Here it is, the final outfit in action at Misti-Con 2015! I’m very happy with how it turned out– it’s always nice when something looks almost exactly as you’d pictured it (even if it did take a lot of alteration to get that way). Sure, there are a few tiny differences, but the costume was very well-received and I had a lot of fun wearing it. Definitely worth making, though if I attend the convention in 2017 I am definitely bringing more costumes with me– got to keep up with all the amazing fans there!
Once all of the structural elements of the dress were done with all the seams finished, I finally hemmed it. The first step was putting it on the dress form and doing a preliminary pinning, but then I put it on myself and had my husband adjust the height of the hem so it actually worked for me (not making the same mistake I did with the bodice here). I trimmed the extra fabric and used the seam binding to bind the raw edge of the hem, then used that edge to machine-hem the dress with a blind stitch. The video below explains it fairly well.
You don’t really need a blind hem foot to do this– just keep a close watch on where your stitches are landing relative to the folded edge. Especially with a more textured fabric, it won’t matter if your stitches are a little bigger than expected.
So I’ve got the main dress done, but I wanted to add a little something to embellish it at the neckline. I wasn’t about to do any hand-embroidery or beading in my limited timeframe, so I looked for some nice appliques instead. I looked at a lot of different types, including venise lace, soutache, and even sari trim, but eventually I decided on some silver embroidered appliques in a vaguely floral pattern. They’re not too shiny and not too ornate, so they embellish without overpowering.
While I’m waiting to finish up the dress, I’ll need to acquire some accessories.
I’d always planned to have a belt on this dress, but while the sewing pattern had an option for a fabric sash it just looked kind of boring. I wanted to find something made of metal or thin chains– kind of a veiled reference to the traditional “ghost = chained to the earth a la Jacob Marley” thing. A little searching online revealed that what I really wanted was a “concho belt,” traditionally worn in the Southwest and made up of silver medallions. The one I bought arrived looking pretty shiny, but I painted on some black acrylic paint, waited for it to dry a bit, then wiped most of it off with a paper towel– the paint stayed in the cracks (hard to see in the picture below) and gave it a nice antiqued feel.
So, I know that the “proper” way to get the sleeve-puff look is to sew a separate chemise and allow it to puff through openings in the oversleeve. I’m not going to do that. Instead, blatantly borrowing from numerous online tutorials on constructing sleeves for “Merida” costumes, I’ve constructed the puff and non-puff sections of the sleeves separately, and sewn them in a column to form the sleeve.
To draft the sleeve pattern, I took the basic straight sleeve and marked where I wanted my puffs to be. Then I cut along the lines and re-drew each piece, adding in seam allowances. The elbow puff is tapered at the inside elbow joint so it won’t bunch when I bend my arm. Similarly, the shoulder puff is cut right at the section of the sleeve under the armpit to avoid bunching.
Okay, so remember how I went to all the trouble of picking out lavender lining fabric and cutting all my pattern pieces out of it before moving on to my embroidered fabric? I honestly did intend to do a lining at that point, but after trying the dress on I realized that the inside really wasn’t all that scratchy after all. Plus, as the weather has warmed up I’ve realized that it’s going to be awfully hot at the end of May, and I won’t really want another layer of non-breathable fabric next to my skin to hold the sweat in. So I’ve decided to skip the lining. I’m going to put in a neckline facing to finish that edge, and since the inner seams will now be exposed (at least from the inside) I’m binding them with Hug Snug, a rayon seam binding that will finish the edges and prevent them from fraying.
First up is the seam binding. While more experienced sewers may be able to simply iron it in half and sew both sides at once, I opted to go with the more cautious method and first stitched one side of the binding to one side of the seam allowance, then turned it over and did the other side. It took FOREVER, but it made the inside of the dress look infinitely better than it did before.
Once those were done I finalized the neckline of my dress, then traced it out on paper to draft a pattern for the facing pieces. I made the facing out of material from the gores (interfaced with lightweight iron-on interfacing), and then sewed it, right sides together, to the neckline. Then I flipped it over and understitched it to keep it lying flat.
Once my back closures were finished I eagerly tried on the dress, figuring I’d swan around in it for a while and gloat over how well it had gone so far. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way, and I blame it squarely on my dress form. Or rather, on the fact that my dress form isn’t shaped quite the same way I am. Because while the dress bodice looks fine on the form, with all the seams in the right places, it does not fit all that well on me.
Sure, it fits in terms of circumference, but the seams are just awkwardly placed. Princess seams are supposed to be flattering, which is usually accomplished by curving the seams in a bit at the waist to suggest an hourglass shape. Here, the princess seams aren’t quite far enough apart over the bust and they don’t narrow much at the waist, so they make my whole torso look kind of barrel-shaped. The curve of the bust is also very shallow and doesn’t have much definition, exacerbating the “barrel” issue.
Annoyingly, I’d already clipped the curves of the seam allowance before I realized this (my fault for not paying closer attention when I’d tried it on in the past), so I couldn’t just re-do the seams and make them further apart at the top to balance things out. Nor could I just make the seams closer together at the bottom, because that made the whole bodice look weird.
I thought long and hard about whether it was worth fixing, particularly given my limited fabric supply, but decided in the end that it was necessary.
For the back closure I’m opting for an invisible zipper instead of a regular one, since I feel like having a bulky zipper underneath lacing would just look weird. To install it, I used a Universal Invisible Zipper Foot and followed one of the many tutorials online to install the 22″ zipper. Sorry, not going to do a step-by-step accounting here, this tutorial explains it much more clearly than I could.
