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Velvet, Gold and Pussy Bowed

When I randomly saw this dress on Beate J’Adore’s blog sometime last winter, I was more than a little obsessed. The rusty chocolate silk velvet she used was so luxurious and stunning, and I loved the easy shape of the garment: fitted and flirty and feminine without looking too buttoned up. But of course, most of all, I just loooooved that long bow at the neck! So GORGEOUS! I was so obsessed that I even started perusing the silk velvet she used from Mood Fabrics, and y’all know I can’t STAND Mood- the only way I ever use fabrics from that place is if someone buys some for me as a gift! Anyways, I pinned the image onto my Clothing Inspiration board on Pinterest and kept drooling over it periodically, even when the weather in LA turned hell-fire hot and the mere thought of wearing velvet could make you break out into a sweat. And then, as the seasons began changing around the rest of the country, velvet started popping up in all my favorite fabric stores- I’ve always loved velvet but I haven’t had the easiest time hunting it down. Thankfully it was a huge trend this season and I was able to snag a few beautiful cuts of it.

I went back to the blog post and read the notes on the dress. They were very scant, which I am not judging because I do the same thing on my blog- when I make pattern hacks, I am not very forthcoming with all the minute details, only because when I’m in the middle of the process, I rarely take notes since I’m not interested in doing tutorials. Of course, now I have experienced firsthand the frustration of reading about a beautiful garment on a blog and not knowing exactly how they got to their end result! But this is the beauty of sewing and pattern hacking in general- sometimes you have to figure out how to make it your own, and that’s what I did. I even took notes! It’s still not a tutorial mind you, and definitely not as detailed as they could be, but it should be enough to put you on the right track if you want to recreate the lovely garment that J’Adore inspired!

She used an older Vogue pattern that I think is out of print, so I got my hands on a cheap copy of Vogue 8829 from etsy. I laughed when I saw the pattern envelope- the image art looks pretty dated and I just don’t think I would ever have seen this pattern and thought to myself, “this would make a stunning garment,” which is one the reasons I love following sewing bloggers- some people can find diamonds in the rough where you see nothing but a pile of dirt. First issue I ran into: which version of the dress did she use?? This is one of those patterns with a lot different variations- long sleeves, short sleeves, knee length, maxi, regular collar, pussy bow, etc. I could figure out the top half the dress, but I wasn’t sure which skirt shape she used, the slightly flared skirt or the one with pleats. Ultimately I chose Version A which most closely matched the photos of her dress, and then I dove into making all the tweaks she mentioned in her blog post: cutting the front bodice and front skirt pieces on the fold instead of as drafted with button bands down the front, adding some width and length to the bow (if I make this again I might add even MORE length!), and making room for a side zip (since the front opening is omitted).

I was a bit confused on the back piece- she wrote that she added darts to the back bodice, but there were no photos of her in the dress with a view of the back so I had no idea where they were placed or if she had eliminated the pleat at the top of the back bodice where it meets the yoke. In hindsight, I should have redrafted the entire pattern piece because it’s actually huge, but I didn’t realize how big it would be at the time so I constructed it according to the directions, creating two pleats at the top middle of the back bodice piece. I tried it on and it had a poofy, bloused effect at the back waist- way too much fabric back there, which ended up looking really heavy in my velvet fabric. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough velvet to redraft the back bodice piece so I decided to do a moderate adjustment and take out some of the length at the back bodice where it met the waistband of the skirt. Then I sewed the extra fabric poofiness down into darts on either side of the center back. It’s not the most glamorous adjustment you’ve ever seen- pleats at the top and darts at the bottom of a back bodice is not exactly a design choice that you see too often with good reason- it looks so busy! But I would rather my silhouette look nice and smooth with some weird darts thrown in than have a clean looking bodice that is poofy and too big for my frame. I also shortened the shoulder seams which I often do on Big 4 patterns, and I ended up taking the waist of both the bodice and the skirt in over an inch on each side.

