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Bridesmaid Deconstructed, Ottobre

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And today, the Bridesmaid Dress Reinvention Saga draws to a close.

Having already made an exceptionally successful skirt, I wasn’t terribly concerned about what to make of the remaining bridesmaid dress fabric. While there was one layer of lining left, I was satisfied that the effort of cutting apart the dress had already been rewarded. Yet the question remained: What do you do with bridesmaid dress fabric when you have already made a skirt? As the earlier attempt to make a strapless top had mixed results, a top of some sort seemed logical.

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The pattern of choice ended up being a classic shell with a good square neckline and sensible looking darts.  Nothing earth-shattering here, but a simple and flattering pattern for a classic sleeveless top is an infinitely useful pattern to have on hand. I did not have any delusions that it would turn out perfectly, especially after how fantastic the skirt came out (success like that tends to be followed by disaster). However, I did hope for a wearable muslin, a test run of the pattern, so to speak.

The pattern hails from the Fall 2009 issue of a European sewing magazine, Ottobre. It is alternately referred to as the Carmen top or Pattern #11 in the magazine. Ottobre is one of those sewing magazines with shiny, pretty pictures of people wearing the patterns all sewn up and with the patterns themselves torturously mashed on top of each other on one or two big pattern sheets hidden in the back. For this reason, and this reason alone, nothing had been made out of the magazine previously, despite some very wearable options.

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I worked with a color copy of the nightmarish pattern sheet, tracing out the pieces onto a roll of brown craft paper. This was a very necessary step as many of the pattern pieces for each pattern overlap each other. You can see the back pattern piece in the picture above. I was trying to follow the orange lines. I knew that all the orange lines belonged to my pattern pieces which helped… a little. They were utter insanity to trace. I don’t know if these kinds of patterns get easier to work with the more you use them, but it felt like a practise in absurdity. Has Ottobre been conducting a social experiment in which they try to give their readers migraines and seizures?

Certain failures in my pattern-copying skills led to two notable omissions:

1. I left out the paired waist darts on the front piece. This first mistake ended up being a mercy because it helped mitigate the severity of the second mistake.

2. I forgot to add seam allowances to the pattern pieces. For whatever reason, Ottobre and many other European pattern companies do not include a seam allowance in their drafted patterns. The seam allowance is the bit of extra room at the edges of a pattern piece that provides a space for the seam to be sewn. To deal with my lack of seam allowances, I just made the seams as narrow as possible to minimize the amount of fabric taken away from the space of the garment. This isn’t a huge problem for the most part, but the shoulder straps are too short now. Leaving off the front waist darts leaves just enough ease through the torso to make it wearable.

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The end result fits better than it has any right to fit. I am reasonably certain that if I had added seam allowances like I should have, the top would have fit nearly perfectly. As it is, the bust darts are too high, the shoulders could use a smidge more room, and overall, wearing it enforces uncomfortably perfect posture. So, it is a wearable muslin. I am satisfied with the project, especially since it’s not as if I lost anything by goofing up leftover lining fabric.

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As soon as I finished sewing my new green top, the first thing I did was make new pattern pieces with all of the darts marked, and most importantly, SEAM ALLOWANCES. Thank goodness for big rolls of wrapping paper.

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I want to wear my green top a few more times to work out the fit issues. Mostly, the added ease of actual seam allowances should get me to a sensibly fitting garment. I have some drapey magenta  fabric in mind for another attempt at getting this pattern right.

Verdict? somewhat mixed results, but still wearable and useful. The pattern is solid, so next time, with actual seam allowances, should be even better. Working with the remains of my bridesmaid dress pushed me to look at fabric differently, and I certainly learned a good bit about persuading slippery fabrics to behave.

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Bridesmaid Deconstructed, Vogue 7798

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What is the perfect skirt?

