Inside Job

1 the dress

Here’s the dress, inside out and almost finished.  It’s hanging for a day or so before getting hemmed.  One of the front seams is machine-basted to the mid-thigh as I wanted the option of having a split.  I asked my daughter if I should be daring and go for it, or keep it sewn up.  Somewhat to my surprise she said the former!

1 silk butterfliesBut the other option – to attach a cascade of six or seven silk origami butterflies from one side of the upper bust down to the split on the other side, I decided against.  I think the dress itself looks like a butterfly.

I didn’t know how to line it while maintaining the characteristics of the fabric.  A fully self-lined option would have been very expensive as I’d have needed about 10m of fabric.  Other options would have compromised the construction of the split – which will inevitably fall open when I sit and flap about in the breeze exposing seams and under or partial lining.  So I self-lined to just below the zip (which is on the side) and made 6 metres of bias binding – litres of water going into the steam-pressing during this production! – with which I bound the lower sections of the princess seams, ‘Hong Kong finish’ style.  1 bbThe lucky by-product of this is that all that fabric that went into making the binding has made the dress heavier and given it more of a drape: something I was genuinely relieved about as the fabric, while being a perfect choice of colour, didn’t have the gravitas of the thicker silk crepes.

1 hong kong seam finish

I’m tempting fate by leaving it to almost the last minute to finish it.  Maybe I need that slightly panicky rush of adrenaline I felt when I first cut into the fabric some 10 days ago.  But you, reader, are not to be so silly!  That important wedding you’re sewing for in August?  Don’t wait till the end of July.  Give any potential iron brandings time to heal, and those scratches down the arms from fitting the dress while it’s pinned! 🙂

Also the machine could stop working…   Or… or…  I could give the whole thing a final painstaking press then whip it off the ironing board in a celebratory manner only to discover I’d been standing on the end of it…  and it’s ripped. I’ve been sewing barefoot just to prevent this; I was surprised by how many times I’d sit down at the machine and find the ends of the dress under my feet or the chair wheels.

So Many Muslins

1 wearable muslin in Liberty silk

Option 2-horz

I left the decision of which dress to make for the big day to my significant other. He looked at the shortlist and quickly with no agonising chose the last.

I didn’t question this. Perhaps I should have, as in the picture the dress features hardly at all.  I mean, what did he think was going on there?  What if he’d been influenced by the colours whereas I had only been looking at the styles? (I have no intention of using grey or black.)

1 Double Dungarees

What they were wearing in 2000: dungarees!!

Maybe his decision was self-interested and he’d disregarded the first two because he didn’t want to look underdressed alongside me?

Anyway, I set to work. first padding out the narrow waist of my display dummy Anne (as in ‘Boleyn’ – geddit!?) with a layer of wadding to make it the same size as mine.  Admittedly it looks a little lumpy and unprofessional but my daughter finds Anne quite huggable now.  Just like mummy, she says.

Then I began drafting the sleeve, the distinguishing feature of the dressless dress!

1 sleeve pattern from PInterestBack in September when I made the prototype, I magnified the pattern piece from the original Pinterest picture until it fit my blouse’s armscye.  (in case you’re interested, I made a PDF which you can download).

1 sdWhile it looked good enough in a shirting fabric, the sleeve I ended up with told only half the story!  Mine is a typical gathered sleeve with an interesting ‘epaulette’ whereas the original has more fullness and soft pleats.  I think I’ve more or less worked out how it’s done: at the top and below in the very last picture you can see I’ve  made a wearable muslin (using printed Liberty silk leftover from my BHL Sarah pattern-test).  I worry somewhat that it isn’t good enough, or that when the dress is finally finished it won’t suit me but it’s too late to backtrack.

The pattern I’m using this time is this (I forgot to make all the markings, including ‘on fold’).  Can you see a subtle difference?  I’ve underlined with silk organza so the sleeves don’t crumple.

1 sleeve pattern

A choice of silks, in UK Fabrics

A choice of silks, in UK Fabrics

As for the dress part, after a preliminary look at the choices in Goldhawk Road, I settled for the idea of a maxi princess dress in silk, with maybe a couple of surprise details thrown in if all goes well, but hoping to find a silk that’s suitably heavy with sufficient drape.

Then the toiling began. I started from Winifred Aldrich’s close-fitting bodice block but it really needed to get closer and closer: a couple of adjustments were made at the bust and a few more at the back.

Look at these carcasses!

1 first muslins

1 close up

Toile number… I forget

It’s hard to get an idea of what one’s back looks using a mirror so with a tripod and a camera on a self-timer, I took photos of my back with arms relaxed by my sides and made adjustments to the pattern once I’d measured what I’ve taken in with pins.  Luckily, as I seemed to be shaving more than adding, I didn’t waste paper starting afresh with each alteration (and if I do need to add to a pattern, I tend to ‘extend’ by gluing a strip of scrap to the underneath of the original).

