A Compliment by Contrast – My Leather and Chiffon Dress

Many times I have special vision when sighting a rather disappointing pattern envelope cover.  Somehow I can see past the wrong fabric or trims or styling that was chosen.  Maybe I can see the creative potential of patterns because I love being artistic and thinking outside the box…who knows.

Nevertheless, this leather and chiffon dress was definitely one of those surprising, creative, out-of-the-box projects which turned out to be wonderful staple I turn to wear frequently.  It feels so nice to have a quite distinctive modern dress when I’m not in vintage wear.  To make my ‘complimenting contrast’ dress even more associated to Sew Weekly, I took my inspiration from an amazing contributor to Sew Weekly, Kazz Pell of Australia.  She recently stopped blogging, so I’d like to dedicate this post to her and to everyone else who proudly loves to wear one’s own art.

100_2926aTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  One yard of faux leather fabric for the neckline and sleeve trim.  Four yards of polyester sheer printed chiffon were bought for the outer dress.  The chiffon is a very loose weave animal-style print with black, grey, light blue, and white colors.  White rayon challis is the under dress, lining the sheer chiffon.

NOTIONS:  I had everything on hand, but I didn’t need anything out of the ordinary, anyway: black thread, white thread, sharps machine needles, interfacing, and white bias tape.100_1302

PATTERN:  Simplicity 2891, year 2008, without the pattern’s sleeves or bust ties and lengthened by about 12 inches into a dress length.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was finished on March 9, 2013, after not much time to complete, maybe 8 hours, 10 at the most.

THE INSIDES:  Except for the sleeve seams, which are covered in bias tape, all other seams are French seams.  Of course the hems aren’t French, just tiny 1/8 and 1/4 inch seams.  The neckline has self-fabric facings, so the inside is as cleanly finished as what you see from the outside.

TOTAL COST:  All fabrics were picked out and bought back in early 2012, so I don’t exactly remember all the totals.  I believe my dress probably cost $30, more or less.

Compared to the tacky, outdated top sewn up and modeled on the pattern envelope front, my finished dress is, I feel, a tremendous improvement which gives Simplicity 2891 some of its due justice.  Nevertheless, compared to Kazz’s original “Bamboo Banga Dress”, my dress is just a poor, toned down version of a knock-off.   This was what I was comfortable with and came up with using my own style of ingenuity.  I do, however, owe my leather and chiffon dress to Kazz, in the way that her artistic taste and sewing abilities are so awesome, she inspired me to try a mix of fabrics completely new to me and explore my creativity, too.  That’s the best thing about the sewing blogger world – we inspire and encourage each other to grow and learn!

100_2932a    Kazz gave me the wonderful idea to double up the printed chiffon to create an off-inked appearance like when the layers of printed colors are miss-matched.  Thus,  I had to buy double the amount called for in the pattern, and extra, as well, to lengthen the tunic into a dress.  Buying double was a bit more costly than I wanted, especially when combined with the faux leather fabric and the rayon challis under-dress.  I did not want to wait until the perfect fabric was gone before I decided to go buy it!  My idea needed to be sewn together in real life, not just in my head, and I’m glad to be able to enjoy wearing this dress.  Discount coupons were used on the material to help my dress be totally worth every penny!

100_2933a     Like I had said above, I lengthened the tunic by about 1 foot (12 inches) to make it a decent tunic dress for my taste, and this took some redrawing of the bottom half of the pattern.  I also did my usual drastic grading between sizes (such as here and here) to make sure I didn’t end up with an over-sized, ill fitting sack for my sewing time and trouble.  The center front gathers (under the neckline placket) were left as they were on the pattern, even though I considered taking out an inch or so to avoid any possible silly bust fluffiness that sometimes happens with such a design element.  Now, remember, I had to cut out 3 tunic pieces – 2 from the chiffon and 1 of the rayon – so I was glad to have the main body pattern be two very simple and easy, slightly shaped squares which get cut on the fold.  There was minimal marking to make, also.  I only chalked on the rayon under dress, and used thread to mark on the chiffon.

It was just a tiny bit challenging to work with all three of those fabric layers together while making my tunic dress.   The two layers of chiffon were stay-stitched to the rayon under layer so I could finish the neck, its gathers, and the neckline placket.  Next, I tacked the armholes together to sew on the petal sleeves that I drafted for my dress (I’ll address more about the sleeves in a bit).  I was kinda being too much of a perfectionist when trying to smooth out and match the two chiffon layers when it came to doing the bottom hemline, but I pinned while my dress was hanging free from a hanger.  A few days (just a few) were taken up just putting off doing the hem, so I could look at my hem pinning job and smooth it out again just to re-pin and overall uselessly obsess.  In the end, I tacked the hem together with a loose stitch so I could finish the chiffon hem in a tiny 1/8 inch hem then try to perfect and match up the rayon under dress hem.100_1641

In lieu of a label (like what’s on store bought RTW clothes), I kept a selvedge edge label along the vertical side seam, right at about the hip/upper thigh, on the chiffon fabric of my dress.  It plainly displays, in rather subtle, but obvious words for those who know, “Exclusively for Hancock Fabrics”.  That store don’t carry already made clothes, people!  There isn’t any thing better than advertising my favorite fabric store to others.  I really tend to prefer the Hancock Fabrics exclusive fabrics…they tend to have the best hand, print design, and value out of all the other fantastic items they carry.  I will have to include this selvedge label method again.

