyer for our house, so we were also tossed headlong into the search for a new place to live, plus packing, plus work, plus everything else, so blogging kinda got shoved onto the back burner. But rest assured, I did not get run over by a bus.

Anyway, to recap: in my last post, I wrote about how I was going to make her a wedding coat inspired by a picture she found online. She had already found a dress. We had gone to New York City and found fabric for the coat.

Step one was to make a muslin to check the style of the coat and get the hood figured out. I used PatternMaster to create the draft.

First muslin pass:

The body fit wasn't bad; just a few tweaks needed. But she didn't like the hood; it was too much like a bubble sitting on her head rather than a gentle frame for her face. She showed me a coat she already had and asked if I could copy the hood style; I took a few pictures and modified the pattern to make a hood that flowed smoothly into the lapel to create the kind of look she was after.

What About the Fur?

I was stymied about where to find fur trim that wouldn't require a second mortgage. Then a miracle happened: one of the members of the online sewing group I'm in offered to send me a fur coat she had that she wasn't using. It was a gorgeous Arctic Fox, and went perfectly with the cashmere/alpaca fabric we bought.

I will admit that it was painful to take such a lovely coat apart. I cut it into strips to use for the trim around the hood and cuffs and set it aside.

On to the Wearable Muslin

The next step in the process was to create a wearable muslin to test the final form of the coat. Diana thought it would be great to have a fancy short coat she could wear in the future, so I made this one a little below hip length. This way I could really test the fit of the body, arms, and hood.

It went together pretty well. It's fully lined, with Thinsulate interlining for warmth. I even made bound buttonholes. Here it is on the mannequin, prior to the final hemming. The fur strips are hand-sewn onto the edge of the hood and the cuffs.

Now for the Real Thing!

The final coat came together pretty easily. The only tricky part was adding the pockets; I'm still a little wobbly on welted pockets and even with watching some YouTube tutorials I wasn't 100% thrilled with the outcome. But they were good enough. Here was my practice piece on a scrap.

I didn't take any pictures of the assembly process, so here's the coat at the final fitting. It still needed hemming at this point but the rest was done. It is also fully lined and has a layer of Thinsulate.

Coming Next: Drama in the Sewing Room!!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Wedding Coat for Diana

I can hardly believe it, but my little girl will be married in five months. Where did the years go?
I've always loved sewing for her. Early on, though, I got her way too used to wearing clothes that fit well and were made of better materials. I think it really started in 2002 when I made her a wool skirt with a silk lining for an outing to New York.

She wore that skirt a lot while it still fit!
Well, now she is getting married (cue "Sunrise, Sunset"). She already has her dress; she purchased it at a thrift sale for $60. I'm not upset that I won't be making it for her; she and I agreed that we would most likely butt heads during the process if I were to make the dress.
But I won't be left out in the cold... Well, no, actually I will be. See, the wedding is on Valentine's Day, and it's an outdoor wedding. Bob and I were married that way as well! But here's the kicker: the ceremony starts at 7 in the morning. Yes, my little girl wants a Sunrise wedding. In February. In Maryland.
So I offered to make her a wedding coat. We did a little surfing and found the perfect example of what she wants.

We took a whirlwind one-day shopping trip to New York on Labor Day, only to discover that most of the "Big Name" stores were closed. Darn it!! But there were quite a few of the smaller stores open, and we managed to snag a gorgeous cashmere/angora wool at a store I know only as "Kabbalah Man" as my dear friend Sarah calls it. Now all I need to find is an old fur coat I can repurpose for the trim. The lining will be printed at Spoonflower, as Diana wants a very specific pattern and we haven't been able to find it.
The first step is to make a muslin to nail the overall design and fit. I will then make a short coat as a wearable muslin to confirm the fit and style. I hope to have the final coat done by the end of the year so I'm not in panic mode. Oh, and I will also need to make a dress and maybe a coat for myself.
Stay tuned... This should be an interesting adventure!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Smithson 2016: A Change of Direction

