Of course, the key would be to find the right fabric to make it work as a party dress. FC Fabric Studio kindly sponsor the Simple Sew Blog, so I was browsing their website, and came across a black floral lace which sparked off an idea. I’ve got a pair of Irregular Choice shoes with a black lace design – this was my instant inspiration.
I’ve checked on the site to find “my” lace to link to, and I can’t find it, but there’s another one, which is very similar, here. Pippa, The Fabric Wrangler, used it on her Veronika dress.
Having decided on the lace, I now had to find a suitable lining to match the shoes. I needed a powder pink, and I needed to see it in real life in order to make the final decision. I ended up in Fabricland and opted for their coral pink crepe-backed satin. I was crossing my fingers that it would work. Thankfully I’ve got a reasonably good colour memory and once I got the two fabrics together it was a perfect match!
I traced my last version of the pattern off, and did a bit of tweaking, to lengthen the bodice. I needed to add more length at the front than at the back partly because of my full bust and partly because of my sway back. I made the shoulders a little narrower as they were dropping down further than I felt they should. That meant lengthening the sleeve head, so that I would still have enough fabric to cover my shoulders and allow movement- it’s a party dress after all, I need to be able to dance! I also wanted longer sleeves to cover the elbows and take them to three-quarter length.
The layering of the lace and the lining was the most technically challenging element of this make. I read Thumblenina’s excellent tutorial on layering broderie anglaise and I knew I needed to treat the two fabrics as one, at least for the bodice. So the first thing I did after cutting and marking the pieces was to put the bodice lining and lace together and overlock the edges. However the lace is a stretch fabric and the lining is a woven. Those two really don’t go together!. The fabrics shifted quite a bit, and the satin was very slippery, and I had to make judgements about which of the markings I should work with. In the end I decided the lining, being woven, was the more stable of the two, so I used the markings on that layer to guide me.
I decided to leave the sleeves unlined. Sleeve insertion on the skater dress is very straightforward as it is done in flat. In this case I had adjusted the sleeve heads slightly to make them longer so there was a little bit more fabric to ease in. It’s quite normal to have some ease in the sleeve head compared to the circumference of the armscye, because you need to make the fabric curve around the shoulder. I was dealing with a double layer of fabric in the bodice and a certain springy-ness caused by the elastane in the lace, so I decided not just to pin the sleeves to within an inch of their lives to get the ease in without pleats or tucks, but also to tack the sleeves into place before I sewed them. It made the sewing in of the sleeves much less stressful.
With the bodice sorted, my next technical challenge was the skirt. I knew I would not have enough fabric to make a full circle skirt, at least not for the length that I wanted. I was aiming for tea length. I did a bit of circle skirt calculation to see if I could possibly manage a half circle skirt. But in the end I abandoned that idea because I didn’t think it would be foofy enough for my liking. So I opted for gathers. I cut the remaining lace that I had in two lengthways and cut one of those pieces in half to make one front piece and two backs. For the lining, I had enough length to cut a single piece for the skirt.
I wanted the lining and the lace of the skirt to move independently so I did not attach them to each other initially. I gathered the two skirt layers separately. These were long lengths so I machine-gathered using a long stitch in two parallel rows. I measured my bodice base, to see exactly how much I would need to gather into, measuring the front and the two back pieces separately. Once I had my two layers gathered to the right degree of fullness I pinned them together. Because of the gathers and the aforementioned springy-ness of the lace, this was quite a thick layer to attach to the bodice, so I tacked the two skirt layers together before sewing, to make it more manageable when machining. It was still quite heavy though!
The pattern calls for a concealed zip, and I confidently inserted one, then found it wouldn’t work with the thickness of the two fabrics being combined. It just wouldn’t do up. I was quite annoyed, but when you’ve got to unpick, you’ve just got to get Zen with it, and unpick. It gave me time to work out what I was going to do instead. I opted for a hand-picked lapped zip. It suited the fifties vibe that seemed to be inspiring this dress.
I was on the home straight! Just the hand stitching to finish everything off. I hemmed the sleeves with a stretchy herringbone stitch. I had to overexpose this photo substantially so that the stitching would show up.
For the skirt hem, I added bias binding to the lining. I trimmed the lace to create a more shaped hemline, rather than hemming it straight. Pippa’s lace had a scallop edge, which she was able to use, but my lace didn’t so I was making do!
I’m loving this dress. It feels glamorous and elegant, despite being so simple. In fact *because* it’s so simple. It showcases the fabrics, and allows them to shine. I’m glad I’ve got the fit the way I want it. All the trouble that the fabric combination gave me was well worth it. I’ve even forgiven the concealed zip!
I will say though that I’ve just bought a stack of beads, and I’m *hoping* to embellish the dress a bit further before the Dressmakers Ball. As well as having some accessories to match. Watch out for updates!
Béa blogs at Béa’s Sewing Adventures
Dressmakers Ball info:
Friday 12th May 2017 at The City Rooms, Leicester.