A Versatile Wrap-on Evening Gown

I realize it has now been 7 months since I promised to share “soon” the so-called skirt portion to my Charles James designer inspired project, my great and final clincher for the end of 2021.  Life’s ebb and flow carries me away in unintended directions more often than not!  As I mentioned without too much detail in the post for that Charles James outfit, my skirt was really an evening dress.  It happily turned out to be an amazing chameleon of a garment, thus guaranteeing me years of wear and enjoyment. 

I don’t know about you, but I really haven’t ever thought of an evening gown as being something very wearable, much less something versatile and extremely useful.  From a maker’s perspective, I love sewing evening wear but hate that there are so few occasions to wear such things.  It causes consternation that such pretty clothes hang unused and lonely in my closet.  This post’s evening dress is the answer to all such problems.  Leave it to a vintage 1950s era design to offer a smart but glamorous evening dress that is adaptable in both the way it fits and the way it gets worn!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  an ivory polyester shantung, contrasted by a burnt orange poly chiffon

PATTERN:  Butterick #4919, a year 2006 reprint of a 1952 pattern, originally Butterick #6338

NOTIONS NEEDED:  one long 22” zipper, and lots of thread

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was relatively quick and easy – about 15 hours for the dress and an extra hour to make the chiffon scarf.  Both were finished on April 9, 2021

THE INSIDES:  left mostly raw and merely loosely zig-zag stitched over to prevent fraying

TOTAL COST:  I no longer remember what I paid for it, but I do recall it was a good deal for the 6 yards I bought – about $50 perhaps.

This dress has been a long time coming!  I bought the shantung and picked out the pattern to match with it – even cut all the fabric pieces out – back in 2013.  Originally, I was inspired by one of my favorite old movies, An Affair to Remember from 1957, to try and sew my own imitation of the actress Deborah Kerr’s ivory evening gown from the beginning of the movie.  I had planned on this being my entry for the “Butterick to the Big Screen” contest that the pattern Company was hosting in honor of their 150th Anniversary.  I made a Doris Day inspired blouse instead (and became the winner, after all).  The pattern and fabric pieces to this project were then bagged up together and mostly forgotten all these years…until now! 

When I laid out my “Affair to Remember” undertaking anew, I no longer felt like fully committing to reworking the pattern.  Nor was I enthusiastic about adding on chiffon scarf panels to make it closer to the movie dress, as originally planned.  Suddenly I was merely content with making it as-is out of the envelope and having a mere reference to my original inspiration.  One simple, 120” long, separate scarf was still made out of sheer chiffon, as I had bought the proper fabric anyway for this intention.  Nevertheless, I didn’t go over the top or try too hard to imitate Deborah Kerr’s gown.  I love this dress too much to wish I had deviated at all from the original pattern’s design.  It is fantastic just the way it is.  Having a subtle reference to my original inspiration gown is enough to make me happy.

Now, I am aware that all gowns are dresses, but not all dresses are gowns…except in the case of Butterick 4919.  The pattern is even more versatile than my own gown by showing it in a shorter “day” length, and recommending it to be sewn up in a cotton, jersey knit, or lightweight faille.  A gown is a long lined formal dress, while a dress is more general term for an everyday one-piece garment of both top and skirt combined.  Butterick 4919 is so versatile, and it is unlined (being simple to make), so it is really both a gown and a dress, as well as an excellent skirt, too! 

You see, the sides of the bodice are completely open, and the skirt is the only part of this gown that has closed side seams.  The skirt is a full circle skirt, which between that and the cut-on ties which close up the bodice front, is why the pattern calls for at least 5 yards of fabric, whether you are using a 60” or 45” width material.  The short straps attached to the front bodice are hooked together under the back bodice at the waistline.  Then, there is a center back zipper which closes up both the skirt and the bodice.  The front and back are attached at the shoulders, still, after all.  There is a slight halter- style taper in to the high cut shoulders.  They are gathered in at the front half and plain in the back, which was a trick to sew.

Yet, in order to fully get dressed in this garment, you need to have fun with the ties.  They are a yard and a half in length each coming out from being cut-on with the back bodice.  They can be twisted, tied, and wrapped in all sorts of ways.  I even successfully tied it halter style.  For an even cleaner, simpler look, I can go rogue and tuck the long ties into the dress and hook the shorter ties on the outside of the dress.  I wore it has a skirt by letting the entire bodice hang into the skirt portion of the dress and zipping up the back as far as the waistline – easy peasy!  The way the ivory is such basic color helps along the fact that this is one of my wardrobe’s most versatile dresses.