So about my gown ideas... Yeah, they got tossed out the window.
I really wasn't feeling any love for any of the ideas I had for this year's gown. So rather than force it, I decided to approach the problem from a different direction: fabric first. This meant a road trip with my daughter (and personal style guru) to A Fabric Place outside of Baltimore.
We spent an hour going through the various fabrics there, looking for inspiration. And we found it in a coral-inspired allover embroidered fabric.
I ended up buying just two yards of it because it was pretty expensive. Then we needed to figure out what to do with it. After much cogitation, we came up with the idea to have a bodice overlaid with the coral, and a solid skirt to pick up the orange-red of the embroidery.
The first idea was to have the coral go over an ocean blue, like in the first picture, but that really was a bit too cartoonish for my taste. We settled on an ivory, which looked very nice but wasn't perfect; it really was a compromise.
Then I had a meeting of my PatternMaster users group, and called on them to help brainstorm. As we were draping fabrics, I had an idea: I grabbed a piece of copper-colored charmeuse that I had received as a gift in a Reddit exchange. It was perfect!

To the Sewing Room!

I finally had time this weekend to hunker down and start sewing. I took inspiration for the skirt from all the wonderful comments on the swirly blue dress. This is the same pattern, but the godets are only quarter circles instead of half. This wasn't by choice; I went to two stores trying to find enough of the orange-red charmeuse to make six full godets but fell short. Ah well, so the skirt is only 1.5 circles instead of three!
So here's the first try-on. It's not pressed at all, nor hemmed, and the facings need to be tacked down, but I was too impatient to see how it looked.
Front view:

The top is a simple shoulder princess draft, with set in sleeves and a faced neckline. I'm not sure about the neckline; it looks so plain! Have to think whether I want to gussy it up at all. Oh, and there's no closure! It slips on over my head (but j-u-s-t barely)!
And really, it didn't dawn on me until I saw the pictures that I've got a real Halle Berry look going on... I didn't think the copper fabric was going to look so much like a skin tone!

Back view:

The facing really needs to be tacked down all around.

And it's so twirly!

So I still need to do the finishing touches (and decide what to do about the neckline, and jewelry, and hair), plus make the matching vest and tie for Bob. But heck; I've got another five days. Piece of cake!
It really does go to show that an evening gown can just be a regular dress pattern done up in fancy fabric.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Smithson 2016: Let's (Steam)Punk It Up!

Hooray! It's Smithson Gown time again!
I didn't make a new gown last year (I wore the Constellation Gown again), but it's time to pull out the stops again. My big inspiration is that the event will be held at the long-shuttered Arts and Industries Building! In keeping with the late-19th century building, I've decided to go with a Steampunk-inspired dress!
The event is on April 2, so I have a leisurely three weeks to get it all pulled together.

Suggestions I Got

Several people in my PMB group suggested I use my 2011 outfit as a jumping-off point:
Smithson 2011 Gown
 This was a three-piece outfit, with a lined jacket over a sleeveless shell and long skirt. This was one of my favorite ensembles, so I went back into my files and printed out a new pattern for the jacket to make a muslin.

A good start

Not bad for a first muslin!
Jacket Muslin Front View
The front view. I'm wearing this over a shirt, and I have not trimmed the half-inch hem allowance from the bottom edge or the sleeves.

Jacket Muslin Back View
Back view. I didn't press it prior to pictures, so there are some creases from the folds in the fabric. And the sleeve vents aren't pressed either.

Jacket Muslin Side View
Side view. I'm thinking the back edge needs to come down a little bit. I also really like the collar.

What Now?

