***I’m not proud of these photos- it took me FOREVER to muster up the energy to take several month’s worth of blog photos the other day and when I finally got everything set up, the DSLR was not behaving at all and I didn’t know how to fix it, so I had to resort to using my iPhone, which…well, as you can see, led to abysmal results. It was either these crappy photos or nothing at all, so please accept my apologies for the grainy, poorly lit images! Hopefully after this batch of photos gets posted I will have figured out how to get the right settings back on the camera!***
Closet Case Patterns came out with the Fiona Dress a month or so ago and I was immediately drawn to many of the features- I love the buttons all down the front of the dress, I love the open back in View B, and I love the princess seamed bodice. The dress as designed seems to combine utilitarian elements which is a nice change for a summer garment- not so frilly and romantic as what I am used to seeing on the market, especially when sewn up in a heavy weight fabric like denim. I really love the way it’s paired in some of the product photos with a shirt underneath, for a layered look that is appropriate for fall and winter, which I think will definitely be on my sewing roster for the cooler months. But for my summer version of this dress I wanted to play around with the silhouette a bit and add some frillier elements that suit my style.
The first thing I knew I wanted to do was change out the straps for something a little airier. I used to have a dress from ModCloth back in the day when I still bought RTW that I wore for some publicity interviews (I think I wore it to the last San Diego Comic Con I attended on behalf of “Fringe”). It was polyester so I sweat like a mother in it, but it had this cool design element of tiny spaghetti straps over the shoulders, and once I started sewing I always had the thought to try and implement that design idea into a make. This was the perfect opportunity- the straps of Fiona are thick enough that you could sub in three individual spaghetti straps in their place without messing up the fit of the bodice. I made 6 lengths of spaghetti strappage and then promptly hurt my wrist and gouged my finger with the pulling of the safety pin to turn the straps, which meant I had to pull out my wrist brace and wear it for the completion of this dress (which, as you can see in the photos, took a long time what with all the additional spaghetti straps I ended up making). But I’m getting ahead of myself!
So I marked where the regular straps fit onto the bodice and inserted my thin straps in their place, making sure the angles were lined up properly. It was really tricky to keep the straps from getting tangled and twisted around each other and eventually I learned that I needed to keep the front bodice edges closed with safety pins to avoid this issue. Putting the bodice together was straightforward and easy and the sizing was great for me- I graded between a size 4 at the bust and a 6 at the waist, but I ended up having to bring the waist in a tiny bit once I attached my skirt so I probably could have kept everything at a 4 and been just fine.
The only issue I ran into were the bands that go around the top of the bodice- and this could definitely be a mistake on my part because I HAVE BEEN KNOWN TO MAKE SEWING MISTAKES IN MY PAST lol. I used pieces J and K for the band for view B, but when I sewed them up together, they didn’t reach the full length of the bodice. Initially I thought this was because in my grading between the bust and the waist, it was hard to know which sizes of the bodice bands to cut out since the back bands went from the bust TO the waist, but when I cut out the larger size I was still short over an inch between the band and the bodice meeting at the back. I lined up the pattern pieces together and they also did not meet, but again, I might be overlooking something or I might have made a tracing mistake. Eventually I just had to re-draft and cut out new pattern pieces for K, adding about an inch or so of extra length to it, and it fit the bodice perfectly.
Aside from the piece that didn’t line up properly, the bands are a little tricky to piece together at first, or at least they were for me- it’s just because the pattern pieces are very similar looking in shape and size and it’s easy to confuse them with each other, and they also have to be sewn together in a certain way for the pieces to fit the bodice just right (this was made even more confusing since my pattern pieces didn’t have a wrong side). If J or K are sewn upside down or on the wrong side, they wont match up to the bodice properly, so for any other sewists who get turned around easily with this kind of pattern puzzle-piecing, it might help to label the wrong side of your pattern pieces with the letter of the piece and maybe some arrows to denote left/right and top/bottom.
After I tried the bodice on for fit and determined the length of my straps, I focused on the skirt. I self drafted a flared skirt using instructions from one of Gertie’s books but ultimately the skirt seemed less “flare” and closer to a 1/2 circle skirt. I knew I didn’t want a full circle skirt because 1. my linen (one of the premium lines of mid-to-heavyweight linen from The Fabric Store in LA, R. I. P.) was on the heavier side and I didn’t want all that fabric weighing the dress down and 2. I only had maybe 2.5 or 3 yards of this fabric which would not have been enough for the ankle-length version I wanted to make (which of course ended up not happening at all, but again, I’m getting ahead of myself!). So I cut out my pieces for the 1/2 circle-y/flare-ish skirt, basted the pieces onto my bodice and OH MY GOD it just looked BARF-O-RAMA. I’m not sure exactly why! But it just didn’t flow well over my body at all, and the waistline of the bodice didn’t match well with the silhouette of the skirt. I hated the way it looked, which was a surprise because this style of skirt tends to always look flattering on me (and everyone else I see in it)- it’s the whole reason I didn’t make a muslin, because who needs a muslin for a 1/2 circle skirt?? (eating my words now).
