Let me just say at the outset that I am never going to make a dress out of pashmina shawls again. The fabric is so loosely woven that it’s next to impossible to cut straight, it frays if you look at it funny (I had to zig-zag every single edge to keep it from unraveling entirely), and it snags at the slightest provocation. Unpicking seams takes forever and leaves gaping wounds in the fabric, the weight of the skirt alone appears to be pulling the fabric itself out of shape, and I have no idea how I’ll wash this thing if it ever needs cleaning. Never again. Never. Again.
Anyway, back to a time when I didn’t know all this…
The first thing I did for this dress was to cut out my skirt panels from each shawl, because that would dictate how much space I had to work with on each shawl for other pattern pieces. I ended up doing the front of the bodice on one shawl, the back pieces on another, and the sleeves on two more. I only used five shawls for the skirt, so I was able to cut the waistband along the length of the sixth to take advantage of the finished edge.
My basic bodice pattern is for a fitted, button-back bodice, but like I said before I wanted to make a fan-gathered front and a drawstring back with some room for sizing adjustment. The lining of the bodice front was cut to the original size, but I cut the front and back pieces several inches wider to allow for the gathering.
I stitched my bodice and lining layers together separately to basically make two bodices– an inner bodice (regular size) and an outer bodice (much wider in front). Then I ran gathering stitches along the center of the outer bodice neckline and pulled them up to fit the lining. I pleated the lower edge of the bodice front to fit the lining, taking deep pleats in the center section only and pinning each pleat in place. The difference between the tiny gathers at the top and the large pleats at the bottom makes the fan effect.
It looked great– until I tried it on and realized that it made the shape of the bust all weird, so I ended up unpicking my basting seams and just gathering the entire bottom edge after all. So much for my idea. Next time I’ll have to fiddle with the shape of the lower edge to see if I can make it work.
I stitched a narrow channel along the back of the neckline only, and hand-sewed eyelets at the ends. I will note that because both the lining and fashion fabric were pretty sheer and I was worried about the eyelets’ stability, I stitched the eyelets through the seam allowances as well, which acted as reinforcement, and ran 1/4″ satin ribbon through the channels, fixing the ribbon at the shoulder seams. Next, much as I did on my sheer Regency gown, I made a three-layered waistband (only 3/4″ wide this time, plus seam allowances), stitching two layers to the “right” side of the bodice, and a layer of lining on the “wrong” side to cover up the raw edge of the waistline. I added eyelets at each side, just as I had with the neckline.
Then I took the designated skirt pieces of five of my shawls and stitched them together to make a nice wide tube. Too wide, as it turned out– the shawl fabric, despite being sheer, was also fluffy, and didn’t want to pleat down as nicely as I hoped. I ended up taking out about 20″ of width from the center back of the skirt. Of course, all the attempts at pleating, basting, unpicking, and re-pleating were hell on my fraying-prone fabric, which only reinforced my vow never to do this with shawls again.
Once I had my skirt and lining (a narrower version of the skirt, made out of burgundy voile) attached, I zig-zagged through all the seam allowances to keep things from fraying, and hand-stitched the lining layer of the waistband down over the finished seam allowance to make the channel for the waist ties. Then I ran more ribbon through the channel to keep the waist closed.
To hem the bottom, first I clipped the fringe off the bottom edge, then folded the edge inward and zig-zagged over the narrow hem to really make it sturdy. Then I turned up another narrow hem and stitched that with a regular seam. The thread matched so well that it was barely visible– the only benefit of the loosely-woven fabric.
Almost done– up next, sleeves!