A few readers suggested I use the same swirly pattern as for the summer dress I just posted to make the gown to go under this jacket. But will that be too much? I will have to try the jacket on with the summer dress to check whether it's a good combination. And I'm still up in the air as to whether to make it a top and skirt, or make it as a dress.
Later on today, I'm going to go fabric shopping with my daughter, who has a terrific eye for color. Then I will play with sketching styles and doing color combos and see what I come up with.
Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A New Dress, and I'm Still Here

My gosh, I hadn't realized how much I had been neglecting my blog. There were messages waiting in moderation for MONTHS and I did not know. I will do my best to answer them now but many are probably no longer relevant. Still, I apologize for my silence.
I had a pretty long dry spell with regards to sewing since last summer. We put our house on the market, which necessitated reducing the amount of stuff in my sewing room to make the room look larger. So my lovely work table had to go. Fortunately, it has found a new home with a sewing friend, who has promised to love it as I did, and create many beautiful things with it.
The sewing drought lasted until well into January, when I went to the Virginia ASG sewing retreat in Winchester, VA. Last year at the retreat I got pretty sick and didn't really accomplish much. This year, fortunately, was much different. I had three solid days of productive sewing, and created three new garments (plus one wadder).

The Dress
I've been wanting a nice dress to wear in the warmer months; one with a fitted bodice and wide skirt. But I didn't want a lot of bulk at the waist. Even a traditional flared gored skirt can have big folds of fabric at the hip, which really isn't my best look.
One day I was wandering through a store (I think it was Altar'd State) and saw a skirt with a very interesting godet. Rather than having the peak of the godet coming to a point, it was a soft, rounded top! In looking at the construction, I realized that the godet itself was merely a half-circle of fabric sewed into a shaped opening in the body of the skirt.
With that in mind, I fired up my trusty copy of PatternMaster Boutique and started drafting my own version. And here's what I came up with for the skirt.
The skirt is cut from two identical pieces for the front and back; the seams are at the sides. The rest of the pattern is a midriff-waisted bodice with shoulder princess seams.
I made the dress up out of a piece of rayon that was in my stash; it was a good thing it was a large piece because this dress eats up fabric!! All told, I used about eight yards. Each of the six gores takes almost a full yard!
So here's the dress!
Just standing there, it's not immediately obvious how wide the skirt is. So here's another view.
I'm holding up two of the sides, and there's still lots of fabric left. With the six half-circle godets, the hemline sweep of the dress is three full circles! So needless to say, it is a very twirly skirt!

It's hard to get a good picture of the sweep, even from above!
The dress is incredibly comfortable; there's no closure, and the neck and armholes have a one-piece facing. I'm already planning on making a few more of these, and will be bringing them on our trip to Holland next month.

More to Come
I will do posts about the other two garments I made in the next few days, and I pinky-swear that I won't do another vanishing act. See you soon!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Make any dress fit perfectly in just ten minutes!

A few years ago I made a gown for the annual Smithson Gala. It’s been hanging in my closet since then, and my lovely daughter Diana wondered if she could possibly try it on to see if it fit.


Of course, it was too large, but certainly alterable. And in less than ten minutes, it went from loose and drab to fitted and fabulous!


(She insisted on adding the apple, for a little drama!)

And no matter how little sewing ability you have, you too can make ANY garment fit perfectly, in under ten minutes. I’m going to share my secret weapon with you.






(scroll down…)





(a little bit more…)

Yep, the humble binder clip. And it’s the reason why I don’t trust most photos for judging fit, especially if it’s in catalogs or store websites.

That dress went from blah to wow, just by clipping it in a few strategic spots. I’m going to show you the side the camera DIDN’T see.

To make the front look good, the back was clipped:

And to make the back look good, the front was clipped:

And yes, the clips were moved around so I could take the pictures of the two sides.

Of course, if she actually wanted to wear the dress anywhere but in front of a camera, it would take a lot longer to actually sew the alterations.

The moral of the story is that you simply cannot judge the fit of a garment by pictures alone, unless you were there when the pictures were taken. So many times people buy clothes online or from catalogs, and discover they don’t fit the way they did in the pictures, and end up blaming themselves for either “ordering the wrong size” or “I just have a problem body.” Neither is true. It is the fault of the clothing marketer, who has a vested interest in making the clothes look as perfect as possible -- never mind if they actually DID fit the way they do.

Think I'm kidding? Here's a behind-the-scenes look from a photo shoot with Antonio Banderas (from the Poorly Dressed section of