I did do a small adaptation to the ties.  I couldn’t bear to just skinny hem the edges to the ties, not only because I hate doing such a finish on long seams but also since the satin underside of the shantung would show.  Thus, I faced the ties with more fabric by double layering the entire back bodice.  This way there are no raw edges and two ‘right’ sides (with the nubby matte finish facing out) to the shantung.  Having double thickness to the ties might not have been the best idea – it sure makes them much more bulky around the waist.  Yet, there is no wrong side to ‘hide’ this way and less opportunity for the ties to stretch out of shape, as the ties end up being cut on the cross grain bias.  I’m conflicted as to what is the best way to really finish the ties…I feel there has to be a better way to streamline them.  For now though, all is well that ends well!

This is the only Butterick reissue that I am entirely pleased with.  So many of the other vintage or retro reprints have obviously been tinkered with by the company and seem to have wonky fitting, modernized details, and unpredictable amounts of wearing ease.  The back bodice did seem to run long, but that is normal for me to find on both reprints and originals from that era as I have a deep sway back.  The size chart given was spot on with the finished garment.  I ended up with the same as what is shown and it is even better than I expected.  What’s not to like here?  The only downside may be the amount of fabric the long dress calls for, but a discount or second-hand bed sheet set would be the perfect way to cheaply try this pattern out on a budget.  I have a feeling this dress would be utterly fantastic and dreamy in a soft cotton or lightweight linen print. 

For something so elegant to also be easy-to-make as well as comfortable is a big enough draw, but the fact that it is a vintage design still timelessly in style makes for a happy win in my estimation.  Even though this pattern is out of print, if you would like to try it for yourself there still seems to be many readily available and rather reasonably priced through sources over the internet.  The sheer amount of fabric you have to work with and the unusual construction presents a few tricky challenges, yet this wrapped gown is immensely worth the effort to sew, believe me.  It is Hollywood glam for every day.  If this dress was made in a white crepe, it could be reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s 1955 halter dress.  In a bright pink, it would imitate Betty Draper’s taffeta gown in Season two’s “The Benefactor” episode 3 of Mad Men television show.  In a cotton polka dot print, it could reference what Jane Russell wore in 1953 for an “imprint” ceremony in the courtyard at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard as publicity for the film ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’.  I could go on with my ideas but I want you to add in your own thoughts, before I get carried away.  Granted, this Butterick gown is not a true halter dress as the back and shoulders not exposed.  However, it still looks the part as a classic 50’s halter dress, and that is part of the clever practicality to this gown.  You don’t need to adapt your normal lingerie and it is no less appealing for the little extra coverage!

Now that I have finally posted this outfit I started way back in 2013 and completed in 2021, I can feel like it is fully finished.  I think I will follow up with some more of these half-forgotten and need-to-be posted sewing projects of mine!  Do any of my fellow bloggers out there have a backlog queue of things you’ve made but never got around to posting?  Surely I’m not the only one!  I think we can all agree this gown was a good one to let out from my archives and share sooner than even later.  Let me know if this post becomes the reason you try Butterick 4919 retro reprint!

Mermaid Out of Water

Following up on the heels of my last post, a 1954 qipao, here’s another Mandarin dress inspired by the 1930s era from the modern designer Andrew Gn.  “From the Paris catwalk directly to my wardrobe” thanks to Burda Style, this is home sewing at par with the designer world.

This is much more elegant than my first qipao, definitely meant for evening wear with its train.  The fabrics are much nicer and higher quality, too, than the printed cotton of the last qipao.  It’s also much more sensual and body-conscious, just like the original mine was inspired by – Nicole Kidman’s “Charity Ball” gown from the 2008 movie “Australia”.  It was the year 1939, and Lady Sarah Ashley was auctioning off herself (to dance with, I must clarify) to benefit the Missions for children, the “Forgotten Australians” as they are known, so she definitely dressed the part for that evening to win a large bid.  This is my third (and probably my last for this year) submission to the Unfinished Seamstress’ “Sewing the Scene” Challenge.

This evening dress is my very first mermaid shaped garment, and I am head over heels for what this does to my curves.  Why have I not worn something like this before?  Where has a mermaid gown been all my life?  Whatever – I have one now that I am very happy with…in fact I hate having to take it off once it’s on, especially as the first layer against my skin is lovely silk!

