Completed: The summer cocktail dress

Those of you who have followed me for a while know that I started a pattern drafting course earlier in the year. Three months ago I walked into my first session wondering whether my inspiration dress could be turned into a real one, made to measure, just for me. 

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I had never drafted a pattern before so the first three lessons or so were a learning curve for me. I learnt how to take a picture and add it to my block. This 2D image then became separate pattern pieces, which is a wonderful experience when you have created them yourself. A few modifications were needed and then I set about the complex construction. I won't go into details but you find them all in previous posts. Last night I added the final stitch. 

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Never one to shy away from a challenge, I honestly thought, at times, I had bit off too much with this dress. I don't think any item has taken me so long to finish nor has one demanded so much emotional investment. The construction was a little like a love-hate relationship. There were days when I adored it, days when I couldn't get excited about it. Posting about it made the process a little easier as the comments left were encouraging. I last left you at the terrifying stage of cutting the chiffon for the godets. Eventually they decided to cooperate although tears were nearly shed and I did need some expert help in getting the point right on the centre front one. Inserting godets into a seam is much easier, so much so that I added an extra one to the centre back seam. 

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The dress has an invisible zip which I put in by hand. It is fastened at the top with a hook and eye. The bustier needed an extra layer on chiffon at the top to hide the fact that both sides had stretched. I also noticed that it wasn't big enough to cover my bra - not a look I was going for! The sleeves weren't as difficult as I expected them to be. I did have help putting them in but I added the cuff independently. The band on the right arm is a little tight but I do have room to move and didn't think it justified unpicking. I have to say I've had my fill of unpicking silk! 

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Hemming isn't the part of sewing I enjoy the most and I had two hems to do. The lining is a double folded hem and ends higher than the chiffon. The chiffon is finished with a double zig zag stitch. I went all the way round with a zig zag and started again, all the way round, for a second time. Apparently this was one way of finishing a seam before over lockers entered the stage. This hem is small but it feels sturdy and provides a little bit of definition at the bottom. 

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I learnt a lot throughout this process. I can now draft a basic pattern. I know nifty tricks for gathering, getting rid of those pesky stitches that are missed and form little loops on your fabric and how to add godets. I know to pull back a little from such a complex idea the next time I do a course although some complexity is good! Fitting during the construction is a very good idea, I just need to remember that for future projects. Silk chiffon is a wonderful fabric but a nightmare to work with. It will be a while before I contemplate using it again. But the biggest thing I have learnt is that patience is your best friend in sewing (although the seam ripper could plausibly argue its worthiness for this prize). There were many times when I wanted to rush forward but I knew it wouldn't look right or it would damage the fabric. I did unpick the pieces I wasn't happy with, I wouldn't have done in many of my previous makes. You also cannot beat being taught by someone with many years experience. Special thanks have to go to Chris for getting me to the finish line. She went above and beyond the boundaries of the course.  

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Overall I am very happy with this dress even though it is very different to what I would normally wear. It is much more feminine than most of my dresses. The colours are not my normal colours and it is taking a while to get used to them. Would I make it again? Yes, but with changes. I would probably change the fabric, and maybe play around with the skirt a little. It is great that I can now take a item and recreate my own version. In case you're wondering, I saved myself over £3000 by making my version! Yet another reason why I love stitching! 

Pattern drafting - week 7

First of all, I wanted to thank you all for the nice comments about my Sorbettos. You guys are great! 

I hope you haven't forgotten about this dress! We had an extra session last night above the shop at Darn It and Stitch. While it was absolutely sweltering, progress was made. Before the session I had managed to get the darts in on the front. This was tricky as they needed to merge with the curved seam line of the side panels. Plenty of basting later and this is the result. At that point I hoped that the silk lining wouldn't stretch again. 

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Well that was wishful thinking! Let's talk about the bustier now, we will get to the stretching again soon. I also put this together before the class. The bustier is, quite frankly, the most fiddly thing I have put together. Ever. It was fun though as I only had the toile that my teacher created to work from. I unpicked one side to find out how it was constructed and then used that as my pattern. The other side was left in case I needed it as a reference. Somehow I managed to stitch everything together on the wrong side which meant a LOT of unpicking. I can now honestly say that I hate unpicking chiffon, it takes so long as the potential for holes is extremely high.

