This make is not perfect, but I am really proud of it, because I went on a REALLY long journey with it before I ended up where I did, and even though it’s so different than what I initially envisioned, it came out much better than I anticipated.
I got the gorgeous gold and white lightweight silk fabric at The Fabric Store many moons ago, and it has been sitting in my stash for the longest. I think I got three yards of it, but I had absolutely no idea what to do with it. The silk is a bit transparent and very delicate, but the print, as you can see, is very bold. It’s an ombre print in gold that, up close, kind of looks like scribbles that get darker and darker. “Scribble” probably isn’t the best way to describe this graphic because I feel like the connotation of that word is “careless” and “messy”, and nothing about this fabric looks like that, but as a doodler myself, I like the idea of a scribble being the jumping off point for this print.
Anyways, a few months ago I came across a cool inspiration photo that Tessuti had posted on their instagram (the garment on the right) of a dress from a designer’s fashion show. I really loved the silhouette of the dress with the big print and the full flowy skirt that looked so lightweight that it was practically floating around her body. I also loved the simplicity of the design. A very simple, almost boxy long sleeved bodice with a high waist that connects to a gathered skirt. It didn’t take me long to imagine my gold and white ombre fabric paired with this design, because it checked all my boxes: I wanted something long to show off the full transition of the ombre, a lightweight, drapey fabric that would flow around the body, and something simple that would let the dynamic print shine.
I spent a few weeks trying to hunt down a pattern comparable to this dress and when I had no luck, I decided that it couldn’t be that hard to draft or hack my own pattern, right? FAMOUS. LAST. WORDS.
I could easily have draped a bodice pattern for the dress myself- I’m not an amazing draper but I learned a little about it in college and from books and have done it successfully on super simple garments. I knew that the task wouldn’t be too challenging…except for when it came to the sleeves. Sleeves require math and a bit (ok, a lot!) more pattern drafting know-how than I have. I decided against giving it the old college try and instead I went back to my pattern stash and chose a dress pattern from which I thought I could utilize a bodice that also came with sleeves. I was surprised that I had nothing in my stash with as simple a bodice pattern as I was looking for; everything that had the right shape had lots of extra darts and tucks and design elements included, which I did not want.
I won’t bore you with the details of how my process went for the hacking of Butterick 5919, so let’s just say that I didn’t make it didn’t work. I made a muslin of just the bodice which came out great (or so I thought), so then I moved to cutting and constructing my fashion fabric and added the long panels for the gathered skirt to the bodice’s bottom. The incomplete dress looked okay enough on my dress form to continue with it, and I was feeling pretty proud of myself, but as soon as I tried it on for fit, it was a disaster. There wasn’t enough room in the bodice for…well, my body! I don’t know exactly why- the sleeves, which were a perfect fit in my muslin, were surprisingly tight in the silk, but they weren’t the main problem- it was the actual bodice that made me feel claustrophobic. I could barely get it closed in the back, and on top of that, I wasn’t able to lift my arms very high or take a deep breath without the dress riding up or constraining my breathing, and this of course was without a zipper installed. There were just too many things wrong and uncomfortable about the bodice for me to even stress about trying to fix them, and I didn’t have enough fashion fabric to start over with a new one or make a separate top in the same fabric to turn it into a two piece, so I walked away from it. Put down my seam ripper, turned off the lights, closed the door. I kept the dress in my thoughts all night, which I usually do when I feel overwhelmed by how to make something work, and it almost always puts me back on the right track within a day or two. The next morning, re-inspired, I decided that instead of figuring out how to keep the garment as a dress, I would just salvage the skirt and make a totally different kind of top to pair with it.
I had this tiny cut of a goldish/greenish brocade fabric that I had purchased at Michael Levine’s like, 2 years prior, and never used, and it kept calling my name from the corner of my craft room. It was a totally different kind of weight and feel of fabric, but I held it next to the white and gold ombre anyways. It was like magic. The colors matched each other in the gold of the silk and the sheen of the brocade, and the brocade also had this imprint of an oval, leaf-like shape on it that mirrored the scribbles in the silk. It seemed like such a bizarre pairing, but when put together, the two fabrics were kind of a perfect, unexpected match. I didn’t have much of that brocade though (maybe 1/2 yard of a narrow yard?), and I couldn’t imagine what kind of top I could make with it. I thought that something tight and figure flattering would look cool when juxtaposed with the simple gathered skirt, but I had no patterns in my stash like that. Then I wondered about how a bustier would look. I have no idea why this garment popped into my head, and I also didn’t really have a pattern for this style either, but I did have a strapless push-up bra pattern that I had made once before. It had amazed me how beautiful that make had looked, and when I tried that bra on after completing it, my first thought was wondering how I could possibly get away with wearing it not as intimate apparel but as an outer garment (you can see here that I did figure out a way to make it sportswear appropriate!) Could I use the Esplanade Bra pattern with this brocade fabric? Was that a reasonable hack? Was this something even in my wheelhouse?
The answer to all of these things, I found out, was YES! But I doubted myself practically the WHOLE way through. I did a quick google search to see if anyone else had hacked the Esplanade into a proper bodice garment, and I found one post by a well-known maker who had successfully made it happen. My biggest concern was wondering whether or not I would need to size up in the bra. I was thinking that I would not, since the bra pattern can be made with either knit or woven fabric (I used a Tailormadeshoppe kit to make mine and the bra fabric was comprised of non-stretch satin); the only reason it looks like the bra has negative ease is because of the elastic sewn onto the top and bottom edges, and also the back panels are made of powernet. But the business part, where the cups are, can be totally be constructed from woven. However, the blog I read said that she sized up because of the difference in the pattern calling for a knit material and her final garment being made of woven. I was really stuck here on what to do- do I size up as she suggests or do I just construct it in my normal size and simply modify the back piece that is made of powernet by making it longer in my woven fabric? After double checking the pattern details to ensure that it didn’t require a knit fabric, I decided to trust my intuition and make the same size in my brocade as the one I made for my original bra. Thankfully it was the right decision!
