Ahhhh, this dress! This was finished before the sewing jitters set in, but the freezing temps in NYC have prevented me taking any photos (so there aren't that many of me actually in it) and if anything can fix the jitters it has to be this. This dress is by far the thing I am most proud of making, ever.
Normally my sewing process goes something like this;
- See fabric or pattern, fall in love, find accompanying pattern or fabric,
- Procrastinate and change fabric and/or pattern choice at least once,
- Set abitrary deadline of when it absolutely must be finished by,
- Realise I'm not sure how the fit will look on me so make half-hearted muslin and transfer shoddy adjustments to the pattern,
- Pin pattern pieces to fabric and then, remembering I haven't pre-washed it, remove them all and do that and have to wait 24 hours for it to be dry enough to start pinning again (this is so irritating),
- Spend an evening rushedly cutting out the pieces from the now washed fabric,
- Then have to wait till the next evening to start sewing,
- Go hell for leather, cutting as many corners as I can and staying up till stupid o'clock to get the thing finished in time for my self-imposed deadline,
- Then being mildly disappointed with the finish and /or fit of the final piece due to the rush job.
This dress was a watershed moment for me. I took my time, did everything as properly as I could and really allowed myself to enjoy the process. It is a special dress for a special occasion; the wedding of a very dear friend, who studied at the London College of Fashion, shares my love of fabric and knows a thing or two about this sewing lark. So, not only did I want it to be something I felt great in, but it had to be a dress that would make her smile too.
I found this dreamy fabric at The Fabric Store in LA, whilst visiting another lovely friend in the summer. I was told it was a silk cotton blend but it has a really large weave which I think is like raw silk. Who knows. But it is beautifully soft, is not particularly drapey, has a lovely texture and the colours and pattern are just stunning. Originally, I planned to make the Vanamo Cocktail Dress by Named Clothing, but after making a muslin for that realised that it just did less than nothing for me. In fact it looked bloody awful. As much as I love the whole crop top trend, there has to be some recognition (on my part) that I have had two children and am no longer anywhere near 19 years old, because I did love me a crop top then.
So, in a bit of a panic I opted for this Vogue 1404 Ralph Rucci number instead, which I just adore. It has so many interesting details which not only make it a special dress, but were also going to make it a challenging sew. Every seam is top stitched and edge stitched, it has waist inserts, bound centre back and armhole seams, two piece sleeves, and a quilted hem which is interfaced with fleece to give it structure. It's also supposed to have waist ties, but I loathe waist ties on dresses and they didn't do anything useful so I left them off.
I made a proper muslin which resulted in me removing some excess from around the collar bone area, lowering the bust darts, taking in the bodice side seams and a little bit from the under arm seam, taking a wedge out of the upper centre back of the skirt and adding three inches to the length. These all caused me no end of angst, firstly because there is no side seam on the skirt so taking in the bodice side seam meant I had to pinch fabric out of the insert and the skirt side panel without changing the hemline, and hope that it would all line up. Thankfully it did. Then I was concerned that taking something out of the underarm would mean I couldn't actually move my arms. But this was unfounded too, well mostly ...
Then. Epic pattern matching.
I have no patience at all. None. But for some reason, I manage to get lost in pattern. I find making it fit together and match quite cathartic. And boy did I get it to match (even if I do say so myself!)
Yep serious showing off going on here: that there is a top stitched, edge stitched centre front seam!
And that there is an invisible zip.
And those are matching sleeves, with one of the eyes of the pattern on the front of each sleeve, in more or less exactly the same place!
Out of all the elements of this dress, the set in sleeves, the metres and metres of top stitching (which is by far the straightest I have ever sewn), the bound seams on the armholes and the zip, I am insanely proud of the pattern matching.
The curved waist insert (above, with evidence of my newly found ability to topstitch!) was a bit of a pig to get in without wrinkles and tucks, but I took my time with it and ripped it out when it wasn't perfect (at least three times) and it has made a huge difference to the finish and fit.
And then there was the hemband. I have never quilted anything before and it took me the whole of season five of Mad Men to essentially sew wiggly lines a quarter of an inch apart over a yard and a half of fabric. In addition, I didn't want endless messy backstitching on each line, so I painstakingly threaded the tails of each line of stitching through to the wrong side to tie them in a knot instead. Labour. Of. Love.
I had momentary heart failure on completing the quilting when I realised I was supposed to quilt it with the hemband lining attached and had failed to do so, so I took a deep breath and added the lining on as a facing instead and that seems to have worked ok. And it means all the underside of the quilting is hidden as well. The way the structured hemband makes it stand out from the body is so clever and totally makes this dress. I love how it turned out, and how it fits.
The only thing that I'm frustrated by is that despite each seam being finished through the edgestitch / topstitch method, this fabric frays like crazy and so there is a fair bit of ongoing fraying inside, which detracts from the rest of the nice finishing. I'm not sure how I should have prevented this as each seam was trimmed after the topstitching. Perhaps I should have overcast the edges (I don't have a serger / overlocker) beforehand and not trimmed. Either way I've just bought some fray block to use instead.
So, I finished it with a few days to spare and then hopped on a plane back to Heathrow to spend one of the happiest days ever in the gorgeous English countryside with my wonderful friend. I was happy with my dress, she was happy - well about far more important things than my dress, but I like to think it added something to her day!
(You can't really see the bride's dress in this photo but it is the most beautifully fluid silk jersey with a train, a low draped back neckline and gorgeous beading on the shoulders and at the waist. Stun. Ning.)
And I was reduced to a teary mess on a number of occasions, but particularly so when I spotted that the bright red Routemaster she had hired to take guests from the ceremony to the reception was the No. 19. The time taken on this dress seems to be the perfect tribute to the many many hours of my post crop top years that were spent waiting for or sitting or standing with my friend on that bus to take us home.
See you soon x