I had been frantically trying to finish up my ball gown for the big formal event of the year for my husband’s job, and I was on the last major construction seam a mere 45 minutes before the beginning of cocktail hour when my machine stopped working. The needle thread no longer cycled through the bobbin area and I was pretty sure I had knocked the timing out of whack. I was on the verge of a meltdown, but thankfully, having a backup machine came in handy as my Singer 401A stepped in to save my evening.
Please pardon the thousand wrinkles, the pictures were the following afternoon and I never re-pressed the dress because it needs some alterations before going to the cleaners. The seam puckering I had no idea about before taking pictures as it was not apparent in person and I had even tinkered to get the best tension possible on a scrap piece before doing the skirt seams. C’est la vie.
This is (modified) Vogue 2931, a Bellville Sassoon design that’s been in the pattern books since 2006. I don’t know how I had managed to overlook it before now (actually, I do, that fugly bow covering the bodice), but there were a bunch of mermaid and trumpet skirt shapes at the ball, so the silhouette did not feel at all dated.
Backing up, last spring I saw a Gorgeous Fabrics posting on Facebook about a clearance price on 100% silk duchesse satin. It was a wine color, and only $15 per yard. I waffled a bunch and in the end got four yards figuring that there was no way that I would need any more than that. ::snorts:: It arrived and the color was even nicer than on the computer monitor and I decided that I would see how my body shape was at the end of summer before committing to making a dress for this year’s function. Labor Day rolled around and I pulled out the fabric, really assessing the hand of it for the first time. My last formal dress made in 2010 was a column, and while pretty, it’s still in my closet and I didn’t want to duplicate the look. I went through my overstuffed pattern collection and looked at several designs that seemed more suited to crepe back satins and not my fabric, which I think stands upright of its own volition.
I found the seemingly perfect pattern with Burda 6866, but it’s labeled for stretch satins only, and it has a French dart, which I didn’t want to deal with for fitting purposes. Moreover, I decided that what I really wanted from it was the skirt, so then I went through Pattern Review’s database to see what sort of formalwear others had made with duchesse satin resembling that skirt and Vogue 2931 jumped out at me. It was the same kind of idea, but much more dramatically rendered. The wine red of my fabric begged to become this pattern right up until I dug into the fabric requirements and saw that it requires close to seven yards of 60” fabric. Undeterred, I cut out the pattern pieces in hopes of finding a more economical layout; but no matter what I tried, it wasn’t going to happen on the four yards I had on hand. I almost gave up at that point, as now it was less than two weeks out from the event, but I decided to give one last browse of sewing patterns online to see if I could find something reminiscent that was less of a fabric hog.
Enter Neue Mode 23374. I have no idea when the design itself is from, but it could be done on 3.125 yards of fabric, and I was prepared to overlook the fact that I was not feeling its bodice. It was my first PDF pattern experience and honestly, with a laser printer it’s not the printing consumption that bothers me, it’s the taping. It was a pain and I had lines that refused to match up on the horizontal axis, but the vertical axes were always dead on. Anyways, halfway through the never-ending evening of taping, I decided that I could use the Neue Mode skirt with the Vogue bodice as I had already decided to ditch the crazy bow on the Vogue dress. From there it was a short leap to overlaying the Neue Mode skirt pieces onto the Vogue ones to cut back on the amount of flaring at the hemline to see if the revised pieces would work with my fabric amount. Happily, it did.
For a project of this size, I made the lining first on a straight size 14 as it matched my bust measurements and my cup size has gone down and this dress does not have shoulders to worry about. I ended up swimming in it anyways. Then again, that’s why I did it in my lining first as I had enough to recut the bodice sections, which I knew would be the issue. That led to muslin number one using the foundation pattern pieces as a size 10 with a half-inch FBA. It was the right length to cover my bust, but too big at the same time, and simultaneously too small through my ribs. Fail. Try number two added more width on the side seams, which sort of helped, but now I was gaping along the neckline, which as low cut as this was running would be not good. I went through four muslins in the week leading up to the ball but getting nowhere on improving the fit as I couldn’t fix the weird wrinkling front and center of the bodice. At least I had assessed that the size 14 was necessary directly below the bodice seam, which allowed me to cut out the skirt sections in my satin Thursday night, less than 48 hours from my deadline.
Nice part about getting a good fit is that no matter what angle nothing untoward is visible. This picture is the closest to the actual color of the dress. For some reason it wants to photograph lighter and shinier in every other photo. The fabric has a gorgeous luster and is not overly shiny in person, but cameras seem to disagree with my Mk 1 Mod 0 eyeball
I had been having difficulty all week falling asleep at night worrying about how to fix the myriad of wrinkles that plagued each muslin iteration, so Friday morning, I decided on a different course of action. Me, two large pieces of muslin, straight pins and the bathroom mirror had a powwow. Two hours of tinkering later, I had a satisfactory answer. I created new bodice front and side front pieces, cut out the muslin, and redid the foundation. And after a week of struggle, it worked. I disassembled the muslin and cut out two sets in the lining and two sets in the satin. The pattern calls for using the lining for all of the foundation, but I wanted to use the fashion fabric instead, inspired by Catina’s work at patternhackfairy.com. Her postings on the Formalwear board at Pattern Review were the biggest help on getting this dress to completion and anyone looking at making anything strapless will find a wealth of useful information there.
