Sunday, January 18, 2009

Washington D.C. - Here we come!

The first of the Inaugural balls are tonight and we're waiting with anticipation to see if any of Fine Fabrics clients in attendance at the Inaugural festivities appear in press photos. We're pretty sure two will, but they are not about whom we are writing today. Instead, we're writing about two other clients, who understand the fashion for the Inauguration --- understated democratic blue, well blue and purple, but understated nonetheless.

Two of Fine Fabrics clients who are in attendance at the Washington D.C. festivities chose to wear gowns of jersey. The client who sews for herself made a simple dress of purple rayon jersey. Another client's gown was made in a last minute flurry by none other than yours truly, Ms. Fine Fabrics.

Inspiration must have overtaken my reason and sanity, since I designed, fitted - which was part of the inspiration, since the client is a body type for which I had not personally worked with in the past, and constructed a gown appropriate for the occasion and personality of the client in 4 days. Which only serves to remind me why my number 1 rule for dressmaking is "no unreasonable deadlines". Well, it is really rule number 2, but after this last week's flurry it is working its way up to the number 1 position.

The client is a true California blond, athletic and sporty, with a petite-apple figure type. She is attending the California Inaugural Ball and hostess of a party on Inaugural (Tuesday) night, our goal was for her to feel and be comfortable, beautiful and glamorous.

To do this, we had to choose a design that did not look like a standard from the mother of the bride department of a bridal store, or hide in a mu-mu or big shirt worn like Mama Cass. We needed a gown that was:

(1) Fitted at the right points - in this case across the shoulders and around to the mid-back;
(2) Draped at the right points - in this case off center from narrowest waist point to the ground, and sweeping around the hemline at the back; and
(3) Handled in a manner that carries the eye from the face and down to the ground.

Since were on such a tight schedule, I didn't even think of trying to draft a pattern, especially for someone for whom I had never sewn in the past. Instead, I started with Bellville Sassoon's Vogue Pattern 1014. This gown's asymmetry is perfect for adding height and its drape is great for dancing. We lengthened the dress to the floor and added long fitted sleeves. We also cut a V-neckline and moved the shoulder line up closer to the neck. The pattern has the back and front meeting at the shoulder point.

For the right arm, right front and drape that wraps around the lower back hem, we used a navy silk and rayon velvet burn out. The choice of this fabric and substituting it for the lower right side added length and glamor, and drape for dancing.

For the left arm, shoulder and mid-back, we used nothing more than a very fine navy cotton interlock - Made in Italy - t-shirt material. The use of this fabric allowed us to sculpt and accentuate the sexy curve of the client's mid-back.

We lined the dress with yoga pant weight navy blue knit, which smoothed the client's curves, and eliminated her need to wear constricting undergarments.

In my opinion, the picture on the pattern envelope does not do this design justice. It appears dowdy. In actuality, this dress is a very avant-gard and elegant design. Its construction is surprising. The fact that I did not study it before suggesting we use it as our starting point proved a challenge at the outset. It is a very difficult pattern to alter to true measurements.

The right front begins at the left shoulder and is also the upper back. It wraps over the right shoulder, across the front, down the left side from below the waist, then around the hem in the back. The dress twists from bias at the neckline to cross grain around the back hem. The zipper runs from left shoulder to right hip, also along the bias. The left front attaches to the right lower front and the center back is its own piece that again meets the right front between each of its 2-sides. The waistline markings are no more than a curved line at one-side, on one piece.
Each pattern piece is cut individually. Crossing silk pins is my preferred method of marking when working with single pieces. (More about marking techniques later.)

Vogue patterns run tight through the waist, at least for women who have had children. Due to the twists and turns of the design, we could not add the 3" here necessary until after the muslin draft was constructed. Once the muslin gown was on the client we took a pair of scissors and cut it just left of the center front on the lower right piece and inserted a 3" piece of muslin from waistline to floor there. That was an easy fix and added some volume for dancing at the now floor length hemline.

We were able to match the left front cross-over waistline to which the lower right attaches and right front by doing the same at their right side seam. We also had to shorten the waist length on both the left front and back, and pinch in the back neck, which may have been due to stretching, since this line came in short in the end, and had to be put back in at the shoulder. Note to tape necklines on muslin for fitting in the future.

Adding length to a pattern is the very easiest alteration. In this case it was possible to do so simply by extending the seam line along each pattern edge. We adjusted by pinning against the floor as our final fitting step.

A good tailored fit through the shoulders is important for everyone, but especially important for petite-apples. We altered the armscye by increasing its depth a bit in the front and decreasing it a bit in the back. We then had the client lift her arms. The garment responded by pulling up from the waist up into the armpit. We cut the sleeve piece right along its center line to increase its volume as pictured. This added muslin scrap is sewn into place, the grainline remarked and the muslin sleeve is then used as our pattern.
We decided to close the shoulder line after fitting, so I extended the shoulder line when cutting the fabric, then marked its length during our second fitting. To fake out a sleeve was in place and prevent the armscye from stretching while fitting, I pinned a piece of seam binding cut to finished size around the armscye. Twill tape, also available from, will do the job just as well. I should have done the same around the neckline. That I didn't caused problems with zipper placement at the eleventh hour, which is precisely why "no unreasonable deadlines" is a rule. It is a self-fulfilled prophecy. The corner you cut in a flurry will always cause a catastrophe in the end.

Since our client had to fly off to Washington D.C. before we were finished, we'll have to wait for her return for pictures, but then, it wouldn't be fair to announce what she is wearing before she appears at her first Ball tonight and the party she is hosting on Tuesday night.

For finished gown click here