The answer to such a question is, of course, highly subjective. Yet certain qualities would likely be desirable to a substantial segment of skirt-wearers: comfort, versatility, and aesthetic appeal. Does the skirt fit correctly without unduly restricting movement? Does it work well with a variety of clothing combinations and for a variety of settings? Does it look appealing on a hanger? on the person wearing it? Does it, through some arcane means, confer upon the wearer the suspicion that they are in fact wearing the platonic ideal of skirts? Different skirt-wearers will undoubtedly come to different conclusions about such questions depending on the skirt involved.

But folks, I think I’ve found my perfect skirt.

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Last time, by applying scissors to my bridesmaid dress, I ended up with a strapless top and a pile of fabric. My primary goal for that pile of fabric was a skirt which maintained the charm of all those yards of swishing chiffon. At the same time, I was hesitant to duplicate the ruffles that I so disliked in the strapless top.

My first thought was to make a two layered skirt – the bottom layer a simple, straight skirt and the top layer gathered chiffon, but not so tightly gathered as in the bridesmaid dress. This would have involved making the pattern up as I went along and quite a bit of trial and error to get the gathers just right. But that approach would involve math, measuring and alot of luck, and frankly, I had never worked with anything remotely as slippery as chiffon before. It’s a squirmy beast to cut out and to sew with, and while I love a sewing experiment, they tend to come out better when there are fewer variables in play.

Vogue 7798: surprisingly excellent casual skirt

Vogue 7798: surprise casual skirt

This was when my Mom suggested Vogue 7798, a pattern that had been languishing in my parent’s basement since 2003. For whatever reason, it had never been made up despite being a perfectly respectable set of dressy separates. I will admit, I looked at my mother like she was crazy – wasn’t the goal to NOT end up with a formal, floor-length skirt? But she was, as she so often is, perfectly correct. The skirt pattern was made with precisely this kind of dressy fabric in mind, it had layers built into the pattern already, and it was easily hacked off at the knees for a much more casual and functional look.

The skirt has a narrow waist band and nice lines, despite its bland appearance on the pattern picture front. I used the pattern pieces, but completely ignored the directions (that’s a shock). I kept the center back seam of the skirt from the bridesmaid dress because that made one less seam to sew. Of course, this left a bit of a challenge for figuring out what to do with the center back zipper. What I ended up doing for the zipper finish was a centered standard zippper in the bottom layer and a rolled edging to the top layer of chiffon. I did that bit by hand and learned as I went – it’s not the prettiest, but it is serviceable.DSCN3561I will confess that I used a… nontraditional approach to hemming this skirt. As you can see above, I finished everything else in the skirt before hemming it, which is pretty standard. The wildly uneven bottom edge came about from my insane method for cutting across the bottom of the pattern pieces. When I was cutting out the skirt pieces, I got frustrated working with the slippery lining fabric and the chiffon. It just kept moving every time I cut it! By the time I got to the bottom of the skirt pieces, I was so annoyed that I guesstimated the length of the skirt and just quickly cut straight across (a word to the wise: Don’t Do This At Home). You can see the varied resulting lengths in the picture above. In order to fix my mess, I needed to true the hem. You get the most accurate results for a straight and even hemline by putting on the skirt or dress in question and having someone else measure and mark a consistent distance from the floor.

measuring hemsI took the lazy but practical approach of measuring and marking an even length from the waistband. You end up with nearly the same result with much less fuss. The hem itself was just each layer folded over twice and stitched down, as narrowly as possible. I think my slightly uneven hem is actually an asset in this skirt. It shows off the layers and gives the skirt more movement.

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Having worn it a time or two, I am still pleased as punch with the result. The skirt has great lines and hits a middle ground between a full A-line skirt and a narrow pencil skirt. I think you could cut off the skirt in this pattern at pretty much any length and still get a nice result. It is comfortable and not restrictive, but it still feels neat and sleek. I will admit that I have already made up this pattern in a polka dot fabric and it is similarly delightful (more on that later).

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The skirt doesn’t need a slip, what with the layers, but it isn’t very wearable with stockings. This skirt will be seeing the outside of my closet much more when it warms up.

