one pattern, three ways: mccall’s 7163 (and a tutorial)

This may come as a surprise, but I love trends. I love following them, I love watching the industry evolve and grow, and I enjoy watching the somewhat predictable cycles of styles go in and out of fashion (flared jeans are coming back, you guys!). The trick with “trends” is making the ones you really like work for you. Some trends are worth figuring out for yourself because they’re that fun or cute, and some are here and gone so fast–usually because they’re terrible–that all we really need to do is watch them crash and burn. (Anyone remember the ridiculous exaggerated shoulders and epaulettes on jackets a few years ago? Or the huge monograms on handbags that were around for a second one season? Yeah, either you have no idea or you do remember because they were so absurd.)

In college, I took a fashion forecasting course (one of my favorites), and that class had an immersive component to it where we studied in Paris and London one summer. (It happened to be the summer that Yves Saint Laurent died. We were in Paris the day of his funeral, and a couple of us braved the crowds to get as close as we could to the cathedral for the service. We watched Valentino and Armani walk right by us. I will never forget that day, but that’s a post for another time.) Being in Paris and London and studying in real time and up close what was happening in street wear and in the shop windows there was incredibly interesting. The next big thing in trends usually hits the European market before it finds us in the US, and there’s usually some clues about what’s going to happen next if you watch closely enough.

This year, we’re seeing a few different things as far as trends go, but sleeves are a big, big trend (the more interesting and detailed, the better), and off-the-shoulder, ruffled blouses are everywhere. Everywhere. I happen to like this trend, because it’s a nice alternative to silly tank tops and it’s a fun option for warm weather. The more billowy the top, the more air is able to flow around you. Plus, they’re cute and anyone can wear them. I thought I’d give this trend a spin, and in my search for a pattern came across a pattern from the McCall’s catalog that is a few seasons old, but no less adorable or on trend.

I first made this pattern in a floral cotton sateen I had in my stash. I made a dress using the same fabric last summer, so this was a great use of what I had left over, plus it’s always nice to see a fabric more than once in a collection, and you know that’s what I’m all about when I sew. Instead of making changes to the pattern right away, I cut it as is, view D. Talk about an easy project!

the sequin skirt

The subject of today’s post is not practical. It’s not an afternoon project, and it’s not really a project for beginner sewers.  It’s not something that will be worn more than a handful of times in its lifetime, and the cost-per-wear value is almost nonexistent. This skirt is not a lot of things but none of that matters, because this skirt is magnificent. It’s the every-once-in-a-while “treat” project, where we indulge ourselves a little and buy the pricey fabric and really invest the time into crafting and building a quality item of clothing. A special item, to be worn when you want to look and feel like a million bucks.

There’s a history behind this skirt. I designed the original, which I named ‘Charlotte’, a few years ago after seeing a truly special sequin fabric and envisioning a floor length skirt for myself out of it. A few months later, I included it in a spring collection as a test to see how customers would respond to it, and it was a hit. It was the single most expensive garment in the line to produce so eventually we had to stop selling it, but I’ve carried a torch for that skirt for years.

Late last year, I decided it was finally time to make one for myself, only it wouldn’t be floor length. I thought a lot about the length for this skirt. Floor length is obviously more elegant and showstopping, but it’s completely impractical. I mean, let’s all consider for a moment just how ridiculously impractical it really is. Where on earth would I ever wear a floor length sequin skirt? Even the semi-formal events that pop up on the calendar every once in a while certainly don’t call for a floor length skirt like this. Plus, it’s kind of a pain to wear, as skirts like this sometimes are. You’re constantly picking it up to walk up and down stairs or get in and out of a car, and it has an annoying way of trapping all the heat on earth underneath the skirt, surrounding your legs in suffocating temperatures more unbearable than Texas in July. But boy is it pretty.

Letting go of that design broke my heart just a little bit, because the shorter length doesn’t quite have that wow factor that the maxi has, but it still packs a punch. For me, the midi length is more versatile. I can style it for parties or formal events, but it also works for a special date night. It’s also appropriate year round in Texas, which is an important thing to consider when you invest so much time into making your clothes.

I wanted a skirt with some volume to it, but nothing too enormous. I drafted a half circle and that, the simple yet chic half circle, is the pattern for this skirt. (For more information on drafting this pattern, see this post from January.) The fabric is a sequin “cracked iced” design on white mesh, which I got from Fabrics World in NYC. I treated the sequin fabric like an eyelet or lace and underlined it in a bottomweight white twill, to help with support and give the skirt some body. The hem is finished with a facing, which is fully interfaced. The skirt is lined in bemberg rayon and I put an exposed zipper in the back. I did this for two reasons: there’s no chance of the fabric catching on the zipper, and it was the easiest zipper application for this skirt. Also, it matches and looks pretty great. I originally thought about using horsehair braid in the hem (which is why my facing is 6″ wide), but in the end decided there was no need. The skirt has just the right amount of volume in it.

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!