30 June 2012

Vogue 7365 (or, the other ball dress)

Last year, I indulged my love of velvet when I made V7365. It took me a long time to get hold of good panne velvet, which I had to order online in the end. Here is the version I chose:

Now, I had my doubts when I saw the satin version on Vogue's website:

Aside from the tacky oh-so-shiny pink satin, the dress looks really ill-fitting around the stomach and hips and the shape of the halter is not very flattering. Everything about this look is, let's face it, bad. However, I loved the back of the version I chose enough to go for it: I crossed my fingers that velvet would work better with the design. Luckily, the gamble paid off! I wore this dress last year for a white tie ball (I've never felt so dangerous and sassy as wearing three-quarter length black gloves: I felt like I was the killer in an episode of Poirot!) and this year for a black tie ball, sans gloves and fur stole.

I hemmed the dress for wearing with high heels when I made it but this year I wore flats. I can't bring myself to chop off a couple of inches in case I want to wear it with heels again. When I made up a muslin, that baggy stomach area I noted in the picture on Vogue's website was indeed present. I came up with a simple solution, but I ummed and ahhed about it for ages because I thought that I was committing a cardinal pattern sin. Technically, a bias cut dress, which this is, shouldn't need darts, but a 7" dart from under the bust to an inch above my hip bones seemed to sort the problem out. I was worried that it would affect the drape, but when I made it up in the velvet there was no such problem. Also, the pile of the velvet hides the sewing lines of the darts, but I think they would be too noticeable if I had made this dress in satin. The great thing about panne velvet, which has a slight stretch to it, is that it hugs in the right places. Look at another photo from Vogue's website:

Look at the strange warping of the fabric around that side back area and the way the v of the dress back stands away from the indent of the model's back. It is beyond me why Vogue recommend crepe backed satin when the photo seems to suggest that a stretchless fabric does not quite work with the design of the pattern. My muslin (also a stretchless fabric) gaped at the side and I was worried there might be a lotta boob on view. However, salesman-and-representative-of-all-things-velvet that I am, the slight stretch of the velvet seemed to eliminate the gaping.

In the photo above you can see a little bit of gapey-ness. You can also see evidence of some seriously lazy pressing. There shouldn't be ripples down the centre front of the skirt! You'd think Vogue would do their utmost to show you a picture of something perfect to make sure you want to buy it...

I've never been that aware of the difference in the length of my legs but in this picture it is quite obvious that my right leg is longer. Maybe I should start altering my patterns to accommodate this? I will also tack the halter and underarm straps where they meet so they don't drift to the side, as they have done here.

The dress is lined with silk habutai. I thought that the velvet was quite bulky so the suggested charmeuse lining would be too thick.

I made a little matching bag (or 'ball sack' as my bf has named it - not exactly the height of wit) out of left over velvet and a sheet of flexible plastic that was packaging for some coloured paper I had bought. Thrifty! I put some decorative trim lengthways down the bag and some scalloped lace around the top. Seeing as velvet is self-finishing (i.e. it doesn't fray) all I had to do was cut some small vertical slits around the neck of the bag and thread some ribbon through. And I cheated and used the selvedge as the neck of my bag so I didn't have to turn it over (and handily the selvedge is strong, so it won't distort if there are any heavy things in the bag. Genius! And finally, here is a close-up of the hair, which is actually very easy. Here's how with the lovely Lilith.

So what have I learned from this project? 
1. Just because something is a sewing crime in principle (i.e. darts on bias fitted piece) it doesn't mean it won't work! 
2. Always look beyond the pictures in the pattern catalogue. 
3. Use those pictures as evidence of fit problems before you start, although if the garment is being modelled it has usually been tested. If you don't see the garment made up in the catalogue, it has probably not been tested. 
4. Velvet is great (but I already knew that). 

