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.)
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!
Back 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).
While 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.
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!
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,
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.
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:
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!
So, I have a week.