At first, I was nervous about working with the faux leather, after reading Kazz’ point about her small stitching line being similar to a line of perforations, giving a slight doubt as to whether or not the dress will hold together well.  Mindful of her experience with real leather, I sewed on the faux leather with a long straight stitch line, and was careful to get things right the first time (so I wouldn’t have to unpick and leave holes).  Adding interfacing to the back of the faux leather was tricky and almost impossible, but I wanted the neckline stabilized, so I made it stay (somehow) in the end.  A Teflon (walking) sewing machine foot wasn’t needed, or even any wax paper, since the faux leather had a slightly brushed, softer finish with shiny patches, like a sort of snakeskin.  I made sure to use a new sharp needle in my machine because an old needle might not glide through a tougher fabric as precisely.  Yahoo!  My first experiment with an ‘inexpensive and easy-care alternative’ to leather turning out so nicely has given me more confidence to attempt a try at working with the real thing in the future.  Another one of my  sewing hurdles was passed and conquered.100_1324

I just could not bear the thought, or even the idea, or doing the sleeves that are shown to go with the pattern.  Ugh!  I knew I didn’t want a sleeveless option, either.  My dress seemed to me to need an added interest…sleeves which would perk up the design by being different but without getting distracting from the simplicity of a tunic dress.  Thus, it occurred to me to use yet another new technique on my dress – petal sleeves.  I have been wanting to do this type of sleeve on an outfit of mine for quite awhile (since 2011).  All this time I had bookmarked a web page which gives an excellent tutorial on how to adapt your favorite classic cap sleeve pattern piece into a re-drafted petal sleeve.  The step by step petal sleeve tutorial can be found by clicking here (@ My Sparkle blog) and it is full of pictures, very clear, and quite easy.  I used the basic cap sleeve pattern piece from a past made project of mine, a McCall’s 6433 “Red Flame” knit sweater dress. I had already fixed this sleeve piece so it would fit my larger upper arm, so I traced it out onto some leftover paper from a torn trash bag, then got to work adapting it into a petal sleeve pattern cut out of wax paper (since I could see through it) and marked with a sharpie pen!  I was just trying to be smartly economical with whatever was on hand.100_2929     The petal sleeves are everything I hoped they would be, both for the balance of my dress’ image and for a wonderfully comfy fit.  The two overlapping sleeve pieces allow for full freedom of movement, which I can always use because of my thick upper arms.  However, at the same time, someone with thin arms would also love petal sleeves as well because of the way they fold over (like a flower) to fit you so beautifully when not opened up by movement of the arm.  Petal sleeves were on the dresses of my bridesmaids in our wedding, and I thought they were so pretty then…but now I’ve made my own!  Strips of the faux leather were cut out, folded over and added to the edges of my dress’ petal sleeves to highlight the crossover pieces and finish off the hem edges nicely.

Faux leather on the sleeve edges gives a great finishing contrast to my dress in more ways than one.  Leather is seen as something tough and masculine and durable, thus to use it to bring out the beauty of a sleeve, made out of the sewing world’s most delicate and feminine fabrics (chiffon), named after the most fleeting beauty of a flower (its petals), provides an amazing and curious irony about my dress that I find very appealing.  Maybe the reason why I love this contrast of fabric, image, and ideal has to do with me: deep down there is a small wild part of me that enjoys an equally small part of the punk music listening/motorcycle babe/modern feminism crowd.  As an example, it’s a shame you really can’t see in our pictures the fishnet stockings I wore on my legs and my chain jewelry worn to match my dress in the above photos.  I did try to “dress up” my dress in a toned down, classy way, as you can see in our other picture here (at right) showing me100_1314 sporting pearls at my neck with a suede belt and strappy flat shoes.  There is more than one way to wear this dress, but the hip and funky way, like what Kazz sports, is definitely my favorite with this leather and chiffon project.

Inspiration comes in all shapes, colors, places, and media.  Kazz Pell’s blog and her participation in Sew Weekly showcased her talent and let others, like myself, look and read with a hope for catching a bit of that inventive spark.  Let something inspire you and make it your own – be it an old family photo, a painting or even a song.  The world needs creative people like us!

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