 Alix xxx

20 June 2012

The ball dress, part 2

And now for the big reveal! The pink ball dress was finally finished at 4pm on Monday - the ball started at 8pm. I am always manage to finish things just before the deadline; I have a feeling that when sewing, I stretch out the project to last right up until when I have decided it needs to be finished by (or in this case, when the ball decides it must be finished!). I want to say that I do this because I love the process of making something, but I think it might have become a hangover from being a student: sewing projects have become infected by the dreaded procrastination! Any way, here's me procrastinating about showing you the dress! Here it is--

As you can see from the photos, the dress has one long side slit, a hand-picked zip, a cowl back and a belt embellished with matching cording and a couple of home-made beaded tassels. Those tassels! My, did they take a while. I also made a slip to go underneath for that bit of extra warmth and on the advice of my housemate, who ran to the defence of slips when I accused them (too rashly) of being mumsie, "They smooth everything out!"
I chose to make a dress for three reasons: 1. no-one else would have it; 2. it would fit better than something I bought; 3. it would be far cheaper than buying a dress. 1. is an indisputable fact. 2. is a matter of opinion and 3. needs to be proven. So here is a quick costing:

Sand washed silk............£10/m.   2m = £20
Silk organza...................£9/m.  0.5m = £4.50
Charmeuse....................£7/m.  0.5m = £3.50

Hook and eye......................................Stash (for argument's sake, let's say 5p)
Knitted fusible interfacing.....£5/m. 0.2 = £1
Thin cording..........................................£3
Fat cording...........................................Stash (again, let's say £2
Silk thread............................................£3

Total                                                 = £44.05

£44.05 is admittedly not cheap. However, because I was using such a fine fabric I decided that I should go the whole hog and try to use couture and hand sewing techniques where appropriate. So what I got was something I couldn't buy from a shop, something with the little extras hidden to all but me. Normally I would turn to my overlocker or the trusty zig-zag stitch on my machine, but I didn't want the overlocker stitches showing through after pressing (only silk thread irons without leaving an imprint on the fabric). I did french seams on the bodice sides, shoulders and the left side of the skirt. I have to admit to being a bit confused when I first tried the french seams, but after a couple of practices I realised they're quite simple. I used the tutorial over at Coletterie to make my french seams.

The front bodice is underlined to the waist with silk organza. Partial underlining on one piece, from my experiments, works! 

I used some knitted interfacing (it drapes better than woven interfacing) on the back in a strip under the cowl to give it some support--

Apologies for the poor line drawings! 

The belt was an addition to the original plan because the front looked a little plain and the bias-cut cowl back seemed to droop a little at the waist. Looking at the dress now, the belt, I think, is one of the nicest features. I used Coletterie's tutorial for making covered cording, which I used to make the swirly bow motif and also to tie the belt.

I have learnt so many new things from this dress. I've learnt how to draft a cowl back. I've learnt how to use underlining. I tried a new method for finishing necks and armholes--

Using bias tape folded together, you can turn your seam and encase the raw edges, so no stitching shows on the outside of your garment. Above you can see my slipstitching through the organza. I saw this technique over at Amanda's Adventure's in Sewing

I learnt how to make covered cording. I learnt how to peyote stitch beads. I did my first hand picked zip strengthened with silk organza (which is in many respects easier than using a machine as there is less trouble in lining up each side of the tape). 

I'll stop here because I could go on forever about this dress. There are so many bits to explain!

Alix xxx

14 June 2012

The ball dress

The emergency stand-in ball dress is coming along nicely. Today, after drafting a skirt block and using LiEr's (from ikatbag) advice to place the front waist darts under the bust point, it suddenly occurred to me that the front could be all one piece. How did I not see this before?! It saves on precious fabric and will make the line of the dress neat and clean.

I used gedwoods' tutorial over at Burdastyle to create my skirt block and extended it to floor length. The front waist darts on this block seem to be very far away from the centre. I made a muslin and these darts make a flattering line, but they had to line up with those on the bodice. This was when I had my light bulb moment. I tried to look for instructions to make a dress block but couldn't find anything so instead I looked at Google images. I think extending straight down the lines of the bust point to make the whole dart should be fine in terms of shape, but I am a bit worried. If you look at this sloper you can see that the dart is asymmetrical: it is deeper towards the side seam. I'm not sure if this a personal choice thing or if it is to do with the particular proportions of the body this sloper is for. I tried to hunt out my New Look 6049 pattern (a dress with one front piece with two long waist darts) to check if the darts were placed in parallel lines  to each other but I couldn't find it in my pattern stash. From looking at the photos of this dress from my earlier post, if the darts flare outwards anywhere, its from the waist to bust. I had already altered my bodice block because I thought the darts leaned inward too much towards the waist - basically, this shape didn't flatter me, nor did it look right. Thus I am steaming ahead with my straight up and down drafted darts. I have made the darts on the skirt wider to meet those of the bodice (the skirt ones were only 2cm wide) and then extended the hip edge outwards and blended it with the bodice side. 