So! My skirt looked awful but I had no more fabric left to do anything significant with, so if I was gonna stay with the original vision of my skirt I had to cut new pieces out of the original 1/2 circle. I had one back piece and two front pieces and instead of just cutting brand new thinner pieces out of them, I decided to drape them on my dress form, something that only works because my form is padded out very closely to my measurements. The ribcage is still about an inch too big and the hip and butt areas are not the exact same shape as mine, but it’s a close enough approximation that garments on the form look almost the same as garments on my body. When I tried draping the front left skirt piece on the form, it clearly looked best when hanging on the bias, so I had to angle the piece a bit to get the most fabric from the cut. I lost significant length for the skirt at this point in the construction process, but I knew I would rather have a shorter completed dress than a skirt that looked a hot mess. I got the left skirt front to hang beautifully, but when I tried to drape the right front panel, something was way off. It took more fabric to hang in the same way as the left side, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. I had cut my pieces out properly along the grainline and my fabric seemed to be true when I was cutting it, but here I was with a piece that didn’t want to lay as smoothly as the other side had. When complaining about this on IG, someone commented that they had read somewhere that horizontal and vertical grainlines have different biases, so if a piece is cut out facing one way and another is cut out facing the other (which mine was since I had such little fabric to work with), this might be why the bias is behaving differently. I don’t know if that’s what happened here but it’s the only explanation I can come up with, and it makes enough sense to me that I am sticking with it lol.
My dilemma at this point: a) do I cut out the right skirt piece the same as the left skirt piece even though they lay differently against the dress form? or b) do I cut out the right skirt piece larger so that it lays properly, even though it will be a different shape than the other side? Guys, knowing what I know now, the answer is definitely b, but guess what I actually did? YEP!!!! I a)-ed the shit out of that skirt piece, and the rest of this blog post, where things get REALLY interesting, is me trying to make up for this mis-judgement, haha!
I sewed my skirt pieces together, basted them onto the bodice and took a look in the mirror- the left side was PERFECT! It skimmed my curves just as I wanted it to, not too tight and not too loose, the skirt was flowy but not voluminous and it looked so flattering. The right side was another story entirely. I am not sure why it was so hard to capture in photos, but take my word for it- AWFUL! Everything looked great until around the midpoint of my hip, and then the seam got wonky, wouldn’t lay right around my hip, and took a hard turn forward- literally the seam starts off from the bodice going straight down the side of my body, and then juts towards the front looking as asymmetrical as you please. Of course this is because the skirt piece wasn’t draped fully on the bias and needed more fabric to complete the full silhouette, fabric that I had just cut off so it would be the same size/shape as the left side.
Obviously I needed to add the wedge I had cut off back onto the skirt panel, but that wedge would no longer do the job I needed it to since it would be missing the seam allowances necessary to sew it back on. But perhaps more than that, I was very uninterested in having a random plain wedge stuffed onto the side seam of the skirt. I thought it would look too much like a mistake if I didn’t take this opportunity to spice up this area a little bit and have some fun with it (famous last words). So instead of piecing together a wedge from my scant pile of scraps, I started making more spaghetti straps out of them- at some point I ditched the safety pin route and used this weird plastic strap turner thing I bought years ago but never use, and it worked in a fraction of the time and was a lot less stressful on my wrist. But it STILL took forever, and I definitely wish I had used it fro the beginning. Anyways, I liked the idea of incorporating the detail I loved most about the garment, the bodice straps, somewhere else on the dress. I had an image in my head of straps that took up the space of the wedge while providing some peekaboo glimpses of my leg at the same time. And I also thought it would be cool if the straps were placed close together at the point of the wedge near the top of my thigh and then were spaced further apart as they went down my dress. I unpicked the seam of the dress from the point where it pivoted forward at my hip, folded the seam allowances under, and attached a set of straps, from short to long, all along the seam, angling them across the wedge for visual interest. As I said, in my head this seemed like a cool idea, and in all honesty I actually don’t think it ended up looking that terrible, but my issue was that the straps weren’t stable enough to hold their shape across the span of the wedge, so they just drooped down and looked like ripped fabric. If they had been stiff and held their shape straight across the skirt, I would probably have been totally into this look.
