Party Dress, Part 1

Recently, I have gone on a little sewing kick.  It all started with some really lovely batik napkins from Crate & Barrell.  Really lovely, and really expensive.  And I thought, I can make my own cloth napkins! I know how to sew, and the construction of a simple square would be easy enough.  And it was!  I bought some fabric and made the cutest little napkins and was totally charged up to keep sewing.

Of course anyone knows that the logical progression from simple cloth napkins is a party dress, right?

Well, I got a hold of The Party Dress Book by Mary Adams (she makes all of Amy Sedaris’s adorable little frocks), and coupled with my recent sewing success it made we want to make a dress.  The book includes a pattern for a dress, so I figured I might as well go for it. It has been a fun and challenging project so far.  Isn’t it interesting that you can do well the things you can do well, but you can get a more profound sense of accomplishment from doing well things that you don’t really know how to do?  Well I have had such fun making this dress (the first non-costume garment I have ever sewed (sewn?)) that I want to wear it around everywhere and shout “hey look what I can do!”

I must also confess that I started writing this a while ago, when the future tense was appropriate, but I never finished writing it because I have been OBSESSED with sewing, and now I am pretty much finished.  I guess I’ll try to go through and change the tense, but please forgive me if I miss anything!  You know I started this blog because I thought that writing about my projects would help me keep track of them, but it turns out that when I am in the middle of a project I don’t have the time to write about it.  I need to figure out a better system.

Back to the point: The book has three different options for the dress-silk organza, cotton, and chiffon.  Since I live with Texas summers and don’t really go anywhere too fancy I decided to stick with cotton.  Also, Mary Adams designed a dress for may Sedaris call the Apron Dress – crafted from vintage aprons – which I just adore, and I figured I could capture the spirit of that dress by using different cotton prints for my dress (she suggests as much in the book).  And because I would NEVER be able to cut up all of my lovely vintage aprons!  The dress pattern that comes with the book has a circle skirt, but Mary recommends using a gathered skirt for the cotton version.  But hello, what is more fun than a circle skirt?  How will I make it look like a punk-rock square dance outfit if I don’t have a circle skirt?   Does a simple gathered skirt twist a twirl like a circle skirt?  I think not!  And you know this girl loves to twirl. (Thanks go to Elizabeth Cox for giving me the term “punk-rock square dance outfit” as a description of my dress.  And for the record, I know it would sort of be a shortcut to just say Rockabilly, and it would even be fair to describe to look as Western Swing, but then I wouldn’t have a mental image of doing the Polka to The KKK Took my Baby Away).

So, I adapted the pattern with more or less success by folding the cut-out skirt pattern pieces into thirds, tracing each third onto a different cotton print, and sewing those together.  I can’t wait to swing around in this puppy!

Skirt pieces sewn together (and wouldn't it -minus the hole- make a lovely table cloth!)

I did learn the wonderful new technique of the French Seam from this book, for which I will be eternally grateful.  On a French seam, you sew the fabric together with the wrong sides facing first, then fold over to the right sides facing and sew over your previous seam allowance, enclosing the cut edges of the material.  It creates a wonderful finished seam on the inside of the garment, and keeps the fabric from unraveling.  It really makes it look professional, too!

Just look at how neat those seams are!

The skirt was not too challenging, as I understand the principle of creating a circle skirt pretty well – sew together wedge shaped pieces of fabric to make a giant circle, cut a hole for your waist.  The bodice was really what I was most concerned about, because that part actually needs to fit, you know?  I decided not to frankenstein together pieces of fabric so that the top would exactly match the bottom, and instead followed the pattern’s advice of using a different print on each panel of the bodice.

The bodice is also lined with interfacing, which I have never used before.  It is basically just a thin, somewhat rigid fabric that helps hold the structure of the pattern.  You sew the interfacing to the outside fabric before sewing those pieces together.  Both the top and bottom are also lined, and I decided to use muslin for the lining, since it is cheap and a nice soft lightweight cotton.  After sewing the pieces of the bodice and bodice lining to themselves, I sewed them together and pressed it all out.

What a mess!

I also learned from this book that ironing is an essential part of sewing.  Naturally, I hate to iron and never iron my clothes, so this is totally the down side of my new sewing obsession.  Isn’t life funny that way?  When I decided to be an artist, I felt like I was eschewing more rigid analytical subjects, like math in particular.  It wasn’t until I was way to far down the path to change my mind that I discovered that making art – sculpture, especially – requires a shit load of math.  I sure wish I had taken more math classes now.  Anyway, I ironed it all out and wow! it actually looks sort of garment-like.

And doesn’t this lining —

Look much better for the inside of the garment than this ugly seam mess?



After I over-stitched along the top of the bodice to hold the front and the lining together I wrapped it around myself to sort of try it on.  I didn’t like the way it fit across the bust (it sort of puffed out in the middle) and I don’t think my sewing skills are up to any real alterations like the ones shown in the book.  After some fussing with it, I came up with a solution: I just gathered up the extra fabric in the center and made a little extra bust detail flourish.

I initially gathered it up too much and made the bust too low and where it really clinged to my breasts and made them look gigantic, and not in a flattering way.  I picked out that stitching and tried again, and eventually ended up with something pretty cute.

Now all that’s left is to finish the skirt, sew the lining onto it, sew the top and the bottom together, put in a zipper, and finish it all off.   Oh, and maybe add a petticoat!


About heidisavestheday

Heidi is an artist and a maker of things living in Sherman, TX. She is a great baker of cookies, a terrible accordion player, and the kind of person who wonders about whether this should be written in the first or third person.
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3 Responses to Party Dress, Part 1

  1. Meghan says:

    Oh, is there anything that you can’t do?! I hope not, because then my hopes would be dashed. I love it.

  2. Peggy says:

    It will be great! I love the variety of the material. For napkins I use the bandanas at hobby lobby for 99 cents! There is so much pleasure in sewing but when I can get Dillards markdowns so cheap I can’t even buy the material for that!

  3. Caroline says:

    Having seen this frock in person I must say it’s a fabulous treasure. I loved it then and I love it even more now that I know how it came to be. Well done, my talented friend! I’m sending you something in the mail soon!

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