High Yella Swan

I’ve had this Vogue pattern (labeled as both V1471 and Vp926 for some reason?) for a couple years, initially too intimidated by sewing lace to tackle it, but once I had several lace projects (mostly bras) under my belt, I realized that working with lace was totally in my wheelhouse…of course, then I never found lace in stores that really caught my eye. Not, that is, until I saw a gigantic bolt of ELECTRIC CHARTREUSE hiding on the bottom shelf of a table at The Fabric Store  in LA earlier this year. Well, hiding isn’t quite the right word to describe this textile- it’s obviously much too brilliant to be ignored, but I had never seen it before and it was on the bottom shelf, out of my direct vision. Once I caught a quick glimpse of it, I pulled it out and examined the gorgeous lace and knew it was coming home with me. Much like animal prints, neon colors are not really my cup of tea, but something about this neon color felt different. Maybe it’s because it was made into an airy lace, which gives the fabric a bit more depth as opposed to looking like just a flat, constant scream? Maybe it’s because it wasn’t quite yellow and not quite green, but rather that brilliant mix of both that Claire says is her favorite color on me? Whatever it was that drew me to it, I took a leap of faith and convinced myself that I could make something infinitely cool out of it.

A couple of weeks later I brought a swatch of the lace with me to Michael Levine’s to find the right lining fabric for it (The Fabric Store has beautiful lining fabrics but nothing paired quite right with this color). It was tougher than I expected. Because the lace is such a dynamic hue, the lining underneath could either make or break the full effect, and all the soft silks and rayons they had that were an appropriate textile for linings were just not the right color pairing for the lace. I finally found a bolt of fabric that was the perfect electric marriage for the chartreuse lace- it was more on the green side, which brought out the yellow in the lace a bit more- but it was a heavier fabric than what I was looking for, with a lot of body to it. I don’t know what kind of textile it is- kind of like a medium-to heavy weight taffeta or something? It’s smooth on one side, a bit matte on the other, and it’s the kind of fabric you would make a prom dress out of, not use for lining. It felt weird to “waste” this supple fabric underneath the shell of a lace dress, but the color was the only thing in the whole store that worked with the lace the way I wanted it to. So, another leap of faith and the electric green fabric came home with me.

Imagine my surprise when I got home, pulled out the pattern to start looking at the details of the make and I realized that EVERYTHING I BOUGHT WAS WRONG!!!! hahahaha. Did I spend an entire weekend earlier this year arranging my patterns into an online database so that I could access my patterns whenever and wherever I went? Yep! Did I use said database to double check my fabric choices when I was out shopping? OBVIOUSLY NOT. Sometimes apparently I can’t be bothered? This story has a happy ending, but let’s just take a scenic trip down Wrong Decision Rd., shall we?

The pattern explicitly calls for a stretch lace fabric for the shell of the dress and a lightweight stretch knit fabric for the lining. Though soft and supple, my electric lace was sturdy as shit, not stretching in any direction whatsoever, and the prom dress fabric I bought for the lining was just as stable. Sigh. I figured I would have to go up a size or two to accommodate the change from knit to woven fabric, but I usually have to size down for Big 4 patterns anyways, so did this mean I could make the actual size matching up to my measurements and it would fit perfectly? I had a flashback to the jacket of the floral suit I made in spring, how that Big 4 pattern had also called for a stretch knit and I had mistakenly settled on a woven fabric. When I measured the pattern pieces for the jacket it didn’t have any negative ease, meaning that, in theory, my woven fabric would translate just fine (and it did). I wondered if this dress was going to be the same, so I pulled out my tape and started adding together all the measurements at bust, hip, and waist. Just like the jacket, there was no negative ease in this garment, either, and if I recall, a bit of extra ease in some areas? So what is the point of making these patterns exclusively in a knit fabric, I ask you. I’m sure there is good reasoning, I just have no idea what it is.

