As you may well know, The Fabric Store has been carrying Liberty prints for a while now, and when I first saw them in person, the selection was both thrilling and overwhelming. Liberty has long established itself as the go-to fabric supplier for all things floral, but I soon found out that delicate flowers were not the only thing they were good at; as seen in the cityscape fabric for this dress I made last year, Liberty can do modern and abstract just as well as they can do feminine and organic. They carry large and small prints, both quaint and sophisticated, in a bigger variety than ever before, and although they have plenty of woven silks and cottons in their arsenal, they also have a growing selection of stretch knits, which is what I always gravitate towards. Truth be told, sewing with silk still scares me, and while I have had successes in the past, the overwhelming outcome of my silk projects has been abysmal.
Despite my history with silk, I knew I needed to get over my fear sooner than later because the three yard cut of Liberty silk Cynthia sent me (Cynthia is one of girls at the LA shop, and she is SO helpful and intuitive about picking out fabrics and prints! Call them for all your fabric shopping needs!) was just screaming to be sewn into something spectacular. I am astonished at how technically busy this print is without it feeling overwhelming or loud. The beauty of this fabric is a real testament to the individual who designed the print; the color combo is mostly monochromatic with subdued hues of browns, mauves and greens, and the shades of brighter colors in the print are used so sparingly that they don’t feel splashy. But the real star of the print for me is the line work used. The shapes are not exactly flowers and they aren’t exactly paisley- I don’t really know what to call them. When you look closely, the print of the fabric looks more like intricate doodles squeezed together and delineated by color. However you want to describe it, I think it’s stunning. Usually when working with a busy print I feel pretty nauseated about halfway through construction, but that was not the case with this one at all- each seam gave me an opportunity to discover something new in the print and my admiration for the beautiful color palette just continued to grow the further I got along in my process.
Anyways, I have tried the method of cutting out silk in a single layer sandwiched between pieces of paper to keep the fabric from shifting to varying degrees of success. The biggest con with this method is that I hate wasting all that paper, and while it’s certainly better than cutting the silk plain, I still found it tricky to keep the paper and the silk layers together throughout the process. On top of that, this method only applies to cutting the silk- sewing with it still takes a tremendous amount of care (some people suggest even sewing your silk pieces with a layer of paper sandwiched in between and then gently tearing it off the fabric through the perforations, but I have never had the patience). For this dress I nixed the paper idea and took a cue from one of Lladybird’s blog posts suggesting the use of a spray fabric stiffener on your silk projects. I have read that using a gelatin soak on silk works much the same, but I was impatient and eager to get started on this project sooner than later. I hung my Liberty fabric over my backdrop, sprayed the entire yardage with the fabric stiffener until it was damp, then let it dry. When I checked on it an hour later, the fabric was totally transformed; it had a stiffer hand, no longer flowed and draped as it had before, and behaved like a lightweight cotton. It was so easy to maneuver that I was able to cut it on the fold easily, and the threads of the silk didn’t shred all over the place as it has a tendency to do, either. But the best part was that it sewed like a dream! No more wonky seams and sliding fabrics- everything stayed in place and over the two or three days that I worked on this pattern, the fabric stayed stiff and crisp. To get it back to it’s natural, silky state, when the dress was completed I soaked it in water and a little bit of eucalin soap for about 10 minutes and then I let it air dry. The next day after a gentle ironing, it was good as new! So easy!
The pattern I used for this dress is a vintage Butterick that was gifted to me by the lovely blogger Amelia when we met a couple of years ago at a panel discussion about diversity in the media (I am pretty sure I have mentioned her generous gift before!) I actually had planned on using a different vintage pattern for this project, but when I opened the pattern I realized it was missing the entire front pattern piece, so I chucked it in my paper bin (I always re-use old pattern paper and envelopes for wrapping) and settled on this one instead. This was probably a blessing in disguise because I think the Liberty fabric suits this pattern even better than my original choice.
Vintage patterns are SO. FREAKING. GREAT. I mean, the instructions can often be wonky, and sometimes they use weird techniques that are either unnecessary or completely outdated, but a lot of the time the designs and approaches used in construction are super clever and feel fresh since modern designers don’t utilize those methods anymore. One of the elements I was most taken with was the way the sleeve cuffs came together. I assumed there would be a placket of sorts with buttons and holes on either side to close the cuff to the wrist, but this pattern used a much more simpler yet still effective technique. There is no placket at all, rather the cuffs are positioned so that there is extra room between the edges of the sleeve, and that excess fabric is simply folded in when the buttons are closed. This detail wouldn’t work on a bulky fabric and definitely has a more feminine effect than a regular placket, but it works beautifully on a lightweight flowy silk such as this.
But the real drama of this dress for me is in the collar, which is created with a standard placket and drafted to flow up the side of the neck. This detail coupled with the puffy sleeves and the gathered cuffs at the wrist gave me a very Designing Women vibe, which technically was an 80’s show but some of the clothing still seemed inspired by a little 70’s glam. Normally I am weary of the sizing on Big 4 patterns, but I seem to have a little bit more luck with vintage patterns, and the shape of this pattern offered a lot of wiggle room since it wasn’t meant to fit closely to the body. Because of this, I didn’t make a muslin and the fit turned out great.
I did however shorten the sleeves considerably, because even just eye-balling the pattern piece I could tell they were gonna be way too long. The end result was just perfect but I had to redo my sleeve insertion a couple of times; because the sleeves are gathered to create a poofy effect around the shoulders, there was a lot of easing that needed to happen, and my ease wasn’t very even on one of my sleeves. It’s possibly that I should have taken off some of the seam allowance at the shoulders to take up some of the extra fabric in the sleeve head, but instead I just very carefully tried to even out my gathers and make sure they were concentrated at the top of the sleeve as opposed to the front or the back. This part of the dress does not look perfect, but it doesn’t bother me and the sleeves feel comfortable.
The only other change I made to the pattern was to add elastic to the waist. As drafted, the pattern is meant to be worn with a belt wrapped at the waist to cinch in the extra fabric, and while I loved the look of the belt, I knew that, because of my waist to hip ratio, that free flowing fabric around my waist was never gonna sit right and I would be fiddling with it all day. I knew that elastic would give the same effect while keeping the gathered fabric in place, particularly with such a lightweight fabric. So I cut a strip of fabric the length of the waist of the dress and the width of my elastic (1/2″) plus room for folding over each edge. I sewed the casing onto the dress, inserted my elastic, and closed the hole up at the side seam, making sure to spread my elastic evenly across the waist. It worked like a charm. I also put belt loops on either side of the dress because I knew I would still want to wear a belt with it and I wanted the belt to stay in place since they have a tendency to ride up on me. The belt was made of several strips of fabric sewed together and then turned inside out. I used to serge all my inside seams for finishing but I am becoming a strictly french seam kind of girl when the seams are suitable and the fabric is a woven. It makes the end-product look so luxurious and I am convinced that it stays looking neat on the inside for much longer. For this dress, all inside seams are french, and I used bias tape to finish the sleeves with a hong kong seam.
I thought that this dress was transparent when I first saw the fabric so I wore a slip under it when I wore it to the TCAs this past week, but turns out that it wasn’t really necessary- the fabric is so busy that you can’t even see the shadow of my body underneath it, which is important to know if I ever decide to wear this in warmer weather. I love love LOVE how this dress came out- it is even better than I imagined it would be! It feels glamorous and it got so many compliments when I wore it for the first time, and it also looked surprisingly good on camera (they say you shouldn’t wear prints or multi-colored garments on camera but I think it totally depends on what the fabric looks like- again, the color combination of this silk really makes it magical!