I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to get the pleats in place and stitch them in so I left them overnight. I found myself thinking carefully about the construction while trying to drift off to sleep and hit upon it. This is the only good part about having very noisy neighbours at midnight! I just pinned the pleats in place and hand stitched them with a running stitch from the back, keeping the thread hidden under the top layer. It took an hour to do this but I was pleased with the result. Now, can you see the problem with it in the photo below?

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Yep, the right side (left in the photo) had stretched at the top. A fitting in the class showed this. I couldn't face unpicking it again so my teacher opened up the side and clipped the seam (I may have forgotten to do that) which worked perfectly. We also had to reposition the centre seam. What did this mean? Yes, more unpicking! The lower two pleats moved in the alteration but I finally got them to match reasonably well. 

From here I moved on to adding the bias tape to the neckline. Again this took a while as the chiffon likes to move but they are both in now, with the help of a catch stitch. I love the fact that you can hardly see it in the photo.

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Now the really exciting part. I basted the neckline and bustier to the front. That's it, I now have a dress! Here's a sneak preview. 

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I also got the pattern for my sleeves which was incredible to watch. My teacher had pulled a pattern out of thin air for another member earlier in the class. It did feel like magic, or perhaps that was the heat getting to us. This was used as the basis for mine. We have added some puff to them and they will be gathered at the top and bottom. These, installing the zip as well as fitting and perhaps stitching the bustier in place, is my homework for the weekend. Good job I'm not back at work until Tuesday!

Pattern drafting - week 6

I'm late in posting this as it took a while to figure out how to share the massive amount of progress with you. Do you remember that I said I had a feeling that as soon as I started stitching the pieces together it would come together very quickly? Well, it has! 

But I'm getting ahead of myself, so let's back up to where I left off in week 5. Before we do, I apologise that this is a text heavy and photo light post - I just didn't think to take photos during this session but have tried to replicate where possible. 

I drafted the mini flared skirt. To do this, you need to trace the section of the block that forms the lower part of the dress and draw up three lines, equal distance apart, and then cut those lines to just before the top of the paper. You then spread the pieces by the amount you want the skirt to flare, in my case I add about 7cm between each strip. 

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I cut this out and added it to the bottom of the lining. This lead to my first fitting and the good news is it fits, including over my hips, which is great as this is the area we were most worried about. 

Construction then commenced in ernest. I stitched the chiffon together at the centre back, stopping midway to allow for the zip and then stitched the side seams. The chiffon was pinned and basted to the lining and moved onto a body form. While it looked great, we realised that the lining had stretched a little in places, mainly under the bust. 

At this point, the top front bodice sections, the ones that had previously been underline, were added to see if it would bring some stability. I basted them into place and then tried it on. The fit is pretty close. There was too much fabric at the back, I have a slight sway back, not severe enough to normally make changes but it was noticeable here so we marked a new centre back line. The length was too much for me. Generally I don't wear dresses that fall below my knees, I can't really explain why but it is something to do with the feel, but this one felt different. My teacher then sat on the floor with her rulers and marked where the hem will be on the chiffon and then again on the lining, this one is higher as we need to add the skirt. It felt like a proper fitting session! Normally I don't hem this way as I find it really difficult to do all by myself. 

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We took scissors to the new hems. The skirt was removed and the new hem lines on both the lining and the chiffon was cut, you can see the amount removed above. It felt so wrong but so right to do this. Anyone else get this feeling when you hack your items once you have sewn it together? By this time it home time and I walked away with a long list of things to do at home. 

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From the photo you can see that we are stabilising and finishing the seams on the neckline using bias tape. We decided to add darts to the front, just under the bust. This will be really difficult as I have to merge them with the curved seam line to make sure I don't lose the shaping. I also need to reattach the skirt, prepare the bustier and get ready for adding the godets, if I get chance. The last bit is what worries me most as this means we're getting ready to put up to six slashes into the dress, eek! 

Technically the course has ended now but we'll be organising a few more sessions as most of us didn't finish. I have to say it was a little tough drafting a pattern and completing the dress in six weeks, perhaps that is why we didn't finish. But I've had a great time and it isn't a problem going to extra sessions. Hopefully it won't be too long before I can share the finished dress with you but I can't add the godets to the skirt, draft the sleeves and stitch in the bustier until these sessions start. 