At this point I made an accidental discovery that actually worked in my favor for once. For some reason I had entirely forgotten to leave enough room at the skirt and bodice seams for a side zip since there were no other openings to get in and out of the dress with the omission of the front button bands. And then I realized that J’Adore’s silk velvet must not have been a stretch knit, which is why she had to put in the side zip. I’m not sure why it took me so long for this realization- I had been happily serging all my seams together from the very beginning, which I prefer when working with velvet because for me, it’s so much easier to serge fabrics with pile than it is to sew them on a regular machine, even with a walking foot. So, now with all my side seams completely serged together, it was time for a moment of truth- would this dress fit over my head easily or would I have to unpick all my stitching and figure out a way to squeeze a zip in? I suddenly remembered one of the adjustments J’Adore made that didn’t make sense to me at the time. She said she added two inch panels to either side of the dress underneath the sleeves. The panels, which are barely visible in the photos, don’t seem to offer much in the way of a design choice, so maybe she had an issue with fit, or maybe she forgot to put in a side zip to get in and out of the dress just like I did, and then added panels to make it a bit easier to stick the zip in at the last minute? I don’t know exactly what her process was, but thankfully, with my serged seams and stretchy velvet fabric, the dress fit over my body through the neck hole with ease- no need to add a zip- hallelujah!

After fixing the back bodice to hug my body better, the rest of the dress was a breeze. I lowered the neckline as directed by her blog post, enough so that my head could squeeze through, but I took out less than she did (I think about 3/4″, since I had more flexibility with my stretch knit). I attached the band of the bow at the neck and hand sewed it close to the edges of the neckline.

This area was a little tricky since I was sewing a rectangular pattern piece to a circle, whose edges had to simply end front and center instead of being attached to a left and right button band as the pattern was initially drafted for.  I sewed the edges of the bow as close together as possible at the center front neck and it looks fine on the outside, but a little more visible on the inside. I don’t anticipate that the neckline edge will stretch out much since my stretch fabric has a lot of resiliency, but on a less stable knit, this would be something to be aware of.

The last adjustment came with the sleeves. I had to take out additional length from them even though I cut the lines for the “petite” option on all portions of the garment- I think they might be drafted as very baggy and drapey over the hands, which is not a design element I like at all. I don’t like stuff flowing around my hands or getting in their way, it takes all I can muster to wear a bracelet for longer than 10 minutes. Here I took a cue from J’Adore’s post where she wrote that she put pleats in the sleeves and used elastic at the hems. Another thing I don’t like about sleeves? Elasticized hems, lol. Not sure why, but I just prefer either a regular folded hem or a cuff. Thankfully I was able to use the stretchiness of my fabric to my advantage once again, so I attached a self drafted cuff at the bottom of the sleeves and I didn’t need to use elastic at all (the original cuff was as weirdly long as the sleeves).

And voila! Although I wasn’t using a beautiful silk velvet like J’Adore was, I think the dress still came out really nice- I love the way it shimmers and shines in the light and the fit is spot on! It’s a very luxe looking dress to me and I think it will serve me well if I ever go on a trip to a place that’s cold as it’s still SEVENTY DEGREES IN LA RIGHT NOW. Sorry, I shouldn’t complain when the east coast is suffering through a snow bomb or whatever they are calling it, but a little bit of breezy weather would be such a treat considering all these nice fall/winter makes I have in my closet! Even if it does get cooler I’m not sure if I can pull off the dress-over-jeans-look like J’Adore did in her photos, which looks stunning, but who knows- I was inspired enough to do a mad pattern hack based on her style choices make so maybe I will be brave enough to test out her layered look, too!

 

P.S. Sorry, I don’t remember where I got my hat from, and also, THANK YOU FOR THE PICTURES, CLAIRE!