I’ll be using the same method to get an even closer fit for my Six Napoleon bodice,

1 I'll be waiting in the direction of the kitchen door

I made a longer version too.

I was slightly alarmed that after two weeks of tinkering, I had nothing concrete to show for my efforts except a pile of muslins. But as anyone who has painted walls or woodwork properly may tell you: preparation is everything!

Geez, I hope they’re right.  I mean, what do I know, I don’t paint….

Then panic set in. I went back to Goldhawk Road and suddenly the choices seemed both limited and overwhelming.  At about £15 a metre  for 115cm wide silk, mistakes could prove expensive, and shops are generally unwilling to offer samples to mull over, instead inviting you to take photos.  As any sewist knows, this gives no idea of the feel or weight and is rather misleading when it comes to colour too.

£20 Liberty silk from Classic Fabrics

£20 Liberty silk from Classic Fabrics

In Classic Fabrics, there was a tempting choice of Liberty printed silks, exactly the same weight as my muslin below, but I thought the graphics would detract from the sleeve design.  I wanted a solid, ideally a blue or green from a palette created by sheer serendipity when Connie printed off and coloured in felt tips this dragon which also probably reminds her of ma:

1 Colour inspiration

So with just over 2 weeks to go, I went to Woolcrest Textiles to see what they got!   It was a sunny Saturday afternoon.  The atmosphere in Hackney was vibrant: so refreshingly different from the suburbs and a feast for the eyes if you’re into people-watching.  But not for the squeamish perhaps:  just as I turned off Mare Street, I was accosted rather rudely  😯   Or at least I assume the offer was rude – I haven’t actually Googled ‘poom-poom’ yet  🙂

Woolcrest is huge, sporadically lit and precariously stacked to the vaults with bolts.  I strained my forearm lifting down something (the three members of staff I met were very kind and helpful, but just as small as me so I didn’t bother asking for help).  But I found a fabric of the right colour and weight: a silky-satin (i.e. polyester) in teal which I’ve established suits me.  At £2 a very wide metre, I couldn’t believe my luck.  It seemed silly not to buy masses of the stuff.   I was in such a good mood, almost laughing at the thought that my special dress will come from the sort of place the outside of which looks like where you go to buy a kidney, and not off the original donor!  By Sunday night, the dimpled-looking silky fabric (which remained dimpled despite repeated pressing) was washed, cut and stay-stitched.  By Tuesday, the sleeves were done, backed with organza and looking nice and soft.  Most of the dress was done too: and….  well… it crackled with static when I slipped it over my head….

By Wednesday, having learnt first-hand that the old adage ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ is true, I was in Goldhawk Road again settling for a silk crepe, a touch on the floaty side, in a deep turquoise.  Reader, one of the sleeves below is £2 a metre in a silky fabric that when pressed smells slightly of an oil slick and the other is £16 silk.  You better be able to tell which is which!1 sleeves 1 and 2

1 sleeve1-horz

So, I have a week.

1 Liberty wearable muslin

The Six Napoleon Challenge

six napoleon challenge

Thanks for your comments on my last post.  I read each new suggestion with anticipation and excitement which then turned to dismay as you overwhelmingly chose the Six Napoleon Dress as your favourite.  Sorry, it isn’t the dress I’m making (more on that later). However, you made me think it was a shame to have missed the opportunity, so here I am giving myself the second chance.  And I’d like you join me!

1 six nap

Yes dear but less is more. Source: Dogstar Clothing Facebook Page

1 all saints

Mais oui, I challenge you to make your version of the Six Napoleon dress.

Mes amis, are you still there?  🙂

You will need: a dummy for pleating, draping and pinning; bedsheets or swathes of fabric with which to experiment; preferably a basic bodice block (sloper) made to your measurements or a close-fitting pattern with princess seams. A good friend to help you fit the bodice would be preferable but if there isn’t one available now may be a good time to invest in a tripod to take selfies of your back view.

Far as fun sewing challenges go, this one definitely has an emphasis on the challenge!

More about the dress:
Originally designed by Masayo Yasuki for the Australian fashion house Dogstar, the Six Napoleon dress was made in a limited edition of only ten so you’re unlikely to see it while out and about.  Yet it looks familiar. The generosity of fabric and asymmetry could easily be mistaken for a Vivienne Westwood design, whereas to me the ‘well-heeled goth’ vibe reminds me of early All Saints dresses  I’d occasionally covet but could never afford.

The close-fitting bodice shouldn’t be too difficult if you’ve had some experience of adapting patterns.  If nothing else, it’ll give me (and you?) the experience of using boning for the first time.