For more about the culture, history, and meaning to a qipao dress, please visit my previous post.  This one is admittedly designer, so it is linked more to the fashion scene than a pure culture garment.  In fact, the designer Tony Ward now appears to be knocking off Andrew Gn’s Burda release with some of the neckline on the gowns in his Spring/Summer 2018 collection (see Look #33 of his Couture garments, and see this look from his ready-to-wear)!  However, the Singapore-born Andrew Gn does have the privilege right to make a fashion qipao more than Tony Ward, and besides Gn did it first with his Fall 2017 Ready-To-Wear collection.  The designer Andrew Gn, as described in the Burda magazine, is a cosmopolitan designer who is heavily influenced by art and antiques.  He respects the worth of a good vintage item and finds creative expression universal.  Personally, he is ¼ Japanese and ¾ Chinese, but studied at London, New York, and Milan before opening under his own label in 1996 after being an assistant in Emanuel Ungaro’s atelier in Paris for just a year.  Ungaro is one of my modern designer icons, so it comes as no surprise to me that I like the work of his pupil Gn!  Traditional meets modern, and East merges with the West under Andrew Gn.

The pattern for this dress is only to be found in the monthly magazine issue and unfortunately not online to buy and download at all.   This edition of the magazine (February 2018) is totally worth buying, though – this is the best Burda month I have seen in a long time, there are so many patterns that are unique, lovely, and attractive.  Besides, nowadays how often do we get a copy to make for ourselves of what is seen is the catwalk?  This outfit counts as my August make to the “Burda Challenge 2018” for which I pledged a garment a month.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a combo of both polyester crinkle chiffon and rayon challis for the dress and true vintage all silk crepe for the under slip

PATTERN:  Burda Style #123 Gown, from the February 2018 magazine for the dress (see it on the runway here) and a vintage year 1942 pattern, Simplicity #4352, used once before, for the slip

NOTIONS:  All I really needed to make this set was really thread – lots of it – and some little scraps of interfacing for the Mandarin collar.  The neckline buttons are modern and were also on hand along with the scrap 6 inches of thread elastic.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress itself took about 15 hours while the slip took maybe 6 hours.  Both were completed on August 20, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  Clean due to the serged (overlocked) seams on both pieces – there were too many very long princess seams between the slip and the dress to do the insides as a French finish!

TOTAL COST:  The vintage silk was part of a trade at a local shop, and the dress’ fabrics came from my local JoAnn’s fabric store, maybe about $60 for 6 yards. 

Coming directly from a designer, I sort of find it oddly ironic that I became my own designer for this dress and slightly adapted the armscye to mirror my inspiration dress from the “Australia” movie.  Of course, looking at the original dress and its line drawing, you can see I left out the sleeves.  I do love them, and would love to make a winter velvet version of this dress just so I can see this design with those sleeves, but they did not fit in with my ideal of a visually obvious “Australia” movie copy, or even just a Mandarin dress for the summer.  It was a very easy adaptation.  I redrew the pattern tissue so that the center front and the center back panels’ curving seam kept going up to graze the outer end of the shoulder line.  The effect is like a pared down cap sleeve all-in-one with the dress. I also dipped the bottom of the armscye under the arm to be lower and more open, ending in a V-shape for both beauty and full movement.  Besides, the sleeve change, I shortened the front third of the hem to the dress so that the hem would graze the top of my feet with heels on.  I left the back and side hem original length.

Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced from the inserts in the magazine issue, and most Burda Style Designer patterns are only in the magazines, but most other patterns are available online as a downloaded PDF that needs to be printed out and assembled together.  What works best for me is to use a roll of thin, see-through medical paper to trace my pieces out.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size.  Some people add in your choice of seam allowance width directly to the pattern while some as they are cutting out the fabric pieces.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.

I did find the sizing for this dress to be spot on, very exact.  I made my ‘normal’ size that I choose with Burda patterns, based off of their measurement chart and this finished out perfect for my body.  Granted there is a good amount of shifty give in the dress between the fine crinkled chiffon and random bias.  This is part of the reason I get by with leaving out any closures (except for the neckline, of course).  Yes – there are no zippers, hooks, or anything to the waist of both the dress and slip.  This is a pop-over the head outfit.  I didn’t want a zipper to awkwardly pucker or bubble the fabric out, and with lowering the cut of the neckline by a few extra inches, the dress goes on me just fine with all seams sewn up.  An all silk slip is smooth and slippery, like a weightless second skin, and it has similar seaming so it slides on easily as well with no closure either.