After constructing the foundation part that would lay next to my skin, I used the muslin pieces as sew in interfacing for the lining side. It’s a nice timesaver and also my Bemberg likes to wiggle out of shape at the drop of a hat so knowing that the muslin pieces were definitely the correct shape was reassuring. I had bought a spray can of Mettler Fusible Webbing as a lark years ago and never used it, but it was awesome for keeping the pieces from sliding when basting the muslin to the lining. Then I sewed my boning channels to the muslin side and inserted the spiral steel boning at the spots indicated by the pattern with a single addition at center front for nine pieces of boning in total.
The white you see along the seamline is the muslin interfacing. Between that and the satin, the actual process of sewing together the foundation was so easy (no Bemberg trying to slide out of shape here). The foundation bottom has Hug Snug (badly) sewn over the raw edges.
Needle accident number one happened when I tried sewing over the end of one of the pieces of spiral steel. Oops. I managed to break needle number two on the metal pieces inside of the bras extenders acting as closures when I was testing the fit. So I finally had them sandwiched between the lining and the satin pieces of the foundation, I hand wheeled the center back seams on both sides of the foundation. Not fun. By this time it was 10 pm on Friday night, 20 hours left. I gave up at the sewing machine at 11:30 pm when I realized I was starting to not care about lining up seams on the dress bodice, solely due to fatigue.
Not terribly pleased with how the foundation and zipper did not come together quite right. Wearing it was okay, but I need to fix it before wearing it next time. At least those bra extenders worked like a champ though in covering for the hook and eye tape that I didn’t have.
I was back in front of the machine bright and early Saturday morning finishing up the outer part of the dress. Alas, I also had to take my kids for their Saturday events, so I needed to figure out how best to use my time. The dress hem is supposed to be a simple catchstitched hem at 5/8”. The satin was unraveling more than I wanted, so I sewed down a length of berry colored single fold bias tape at the 5/8” and took my hand needle, thread, and dress in a garbage bag (it was sprinkling and I didn’t want water spots on the silk) to sit at a softball game and get the hem done. Three hours later and one severe left hand cramp later, the hem was done for the fashion fabric. The lining was easier as I trimmed up the bottom corresponding to the length I had to take out of the skirt when I cut the satin (remember the skirt lining ended up being a quasi-muslin) and did a machine rolled hem.
This poor train got stepped on so many times it wasn’t funny. Note to self, skirt trains and drunk people do not play well together. I loved the guys who would step on it, causing me to stop short and then fail to realize that until they moved their feet, I was basically immobile ::shaking head:: Oh, and the hem flips up sharing that gross polyester bias binding with the entire world. I haven’t figured out how to fix that yet, but I know I’m going to have re-hem the whole thing ::groaning::
The lining and the dress were basted together wrong sides together and then the foundation is sewn and flipped for the neckline seam. I sewed it in three passes doing the center section first and the right back. I was trying to get the left back done when disaster struck. The bobbin thread didn’t catch the needle thread. I rethreaded and tried not to look at the time (4:10 pm- babysitter is due at 4:30 pm) and then noticed that the needle up position was no longer lining up properly with the needle threader. Once the needle was threaded, I could not get it to catch the bobbin thread at all. After spazzing a bit, positive that I could not possibly hand sew the seam in time, I remembered the existence of my Singer. Yes, in my panic, I initially forgot about it as it was sitting in the corner with fabric covering it. I set it up right by the ironing board (the only space on the floor big enough for the dress) and got that last seam sewn on with a microscopic stitch length. I decided against understitching the top and just pressed it in place. By now my babysitter was on site, and I still did not have the snaps on the neckstrap done. Fortunately, those did not take long so I got the whole beast done at 5:05 pm, the same time we had originally planned on getting to the function. Oh well.
In wearing, I decided that the foundation needs to be tighter through the ribcage and I want to take in all of the dress seams from the waist seam down through the thighs as it’s a bit looser than I would like, though I’ll blame the Spanx worn underneath in this case. Also, the foundation and the dress meet up awkwardly by the zipper, so I need to disassemble the top and figure that out. The last big problem is that the hem flips up along the entire edge, though it is worse in the back. I don’t know how to fix that problem yet. Regardless, I was super happy with how the gown turned out as it matched my vision and I felt beautiful in it. Thanks for slogging through an 1900 word entry, and hopefully my machine is back from the shop this week as I’m super excited to get to some fall projects now that the weather has turned colder.