I intend to underline the front bodice piece, although with my new idea of a single front piece, I'm not sure how partial underlining works (if it works at all). I am going to use silk organza, which is quite stiff, so I don't want to take it down into the skirt as I think it will make it look too rigid. I am underlining because I reckon that the deep cowl back coupled with the narrow shoulder straps will pull the front bodice. To make sure I get my nice drape on the cowl I need to ensure that there is a solid frame for it to hang from. I think I might partly line the skirt, say to just above knee length, just to get some extra warmth. If one thing is certain, these wonderful May balls get cold at night. Really cold, in fact! 

Some great tips on underlining for y'all, just in case you get the urge to underline something:
I have two other tricks up my sleeve that I want to try on this dress. Gertie also does an interesting post on stabilising necklines by using short organza strips - I think this method may make an appearance on my dress. I also might insert a waist stay just to make sure that everything sits exactly were it should.

I'll post some photos of the dress as it comes together!

Alix xxx

13 June 2012

End of Exams (a.k.a more sewing projects than you can shake a stick at)

Hello readers! Long time no see. A week and a half ago I finished the dreaded Cambridge finals and now I am blissfully contemplating the fact that I might never sit another exam ever again. Ever again?! Wooohoooo!

Since then I've been feeling a little bereft and lacking in purpose so I returned to my faithful friend Silver and his new buddy, a Janome 744D - a shiny and wonderful overlocker (or serger, as those of you on the other side of the pond call them). I've been getting on with duffle bags and ball dresses and have been turning my hand to some pattern drafting. In July I'm going on a five day pattern drafting course at the London College of Fashion and I am so excited! 

So after Vogue 2929--

-- let me down... {in a big way: The bust line just gapes open, as though they had designed this dress with a G-cup wearer in mind (not necessarily a bad thing seeing as so many women have to do full bust adjustments, but generally uncharacteristic of Vogue patterns). It has a corset and bra cups in the foundation layer but even wearing a strapless bra and chicken fillets with it is still not enough to make the damn thing fit. I intend to try a waist-stay to see if it helps the dress at least sit where it ought to but I don't have high hopes}... I've decided to draft my own dress inspired by Audrey Hepburn and the oh-so-sophisticated-lovely-drapiness of the cowl back. I am working with a rose pink sand washed silk, so I had to do something to show off its wonderful drape. The silk is so crisp: it makes the most amazing sound, almost like paper, when you waft it out of its folds. Here is my inspiration for the shape:

The front will be a high, close fitting slash neck with thin straps, like Ms Hepburn's dresses above and the back, a deep cowl, so I'm mixing austere and daring, classic and modern, grainline and bias. There are quite a number of sites out there with info on how to draft cowl necks, here's a list:

I worked from the basic bodice block I made using gedwoods tutorial at Burdastyle. I used PoldaPop's tutorial for the dart rotation in order to eliminate the two darts in the back (unnecessary for a bias garment and also ruinous to the cowl) and rotate them to the neckline. Then I used the method listed over at Pattern Making and Dressmaking NZ to make a deep cowl by fanning out my basic bodice block - six slashes opened about an inch. I still had trouble making a really deep cowl back. I have so far done three muslins and I am finally reaching a cowl depth that satisfies me. 

I am also wondering what to do about the skirt. I am working with a little over 2m of a not very wide fabric so it has to be a straight skirt really. But how to ensure it doesn't look shapeless and boring? And that it does not make me look like a rectangle (my body shape, aka 'apple shape'/ waist not so trim)? I have thought about doing it on the bias but I'm not confident enough to fit a bias-cut skirt. And it's all been complicated by the fact that the cowl back is going to bias-cut but the front will be cut with the grainline (perhaps it is a sign from someone up there not to mix my grainlines...?). I have also thought about simply making the skirt a tube just wider than the widest point of my hips and making inverted pleats or gathers at the waist. Darts on the skirt would look weird with a waist seam; why not make the top and bottom one continuous piece? but of course, we know the answer... the bias bodice back. The mind boggles! Either way, I know it will have a side closure (can't have a zip going through the middle of the cowl now, can we?!) so it will have a side, or maybe two, side slits, which is erring a little to close to the nineties for me, but hey-ho.

I have also started a new knitting project featured in Kim Hargreaves' new collection, Whisper. I'm making my first jumper, Smoulder, in a pale grey wool. I also have my eye on Sophia, Christina and Ebony (that sounds wrong - why give knitting patterns ladies' names?!).

Alix x