As wonderful as this turned out, it was almost the project that was never made due to the unexpected amount of material needed. Be prepared to have lots and lots of yardage on hand in order to make this dress because I soon realized this is a total fabric hog of a project.  I rather disregarded the instructions in disbelief when they called for 6 whopping yards of fabric, in 60” selvedge width. Really?!  The pattern pieces were very skinny (and very curvy, I must add, for a proper mermaid fit).  The bottom flared out very wide though.  The pattern segments were also unmanageably long as they are all one-piece princess seams from neckline to hem.  I felt that ‘surely if the pieces are staggered, and laid out oppositely I can make the dress work’ out of the 4 yards of chiffon I had on hand.  Four yards is really the most of any fabric I have on hand or generally buy.  There is only one other fabric in my stash that is a cut of 6 yards, and it is a winter brocade saved for a fabric hog 1950s dress pattern.

I really wanted to use this butterfly print as there was something about it that I felt needed to be an Asian influenced, 1930s inspired garment for evening elegance.  I don’t know how that approbation works in my head but some fabrics just naturally get designated to certain patterns without much of a though, like the two are meant to be together.  This time, there was no seeming way to make things work.  Four yards of fabric is only enough for three pattern pieces.  The dress has four pattern pieces in total, so I needed more for one last piece.

My husband is the one that saved this project by finding the exact same print, at the exact same JoAnn’s store where the first fabric was bought, only this time it was in an all rayon challis.  As long as it was the same print I had something to work with…thank goodness for JoAnn’s repeating a print design!  As the rayon would be heavier and also opaque compared to the chiffon. The most obvious pattern piece to designate this for was the two center back panels.

This way the train is weighted down nicely and the sheer effect is tamed by having the front the primary focus while the back is only simple lines without the slip being seen there to distract.  Also the back panels are the longest piece out of the four with the train – the biggest fabric hog.  The hemline is a full almost 10 inches longer than floor length on my 5’ 3” frame.  Two yards was just enough of a cut from the rayon for the center back panel, that’s how long it is!  As it turned out, I am glad to have used two fabrics for this dress.  How often does something like this happen, though – the same print in two different materials?  I love the feeling of how the train floats and flows behind me as I walk if I let it down (see a short video here on my Instagram).  If I hold it up it looks like I have wings, like a butterfly myself, or like a mermaid tail.  However, I wouldn’t have a mermaid tail out of water now would I?!

A little bit of the rayon form of my dress’ butterfly print also went to the Mandarin collar.  I was planning on laying cotton between the sheer to make the collar opaque and not see-through before I realized I had to use the rayon.  This made my work easier.  I doubled up on the interfacing and ironed it to the wrong side of both the outer and inner collars.  This way at least something holds the dress together because the rest of it certainly isn’t going the help.

I realize that most the dresses with this wide open, almond shaped neckline which dips down to Timbuktu do not have anything but skin (and cleavage) showing.  I do not care for how blatantly this sensualizes such a style of dress too much for my taste.  This is an opportunity to make a superior quality slip in a contrast color to fill in that void in the front.  The sweetheart neckline is one of the most universally popular and flattering, and a visible slip is a more discreet yet still tantalizing detail, so I prefer such a gown worn this way, not just because it is like the movie original.  It is really much more wearable this way anyway.

My basic everyday vintage slip pattern got the deluxe makeover here!  The way I made it first using basic rayon challis has it my go-to wardrobe basic.  There was no guesswork sewing this up as I had done it once before and made notes of my grading add-ons, but I took more time on the small details.  First, I added 12 more inches to the hem of last time to end up with an ankle length slip. Then, I hand stitched the self-fabric bias facing down by hand.  Skinny self-fabric bias spaghetti straps are over my shoulders.  I don’t have many long gowns to match but I’m hoping to get good use out of this slip.  After all, I did splurge and use true vintage fabric.  I am not one to use that fact as a reason to completely save this garment – no, I want to totally enjoy it, so maybe this would make a good nightgown too, if I want to wear it but have nowhere to go.

My accessories were carefully curated to make sure this was an outfit all about me – my take on a runway trend, my personal skills to make what else I needed, and some old favorites from on hand to compliment.  Following the trend of Andrew Gn’s Fall 2017 collection where the models mostly wore tassel earrings, I found mine at a local shop, handmade in three layers of gradient colors from out of my butterfly print.  My hair decoration is made by me, with three plastic flower heads attached to a hair comb with floral wire and floral tape.  My florist’s training came in handy here and I am so happy and proud at how this turned out.  My shoes are “Lola” peep toe strap heels from Chelsea Crew, the same as what I wore her for my Grace Kelly dress copy.  My bracelet is actually a hair scrunchie from when I was little, but it always used to pull my hair out so it’s always served me better as a bracelet.