The hack was actually not too terrible to accomplish, and although some things could certainly look a lot better, I think it’s a pretty fine garment considering I did not make a muslin first. First off I added a few inches to the length of the pattern pieces because the bra as drafted ends above my belly button and I knew I wanted more coverage than that to match up with the waistband of my skirt (btw, in these photos there is a substantial gap between the top of my skirt and the bottom of my bustier, and I have since tightened the waistband a bit to bring it a little higher up my waist). Because I was not using elastic on the edges, I added a bit more room for seam allowances on the tops and bottoms of the pattern pieces so that I could enclose the raw seams. I also lined the entire bra with self fabric to give it more structure (I knew that for this thing to work it needed to be fitted very close to my body, especially since I wouldn’t have elastic or powernet to help me out in this department). Pretty much everything else was constructed according to the instructions and it came together nicely.
The biggest issue I had was deciding how I wanted to close the garment. Obviously a bra closure would work best on this type of design but I didn’t have any closures that were the right color match with the brocade (and I don’t really enjoy dyeing). Grommets seemed like a pretty cool idea that would make it look a bit more like a corset, but ultimately I decided to use another Orange Lingerie pattern and just make my own bra closure out of the brocade fabric. I had seen this pattern, the Leverett Hook and Eye Closure, when it came out, intrigued by the offering but sure that I would never actually need to to use it… little did I know it would ultimately save the day (and thanks to IG for reminding me of this pattern)!
The closure pattern is very labor intensive because you have to hand sew all those hooks and eyes onto the fabric, but it was still really fun to do and well worth it in the end. Most importantly, it is easy to adjust the length of the closure pattern depending on what you’re attaching it to, which is ironic for me to type out now because I totally miscalculated the length I needed and made it too short (I am so used to sewing bra closures with raw edges that I forgot to include a seam allowance once I lengthened the piece to match!) So I had to add an additional piece of fabric to the closure since I didn’t have enough fashion fabric to cut out a whole new piece. Like, I said, it’s not perfect! But I made it work and it’s not super noticeable.
The one thing that does bother me about the completed bodice is the little bubble of fabric in the front middle of the piece in between the cups. I actually have that same bubble on my original bra as well, so I know this isn’t a side effect of forgoing elastic and changing the fabric weight from satin to brocade.
When I posted the issue on instagram, lots of commenters said that 1. they didn’t notice the bubble/it didn’t detract from the overall look of the garment and 2. that they had RTW bodices/bras of a similar style that had the exact same bubble. So that made me feel a lot better. And then, bless her, the designer of Orange Lingerie patterns chimed in to say that adding an additional piece of boning right up the middle of the bra would get rid of that pesky gaping once and for all. By this time I had mostly made my peace with the bubble and decided not to stress out about it (read: take it apart to insert more boning), but I will most definitely try it on my next version of this pattern to see if it works.
So, to recap:
- I made the same size in this bodice as I did when I made it as a bra, because the pattern does not explicitly call for stretch fabrics (except for the powernet in the side back panels)
- I omitted the use of bra channeling to cover the boning and instead I added a lining of self fabric to the inside of all the panel pieces of the bra (not the cups) which covered the boning and also gave the bodice a bit more structure.
- to accommodate the loss of stretch in the side back panels, I lengthened that pattern piece by several inches and and then tried it on towards the end of construction to see where I should cut off the excess before I added the bra closure.
- I added seam allowances to the top and bottom edges of all the bra panel pieces to make up for the elastic that would normally cover those raw edges.
- Because there is boning sewn into the front and lining pieces of the bra, I needed to turn it right side out, enclosing all my seams. So I sewed the top seams right sides together across the bra edges first before turning the bra right side out, created my boning channeling through the lining and outer fabric, and then when I was ready to close it, I trimmed the inside seam allowance flush to the just beneath the edge of the boning straight across, then folded my outer seam allowance to the inside twice so the raw edge was covered and sewed it down, creating something close to a flat felled seam on the inside of the garment. I’m sure there was a better way to do this but it’s what was available to me at the time, lol.
The skirt was much less intensive than the bodice, obviously. It’s just a dirndle skirt that I drafted a waistband for once I decided it would no longer be part of a dress. Because the silk is transparent (and also because this is now my preferred method when working with silk) I chose to baste white organza to the waistband instead of interfacing it. I used a narrow hem to get the full effect of the heavier gold on the bottom of the print, inserted a zipper, and voila! I will need to wear some kind of slip underneath it since the skirt is a bit see-through, so I plan to make one using some lightweight white silk in the near future.
I love the full effect of these pieces together, but I also love the idea of pairing this skirt with a knit sweater- I have no idea if that’s my actual style or if I’ve just seen that look in a magazine before, but I would most definitely give it a shot. The juxtaposition of the light, airy skirt with a chunky, grounding garment on top seems really interesting to me, and something I can get away with any time of year because I LIVE IN LOS ANGELES (I haven’t found tons of things to brag about LA in the few years I have lived here, but a less bundled up winter season always makes the cut). Anyways, for me, the coolest thing about this ensemble is that I don’t fancy myself creative enough to have just come up with the silhouette on my own, but after trial and error and problem solving, this is where I landed, and it’s pretty awesome. More proof that luxuriating in the process of sewing provides some of the most exciting results!