DSCN3638Bridesmaid Dress Reinvention Part Two: Success. One more adventure to come! There is one more layer of dress lining to use up and more pictures of green clothing in a green room on a gray day to squint at. Stay tuned!

Bridesmaid Dress, Deconstructed

This past October I had the honor of being a bridesmaid in my dear friend Megan’s wedding. It was a lovely, lovely day. The bride and groom were married in a sweet ceremony, the weather cooperated…

and I found wearing the floor-length, strapless chiffon gown to be much more comfortable than anticipated. Huzzah!

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Congrats!

However, I don’t find much call for floor-length, strapless chiffon gowns in my daily life. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have much call for a strapless, knee-length dress either, at least not in comparison with a swishy skirt. I like my clothes to be both pretty AND useful. Fortunately, the shade of green is charming and the bodice fits perfectly. I can work with this.

The first thing I did was toss the whole thing in the washing machine on a gentle cycle. This was a calculated risk. While the care tag indicates dry clean only, the fiber content is a polyester/cotton blend which, in theory, should be perfectly washable. Moreover, I have no desire to be putting the time and effort into modifying or making something that needs to be dry cleaned regularly. I have no problem hand washing things, but dry cleaning just isn’t going to happen. Happily, the dress survived the wash, and all the mysterious stains acquired while wearing it all day indoors and outdoors, around food, in the grass, and on playground equipment washed away. Mind you, I had some terrified moments while the chiffon layer was drying until I realised the weird splotches were just the water evaporating unevenly.

My initial scheme was to cut off the dress at the hip, hem the top half to make a corset-top sort of thing and make a ruffley skirt from the rest of the dress. Strapless isn’t really my thing, but it seemed a waste not to take advantage of the excellent and comfortable fit that I had through the torso. Peplums are apparently big right now, so if there would ever be a time for such a top, this would be it. For the skirt I was envisioning something knee length and swishy, with lots of gathers. Something a bit like this:chiffon skirt1The plan was to use the lining of the dress for the under layer and the backing of the waist – the structure of the skirt, really – and the chiffon would get gathered and sewn to the underlayer. Of course, this plan did not survive contact with reality.

The first thing I did was separate the top part of the dress from the rest of the fabric that would be used to make the skirt. I painstakingly measured down six inches from the waist, keeping this length as even as possible all the way around. I had decided somewhat arbitrarily that this was the correct length for the top.

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While cutting the dress apart, I got to see some interesting dress construction options. You can see the very bottom of the bodice boning in the picture below as well as the lower lining layer. There were TWO underlayers to this dress, which seemed odd at first, but made more sense once I saw how the bodice attached to the skirt part. The lower layer is attached much more roughly and really is a lining, while the upper layer is a finished skirt and the chiffon layer is a second, highly gathered, finished skirt.

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The dress zipper was longer than the top section I cut off, which made things a bit awkward, but zippers are easily shortened when necessary. Once I had cut everything off as evenly as possible, I popped it on to check if my crazy scheme had worked. There’s no sense in hemming three layers of fabric if it doesn’t work.

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I suppose that it did, for certain values of “working.” It still fit comfortably.

DSCN3505And it did not look completely ridiculous with a cardigan…

But no. Just no.

It’s so ruffle-y and odd looking and it looks like I cut off the top of a bridesmaid dress. While this is precisely what happened, the goal was to get something that did not look like the cut-off top of a bridesmaid dress. I think the real problem here is that the layers of ruffles and pouffiness work in the dress because they are held down by the weight of the additional fabric. Without all that length, the proportions are off and there is nothing pulling the layers down.

Also, I may be coming to grips with the fact that I do not like ruffles. Ruffles are perfectly fine on other people, but they are not for me. Looking at the pictures now, I can objectives say it’s not terrible, but I know I would never wear it as is. Perhaps I will play around with it again someday.

In short, the first attempt at reworking the bridesmaid dress for day wear was a failure. But this is not cause for discouragement! Just look at all this fabric:

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I can get into all sorts of trouble with that.

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