This was a bit of a hard project to handle, as dreamy as it is to wear.  Between the struggle to find enough fabric for the dress, the “sacrifice” of multiple yards of vintage fabric, and all the large scraps which were leftover from the making of this outfit, it was almost painful.  I am very thrifty (as much as can be expected) with my sewing, making use of every scrap, getting only fabric that I have an idea for, and squeezing patterns on cuts too small for an easy layout.  Not too often am I liberal with my sewing, but extravagance is just that – an indulgence, a surrendering of practicality for the ideal of beauty, the effort towards a creative reality.  This is closer to how couture works, or at least designer productions, as well.

The outlook, the artistic vision is priority along the creative process, and then the special someone who gets to wear the finished product, and the resulting feelings upon wearing, are then the pride and crowning glory after the last of the finishing touches have been made.  This is a designer dress, after all, and I’m using my best vintage fabric to complete it as a ‘copy’ of something from Hollywood, inspired by the decadence of the era of elegance itself – the 1930s.  Why was I expecting something sensible here?!  Sometimes making (and wearing) the extravagance of what exactly you want, what you feel great in is intoxicatingly enjoyable.  I am sensible enough to not do this all that often, but with this dress it is so nice deep down.  Can I use the excuse that my birthday is in August?  I may just have to find as many excuses to wear this as I possibly can, too.

“Water for Elephants” Imitation Knot-Neck Halter Dress

elephant+vintage+GraphicsFairy006b     The thrill of the circus was a welcome distraction to lift the spirits of people of the 1930’s, who were so busy trying to eke out a living.  Television wasn’t around yet, and radio broadcasts were not a common mode of entertainment, either.  This is why so many stars and performers of big (and not so big) traveling circuses were real celebrities.  Oftentimes, a city would turn into a ghost town when a circus would visit since everyone flocked to see glamorous and strange sights, buy special candy treats, and watch exotic animals do unimaginable stunts.  The world was brought to their doorsteps.

However, all the glitz and mystery of a circus trying to survive in the year 1931 can also hide a dark reality, as addressed in Sara Gruen’s book “Water for Elephants”.  There was an adaptation of the book onto film in 2011, and, as I haven’t read the book, I know nothing of how close it is to it’s original story, but the movie was done well in my opinion.  Reese Witherspoon’s character wears the most fabulous early 30’s fashions, which inspired me to make my own version of one dress and plan on a few more.

100_1812THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  3 1/2 yards of crepe back satin from JoAnn’s, and 2 1/2 yards of black Pongee matte finish lining from Hancock Fabrics

NOTIONS:  I only had  to buy a matching spool of Mettler PolySheen thread and a zipper.  I already had on hand black thread (for the lining), black snaps, a hook and eye, and purple ribbon.  Almost forgot to mention that I bought the belt clasp/closure from the jewelry section at JoAnn’s

PANTONE CHALLENGE COLOR:  Acai puWater-For-Elephants-whitedressrple

Simplicity2580

PATTERN:  Simplicity 2580,  year 2009, view E done to look like year 1931, with this picture at far right being my inspiration

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Somewhere between 12 to 15 hours; it was finished on August 27, 2013

FIRST WORN:  out to take pictures for blog, then out to eat in the old waterfront area of downtown

WEAR AGAIN?  Definitely!  I can’t wait to find another reason to wear this elegant dress!

TOTAL COST:  about $25

In case you’re wondering, the color of my imitation dress was changed for some personal preference reasons: 1.)  I would never wear a white version, 2.)  it would be hard for us to take pictures of a satin dress in white, 3.) I love purple…all hues…it’s the color I go for without thinking, as hubby rolls his eyes and thinks, “purple again?”

100_1832     The major addition/change to the dress pattern are the large triangular godets that I added into the side seams to replicate the fullness and shape of the original movie dress.  I used the pattern piece for the godets from my precious Simplicity 75th anniversary #5876, made already last year (click here for pics and link). 5876 I made sure the godet points hit right at/under the hip line, but I wanted them low enough to give room for me to add a zipper (which you can kind of see in the picture above).  Measuring 3 1/2 inches down from the side tabs of the skirt pieces was the perfect meeting spot for the godet points, and boy did those tricky corners turn out well!  I know the movie dress actually has side godets that are shaped like an upside down U, probably so they hug the hips while pulling the dress in.   Figuring how to adapt for those U-shaped godets wasn’t worth wasting time not working on getting it done.  I LOVE how the side godets make my dress sweep out and flow around me when I walk.  It is the most feminine and fun feeling!

