Sewing Smoke

1 six napoleon dress, version 2

1 smokeI’m probably the only one who’d like this challenge to last a little longer.  I could spend another day just touching this dress up: a few hand-stitches here to control the flaws, pressing the organza to perfection so the fall of the skirt improves…. But it’s September and no amount of pampering will change the fact that ‘it is what it is’ – an expression I’ve been hearing a lot lately, as if we’re collectively learning to become resigned.  And ‘it is’ a dress which only approximately replicates what I intended it to, the image on the right.

Option 2


The Fabric

The cotton bodice worked out well.  The nine pattern pieces are all different and the fit is good.  Instead of inserting boning – which made it difficult to put on in the very first, binned muslin – I flat-stitched all the princess seams, those of the poplin lining too.  This strengthens the shape and means the seam allowances won’t flip over if I ever wash this.  The extra stitching is also meant to give it a utility, punky vibe I’m after.  This ain’t no Will-o’—The-Wisp dress!

1 close up

1 six napoleon challenge

1 bialetti

1 organza

Do you have a stove-top espresso maker?  If so, do you remember getting it out of the box  new and delighting in the  clean silvery aluminium?  That’s the feeling I got when I was shopping and I saw this organza (from here).  I’d seen other possibilities but this one made me excited.  It looks like smoke, it weighs nothing but it’s tough!  Not that I’d go blackberry-picking in it but no shower of pins spilling on it makes it rip, nor me wheeling over it as I push away impatiently from the sewing machine in my chair.  It smells natural when pressed and cares not what setting the iron’s on.  I got lucky with the lining too.  I went straight to the shop which sells my favourite lining (Unique Fabrics) and found a good colour match.  The texture is soft yet it falls and drapes beautifully (unlike your typical dress lining).  Because this skirt isn’t lined but underlined – the pieces joined by French seams of which Le General would himself surely approve – the lining takes the organza down with it, making the skirt less pouffy.

1 take me to the other side

The Design

I didn’t have much confidence in what I was going to do with the skirt but I thought £20 for 2 metres of silk organza was a risk I could afford (it took another £15 for the zipper, the lining and the bodice fabric with its own lining).  Anita’s method assured me that I could make 2 metres work but I was reluctant to have that very low dipping hem so I did something very much like what Stephanie in Seattle illustrated in the L-shaped picture here.  Imagine a length of silk 200cm x 140cm.  Cut into three = 66 cm x 140cm.  Cut one of the rectangles in half.  These almost-squares are your bias inserts.  Once those bias squares are suspended upon a point on the hem, they fall almost vertically.  Here’s a state-of-the-art explanation fashioned out of a rectangle of red origami paper (yellow on reverse)

1 step one-horz

After that, it was a case of pleating and pinning.

1 pin and pleat

Pleating and pinning – till your arms fall off!

Of course, once I starting pinning the skirt, I got the same madly dipping hem that I’d feared.  Every time I turned my back on the dress, the point would droop another 10cm towards the floor!

Then a truly painful part: the leap of faith as I slashed the skirt open so I could insert a zip into the side.

1 cut

Slashing the organza and lining

the zip of horror

It’s not my best zip insertion.  I may just keep my arm dangling over this part when I wear it.

The Construction

Putting everything together took some planning.  There are various traps to fall into such as sewing the side seams of the bodice too soon, or attaching the lining before the topstitching was done.  Joining the bodice to the skirt, right sides together, must have happened when I should have been taking a break or something.  What a mistake: the skirt all lumpy… But I only admitted this to myself after I’d trimmed the seams and edge-stitched the bodice.  🙄  I had to unpick almost all of it.  The second time, I put the bodice on the stand and pinned the skirt to the inside holding it up with several pins to get the excess out of the way and to observe if it hangs straight.  Then I topstitched.

I give myself a C+.  It doesn’t look as good as the dress I just made, nor as good as the dress I’m making now but then again it was a much harder project.  It’s not particularly flattering either – but I suspected this would be the case which is why I’m glad I didn’t choose it to be my wedding dress.  It’s been great to have to think deeply about  construction and design and to work with new, superior materials.  Far as projects go, it was a marathon but I like those   😉

1 swansThis is a technical post.  There’ll be an artistic one to follow.  In the meantime, here’s a reminder of Ruths dress, very different to mine and very much in spirit; as well as Kate’s, now also finished.  I like to think of it as Odette to my Odile!

And there’s one more coming (I think!).

14 thoughts on “Sewing Smoke

  1. I wore my 6Nap skirt to work today, and it felt fabulous [I kept playing with my faced hems, very crisp and lovely]. Even when I walked up the street and the wind caught it, only the top layer foofed, and all was good! THe missus was in grinch mode and wouldn’t do my photo shoot, so I’ll have to try again tomorrow when she’s been fed.
    Yours looks lovely, very wispy yet tough, just the way you wanted it!

  2. I think this was a worthy project and your end result quite lovely. I haven’t given up on the parts of mine but will wait for inspiration to see how I can complete a version that would suit my lifestyle – maybe as a part of SWAP 2017, or at least for summer 2017. I need to take my time as it us a tough challenge for me and the vision fir the final product isn’t quite there yet. Thanks for the inspiration and well done for sticking it out. I love the look of the hems especially.

    • That would be great but if you don’t, I just might! I would like to try this again some time, out of a reclaimed sari with a border or a Balinese print as in your original idea.

      Thank you for the lovely comment :-). Yes, the hems are one of the best bits, and were easy to do.

      • You should do it anyway, if the mood strikes you. I will probably get the fire in the belly for the project again in winter, when I inevitably start fantasizing about summer. This year’s transition at work was more taxing than expected and now that I have some calm again all I can think of is autumn knitting and sewing.

        • And yes to the Balinese print. I still have mine and I love the red of it. I just couldn’t figure out how to use it so I didn’t want to cut into it. I started thinking about using one of the birds in the print on the bodice instead of the skirt and then using the chambray as the skirt, but I just couldn’t quite picture it and wasn’t sure the fluffy skirt would work with that inversion. I almost think the red bodice would be best paired with a dark denim bottom. I suppose I can think about it for a few months and then experiment. I will use the bodice somehow so it was time well spent.

  3. Your dress is beautiful and I like it’s slightly understated too, which hopefully will make it more wearable. You’ve done a great job on the skirt, it hangs beautifully. I just LOVE the original and might one day make one myself – I think I need a special occasion.

  4. Hooray! Your bodice is perfection itself and your skirt is dreamy and together they make a fab dress. You’ll be a fabric snob after sewing with the silk organza

  5. Wow! This looks absolutely amazing!! Can’t believe all the work that went into it, and it’s so worth it – the skirt is just beautiful. Would love to try something similar (but might have to work up to it!) so your construction description and pictures are really helpful 🙂

  6. You’ve all done so well with this challenge which you’ve persevered with despite probably wanting to wave the white flag at times. I hope you get a chance to wear it and show it off.

  7. Thank you Marianna for setting the challenge and joining in so enthusiastically yourself. You are an inspiration. I am very envious of this, your very own, version of the dress. I would buy this in a shop, definately. I love the softness of the skirt, compared to the strictness of the bodice – the pointy hem works great too and I love the technique that you used (thanks for the origami models). It is sinuous and balletic – just the job. Very well done and beautiful.

    • I think your description gives it more justice that it deserves (I’ve seen it from more angles) but what the heck, I’ll take it!! Thank you 🙂

Leave a Reply to Stephanie Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.