I am sharing the making of a dress in case it is useful to others who are also on this sewing journey. From inspiration to final, I share it all, including the challenges, with you.
Lucy Liu starring as Joan Watson wears the most inspiring clothes in the tv series Elementary, particularly in Seasons 1 through 3. I love the organic sense of costume designer Rebecca Hoffher’s wardrobe choices.
While I only included one photo of Lucy Liu’s attire, I looked at several hundred images. All of that coalesced into a rough sketch of what I wanted to make. Looking back at it, it looks like a cross between Wonder Woman and an ice skater. Not quite en pointe but a place to start.
While the abstract prints, flowy above or at the knee-length dresses look amazing on Liu, the designs don’t have the same motion on my tall angular frame. They also lack some of the architectural nature that seems to inhabit my mindset. When selecting a pattern, I had the choice of designing my own or choosing a pre-made. I auditioned a few patterns and selected Emanuel Ungaro’s Vogue 2842 because the garment had that missing element – structure. I thought that combining it with a fabric with some type of flow might fuse Hoffner’s intent with my frame and predisposition.
I made a muslin to practice making the pattern and to identify fit issues.
I auditioned 2 fabrics underneath the pattern pieces just to be sure but had a hunch that I would chose a panel fabric that I had purchased based on magnetic attraction at Mill Ends in Portland, Oregon. The ombre transition from dark to light and the lines shaped like ink run amok on partially wet paper provided motion and that sense of organic that I was looking for.
Typically, you would put the dark part of the ombre at the bottom of the dress. However, because my face is pale and my shoulders are strong, I put it at the top to provide contrast for my face and to outline my shoulders. As I pinned each pattern piece I made sure that the ombre transition points would line up vertically.
Selecting a thread color that would work on both the light and the dark areas of the fabric was challenging. I bought several, stitched them on both light and dark areas and chose the one that looked best in the dark areas.
At 35+ hours, 2 fabric panels, and 16 days, here’s where I was. No flounce yet. That’s next.
My muslin flounce was a puzzling mess. So I backed up and took the time to figure it out. The skirt had a total of 36 pleats, 18 on the front/top and 18 on the back/bottom. (One side folded under to self-face the flounce.) If the pleats are aligned vertically, the flounce lies very prim and proper with sharp angles. If the pleats are twisted in opposite directions you get much more volume. And if you offset the top from the bottom by one or two pleats you get even more volume.
I ran out of fabric and bought the last (3rd) yard on the bolt to just barely piece the flounce. I wasn’t really sure where those dark areas would end up but I didn’t have a lot of layout options.
Fortunately, the piecing seams were not apparent once pleated. To give the flounce more body I used a 4″ offset when folded. The dark areas need to be positioned intentionally on the bodice. I put them at the sides.
Serendipitously, I found just the right buttons at Artists and Craftsman Supply in Portland, Oregon, on the sale rack no less. They were even hand-dyed. The color is Dorian’s Gray. I ended up needing another pack which I ordered from Button Up!
While it’s a bit cold outside to wear a sleeveless short dress, I find that with a pair of Uniqlo Heat Tech tights I can stay relatively warm while inside. Someday I will have a better photo, but I quit trying after about 20 attempts and just decided to go with what I have.
Update: Recently, I had the opportunity to wear this dress to my friend’s summer birthday party. It was a hit!
While I completed most of this work using the facilities at Maker Nexus in Sunnyvale, several groups of sewing friends supported me with advice, guidance and encouragement during this 60-hour project.
- Ronda Chaney, Director of the Cañada Fashion Department, gave me excellent muslin fit and flounce fabric advice.
- The Sunnyvale Sewing Group of accomplished sewistsas led by Edith Barr patiently listened to my updates and progress. Mary Ann and Michelle in particular gave me encouraging words over the weeks.
- And my sewing friends from the Techniques of Fit class, Vera Swanson, Sue Gill and Sue Richardson, are directly responsible for me not giving up on the flounce.
Thank you all!