And still I need a MOH dress and to sew summer clothes as many things I currently have are worn out. And I need to alter the summer reading program t-shirts. All before June 8.
Finally, finally, after much figurative pulling of hair, the MOH dress is finished. I hope the bride (my sister) approves. She said knee-length that you would wear to a dressy date. All the bridesmaid dresses in stores either have lace or draping. I don't know how to do the folded/pleated/draped parts and I couldn't find lace in the color she wanted. It takes forever for me to get a pattern to fit and I have better outcomes when I sew knits than when I sew wovens, so buying a pattern wasn't a feasible option at this point.
The wedding is June 10 in North Carolina, so I'm prepared for humid weather. I wanted an all-natural fabric like a linen or silk knit, but I can't afford $50 a yard when I need 2.5-3.0 yards for the dress. All cotton jersey didn't seem like it would have enough sheen for a more formal dress. And trying to match the color swatch my sister sent narrowed my choices even further. I ended up with this mystery-polyester knit from Jo-Anne's.
The base pattern for this dress is SBCC's Bronx. After I finally got the fit the way I wanted in more than five muslins, I started on The Dress.
In the interim, I also purchased a Janome Skyline S5 - the first sewing machine I ever bought and a big difference from the pre-1980 Kenmore I've used all these years. In some ways, the Kenmore is better, but I'm learning how to adjust to the Janome and the even-feed foot has been invaluable. The mechanical wailing of the Janome drives me crazy sometimes. That is my biggest complaint. I would think for over $1,000 they could figure out how to keep it quiet. Sometimes I have to turn the machine off because I can't take the sound anymore. Anyone who is sensitive to the humming of florescent lights or the refrigerator clicking or any other mechanical sound, be very careful about which sewing machine you purchase.
Anyway, I didn't want a sleeveless dress because I have 34-year-old arms and for the first time in my life am starting to feel aware of how they look. Hiking in a sleeveless shirt makes me feel strong, no matter the flab. A formal photo that will last "forever"? It makes me more self-conscious. Anyway, I really like fitted short sleeves, but didn't want to be matronly. I dislike cap sleeves because the hem has to sit just right or else it emphasizes the un-toned arm. I thought about petal sleeves and flared sleeves and other cap-sleeve variations, but nothing felt right. Then I saw Style Cassentials who had a shirt with a cap sleeve and a drop sleeve. "Ah, hah! That's an interesting detail," I thought, "I bet I could create that!"
And so I did. It might not be the "right" way, but it works. I cut two rectangles (for one drop sleeve) and sewed them right sides together, leaving an opening and turning so that both sides of the rectangle were right side out. I carefully stitched so that the seamline would stay on the "inside." I meticulously measured and pinned the pleats. I basted the drop sleeve into the arm scye, being careful to have the pleats face down on both sleeves. Somehow, the pleats are not in the same place from sleeve to sleeve and the seamline is on the outside on one. I think I did these twice and finally said enough. I sewed the cap sleeve on and the result was acceptable. I don't know if it looks weird or interesting, but my thought was that in lieu of fancy fabric, I need details to upgrade a rather simple dress. As long as it doesn't look old-fashioned in the bad sense or the other bridesmaids don't have super fancy dresses with glitter and glitz, I think I like these sleeves.
I spent a lot of time sewing things well. The construction on this is probably the best I've done, even better than on my own wedding dress. Part of the motivation for the extra care was that this fabric is horrible to work with in the sense that any cut edge runs like a nylon stocking and taking out a seam is sure to leave a hole somewhere. In order to deal with that, I ended up hand stitching many things. I hate hand sewing, but there was no way around it. My quest for good construction to compensate for poor materials actually made the hand sewing not so bad. I hand mended the holes and they are all mostly hidden except for one on the shoulder, right by the neckline.
In the end, I couldn't live with that, so I cut the neckline lower to get rid of the mended part and came up with a new way of finishing the neckline. I have a horrible time with neckline bindings. If I want the neckline to lie flat, I have to fold over the fabric and top stitch, forgoing the binding. But after cutting out the damaged part, the neckline was lower than I liked. So I cut a new binding and finished one edge with a scant 0.25-inch hem. The other I sewed right sides together to the neckline. I left the binding loose and am hoping it will appear to be a sort of draped, baby-cowl effect.
