Bonjour, my dears! I think every dressmaker (and tailor) has a project that they dream of making one day. For some it would be a wedding dress (raises hand), for others, a perfectly tailored jacket. Ever since I started sewing I dreamed of creating a dress entirely from scratch: pattern, instructions, everything. It had to be a formal dress, requiring attention to detail, with points of interest that would make it stand apart from an everyday dress. And, it had to be for a special occasion. I had hoped that this dream dress would have come about 2 years ago for my big birthday party, but plans and budget got in the way of that dream. However, after two more years of stitching, learning, ripping, cutting, and drawing, I finally had my chance again. When Charlotte’s big birthday party was being planned, I knew right from the start that I wanted to make a very special dress for the occasion. I debated over patterns, fabric, etc. and it wasn’t until I saw Lily’s amazing 1930s dress that I knew what I would do. I wasn’t going to follow a pattern. I would draft it myself! And I knew just the design I was going to copy (a vintage Butterick pattern in one of my fashion books, I’ll tell you which one down below). So, now that we have that long intro and back-story out of the way, I’m sure you all would like to see the dress, wouldn’t you?
Made from Vintage Nylon Plisse that I have been hoarding for over two years, the dress design was based off of Butterick 4608, circa 1948. All I had to work off of for creating the pattern was a teeny picture about an inch and a half tall from my “A Century of Fashion: Dress Pattern Illustrations, 1898-1997” (page 128 for anyone who has the book). This may have not been the best dress for my first try* at dress pattern drafting, considering I had only fit my sloper (a basic pattern developed on paper by drafting with seam allowances omitted, used as a tool to create other patterns) once, and it wasn’t quite perfect in fit yet. Plus, the design had french darts, a technique I had never used before (by the way, if you want to make good french darts, DO follow this short tip from Gertie’s Blog for Better Sewing. It helped me immensely). This ran me into a bit of trouble in the finished dress (a wee bit too poky of darts, but I decided to just let that issue go), but it wasn’t anything this puzzle-solver couldn’t figure out. The dress is by no means perfect, but it is my dream dress in every way. My ballerina moment dress, if you will.
I wasn’t sure which buttons to use at first, since I didn’t have any in the stash that “fit” with the design. So I buckled and bought these iridescent crystal buttons online. They turned out to be just the bling I needed to complete the dress. Oh, and if you are wondering about the tiny seams, yes, I did eensy-beensy french seams. Those were fun! But I will say, my only quibble with working with Nylon Plisse would be how hard it was to press and get the wrinkles out. To this day, I cannot get the storage wrinkles out of the fabric. Oh well!
One thing about working with sheer material ,that has always been tricky for me, is the hem. I did not want to have a hem ruining the gorgeous sheer effect of my dress, but thankfully the way the skirt was cut (a rectangle pleated onto a shaped yoke), allowed me to cut the skirt with the hem running along the selvedge of the fabric.
The slip is probably one of my favorite details of the dress. The story about how I got the fabric is just so perfectly providential. Mom and I stopped in at our local fabric store (Fabric Shack), to look for some material for the slip. I knew exactly which material I wanted: It was a silk cotton blend, that was satin on one side, plain weave on the other. I didn’t know the name, but it turned out to be Kaufman Radiance. I couldn’t find it on the shelves where it normally sat, so I went up to the clerk to ask if they had any. It turns out they had taken it off of the shelves, since there was so little left. She asked me what color I had in mind, and went in the back to see if they had any fabric left in that color. Would you believe my joy when she came out carrying a bolt in the exact color, with just enough fabric on it to make my party dress slip? It was so providential!
A few details about the slip, differentiating it from the outer dress. I cut it using the same pattern, sans yoke and sleeves, and swapped out the pleated skirt for a circular design. Using this method not only cut down on bulk in the skirt, but it also meant that the design lines and darts would align in the finished garments. Because who wants darts going one way in their slip, while their sheer overdress has darts going in a completely different direction? Not I!
So, yes, this is my dream party dress. Cinderella, Ballerina, Princess, Vintage maven all wrapped into one. But it does have its flaws and quirks. One side of the skirt yoke tended to creep up so I added a bit of boning (a.k.a zip tie) to keep it lying flat; the shoulder yoke doesn’t sit quite smoothly; the darts are a wee bit poky, just to mention a few issues. But, you know what? They are faults I can live with. And this dress is still everything I hoped and dreamed it would be. I felt like a princess or some character in a novel when I wore it for Charlotte’s birthday party, and it was so delightful to dance in that beautiful pleated skirt. I felt like I was on top of the world that night, even though it wasn’t my birthday party (yes, it is possible to enjoy yourself just as much as the birthday girl at your sister’s birthday bash!), and this dress was a part of that lovely dream of a night.
What do you think of my dream dress?
Have you ever made yourself a dress from your own hand-drafted pattern?
Have you ever worked with Nylon Plisse?
Brigid, the Middle Sister and Singer
P.S. If you want to see the dress in action, you can catch glimpses of it in Charlotte’s Birthday Party Vlog.
*This technically wasn’t my first try at pattern drafting, but it was my first try drafting by hand using a customized sloper (see definition above) based off of a commercial basic dress pattern such as this one.