Suffice it to say that the process was surprisingly easy, though my Universal Foot fell apart more than once, so I’m not a huge fan of the plastic bits. Also, at a few points on my zipper I actually ended up sewing too close to the zipper teeth, preventing it from zipping up, and had to unpick and re-sew those sections. I thought the foot was supposed to keep things at the perfect distance? If I were going to make a habit of using invisible zippers I’d probably just buy a real metal foot designed to fit my machine.
Once the zipper was installed, it was time to do the lacing. I admit that despite my plans to put in the lacing loops before sewing the dress together, I forgot all about it and inadvertently sewed up the back seams on my first sewing pass. But it did help me get a feel for what the finished dress would look like, so it wasn’t all bad. Anyway, I ripped out the back side seams from the neck to the hip at the point where the gores are inserted, then started making the loops.
I didn’t want to use ribbon to make them (not sturdy enough), so I ordered some double-fold 1/4″ bias tape in “Oyster.” Unfortunately, while the single-fold tape in my local store was labelled “Oyster” and looked like the perfect color (a light gray), my tape it arrived looking completely different (a light tan). It turns out the tape at the store was mislabeled. I eventually discovered that the correct color name was “Shadow,” but that they apparently don’t make double-fold tape in that color, so I ended up buying the single-fold and ironing it in half before stitching it closed. Then I cut it into 2 1/2″ lengths, folded them into loops, and basted them into the unpicked side back seams before re-sewing everything on the machine. I used eight loops on each side, and they were spaced 1 1/2″ apart.
Before assembling the dress itself, I had to make the gores to be inserted in the seams. The gores were easy– I just cut 45-degree arcs of fabric with a radius the same length as the skirt section, then stitched one side of each gore to the side front panels. After that, I just ran all of the princess seams through the sewing machine to assemble the body of the dress.
Before I cut into my fancy fabric I cut out my pattern pieces from the lavender polyester lining, just to see how the final pattern changes had affected the cutting layout and yardage requirements. When I cut out my mockup I had just enough fabric to do it at 6 yards of 45″ material, which is exactly what the pattern said I’d use for that width. However, after making my changes for the lining I actually have almost a full yard left from my original 6 yards, so it’s apparent that reducing the hem length back down and cutting the sleeve in separate pieces had quite an effect on the yardage.
I’ve still been pretty nervous about whether I have enough embroidered fabric to make this dress. The pattern says that I can use 4 yards of 60″ wide fabric, but instead I have 4 1/3 yards of 54″ wide. I’ve studied the cutting layout but it’s not really much help– I’m just glad that the embroidery design is omni-directional, so it won’t matter if I cut some pieces upside-down. So here it is, the moment of truth…
It works! Good thing I cut the hem shorter, it never would’ve worked with all that extra length. I do have a little wiggle room on cutting out the sleeve pieces, but it was really close otherwise. So glad that turned out all right!
Knowing that I would be modifying the pattern for this dress, I decided to make a mockup first to ensure it would fit after I’d changed things up. I’d intended to use my lining fabric, figuring that I could make the mockup, cut the new pattern, and then re-sew the pieces for a lining, but once I decided to use the slippery polyester lining fabric I was reluctant to subject it to too much stress with basting and ripping and re-sewing. Instead, I purchased some pale yellow cotton shirting for $1/yard to serve as my muslin.
The first thing I did was cut out the paper pattern pieces and re-trace them onto butcher paper, then tape on extra pieces of paper to modify the pattern. I added about 5″ to the hem, drafted a full-length straight sleeve instead of the flowy one on the pattern, and drew a much higher neckline than called for, since I’ve heard this pattern can run short and be rather revealing.
I also experimented a bit with the back pattern pieces, since I want to add some lacing to the back side seams to allow for fit adjustment. The first thing I did was change the position of the back princess seams, since they curve out to the armscye instead of going up over the shoulder like the seams in the front, making it impossible to just add lacing and expect it to fit properly. Once I figured out how to redraw the seam lines I added width in the seams to allow for the panels to expand and fold in on themselves depending on how tightly they’re laced. I did leave the center back zipper in– I couldn’t remove it completely because I’m not adding enough extra space in the waistline to allow it to fit over my bust, even when unlaced. It’ll make lacing kind of a pain, since the laces will have to be done anew each time the zipper is zipped or unzipped, but I think it’ll be good to have the flexibility in sizing. It’ll also give me some wiggle room (literally) for when I sew up my seams and blithely eyeball the seam allowance.
You can see the folding back seams here– I’ve pinned them in place, as well as overlapping the back to simulate a zipper closure. Just imagine the lacing between the black threaded seams down the back.
Once the mockup was cut, basted, and on my dress form, a few issues became apparent. First, my added hem length was probably overkill– at most I’d need an inch or two extra, not the five I’d added. The back lacing alterations looked good for the most part, though I’m beginning to see why the back seams were drawn curved in the first place– there’s a weird little blousy area right over the shoulder blades that I’m sure wouldn’t have been there if I’d kept the original seam lines. However, since I can’t figure out how to fix it short of putting in darts, I’m just going to ignore it and hope no one notices. I also noticed that the sleeves weren’t set deeply enough into the bodice– the “shoulder strap” sections were so wide that they restricted my arm movement– so I ripped out the seams and re-set them on a deeper curve.
I drew out a new neckline and marked where my gores would fall on the skirt, front and back. I also tried it on just to be sure that things fit properly (my dress form isn’t perfectly matched to my measurements), and marked the correct hem length and where I wanted my sleeve puffs to fall on the arm.
Then I carefully ripped out the necessary seams and used the mockup pieces to modify my paper pattern pieces, including completely re-drawing the sleeve (you’ll see how later).
Now that my pattern pieces are set, it’s time to get cutting on the real stuff!