A couple of months ago, just as I was thinking it was time I accelerated the learning process by sewing for other people, a call comes out of the blue. An acquaintance needs a dress for a very special occasion. She kind of knows what she wants: a dress version of the blouses she wears to work, but in finer fabrics. She rarely finds clothes that fit her well and has given up looking for what probably doesn’t exist. Can I make it perhaps?
I say “Yeah!” Then my heart totally sinks when we rummage through the client’s wardrobe and all her favourite tops turn out to be made from chiffon. Everything looks floaty and delicate. Nothing like what I sew!
I think back to my only encounter with chiffon, years before, when my old Singer brutishly shredded it and in utter disgust I bundled the remains into the wheelie bin! 😯
One beautifully sunny Thursday at the end of October, I take the client shopping in Goldhawk Road and we find exactly what she’d hoped for. For the upper bodice and the sleeves: deep red corded lace. For the main bodice and skirt: deep red silk chiffon. For the underdress (- very important as the dress will be sheer), we buy a bright red silk satin. On the train home, I make a mental note not to leave this haul behind!
There’s a hitch during half term! My work area becomes a 24-hour children’s canteen – or so it seems – and I can’t work. I do however spend hours on research, reading all your tips for sewing delicates. Just as well I’ve been saving packing paper from internet shopping! When pressed flat and glued into large sheets, it makes a perfect sandwich in which to cut the chiffon. It’s a club sandwich: pattern, paper, single layer fabric, paper.
I buy the finest needles, though not the recommended Schmetz Microtex which no one in real-life shops appears to stock. (Oi! Get with the programme!). My tailoring class, who always ask for weekly progress updates, give great suggestions and my tutor’s idea to tease out threads along the grain and crossways to make visible cutting guidelines proves very valuable when I practise on snippets. Nevertheless, I spend a sleepless night thinking of all the different things that could go wrong. Will the fabric behave? With my design work in practical terms? And if it does, will the end result flatter?! Will the client be happy?
There’s a book about couture that my little brother gave me which I keep by my bed and sometimes refer to for inspiration. I look at the pics inside, trying not to get awed, telling myself that at the end of the day, it’s only some fabric and stitches!
Half term over and it’s game on. Two weeks fly by in a mix of nervousness, frustration, good vibes and winging it. I use loads of paper and calico. Do you like my new way of storing patterns: punch and hang!
Two things really help the project go smoothly. Firstly, my Elna stitches perfectly. No problems with tension, no need for an expensive straight-stitch needle plate. And the other thing is: the client is great! Not only is she lovely (I’d have to be completely feckless to make her look unattractive), she’s very considerate and always relaxed! Had I asked her if she wanted to appear in my blog wearing her dress, she’d have probably said yes, but I thought better not. I was too intensely focused on the design and the sewing to think of photography. I can give you some idea of what the dress looked like though as there’s a lot of similar stuff going on in the shops this party season. My version has more volume with a pleated neckline and a looser, dropped waist silhouette.
I’m a total convert to chiffon and floaty fabrics now. (Soon as I finished, I bought the charity shop skirt to turn into a blouse). And the silk satin I used for the underdress (I did get a piccie of that, on right) was a revelation too: it has nothing of the cold sliminess of polysatin.
But boy, now it’s over and the client is happy, how I miss the adrenaline!! Better get another job soon or else I’m getting that motorbike?!