I call it The Eponine Dress for reasons that are obvious if you are familiar at all with Les Miz- Eponine’s character is beautiful, sad, and tragic, having faced more hardships than any one young woman ever should, pining after a lost love while surviving on the streets of Paris during the French Revolution (well, sort of…the show is entirely historically inaccurate but that’s not what we are debating here, I’m just painting a picture…a picture of Eponine, beautiful, sad and tragic!)
I bought this vintage Vogue #2352 by Ninna Ricci on Etsy several years ago when I first learned about the glory of Vogue Paris Originals, and I was drawn to this particular design because it reminded me of the ladies on the tv show Designing Women- broad shouldered, bossy, and feminine. I loved the silhouette of the collar, sleeves and bodice and the intricate detailing of the pleats on the front and back of the dress, but I had no idea what fabric I would make it in or when I would get around to trying it out. Earlier this year I very randomly packed it into my sewing suitcase for #sewnawayfromhome, but I still I had no idea what the hell I was gonna make it in. To be honest, I didn’t think I would even have enough time to even get to it on my trip- I had packed two other patterns with me and would only be out of town for about a week and a half, so the chances of me cracking it open were slim.
But lo and behold, I blew through my first two patterns (this piece and this piece) is quick succession and with a few days to spare. Because of fabric restraints, I wasn’t able to use the leopard print tencel twill with this VPO pattern (I used it for the DKNY pattern I linked above instead), but I did have a couple of wide yards of this olive green slubby linen viscose fabric I bought at Dress Sew while in town. Since that was literally the only fabric I had on hand, I just went with it. I was drawn to the admittedly drab looking fabric because I loved the texture (soft, but nubbly) and I don’t come across this type of linen very often. The color was subtle and not very exciting, but I knew it would look great on my skin tone.
Because the fabric is so soft and pillowy, it’s not exactly a great fit for the detailing of this pattern- linen doesn’t iron super crisply and as you can see, a significant portion of the bodice is made up of very precise pleats. Well, they are supposed to be precise. Mine are anything but, and this section of construction had smoke floating out of my ears cause I was so frustrated. I wish I had taken pictures of the pattern pieces for this garment- they were bananas- not easily identifiable pattern pieces at all, which honestly is one of the reasons I love VPOs so much- the patterns are so unique that the methods and pattern pieces can be super untraditional and challenging to put together, but it pays off because there are so few other designs out like it. There was not a traditional bodice for this pattern, it was effectually a large rectangle labeled as “yoke” with a couple of slices through it that would become the opening for the head and front of the garment at the neckline. The shoulders and sleeves are raglan but put together like no other raglan garment I have ever sewn- now that I am on the other side of it, I can say I loved this process, but while I was in the middle of it I hated every second, lol.
When I started marking and working on the pleats, I realized immediately that it was nearly impossible to keep them from looking sloppy- again, I couldn’t get crisp, clean edges on the folds, so I decided to edgestitch them down to keep them in place, but the lines of stitching looked wobbly because of the slubby texture of the fabric, even though they weren’t- it’s like a trick of the eye! I almost gave up at this point and decided to call it a mistake of right fabric paired with wrong pattern- it was just looking so street urchin-y (apparently a recurring theme in my sewing)! But then…I got indignant. This fabric was pricey! But even if it wasn’t, I hate wasting fabric! What if I was wrong and the dress wasn’t a loss? What if I could just get over this one hump of figuring out how to make the pleats look decent- would the whole thing look better then? I had another full day in Vancouver at this point in the construction process and nothing better to do with my time so I decided to keep working on it til it was time to go- if I couldn’t successfully save it? Well, at least I could say that I tried!
I kept toiling away at the pleats, and maybe they didn’t all look perfectly straight and crisp close up, but by the time I was done, the 3 foot rule applied- you couldn’t see anything askew or horrific looking when you were maintaining my personal space, so I gave myself permission to keep working. Next came attaching the “skirt”, which really isn’t a skirt at all but rather the bottom of the dress, and that gets connected above the bust area, at a seam line hidden under the bottom pleat on both the front and back of the dress. See? So strange! But so effective! It means that there is no visible seam at the waistline or anywhere else on the dress so it looks as if the garment is made of just one piece of fabric, which I think is really cool.