100_1817     Other than the godets, I really did no other changes to the design of Simplicity 2580; however, I did think outside the box in a few ways.  First of all, notice that Simplicity 2580 is dresses “designed for stretch knits only”.  Oh, whatever!  I simply went up a size to accommodate for the ‘no-stretch’ satin, and made some small fitting adjustments near the finishing point.  That’s why I added a zipper along the left side.  For the knot, I took both tie ends that are supposed lay down across the chest, and tied them both in a nice knot, as low to the bodice as I could, with the ties in pleats to create nice folds.  THEN I could tie the ties around my neck and look just like Marlena in “Water for Elephants”.images-close-up

The original movie dress has much better drape than my version – but I really believe she must have used fashion tape to keep from showing off a side peek of a little something.  I was willing to dip the back lower to get closer to the movie, but I was unwilling to deal with a dress that did not want to cover the front of my chest.  Just can’t win ’em all!

Simplicity 2580 was a great pattern to work with and surprisingly simple.  View E, the one I used, only had 4 pattern pieces.  If I do make this pattern again, and I hope to soon, it might not be made out of a knit.  I will give you my word of warning – it is an unsupported dress.  When 3/4 of the fabric of the dress is not part of the bodice you are set out for a possible problem.  I’m glad I discovered this on a woven.  Make sure to add seam web or interfacing or something along the edges and seams if this pattern is ever made out of a knit.

100_1854    The back of the dress has elastic sewn into the top (although it didn’t do too much gathering as it’s not a knit).  One of these days I might go ahead and have a cut at refashioning the back of this dress, reshaping it and taking out the unnecessary elastic.

You would be impressed looking at the insides and details of my dress (pic below).  The bodice has a self- fabric facing that lines and doubles up the bodice, covering up all of those seams especially the skirt/under bust seam.  Then I went to the trouble of a separate lining for the entire skirt.  Hand stitching tacks down the inside zipper edges to the lining.  I steamed and ironed the entire bodice -ties and everything- to avoid having to top stitch anywhere and ruin the smooth finished look.  This is the first garment I have made which I can be proud is finished well AND lacking in top-stitching, excepting the bodice seam where I stitched “in the ditch”.  I did so100_1915 much ironing on this dress in between sewing…I finally got hubby to iron the hem.

A good idea came to me when I added the hangar loops into to the sides.  The ribbon loops have snaps sewn on them, snapping down where the lining starts so they wrap around the sides of my strapless bra. Thus the ribbon loops have the dual duty of hanging and keeping my dress from drooping, while staying tucked away out of sight.

100_1913a     Ahh, don’t forget my belt!  I am proud of how I made things work in this case.  Selection is almost zero when it came to looking for a vintage or even Deco style belt/clasp style for my belt in a gold color.  Then, I happened to be looking for beads and ran across this beautiful, detailed clasp for bracelets.  It has a hinge type system that utilizes a strong magnet – very cool!

100_1796   The bracelet clasp only had 3 holes along the edges, so I treated it as a bracelet and strung clear stretchy cord through and around the 2 outer holes a few times, then tied it off, sealing it with nail polish.  Whatever pattern was upstairs nearby was the one I used to make my belt – it happened to come from a vintage Butterick #5281.  I sewed wide seam allowances so I would end up with a skinny belt.  Here, again, I ironed the belt in lieu of top stitching.  The belt ends were folded in, pulled through the stretchy elastic cord loops at the ends of the clasp, then both ends were tucked under and hand stitched in place.  Using the stretchy cord is the best thing ever, and I plan on doing a belt like this again – the way it gives when needed makes for a comfy and never confining belt.

My dress is hemmed so that, with heels on, the bottom back barely sweeps the ground.  The front skirt panel was hemmed up 6 inches, the back skirt panel was hemmed 3 inches, and the side godets slope in between the different lengths.  This dress didn’t seem formal enough for a train to follow behind me and pull the bodice down.

100_1884     Most of our photos were taken outside along an old railroad bridge.  I think it seems a bit connected to the movie;  their circus train was the only ‘home’ they had when they were always on the move, never able to settle down.  WATER FOR ELEPHANTS

Now that I have bored you with enough sewing construction chatter,  I will share with you a few really neat and thorough web links if you want to read some real, first-hand history of the circus in the 30’s.  You can even see pictures of the real Rosie the elephant, and read how she was the golf caddy for President Harding.  Here is “The Struggling Circus”, which focuses on Missouri facts, and here is “Awesome Stories”, which seems very documented.

