02 November 2012

Birthday Dress

Most years I make myself a New Year's Eve dress; mainly as a consolation and armour for having to go out on an evening that everyone is out and staying home feels like a worse idea than being out. This year's occasion is my 40th birthday, which seems to warrant a fancy dress more than NYE. I am not freaked out about my age, as most seem to assume when I tell them that I am about to turn 40. The last few years it isn't so much the number that freaks me out, but birthdays in general. Like holidays where there is too much pressure to have a great time, I don't like the attention.

Forever, my way of dealing with not liking the attention is overdressing. It is what led me into dressmaking in the first place. I have never been able to blend in, so I decided trying to blend in is a waste of time. I always feel better when I am dressed in whatever it is I want to be wearing; be it a particular colour, an odd combination of eras, my fox fur collar... Whatever feels right to me. It isn't ever khaki pants or baggy T-shirts or cheap throw aways or brand logos or ill-fitting anything. This has led me to making the pieces that I could never find or never afford.

I will say upfront that this dress cost under $50. to make. It is nothing I would ever make for a client. There is a particular freedom in making something for ones self. I can fit at the drop of a hat without a schedule of waiting to get to the next step. I can not worry about the underpinnings being exactly perfectly straight. I can leave in my alterations that no one will ever see from the outside. I can forgo the extra hour(s) of finely looking over each piece to make sure there isn't one single Piper hair on the piece ever. I can experiment freely without worrying about wasting fabric or time or losing money. I don't have to answer to ANYONE.

The Inspiration

I wanted a very structured cocktail dress with a substantial skirt, but huge knocking over tables skirt. I turned to my Dior book for inspiration. Half circle will do nicely. I debated over strapless or strappy or almost cap; which won, because it is fall after all.

Six Yards of Hand Dyed Silk Duchesse

A few months back I found on super clearance a bolt of silk duchesse for $2. a yard. Silk duchesse normally retails for between $40. - $60. a yard. This was just too good to pass up. It had bits of tape on it, but I didn't care, it could be dyed. 2 boxes of Rit dye later it was a lovely aquamarine blue. The only issue is that there were some uneven spots and tiny stains. Not a big deal, I knew this dress would need surface decoration anyway. I like asymmetry, so why not let the fabric be the guide?

Here is the motif. I used this over a decade ago on a wedding dress. Pale gold 3-cut aurora borealis finished glass beads I've had in my stash forever, and aurora borealis Swarovski crystals also out of my stash. Strangely I rarely use this colour for flowers, but I had a whole jar of them.


This fabric has some drape; it is normally a little stiffer, but the sizing went out of it from washing and dying. No matter. I underlined the bodice with permanent press muslin (a mix of poly/cotton) which is stiffer than cotton muslin, and the skirt has an additional layer of stiff tulle and 3" horsehair braid around the hem to give it a solid shape.

I carefully went over the whole dress and pinned every spot and stain (all of them very tiny) and began sewing stars over each one. Here (see above) the skirt is attached, and the beading is just beginning.

The Underdress

At the same time I began making the underdress. I debated whether it would be a free standing piece or sewn into the dress. I fretted about this for days before starting it. Not that it matters as long as the dress has the desired shape on the outside, but what would any project be if I didn't spend copious amounts of time fretting over the logistics of its construction? In the end it was a free standing piece. Gently corseted with 10 yards of tulle fuller in the back to match the skirt (that I was adamant that it DIDN'T peek out from the hem), 6 steel bones (went in for light structure), waist tape and hook & eye tape closure. It gives a nice smooth line to the dress, and proper fullness to the skirt without completely taking away all of the drape. And I rustle when I walk.

The dress is almost done, save for a few more stars to add the skirt. The New Year's Eve party is tomorrow. I will be spending the evening at the bar down the street totally overdressed sipping cocktails with friends on the last night of my thirties.


Megan Panda said...

This dress is gorgeous! The color and the stars remind me of Cinderella's gown :)

Megan Panda said...

P.S. Happy Birthday! You look AMAZING for almost 40.

Norma said...

Such a beautiful dress! Could not agree with your more regarding sewing for yourself - the freedom is so refreshing.

I hope you had an amazing Birthday!

Jennifer Bolton said...

"Fashion is the armor to survive everyday life." - Bill Cunningham, from the documentary on his work and life