Since I couldn’t figure out how the hell this dress was supposed to come together from the start (reading through directions ahead of time rarely helps me in understanding construction because I am a visual learner and need to see the garment in my hands at each step to comprehend what comes next) I didn’t make many adjustments to the pattern pieces in advance, but I did shorten the sleeves, and thank god I did. The sleeves were also very strangely put together (they weren’t set in the shoulders, but instead attached to the bottom of the yoke) and I could tell by holding them up to my body that they were drafted for a giraffe. Seriously, these things were like 4 inches past my fingertips! I liked the idea of the sleeves being so dramatic and voluminous, but I hate sleeves that get in the way of like, eating or using the bathroom, so I shortened them significantly and the length came out great- they’ve still got that Labyrinthian look to them with all that body and poofiness, but they don’t interrupt me living my life.
Once I had finished the funky pleating and constructed all the main parts of the dress, I tried it on to see how it was looking. It was looking…like a massive failure. UGH! So drab! So shapeless! Beautifully big, dramatic sleeves and shoulders that cascaded into a garment that overall actually looked, and I am not being hyperbolic here, like I was wearing a potato sack. The WORST. But I didn’t feel overwhelmed- I had come too far with this damn thing and I was too close to GOOD to turn back now. I had imagined that I would be able to wear this garment without it being cinched at the waist, as per an image I had saved on Pinterest of a dress very similar in shape to this one, but I quickly realized that this was not the proper silhouette to pull off that look, so I sewed up a belt and belt loops for the dress and tried it on. It was much much, better- having a clearly defined waist made me feel like I was actually wearing the dress instead of drowning inside of it. But I still had the issue of the hem, which was cut straight across, hitting my legs in a place that made them look very short (in real life I’m 5’3″ but in fantasy life my ass is pushing 6 feet!). I decided to take a risk and alter the whole shape of the hem by curving it up at the sides on both the front and back pieces, an idea inspired by the Kalle shirtdress. If it was a disaster, I would have enough room to cut it off straight again, but shorter.
I’m still amazed at how instantaneously the altered hem changed the whole look of the dress- the curve at the bottom makes it feel modern, fun and trendy, while the rest of the dress looks pieced together from different eras of fashion- shoulders from the 80’s, detailed pleat work from the 40’s/50’s…she looks designed by Frankenstein! I actually left off the shoulder pads suggested for use in this dress because the pleating at the shoulders created enough structure on it’s own and they weren’t necessary. As drab as the beginnings of this dress were, I receive lots of compliments every time I wear it- on paper I feel like it shouldn’t work at all, there are too many design elements fighting for space, but somehow all together it totally works, and I don’t have anything else in my closet that evokes the energy that this dress does. I love it!
Now for these cool shoes! This is my second pair of shoes made with this last (my first pair of pointy toed heels with the faux snakeskin leather are here) and they are really terrific! I was inspired by an image on pinterest of a pointy toed heel with some cool straps and I based my design completely on those, but with different upper material.
I lined the shoes and the heels with a black sueded pigskin leather, used a faux leopard print “fur” for the toe of the shoe, then used a really cool deep dark gold for the straps. Few people on instagram thought this selection of materials would work and suggested I use black leather for the straps, but I was really drawn to the variety of textures in the gold/black/fur combo and decided to trust my gut- thankfully they came out beautifully! I was worried about lasting the fur over the pointy toe but it was totally forgiving, and the horse hair covers up any imperfections that might be going on underneath. Aside from figuring out the placement of the straps, these shoes came together very easily and the impact is strong- I have never seen a shoe quite like this before! I actually haven’t had a chance to wear these yet outside of the house so I can’t say how comfortable they are after more than 20 minutes of wear, but if they are anything like my snakeskin heels, they will be great- or rather, great if you like wearing heels. They certainly don’t feel like wearing sneakers, but as far as heels go, they are pretty damn comfortable.
Thanks to Claire for the beautiful pictures! When we get our backyard deck and landscaping done sometime in the next 20 years this is gonna be a killer place to take photos, lol!