There is a brief glimpse of the knot-neck halter dress in the “Water for Elephants” movie trailer, click here if you want to see it for yourself.

There are more pictures of the details of my dress on my Flickr site, Seam Racer, link here.  Since this is the kind of dress I hated to take off at the end of the night, we had fun taking plenty of pictures.  Look for more fashions from the movie coming soon to my blog!

Happy New Year! My 1930’s Evening Gown

I could always picture myself as a sort of Jean Harlow (sans blond hair) wearing a long, satin, bias cut 30’s evening gown. I found my ticket to achieving that through sewing up Simplicity’s 75th Anniversary pattern #5876. After some persistent Internet combing, I found the pattern – new and uncut yet also in my size – at a VERY reasonable price before I saw a ‘sold’ notice. I was excited to challenge myself outside my comfort zone by sewing a formal, fully lined, vintage garment. It is funny that this dress did indeed proved to be a mind-crunching yet also incredibly fun challenge. More importantly to me from a personal achievement standpoint is the sense that this is the only garment (thus far in my lifetime of sewing) I feel I have completely perfected. My evening gown is so wonderful to wear, and I love it like no other project!

The most dramatic part to the dress is no doubt the deep V back neckline and the godet-style train. It presents a stunning garment whether I am coming or going! I like to wear the closure of the cummerbund at the center back, versus the side as the pattern shows, for even more interest from the back view. I used faux crystal buttons because why not go all out?!

Simplicity 5876 was actually easy to sew together, yet just a bit time-consuming all the same because it has simple design lines, but complex finishing techniques.  It also turned into a very good learning process along the way to completion. However, it seemed like a communal project, too. I need to thank Michelle L (from the Sew Weekly Sewing Circle) for her sewing advice on the sleeve hems. My husband deserves appreciation for doing so much ironing, marking, and sharing late nights with me while doing my sewing just to help me finish something amazing. Then, the bloggers Liz and Laura Mae lately made dresses of their own from Simplicity 5876 so I had lots of tips to rely upon beforehand.  I suppose great minds think alike!

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC: a heavyweight crepe-back satin (polyester with about 3% spandex), bought at 4 yards for $25; crepe-finish lightweight black lining fabric, bought for $9

NOTIONS: set of four ‘faux diamond’ buttons (half priced @ $5), two spools of thread, 1 pack of machine sharps needles, 9 inches of matching blue satin ribbon, 1 pack of matching blue double-fold bias tape, 1 invisible zipper and subsequently 14 inches of snap tape

PATTERN: Simplicity #5876, a year 2002 75th Anniversary Edition release of a 1930’s reprint

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TIME TO COMPLETE: I took several hours stretched over a week just to cut and mark the pieces properly; then I assembled the dress (with hubby’s help) in 4 evenings – so technically the dress was finished on Oct. 16 (2012) at about 40 hours of work, but, after a wardrobe snafu and time to make things perfect, I really finished on Dec. 31. I stopped counting time after December came, but probably a total of 50 hours. They were SO worth it!

FIRST WORN: to a New Year’s Eve concert to hear our town’s Symphony perform at our beautiful and historic Powell Hall

THE INSIDES: Very clean, indeed! No seams are showing because the lining is ‘wrong-side-to-wrong-side’ covering up most seams, and the few that are exposed (such as the waist and godet seams) I finished in the bias tape.

1929-white evening dress combo pic

I chose to make view A, sticking to the classic early to mid-1930’s era flutter sleeved, wide shouldered but skinny hip look. I kept with the deeply saturated colors of silky satin that were popular then by using a royal blue. I actually looked at a good number of vintage gowns, old patterns, and 30’s era movies (even the modern film “Atonement”) to help me decide on this combo for my dress. My ideas tended towards looking like a combo of the dual images at left – the 1931 House of Patou original from the MET Museum at left or Simplicity #1719 cover illustration from May of 1935 at right.

It was really amazing how calm (non-stressed/freaking out) I was through the whole sewing process of this involved project. I am glad I resisted the urge to rush things and do all the pain-in-the-neck steps to acquire new skills. There were several major labor intensive parts that demanded a good back rub afterwards! For the interfaced neck facings, I had a very hard time getting the interfacing to stick to the crepe-back. The low heat of the iron (because I didn’t want to scorch the fabric) was not doing the job.