I decided to make a straight size 10 to match up with my measurements, even though I usually make an 8 in bust and waist and grade up at the hips of Big 4s. Since the skirt of this dress was so full, though, I knew I wouldn’t need to adjust that area. And then, LEAP OF FAITH #3 for those of you who are counting, I cut straight into my fabric, no muslin! I usually make the same simple modifications in Big 4 garments that are are drafted with a close fit- I shorten the sleeves, shorten the shoulder seams and shorten the bodice, but because of the openness in the chest area of this design I thought I could get away without making the usual shoulder and bodice adjustments, and it worked. I did shorten the sleeve pattern piece since the edge of the sleeves have no hem and I knew I wouldn’t have any wiggle room to adjust them. This pattern utilizes the scalloped edge of the lace (a detail I just LOVE) and that’s pretty much all the adjusting that I needed to do.

Now for the tricky part- as I said, I had sewn with lace before, but mostly with bras, which contain lots of tiny, fiddly bits that are sewn at 1/4″ seam allowance. It didn’t take me long to get the hang of bra making with lace and I figured that sewing with such large pieces of non-stretch lace would be a walking foot in the park. And it was…until I got to the tiered gathered skirt pieces. Y’all. These skirt panels are like 8 feet long. 8 feet!!!! Okay, maybe I exaggerate a bit…it  might have been more like 7 feet, hahaha. Ok, ok, never mind the actual footage of the panels, but trust me, they were surprisingly long! Imagine what looks like an 8 foot rectangle of lace that has to be gathered on one end down to 40 inches. Gathering so much material would have been fine with a lighter weight fabric, but like I said, my fabric was strong and stable, and on top of that, it was lace, which means there were gaps and holes along my gathering line where my stitching couldn’t pierce any fabric, so there were little sections that simply couldn’t be gathered at all. And then on top of even that, my thread kept breaking because my lace was made of kryptonite and the thread made apparently of the dust of an angel’s wings. Gathering the edges of my skirt panels took forever, and in hindsight, using a different technique to gather the fabric would have worked a treat- say, a zigzag stitch sewn over a long thread of yarn that I could pull taught. Of course I only realized that after I had gathered all the tiers of the skirt. And then ON TOP OF EVEN THAAAAAAAAT, I french seamed all the tiers of the skirt panels!!!!!!! Which was very bulky and fiddly and time consuming!!!!! But whatever, I got it all done and it didn’t look messy and learned a couple of lessons in the process (like, don’t do this again). Of course, in the midst of sewing all those frustrating gathered panels to each other, I would hold the pieces up to myself in the mirror to check my progress and think nervously, “ummm…do I look like an 80’s Punk Rock bride?” but I had to keep moving forward in leap of faith #4 because at this point the bodice was complete and there was absolutely nothing else to do but finish the whole thing and hope for the best.

The skirt came together, finally, and I attached it to the bodice, which had a straightforward construction although there were a lot of extra steps to create the lining- parts of the dress are underlined and other parts have a separate lining, so it was not complicated to complete, but it definitely took longer than most bodices do. Lastly I inserted my zipper. The pattern calls for a heavy metal zipper but I just was NOT feeling that look on this garment, so I used an invisible zipper, which has been a real challenge- it’s difficult to zip it up or down because the lace fabric is so thick at the zipper edges, and you have to zip verrrrryyy carefully and I can’t do it by myself. Still, I prefer the way it looks.

My choice of lining fabric ended up not being absolutely terrible – it definitely makes the dress a bit tighter and bulkier because the fabric is so thick and takes up so much room. This worked to my advantage in some ways because without it the dress would feel a little looser/baggier, but it also makes the dress look thick at the seams- particularly around the neckline, I feel like the dress looks like it’s hovering off of my skin. The lining also makes the entire dress pretty heavy, which also isn’t horrible- the weighted feeling of it makes me feel secure in it, like I am not on the verge of having a wardrobe malfunction, an incredibly feat considering how deep that neckline is in the front. But I should point out that I moved the bottom edges of the bodice pieces a tiny bit closer together so that they were touching instead of a few mm apart as the pattern suggests (if I recall correctly, at least). The reviews of this pattern read that many people thought the V was much too deep and immodest, and it works great for me, but I have a smaller bust and less risk of something falling out. Even so, I noticed that if I moved those two edges closer together, the whole bodice clung a bit tighter to my bust and made me feel more comfortable in such a skin-baring dress. Amazingly, I don’t feel at risk of having a nip slip at all in this thing, even after bending over and moving around a lot to take these pictures.

