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Category: style

progress report: the cocktail dress

When it comes to my sewing projects, I don’t dilly dally. I usually have the vision for something long before the sewing actually begins, and it’s easy for me to think of appropriate garments for specific occasions or seasons. There are small changes or adjustments that happen along the way, but it’s usually smooth sailing. However, every once in a while, a challenge comes along that makes me question all of that. Really makes me go, “Wow, Emily, do you have any idea what you’re doing . . . at all? Get it together, girl!” The cocktail dress I’m previewing in this post is that very project. It sent me into overthink-it-all-day-and-change-your-mind-a-million-times-oh-good-heavens-what-are-you-doing overdrive. I have a good laugh thinking about all the hemming and hawing that went down last week trying to figure this thing out. Sleeves? No sleeves? Super full skirt? Something sleeker? Whatever you do, don’t mess it up!

When I first posted about our Florida trip, I mentioned that I still wasn’t sure about the direction for the cocktail dress. The afternoon after that post went live, it came to me. I remembered a pattern from my stash, and everything seemed to fall into place.

I spent the better part of the next day excitedly cutting out the pattern and sewing a muslin for the bodice. I wanted to make the dress with the faux wrap and full skirt (view A, the gold dress). It’s gorgeous, right? I made a couple small changes to the pattern after the first muslin and quickly made another one to make sure the adjustments were correct. The fit was good and the design was great, but something was missing. Do you ever have a feeling that something is just off in the middle of a project? That it’s just not sitting well with you? I couldn’t get past how “young” I thought the dress was going to look. I kept looking at my fabric (the one constant throughout this process; I love that fabric and I was going to use it for this dress no matter what) and thinking that something about the dress felt too “sweet”, too “precious.” A cocktail dress can be a lot of things–and I’m already going against the “typical” look of a cocktail dress here–but precious and sweet are not two words I associate with a cocktail dress. So, I went with my gut and I scrapped it.

Side note about that pattern, because a few of you have asked me about it. I love it a lot, and I have every intention of making it later this spring/summer. I really liked the fit, and I think it will be a fun, girly dress. Maybe in linen? Anyway, I’ll revisit it later this year.

During the couple of days I spent thinking about whether or not to put sleeves on the dress (I am more comfortable in a dress with sleeves), I sewed a sleeve on the muslin to see if I liked it or if it fixed whatever was off about the dress. That sleeve sealed the deal for me. I was convinced I would look like a toddler in a big pink and yellow floral dress with sleeves and a bow around the waist, walking around the event among all the adults in their grown up clothes sipping their sophisticated cocktails, everyone wondering who on earth invited the child to the party.

My original idea for this dress was a mix of patterns, a hybrid, if you will. I’m still obsessed with the skirt I made in January using Butterick 6129, so I knew I wanted to make that again. For the bodice, I kept going back to the idea of something simple, but well fitting. I wanted a sleek silhouette and a full, but not huge, skirt. The fabric is far too pretty to waste it on a simple sheath dress.

Not to get too off subject here, but here’s my contribution to the dressing-modestly-and-still-looking-hot conversation: the fit of your clothes is where the sophistication comes into play. If you’re more comfortable in something that covers more skin, just make sure it fits you well. You can play up your assets and the things you love about your body in a way that highlights them without giving away the farm. No one likes the girl who gives away the farm.

So, back to the dress. I drafted a simple bodice using my slopers, and adjusted the B6129 skirt to match it, making sure the pleat on the skirt would line up with the princess seam on the bodice. I knew I would be interfacing the dress for additional support and to build in extra volume, so I also made sure to add extra ease around the waist to accommodate the additional bulk created by the extra layer.

This fabric is a medium weight poly/rayon brocade blend with beautiful drape. There isn’t quite enough volume there on its own, so I planned to encourage that a little bit. Interfacing the skirt and hem band pieces added just enough support and stability to give it the extra oomph I wanted. For the bodice, I interfaced muslin and basted the fashion fabric to that. I wanted to sew four or five yards of netting into the skirt, but the interfacing did the trick, eliminating the need for the netting.

I cut the interfacing out of the shoulder, princess, and side seams to keep those areas from getting too bulky.