Holidays in Velvet

I have never made myself a dress for Christmas before, but since this was our year to spend with Claire’s family and they had a ‘Progressive Dinner’ planned (which entails starting dinner at one house with drinks and apps, moving on to another home for the Christmas meal and then a final house for dessert and presents), I figured this was as good a time as any to whip up some festive attire. Truth be told, the Christmas dress only came into being after I walked into The Fabric Store  last December and saw a roll of the most luxurious black velvet laying on one of the tables. It was so soft, the fabric had a gorgeous drape, and the velvet had so many dimensions. Black is my least favorite color to wear so I pretty much never ever sew it unless it has a print, but this velvet was too special to not make an exception- when the light hit it you could see all the texture of the cloth while the deep black color seemed to emit golden hues at certain angles. What made me more in love with the fabric was that I immediately knew what I wanted to make with it, which is pretty rare for me. I had bought a Big Four pattern when there was a massive sale on them at Joanns. My Dad had come down to visit me in Savannah for the weekend and since I didn’t have a car, he happily drove me to the grocery store, Target, and Joanns so that I could grab some notions that my local fabric store down the street didn’t carry (f I hadn’t mentioned it before, my Dad is exceptionally sweet and I wish I had a photo of him patiently sitting next to me holding my basket of thread and zippers as I thumbed through the $1 bin of patterns).

Anyways, one of the patterns I nabbed was this Simplicity 1585 Project Runway dress with raglan sleeves. The Project Runway patterns are great because they give you lots of options for adding details and design elements to what is otherwise a simple garment, and this one had some really cool options for adding piping and ribbon. The style lines of the dress seemed like they would suit my black velvet beautifully. My fabric wasn’t super heavy or thick, but I still thought it would best suit a pattern without a lot of bulk and gathers, and because of the way the lines of the skirt flowed, velvet seemed like a match made in heaven. Turns out, nothing is heavenly when you are sewing with velvet :/

I re-upholstered an armchair in velvet last year and had to do a fair amount of machine sewing for the piping and seat cushion but I didn’t have any trouble with it at all- maybe because it was a heavy weight fabric and backed by sturdy cloth, it behaved like any other upholstery fabric I had worked with before. My precious, supple black velvet on the other hand? Totally different story. I found a little bit of helpful information about sewing with velvet on the Threads Magazine website, but nothing could have quite prepared me for how frustrating it would actually be! I imagine that sewing with velvet knits is a little less complicated because you can just power through most all the seams with a serger and be done with it, but my velvet required a lot more attention than that.

my dressform after a very brief encounter with this velvet dress- all seams were sewn, this was just the leftover dander clinging to the inside!

The biggest thing I learned about velvet during this project is that it is MESSY; I was constantly wiping teeny tiny little threads of black off my sewing machine and work space. I guess this is because the threads in velvet fabric are short and piled as opposed to long and woven, so when you cut it, the hairs are no longer attached to anything and they just fall all over the place. My velvet also behaved a little bit like silk when I was cutting out the pattern pieces, but because I was on a tight timeline with a little less than three days to make this dress before we left town, I didn’t want to spend too much time cutting it out. So. I cut it on the fold. I would NOT recommend this! Cut your slinky velvet out in a single layer like a responsible seamster!

 

The next biggest thing I learned about sewing with velvet is that it doesn’t want to be sewn!  You think I’m kidding? It’s as if the fabric had a life of it’s own. When sewing two pieces of velvet together, they just don’t want to stay in place and have a tendency to slip and slide out from under the needle. I tried pinning my layers all kinds of different ways but it still wouldn’t behave, so then I tried a tip from Threads Mag that suggests you use a fabric adhesive on the seam allowances of your pieces, press them together, and then sew. This worked about 80% of the time, but it took a lot of extra work and patience and it of course made things even more messy. To keep the glue from spraying all over my cutting table, I would place paper underneath the edge of the piece of fabric I was spraying, but soon enough that paper would become tacky with glue and wind up transferring itself onto my hands or other parts of the fabric. Add to this all the tiny hairs of stray velvet that was covering my workspace already and you can imagine what a sticky mess it was. I was surprised that the glue didn’t really ruin any of my fabric, though- there are a few places where there is still glue within the seam, but mostly it wiped off pretty easily, and the glue itself tended to lose it’s bond after several minutes, so if you mistakenly glued any pieces together, you could pull them apart without too much trouble.