Pattern drafting - week 5

I feel like progress is finally being made! I walked into the class with the dress practically as I had left it last week, in pieces and without the lining being cut out, as I didn't get chance over the weekend to baste everything together. That's not quite true, I did manage to underline the top front pieces. They are the only pieces being underlined. I'm not sure why but I'm enjoying watching this process unfold and hope for that lightbulb moment. But does anyone know why you would underline just two pieces and not the rest? 

Last night I cut out the lining and was rather relieved that I didn't do it at home as I learnt a nifty trick. The top layer of silk chiffon will be made of the many pieces and thus have a number of seam lines. The silk lining, however, will have less seams but keep the same shape. How? We laid the pattern pieces together and pinned them along the seam lines and then cut out. This makes for a lot smoother and more comfortable lining! I also shortened the length as we will be making a slightly flared skirt to go at the bottom. 

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I stitched the side seams using a small zig zag stitch as there is some stretch in the silk. I then put this aside and basted the chiffon together. This took a while as the fabric is slippery and trying to match notches (or balance marks, I also learned) at the edges isn't so straightforward. After much pinning with my new silk pins (they come highly recommended) I eventually had the pieces held securely in place. 

Then the fun really began. I used an overlocker for the first time! I had been waiting to try one for a long time. The lining edges were fraying very badly and overlocking seemed to be the most logical way to finish the seams. I watched a quick demonstration and then had a go with the other seam. I have to say, my seam wasn't as neat as the other but it wasn't bad for a first go! And it is something that I definitely want to try again. It seems that I will at some point soon as I had to test the thread colour for overlocking the chiffon. Did anyone else raise an eyebrow at this? Turns out it works fine! 

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I have another long weekend (hooray!) I will be stitching up the chiffon and need to draft the pattern for the flared skirt and cut that out in the lining. I'll also be going on my first blogger meet up in Birmingham which I'm really looking forward to. I've been wanting to go on one since seeing the epic London meet up! 

Pattern drafting - week 4

Well, last night's course went in a flash but I was much, much happier. Before I had even put my bag down my teacher announced to everyone that she had been working on my bust! 

"Um, thanks, I think" I muttered to the giggles of the others. Turns out she had gone away and created two pieces of my pattern to make this:

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It almost fits perfectly! I can't believe she made this just based on my measurements and observing my shape. She never fails to amaze me. That's years of experience for you. So no need to worry about drafting that part of the pattern! 

After saying we had to go back to the block and start again, it turns out we didn't. Hooray! Instead we made the changes on the pattern draft and I only had to retrace two pieces. The front dart was extended. In pattern piece number 1 we added two small darts which were pivoted to remove the excess fabric. I couldn't work out how to pivot out three darts on this piece so I traced it with all three and then folded the darts. The shoulder seam was brought forward on the front by 1.5cm and the back was extended by the same amount. The neck line was reduced by 1.5cm on each side and this change should make the fit much closer to the original dress. We also marked the spot where the godets will be in the skirt. We're working a cascade effect here with some higher than the others, again we're staying true to the original design. 

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This all took less than half the class and before I knew it I was straightening the silk chiffon to get it ready to cut. This took forever as it comes with all the standard problems that slippery fabrics have. I pinned the selvedges together to ensure it wouldn't move too much and then laid out the pieces. Getting the pieces on grain was much easier than I anticipated though, mainly because the longest part was matched to the selvedge - the chiffon has a great selvedge that can be used in the seam allowance. I also took Hazel's advice and pinned and pinned to prevent further movement. Going slowly I managed to cut some reasonably clean lines. I would have liked to have tried cutting between tissue paper but that's a trick to try next time. I haven't cut the bustier or the godets yet. 

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I'll be spending this weekend basting the pieces together and beginning to write out the instructions for making it. I also need to hand wash the three metres of lining fabric. I managed to find a cream silk which brings out the colours in the chiffon beautifully. I'm running out of chiffon but luckily the supply hasn't run dry and I'll be picking up some more next week. There is still a lot more to do, including working out how the lining will be shaped to make the perfect fit, but I don't feel quite so far behind now!