In an effort to save fabric (I have enough of this gorgeous brocade left to make a pencil skirt!), I decided to cut the hem facing out of a lightweight coral twill I have leftover from my business days. I had about 3 yards, and I cannot believe how perfectly it matches the coral in the brocade. I like using a contrasting or coordinating color for a hem facing sometimes, because it’s a fun surprise when you get a little peek of the color. Plus, I’m all about sewing a little personality into your garments. That makes it fun!

Here you can see the interfacing on the skirt and hem band, and the still-to-be-finished hem facing in coral twill. I may or may not insert horsehair braid into the hem facing to help the skirt stand out even more. Still thinking about that.

I went with an invisible zipper, and I also drafted a facing for the bodice. I’m usinng bemberg rayon to line the bodice, and cotton to line the skirt.

For the hem band, I used the wrong side of the fabric to introduce some visual interest on the skirt.

So, I’m in the homestretch now, and I’ll have this finished in plenty of time to take to Florida next week. The takeaway of this post? Listen to your gut and trust your instincts. Investing the time into creating a quality garment that you love is worth it every time. I’m so glad I changed course and really thought what type of garment would be best for me and this occasion. I couldn’t be happier with the dress, and I can’t wait to finish it and wear it soon.

If you have any great stories about similar adventures in sewing that made you want to pull out your hair, I’m all ears!

Happy Sewing!

the stash collection: vogue 9197

I’ve had so much fun this week. It’s always rewarding to have a group of projects finished and ready to show you. Sewing clothes can be quite a process, so it’s nice when it comes full circle. Today, I’m going to chat about this striped dress, a Vogue 9197 pattern, which is the last item I’m going to spotlight from the stash collection. The other two items, the denim skirt and white popover blouse (Vogue 1486 an Butterick 5997, respectively) will have their day in the sun in the coming weeks. I’m working on another version of those items, so we’ll dedicate a blog post to each one when everything is ready.

Next week is a big week. I’m making a huge, blog-related announcement (it’s all I can do to not spill the beans right here and now!), and I’ve also got a tutorial to share and a fun “ideas” post for an upcoming collection. So, come back next week. Big things are happening!

Now, let’s talk about this dress. It’s another pattern repeat–you saw the first version back in December. Funny enough, that wasn’t even the first time I made this pattern. Last fall, when the pattern came out, I made it in a summery floral sateen with a self-drafted full circle skirt, and it remains one of my favorite pieces. The thing about this pattern is that it’s simple, versatile, and super, super flattering. The bodice is fitted with a French dart and a nice sleeve, and I appreciate the high neckline because it covers that pesky scar of mine on my lower neck. I love finding a pattern that fits well that can be translated into so many different dresses, and I went with this pattern again for this dress because I knew it would showcase the stripes in an interesting way.

I’ve had this striped sateen for something like a year and half, always having it in the back of my mind waiting for the project to fall into place. I decided to cut the bodice and sleeves with the stripes going horizontally with vertical stripes on the skirt. After playing with the fabric on the dress form, I thought it would be utterly fantastic to make this dress a maxi. You’ll notice that none of the dress is actually sewn yet. I like to pin pieces on the form to get an idea for print placement, and that’s what I was doing here. I loved the longer length, but once I actually cut the skirt pieces and attached them to the bodice, the idea didn’t translate. I tried it on and knew something was off, so I ended up ignoring it for a few days while I put my finger on what it was that bothered me so much.

I felt like the maxi length was dowdy and a little sad, so I took off about 18″ to make it midi length. To me, it feels much more youthful and fresh at that length. I’m still dreaming about a striped maxi dress though, so we’ll see what I can come up with this summer. For now, I’m pretty pleased with this cute little dress.

Before cutting the dress, I spent some time thinking about the stripe placement on the bodice. By having the navy stripe concentrated slightly above the bust, the eye goes there, which creates a nice visual–the stripes around the shoulders balance out the fullness of the skirt, and the waist is nicely cinched in. I think I could have brought the stripe down just a hair on the bodice. The white space across the bust gives the illusion of a fuller bust.

