a peacock dress

Yes, peacocks! When I first described this fabric to friends – apparently they were picture peacock-colored fabric. So needless to say they were surprised to find actual peacocks all over me!

Anyway, this dress was a labor of love – following both couture techniques included in the pattern, as well as others I have picked up along the way on other classes and looking at historical garments. Basically, during my August vacation, I visited the newly opened Silk Road Fabrics in Auburndale, MA… and was simply blown away by this cut silk/rayon velvet patterned with roses, vines and yes, peacocks. The sheer black background was tried over a number of different colors of silk charmeuse… but ultimately this bright lime green won out. With the addition of some black silk organza for interlining, I was ready to get started… and this was the winning dress pattern:

Interestingly, this pattern is based on a vintage bias-cut dress from the 1930s – one of my favorite decades for fashion! All of the fitting is done through a pair of three darts:  one diagonal front dart, one back vertical dart, and one horizontal dart. And of course, it says right on the pattern “no allowance made for above waist adjustment” (or something like that… you get the idea!) So basically no easy way to do a full bust adjustment (FBA.)

Would I let this deter me? Well – for a few days, yes. I made an initial muslin (with no adjustments) and tried on and debated for about a week about whether or not the bias cut would allow me to get away with skipping the FBA. Ultimately I decided it it was worth the extra effort (math, redrafting, additional muslins, etc) and invented my own bias-cut FBA. (I’m sure others have done this before but I couldn’t find any online tutorials – or suggestions in any of my dozen fitting books.)

First of all – I should mention that this dress is a single pattern piece with a center back seam. However, other than the zipper place at the left side, the pattern is a mirror image at the center front. (i.e. it could be placed on a fold if it weren’t for the bias grainline)

So for my bias FBA – I only worked on redrafting the left side of the pattern. I split the pattern lengthwise from neck to hem, running through the bust apex marked on the pattern. I spread the pattern apart about 1.25.” Normally it would be between 1.5 and 2″ but I did want to allow for the extra ease provided by the bias grainline.

You can just see the extra space from widening the pattern at the center bottom of the photo.  To get the shaping I needed for the FBA, you can see how much I widened the main front dart. It starts just below the bust apex and curves back, ending at the lower hip. This made for a VERY wide dart – but it worked perfectly during the subsequent muslin fittings. The dark lines on the right side of the image are the final darts – the paler lines and everything on the left side of the photo are the original markings.

I didn’t add any extra length to the pattern pieces – normally I would add 1/2″ to 1″ but again I figured the bias drape would weigh the dress down and stretch out the fabric.  Fortunately I guessed right! It took three muslin fittings to perfect this –  but hopefully you’ll agree it was worth it!

Wrong side of the charmeuse is up... the velvet layer is below it, also with wrong side up.

With the muslin perfected, it was time to transfer all the cutting lines and markings to silk charmeuse. I decided to baste the velvet and charmeuse layers together to work them as one so that meant basting all the darts, zipper markings, and matching dots & notches. As both fabrics were incredibly slippery, I used weights to keep everything in place and basted everything while it was flat on a table. Difficult to see – but most of the dart markings have been basted in the photo above. Around the cut edges I used pins since the sewing time was nearly constant – there wasn’t much worry about losing pins or layers separating.

Following the traditional couture methods, all the darts were basted together by hand and then machine stitched. This was especially effective since I was working with velvet which has tendency to creep while sewing. (One of these days I’ll buy a walking foot!) From that point on I pretty much followed the instructions, working the two fabrics as one throughout the process. For the facings and zipper placket, I also used the two fabrics to keep the finishes consistent. The zipper placket, which is inserted into a cut slit at the left side, was a new technique for me but not too bad when following the pattern instructions. I did have to hand-sew the actual zipper in several times as the drape of the fabric kept fighting against it as soon as I tried on – but finally on the third attempt it was laying properly.

After not too much more time, the dress was finished except for hem and armhole trim. I lucked out on some great red beaded velvet trim which worked for the armholes. It was a bit wider than I hoped for, but the rich red color really helped the roses in the dress to pop. Lorrie at Unique Boutique Boston was kind enough to mark the hem for me (and be the first one to ‘wow’ at the gown which was very gratifying!!) and after a bit more hand-sewing… all was finally finished!

I don’t dress up very often… but as I was the guest of honor at the party I wore it to – I must say it felt fabulous to be wearing such a stunning dress!

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a frou frou wedding gown, part trois

It’s done! So really this should be be the ‘finis’ post, but since I can’t share photos of the beautiful bride in her gown until after Saturday’s wedding, there will be one more post to complete the story!

When all was said and done, I think it was the tulle that was finally the death of me…

So. Much. Tulle.

There had to be something like 12 or 13 layers, some went all the way around, some stopped at the sides, and some were only the back. Yikes! Fortunately one of the bridesmaids is an amazing seamstress herself so I advised bringing scissors, just in case any is STILL peaking out when the gown is bustled.

From earlier testing - the 3 point bustle

Most of the alterations took about as long as I expected, except for bustling. I had planned on a three or five point bustle based on the seam locations and the back pleating detail of the dress, but do to the insanely full skirt and back sweep of the gown, we finally ended with a seven point bustle. The last two were added while Vicky and her girls were here and luckily they were patient!

After a few ‘dancing’ tests to be sure everything was at the right level, the finished gown was re-packed and the happy bride took it to be stored at her parents until the wedding on Saturday.