So back to the drawing board. Except I wasn’t completely over the spaghetti straps- I loved the thought of creating a new kind of fabric by manipulating the straps in a cool way. What if I kept the same idea of the straps filling up the wedge, but instead of having negative space in between them, I position them very close together so there is no peekaboo and the straps look like more of a textile? Risky….but at this point, what did I have to lose?! I spent a few hours making about 2 million more spaghetti straps, cutting them into the proper lengths and then positioning them so that they formed a large wedge that would fill up the gap in the skirt. Once I had them all positioned correctly I hand-basted the edges together just so that I could move the wedge as a whole to my sewing machine. Next I sewed down the lengths of each side and then I serged the edges together (this was important because linen unravels like mad and I needed to secure all the tiny strap edges).
I placed the triangle of straps on the inside of the dress and then edgestitched the length of each side of the wedge onto the seam. Laying flat on my table, the straps looked amazing. And when I tried the dress on, well…it was certainly better than the peekaboo leg look I had created in the previous experiment, and it was definitely INTERESTING looking, but something was still off for me, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. When Claire came home and I tried it on for her, the first thing out of her mouth was “Pocahontas” and I thought ‘BINGO!’. The spaghetti strap wedge, particularly in this coffee color, looked like decorative leather, almost like fringe. Having the straps positioned very closely together helped maintain some of the shape I wanted, but gravity still weighed most of the straps down a bit so they continued to swing a little low. The result was costume-y and not at all in line with the romantic and casual summer dress I was initially going for. I think that in general this “leathered fabric” look could be really cool and I loved the effect of creating this a new kind of textile, but for me, the wedge just wasn’t in line with the design of the rest of the dress.
I considered sewing vertical lines of stitching across all the straps to hopefully make them more stable and keep them from drooping down, but I knew that if it didn’t work, unpicking all that stitching was going to be a nightmare and would probably ruin all the straps. I also considered weaving in more straps vertically and I even tried it out with some of the extra fabric scraps I had lying around on my sewing table, but I wasn’t impressed with how it was looking. And then Claire asked if I had any other colors I could use with the wedge. I had to think for a minute. Well, actually I did happen to have the exact same weight of linen in a light pink color. That pink yardage of linen had come out of it’s pre-wash months ago with splotches of blue dye speckled across it, probably bled on from something else that was in my pre-wash, so I hadn’t been able to use it for the project I wanted and instead had used it up as linings for dress bodices, a pair of shorts, binding, etc. The pink and coffee colors were actually very beautiful together and not too bold. What the hell? I asked myself. If I am not in love with the dress as it is I might as well keep trying to make it better. My worst case scenario was that the entire skirt would be ruined by all this experimentation, but I knew I could save the bodice by just attaching it to a skirt of a total different color of linen, which honestly would have looked very cool and I’m probably gonna do that on purpose at some point in the future.
SO! I cut out MORE SPAGHETTI STRAPS, y’all. MORE! Out of my pink linen fabric, and then I wove them through the brown straps already sewn onto the dress. It looked strange with one strap woven in, and only a little better with two, but once I wove three pink straps through the horizontal brown straps of the wedge, I was loving it. To permanently attach the pink straps to the wedge of the dress, I used Fray Check on each edge of the strap to keep it from unraveling, and I slip stitched the edges to the strap either above or below it, depending on which part of the strap I was working on. The pink straps keep the horizontal straps flat, stable and not droopy, and they add a very subtle pop of color and visual interest. I was afraid the wedge would look a little too much like a woven basket when all was said and done, but ultimately the full effect looks fun and unexpected- it kind of mimics plaid, or the way woven fabric looks very close up.
My only regret is not being able to put pockets on the front, as the dress is originally designed with, but I just didn’t have enough fabric to make self-fabric pockets, and they would have probably competed too much with the weaving on the side anyways. I considered adding pockets in the side seams but didn’t want it to bulk up the silhouette at the hips, which is a big pet peeve of mine.
All in all….this of course is not the dress I intended to make- I wanted a simple, casual, easy summer dress, and this is much fancier and eye-catching than I intended. How do I feel about it? I’m not gonna lie, I think the pink weaving technique on the side looks pretty cool but I definitely miss the length I lost when re-drafting the skirt- I was ready for a swishy, ankle-length dress! And on top of that, I’m just not sure if it’s ME! Will I pull it out to wear for a special occassion, and will I feel good about it when I do? Only time will tell. But I am really proud of myself- I didn’t have to make too many compromises to save this dress- it’s still in the general vicinity of where I wanted it to land, and the detour I made was challenging and really fun, and I learned some interesting things about manipulating fabric! I have lots of garments from my past that didn’t work out for some reason, and trying to save them would stress me out, give me anxiety dreams, and often not end up as a wearable garment. So comparatively, this is a huge success!