1 widows

Tartan inspiration? Alexander McQueen, Widows of Culloden Collection

I have always avoided bottom-heavy styles so for me the draped skirt will be a first.  Despite meaning to, I’ve never delved into draping, even though I believe it’s an essential skill. The original skirt has a ‘deep hem’ and is described as involving 8m of silk organza.  Silk organza is a luxurious, crisp and sensual fabric made even more irresistible by the fact that it’s not too expensive and tends to be very well-behaved!  But you can use any fabric of sufficient drape., e.g. denim and/or chambray, or plaid.  I’m hoping only 1-2 metres of fabric will achieve the look.

One of the reasons why I decided to launch the challenge was Stephanie’s comment that she rarely has an occasion to wear something so formal. Me too. Which is why I’ll be making this as a day-dress, something similar to the dress made two years ago by Ruth of Core Couture as part of the Vivienne Westwood Challenge. Ruth wore this when she came to London last autumn and I decided then and there that I’d quite happily throw out every single semi-successful garment I’ve made in recent years for just such one very wearable and perfect gown.

Tstorm it sewistahe Deadline: Ah, well, that would be 14th July, the anniversary of the start of the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille!  I would need your photos by then but in the meantime please keep in touch with how it’s going (I shall post my developments too) and if you have an interesting tale to tell, do post it as a guest on this blog if you haven’t your own. Be unafraid!  There will be hand-holding.

Tempted but undecided? How about a few links to whet your appetite…

Want to know what a corset could do for your figure but aren’t crazy enough to actually try it?  A boned bodice may be a suitable compromise.  Lena of Iconic Patterns makes a boned bodice in her post Taming the Waist and it ain’t half bad!  But I’m not stipulating that you make a boned bodice: it’s up to you as long, as the dress is more or less recognisable as a version of The Six Nap!  The main objective is that it’s wearable.

Beg, Borrow or Buy Draping: the Complete Course by Karolyn Kiisel

Some insight into how Ruth designed her dress.

If you have any experince of making a boned bodice, please get in touch.

Go on, revolutionize your wardrobe! Are you in? I hope so but even if you don’t take part, do keep in touch with your thoughts, tips, links to tutorials, books or sewing patterns that will help. And spread the word please through your social media accounts: ideally I’d love to have at least six Napoleon participants to, well, live up to the name!

The Six Napoleon Challenge

The Deadline

I don’t know if I’m going to pull this off but I need a special occasion dress to wear in just under 4 weeks’ time.

It should showcase what I’m capable of – in case anyone’ll be looking – without being fussy or formal.

Recently I’ve been giving the matter some thought and have decided to copy one of three designs:

Option 1: Six Napoleon Dress

Option 2By Masayo Yasuki, of the fashion house ‘dogstar’, this has an asymmetric boned bodice with sheer drapery redolent, in both the style lines and the volume of drapery, of Vivienne Westwood.  This caught my eye a while back on Pinterest and the trail leads to this website where the description reads, with spellings corrected: “featuring carefully placed tucks and a well fitted corset, who can resist the luxury and fullness in its 8 metres of silk organza?”

Well, that should narrow down the fabric search.

I’ve made a muslin of the bodice which was easy enough but I now wish I’d paid more attention when those of you who teach me stuff talked about Draping.

Difficulty level = 8/10

I really think it’s time I tackled draping.  I have an aversion to travelling to courses but I’m good at self-taught so if you know of a book that will demystify the process, I’d be grateful for a recommendation.

Option 2: Pleated Neckline Dress

option 1

I’d already been experimenting with my own pleated neckline designs when I discovered this picture on Pinterest.  The trail takes me to the website of Eileen Fisher but nothing in the designer’s current collection is like this.  Everything about it appeals.  I love the straps and I can just imagine how sensual it would be to bury fingers in those midriff folds.  The wine stain colour is gorgeous too, but not essential.

Difficulty: 5/10

How do you envisage this dress ending?  I mean, what should happen in the lower half?

Option 3: Sleeve Drama

pinterest sourceNot much dress visible here: the sleeves steal the show.  I’ve experimented with this design a lot, firstly by making a simplified version and putting it onto a refashioned men’s shirt (you can download the pattern PDF).  I’ve now fine-tuned the pattern to be more like that in the original above.  The rest of the dress would be long with princess seams, and also a thigh split like in the BHL Anna dress.Anna Stride

Difficulty = 4/10

And talking of the Anna dress, that’s my back up if I run out of time.  It would be a shame though.  Flattering as it may be, neither the workmanship nor materials are special (Anna’s more of a t-shirt than a special occasion dress).

1 so many sleeves, so few armsOr I could go to Liberty’s, where while gallivanting around with Ruth last autumn I spotted dresses that would be perfect, made by proper designers.  Yeah, and spend the rest of my days in self-loathing.

So many sleeves, so few arms…

Like I said, no pressure.

I have already made my decision and begun work on one of the above but I’d love to hear what you’d do.