In looking back at the amount of time I worked on this, I’d probably say it was a total of 12 hours, plus a bit more time for fittings. (Since the fittings were also some seriously high quality friend time… it’s hard to count that accurately!)

Considering this was a relatively simple set of adjustments (take in the bust fullness 1/2″, hem and bustle)… well you can see why alterations are such a costly part of the wedding attire budget! I’m so glad I was able to do this for Vicky, and now I seriously can’t wait to see her in all her bride-y glory at the wedding!

Yay! Congratulations to Matt & Victoria!

a frou frou wedding gown, part deux

Thanks to this year’s bout with bronchitis, it’s been another long weekend more or less spent at home in bed. Fortunately I had already planned to take some time off so getting back to Vicky’s wedding gown wouldn’t be a problem. Now to just find the energy!

She was last here about two weeks ago and the dress fit beautifully! I did mark the bust to be taken in ever so slightly by hand – just to soften the sharp angle from the bust point to the top edge. The embroidery was pinned back in place and rearranged to be more as symmetrical as possible. We also marked the hem, which took some doing! Again, thanks to beautiful construction… it’s a bit of bear to alter.

So, catching up… here’s what’s been done since the last fitting:

  • Take in bust fullness very slightly, satin only
  • Whipstitch all the loose edges of the embroidery to the bodice
  • Bar tacks added to either side of bust seam below top edge (to keep lining from rolling)
  • Skirt/underlining and skirt lining trimmed for new hem lengths
  • Skirt hem facing stitched right side to skirt/underlining
  • Understitch skirt hem facing close to seam
  • Fold hem facing to inside and pin to organza interlining

And what still needs to be done? Here’s the very short list to be done tomorrow morning:

  • Whipstitch the bodice lining to skirt lining at waist (30 min)
  • Catchstitch the hem facing to the organza skirt underlining (60 min
  • Hem skirt lining with horsehair braid to stiffen (15 min)
  • Trim tulle petticoat layers (15 min)
  • Add blue grosgrain ties & loops for bustling (15 min)
  • Tack strapless bra to gown at sides (15 min)
  • Steam dress (30 min)

So about 3 hours left of gown altering to do and then it’s ready to leave. Good thing too since the wedding is Saturday! Now, I wonder if need a different dress to wear to the wedding myself…

a frou frou wedding gown

Did I mention that I’m doing the alterations on Vicky’s wedding gown? Umm, yeah… and it’s been an interesting process so far! I was one of the fortunate few who was there when she found it – and wow, is it amazing! It’s a Reem Acra gown – pure silk satin, with some lovely embroidery and a touch of beading and sparkle.  (As a side note, she bought it at Vows in Watertown, MA… and I am so going back there to find a dress for myself sometime soon… well, unless I decide to go back to making my gown. Put that’s another tale for another day…)

Anyway, she came by last week, gown in hand, to get fitted and decide on the hem length. Well, the bodice needs some alteration above the bust point along each of the front princess seams. No big deal, right? Yeah.

Post alteration... all the bits are pinned in place waiting to be tacked down.

So, nearly four hours later, the bodice is mostly altered (I just broke a machine needle and decided that was a good stopping point) with the following remaining to do:

  • right side lining needing to be taken in
  • the right side canvas interlining needs to be basted back to the interfacing layer
  • right side top edges sewn back together
  • the lining understitched along the top edge
  • lower edge of bodice lining stitched to skirt lining
  • bar tack along the outside edge of each front princess seam to keep lining from rolling out
  • all the embroidery and beading handstitched back in place on the gown front

It took some patience to remove the tacking stitches without wrecking the netting or embroidery!

And THEN we can start on the hem. Yikes. Actually the above should go pretty quickly – the toughest part was removing all the tacking stitches on the embroidery and then rearranging them back over the altered piece. A bit of trial and error on the first side, but now that it’s almost finished, I’m very happy with the results.

The only thing I’m not enjoying is all the bodice layers – 5 all together, plus the embroidery and some interior boning in a few places.  On one hand I love seeing how the gown is constructed. On the other, it’s a b*%@# to take apart and put back together. The embroidery was done on very fine netting, but much of the netting is cut away so that the embroidery appears to be on the surface of the gown. This means that in some places, the individual motifs that were cut to close to the netting are starting to come undone and each individual stitch needs to be tacked back down. Such fun, eh?

The next outside layer is the silk satin and that’s underlined with silk organza. Easy enough – except that they are both slippery.

the guts... all six layers

The interfacing layer is a dense but soft canvas – not one I recognize – and it duplicates the bodice in shape but as a separate and distinct layer. Each seam is pressed open and stitched 1/8″ away from either side of every seam, through the seam allowance. Sew through boning is added to most seams, but stops below the bust along the princess seam. There are also extra pieces in the back and at center front. There’s also a piece of tightly woven canvas (feels similar to waistband interfacing) that is basted to wrong side of the interfacing layer, about 1/4″ below the top seam line. That piece is about 2″ wide and extends from side seam to side seam across the front.

Last is the lining – a regular synthetic lining – really pretty basic… and of course, annoying to press as most synthetics are!

Plus many of the layers were basted together – embroidery to top layer, underlining to silk, those three layers to the interfacing – before being sewn and then understitched along the top edge.

However, any small annoyances aside – it’s fun to work on such a gorgeous gown. And despite some of the challenges of working with a gown that is so well made… well, I can’t help but enjoy learning about what went into making it! (Oh and there are photos… but as usual I can’t find the card reader to transfer the pictures. ugh!)

**Edit** Photos finally added!