There was only one change I made to the pattern. It was to raise the bottom of the back V several inches – except I did not properly adjust the facings to match. Ooops! The result is only 1/4 inch higher than the original pattern, not my planned 1/2 inch higher V back neckline. All is well that ends well, though, right?!

The fluttery circle sleeves are something I’ve never done…basically a round shape with a hole in the middle for your arm.  Hubby and I were a great tag team working on the sleeves. I do not think I would have done all 4 of them otherwise if he hadn’t helped out like he did. I would sew 1/4 in. from the outer edge to mark and stay stitch the hem in one step, then he would iron the stitched edge under to set the hem. I would come back to sew on the very fold of that hem he ironed down, and cut away the excess fabric very close to my stitching. Next, hubby would roll under this small hem to set it again with the iron, so I could make one last line of stitching to end up with a 1/8 in. hem. Do I hear you thinking that this was pretty crazy (well wasn’t it)?

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In contrast, the rest of the dress was much more tolerable. Armhole facings were sewn in by machine, with much unpicking and re-sewing, on account of frequent catching of the sleeves. However, I hand stitched everything else around the sleeves. The interfacing ends were sewn in to just the lining and I added some ribbon loops to keep the dress in place. There are loops at the shoulders to go through my bra straps, and thus end the dress’ problem of slipping off my shoulders. Later I added another loop at the bottom inside of the back V to keep my bra strap from showing. The cummerbund was different to make and so much easier than the instructions made it seem. The horizontal gathering turned out nicely, and I really liked making my own matching fabric loops

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The final challenge to my dress was sewing in my first…and hopefully my last…invisible zipper. Taking my time to do the darn invisible zip right cost me a good 2 1/2 hours alone. I am so proud of how perfect it looked when I finished the zipper, at least. My husband couldn’t believe it was there at all!  Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of how well my invisible zip looked because there is a ‘sewing snafu’ horror story that ruined my happy ending. Nevertheless, snap tape is currently the side closure instead. The way I figure it, snaps are much more ‘authentic’ to the era of the dress. At the same time, there isn’t much that can go wrong with snaps.

Here’s the story. I was trying on the dress, with my husband on the floor just finished with chalk marking the hemline for me. This was at 1:30 A.M., early morning, with 17 hours left before I was hoping to wear this dress to go out. I bent down to show him something on the hem when I felt a rip and heard a pop. The invisible zipper had popped apart right in the middle. Both of us tried to realign the teeth together or even pull the zip down, but to no avail. By then I was quite an upset mess. I just pulled the zip apart so I didn’t have to sleep all dressed up in an unhemmed dress.

The next day I had a talk on the phone with someone at the customer service of Coats and Clark Co., but didn’t get any help beyond an offer for a full refund. (I’ve given up waiting for my refund by now – it never came.) So I just got ready (hair and makeup wise) and needed to do errands. By the time I was home, I really only had about 1 1/2 hours of free time. I knew I would not be doing things right being so rushed. Boohoo 😦 I ended up wearing one of my wardrobe’s store-bought dresses, which itched and bothered me all night. Ugh.

I found out I would have the occasion to wear my dress by the end of the year, so I took advantage of the extra month’s time to perfect any little details. I made an extra cord and sewed it as a wrist strap to hold up my train from my hand. There is a tiny hook hidden in the side seam about 10 inches from the hem for the wrist strap to hook onto. I even spent a few evenings trying, but not doing a nice job, to attach on a strapless bra, but the shoulder strap loops I sewed inside were much simpler and didn’t restrict the bodice.

Wearing this dress is an excellent self-esteem boost. It makes me so happy! I did get a number of looks (both pleasant and unpleasant) at the New Year’s concert I first wore it to, and I wish I would have asked them a penny for their thoughts. Whatever anyone else thought of me doesn’t ultimately matter, though. I was wearing my maker’s pride and a seamstress’ confidence. However, these blog pictures are all from after the event – I like to get dressed up for frolicking when we have a snowfall. Such a beautiful natural setting deserves a dress to match. I threw my Great Grandmother’s beaver fur capelet from the 1930s over my shoulders and I was not only warm but instantly transported back to old Hollywood, just as I had hoped!

If it wasn’t for the motivation and inspiration of Sew Weekly and all the other wonderful sewing bloggers out there I really cannot see myself creating something like this a year or even several months ago. Let’s keep up all the sewing!!!