The only weird thing I noticed about the pattern (aside from the fact that it calls specifically for stretch fabrics when it doesn’t seem necessary) is the fact that the skirt lining is not one layer of fabric- it’s basically a completed skirt underneath the skirt shell. The lining skirt is comprised of 4 pattern pieces, 2 identical fronts and backs, which are sewn together, under stitched at the bottom, and then turned right side out. In regular lining fabric this probably barely registers as noteworthy, but in my bulky prom dress lining fabric, it felt like an entire finished skirt that was being stuffed under 90 yards of lace. Since the dress shell uses the scalloped edges of the lace as finished hems on the sleeves and skirt bottom, the designers probably didn’t want the lining to be the only thing that a hem, so they make you sew it in a way that keeps the edge clean. I guess it’s an interesting detail but it seems a bit unnecessary if your lining fabric isn’t completely transparent and you aren’t at risk of showing your goodies through the garment. Plus it uses up more fabric than it needs to. And the lining of the skirt is pretty short (another thing that was reiterated in reviews of this pattern) so you aren’t at risk of showing your hemmed lining through the lace of the dress unless someone is specifically lifting the layers up to look for it. I’m not mad at the design feature, I just wish I had realized how the lining of the skirt was meant to be constructed before I blindly cut out all my fabric pieces- then I could have just made it in a single layer. Without that extra layer of lining in the skirt, the dress would definitely be less heavy, but I also appreciate that whenever I step into the dress, those enclosed seams make me shiver just a tiny bit with delight- I do love a clean finish! And the one good thing I can say about my heavy ass lining fabric is that it is super soft and luxurious feeling against the skin, and that’s never a bad thing.

Once I finished all my hand stitching and I tried on the dress, my first thought was “ICE SKATER REALNESS”, and then when I did a twirl in the mirror I thought “HIGH YELLA SWAN!!!!”, which I like even more, as anyone familiar with southern slang in communities of color might recognize (I even have a whole series of comics called High Yella Magic here on this website). Whether you get the 80’s bride vibe, the ice skater vibe or the ballet dancer in peril vibe, I think we can all agree that this dress is electrifying! I am surprised that even though it has so much connotation of specific cultural archetypes, it doesn’t look too costumey- when I let this garment take centerstage and I keep everything else understated, it actually looks pretty sleek and sexy. It’s a LOT of design elements rolled into one with the deep V of the bodice and the tiered skirt and the lace and the underlining and the sleeves (the sleeves are my favorite part of the dress, which aren’t lined and are the only part of the garment that give you a glimpse of the lace directly against skin). But somehow, even in this ridiculously bright color, it all works together and most importantly, it still feels like me. My leaps of faith totally paid off, and I cannot WAIT to wear this dress at an event where every other person in the building is decked out in all black LOL!

 

5 replies
  1. mokosha
    mokosha says:

    oh, that color looks so spectacular on you, no wonder it’s claire’s favorite! sounds like a lot of work went into making it, but it was worth it, as it’s really a beautiful dress (love that plunging neckline!)

    Reply
  2. Silvia
    Silvia says:

    Love! That dress is so perfect! Love that color too! I’m glad you made it work for you, its sexy and unique and you will shine when you wear it.

    I too love that color and hope I’m pulling it off as a pale, redheaded, blue eyed person. And PS, if you want 80s bride you’ll need thick black tights, pointed toe ankle boots (extra points for buckles somewhere) and loooong strings of pearls with lace gloves. You styled classically chic, so not 80s bride!

    Reply

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