I put in pockets because I can't have a garment without pockets. I messed up and it makes the sides stick out a bit. I hope it doesn't emphasize large hips, but instead flows into the flared circle skirt.
That's another alteration. I added six inches of slash-and-spread flare to the front and back Bronx skirts.
Despite all my careful measuring on the muslins, the skirt on this dress is about 0.75 inches shorter than I like. I want it to hit exactly mid-knee. To compensate, I made the smallest hem possible. I carefully cut 0.25-inch strips of sheer fusible interfacing and attached them to the hem. Thanks to Sewing on the Edge for the inspiration. I used that as a guide to fold up the hem 0.25 inches and hand stitched the hem. Hand stitched nearly three yards! Once I figured out which stitch I preferred, thanks to the guide on the Colette Blog, it went faster than I expected.
Between starting this dress and finishing it, I lost almost 8 pounds - enough that the dress needed to be taken in on the front only. I carefully measured and pinned and measured again. Then I hand-stitched folds in place. From a distance they look like bust-waist darts. I think it adds another detail to increase the formality of the dress. I hope.
I hand-crocheted thread chains to keep the pockets facing towards the front.
My sister said that she wanted the dresses to have sparkly silver accents. So I bought materials to make a belt. And then couldn't figure out how to get the belt closure to work, so the closure is safety pinned in this photo. I think the pins are hidden with only the bar showing and that blends into the sequined sparkle. I hope.
To keep the belt in place, because I dislike when the waist seam rides above or below the belt, I hand-crocheted thread chain belt loops and placed them where I think they serve best. I put in six chains in all. For the ones that aren't on a seam, I put in lightweight interfacing because I wasn't certain if this fabric could hold the weight of a thread chain, never mind a belt, without ripping. Well, I missed something because one end of each chain is not on the interfacing. Oh, well.
The fabric has static when I wear it. I need a slip, but it never made sense to me to have a straight slip if you are wearing a full skirt.
So I decided to make a slip and ordered true silk charmeuse in silver. I have to make a muslin in woven fabric to be sure my idea will work, but I plan to make the skirt of this dress with an elastic waistline. That way, the skirt and slip will have the same fullness. The one problem I foresee is that when I make skirts, no matter how I size the waist, it always ends up sitting on my hips. I'm thinking to add snaps to the inside waist of the dress and to the slip (which I also hope to wear as a skirt) so that the slip hem won't hang below the skirt hem. We'll see. I'm also hoping these two fabrics together won't create even more static.
It does bother me that the back of this dress is so plain. In a wedding, people spend as much time looking at the back as they do the front. But RTW bridesmaid dresses don't have interesting backs, so I'm not going to stress over it.
Between the neckline problems, the pocket problems, and the too short hem, I got fed up and ordered a cotton-lycra jersey to remake the dress. I couldn't find a pure cotton in this color. This color was almost impossible to find in anything but polyester or poly-blends. For the new dress, I plan to put in short, fitted sleeves and a neckline detail. I'll let my sister choose which she likes better.
The jewelry is old, but it sparkles and the shoes are from my wedding last year. I don't see any reason to buy new things that I will only wear once. (I wear the jewelry almost weekly, but I only wear heels once a year or so.) I'm still debating buying silver flats for the reception.
I am extremely thankful this dress is finished. I've been working on it for months and months and months. Yes, I want to sew another and a slip, but if worse comes to worst, I'll have a dress ready.
I still feel self-conscious about this dress. It may be well made and better fitting than a RTW, but when most people look for "quality," they look for glitter and layers. No one is going to look at this and croon over the hand-crocheted thread belt loops that hardly show or the nearly invisible hem. There are no lace or chiffon layers or glittering somethings or pleated bodices to detract from the loose threads, visible stitching, and sheer skirts of the (admittedly few) affordable RTW bridesmaid dresses I've seen. People like glitter and instead I give them quality. What was I thinking?!