One of my mistakes in making this dress (and oh boy, there were many!) was thinking I could add all those cute details (like the piping around the arm seams and the keyhole at the neck) using a satin contrast fabric on top of the velvet. I gave it the old college try, but working with the glue and the piping and two finicky fabrics was more than my poor little maker psyche could handle. The nail in the coffin was finally completing one side of piping and realizing that, aside from being uneven and wonky looking, the velvet combined with the satin piping looked an awful like a velour Adidas track suit from the 70s. And obviously that was NOT the look I was going for. Ultimately I abandoned the piping and the final result of the dress is better for it, but I will most definitely be making this dress again in the future with a less finicky fabric and using the piping as intended.

I made a quick muslin of the bodice of this dress sans sleeves since most Big 4 patterns don’t fit me right out the box, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was an exception, save for taking in the seam allowances in the back (I have a ‘small back’ in pattern adjustment lingo and have had to take in fabric at the back zipper on every dress I have ever made). The only real issue I had with the pattern were the sleeves, so of course I was kicking myself that I didn’t include these pieces in my muslin from the very beginning. It’s hard to tell if the sleeves were wonky because of my fabric or because of the design; as drafted the short raglan sleeve version has two pleats at the cuff in addition to gathers on either side of them, and they are connected to a band in contrast fabric (mine was the cream colored satin). For the life of me I could not get these sleeves to work. My velvet fabric seemed too bulky to accommodate both the pleat and the gathers, and because the sleeve is so small, it was also hard to get fabric adhesive on the seam allowance properly, so I had to resort to using pins again to keep the pieces together under the needle. As a result, the fabric slid around so much that I couldn’t successfully sew a consistent seam allowance along the edge and the sleeve ended up looking pathetic- it hung down lower in some places than others, it was weirdly puffy around the shoulder, and it was also too tight around my arm. I spent HOURS on these sleeves before realizing that the only way to save the dress would be to omit the satin sleeve cuff and the pleats, loosen the gathers, and use a cuff made out of velvet instead; the velvet tended to work better with self fabric than satin. When I finished the sleeves and tried the dress on, it was ten times better than before- the sleeve lay smoothly off the shoulder and didn’t look too billowy.

Finally, I had a bit of trouble with my invisible zipper- I could not manage to get it to lay smoothly at the very bottom where the two back pieces of the skirt connect together again. I am pretty good with invisible zip insertion so I am just gonna blame this on the fabric, too. I don’t think it’s bad enough to notice unless you’re looking for flaws, and nobody does that on Christmas day! If I were ever to wear this dress to a red carpet event though, I would definitely try to figure out how to make it lay flat.

All in all, this make was pretty successful considering that I had never worked with this kind of velvet before and it was brand new pattern to me and I had time constraints. I feel very elegant in this, because for one, velvet is an extraordinary fabric to wear, and two, this pattern works well on me. The skirt is flowy and I love the way the high bodice looks and feels. I also love the design of the collar and the keyhole at the chest, which gave just enough of a peekaboo to be interesting without making me feel self conscious. The finished garment has a vintage A Doll’s House vibe to it, which was probably due to my color and fabric choices, and I really love how it turned out. I will absolutely make this dress again (but not in velvet!) and I will absolutely sew with velvet again (but not in this pattern)! I am super interested to try out some different types of velvet next. I have a couple of yards of a beautiful, sturdier purple velvet from The Fabric Store that I think would make a great pair of cigarette pants, and I am also interested in getting my hands on some stretch velvet and using a super simple pattern which will let the velvet take centerstage. But not anytime soon; it’s been almost a month and I am still recuperating from this dress!