I did not use the skirt pattern from the envelope; instead, I cut three rectangles and sewed them together to make the skirt. That’s one thing that’s always, always bothered me about working with stripes: if you use a shaped skirt pattern, the print gets kind of wonky. I didn’t want that. I wanted the print on the skirt to remain vertical. I had about 2 1/4 yards of fabric left to use for the skirt, so I divided it evenly, cut it, and then sewed it just like I would a regular skirt piece. It’s a dirndl skirt, which is essentially a rectangular piece.

I used an invisible zipper and matched the stripe as closely as possible. Because it’s an uneven stripe with a painted effect, it’s next to impossible to get it to match perfectly but you can still get pretty close. To help insert my zipper in the right spot so the stripe matched, I used a double sided basting tape to hold the zipper in place. Basting works well too, but the tape is a little easier to work with. It doesn’t gum up your needle or sewing machine, and it washes out in the washing machine. Easy! (More on this tape and installing zippers later. If you’re interested in the tape, it’s called Wash Away Wonder Tape, by Dritz. Lifesaver!)

I’m happy with how well this dress turned out, but I’m even happier with the collection as a whole. The challenge of using stash fabrics to make this group of garments was a great way to start a new year. Now I’m looking forward to spring! See y’all next week!

the stash collection: butterick 6129

When you set out to create a new wardrobe essentially from scratch, as I did last year, you learn some things about yourself along the way. It’s impossible not to, what with the challenges you inevitably face throughout the process, the time invested into each stitch, the thought and care that goes into each garment. None of these concepts were new to me, as I’m sure they’re not new to you. When you’re creating something worthwhile with your own two hands, it’s a prospect that comes with its own set of uphill battles and special set of rewards and satisfaction. What’s still new to me–and an absolute delight, I must say–is having the chance to create something for myself, without the pressure of trying to sell it or worrying about deadlines or stressing out about consumer response. Design and fashion and sewing are fun for me again. It’s a reminder to never let this thing I love and enjoy so much become a burden, like it was for a long time.

Making clothes takes time and I haven’t yet met all my wardrobe needs, but I’ve made a big, healthy dent in my to-do list. Over the past few months, I’ve learned that there a a few things I like to do to help keep me engaged in sewing, and one of those things is creating collections of projects. I like the challenge of “playing designer” and putting fabrics together and thinking about texture and pattern and movement. It keeps me on my toes, and I don’t have to tell you how fun it is to spend a couple of days playing with fabrics and carefully choosing patterns. Anyway, I knew after Christmas that I wanted to do something that sort of cleansed my palette, if you will. No big, exciting color stories yet, no new fabrics. The first collection of the year would be simple and classic–and I would use only fabrics from my stash.

You see, my birthday is in January and, even as a grown woman, I still get a little cash for Christmas and my birthday. Do I save it like the adult in me says is the smart play? Do I buy legit things like groceries or gas or other necessary household items? Of course not, who do you think I am?! I buy fabric, because I am the person who cannot turn down the opportunity to freshen up my stash a little bit. Now, I like to balance the scales whenever I buy new fabrics, so I make myself use some of what I already have before treating myself with the new goods. That brings us to The Stash Collection, a group of projects I made using fabric I had in my stash. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that one fabric is new. In my defense, it was on mega sale for $4/yard, and it goes so perfectly in this group that I had to give it a pass. Had to! Coincidentally, it is the fabric for this first project, Butterick 6129. But first, the whole collection.

Left: top is Butterick 5997, skirt is Butterick 6129, a dress pattern I converted to a skirt.

Middle: top is Vogue 8772 (my favorite blouse pattern), skirt is Vogue 1486.

Right: Vogue 9197.

If making small collections for yourself is something you’d like to try, here’s a tip: choose your patterns carefully. Balance out a difficult or more time consuming garment with one or two easy pieces. In my case, the dress and converted skirt took the most time and attention, so I intentionally went with more simple blouses to keep from being too overwhelmed. I made all of these pieces in about 3.5 weeks.

In my stash I had some poplin shirting in white and navy with a bird print (from Amsterdam last spring), a striped sateen that I’ve had for ages, and a nice mid-weight dark denim that would make a beautiful skirt.