Monday, January 16, 2012

Retro Striped Dress

A friend who was visiting my workroom looked at this dress on the form and said, "Who's that for?" I said it was for me, and she was surprised. "It doesn't look like you," she said. "There's no visible cleavage."

Okay, I guess they are out there most of the time, but hey, I'm going to be 48 at the end of the month, and they're holding up better than quite a few other parts of me, so I'm not against a bit of display. But this dress did not require boobs; as a matter of fact, it requires one of my more minimal bras, just because I like the smoother line with this design.


This is somewhere between a self-draft and a frankenpattern. The neckline/collar came from an old Patrones pattern for a woven top. The sleeve and armhole came from the KS cowl neck pattern, because I liked the draft. The sectioning of skirt/bodice was totally me, as was the shape (such as it is) of the skirt. The front bodice curves upward from the side seams; the back seam runs straight across.

This dress came together one idea at a time. It first bubbled up (like the black gold in the Beverly Hillbillies' opener) when I was cleaning the workroom and found the black, white and red stripe. This fabric was a Marc Jacobs remnant from Jomar, just under a yard, plus there was some misprinting of the fabric, so I was really cutting it close. I left it on the table to think about it, and the next time I came in, I pulled a beefy black knit off the shelves and added that to the pile. It was obvious that I would have to use more than 1 fabric - even if I made a top, I didn't think there'd be enough.

The Patrones pattern was in my head when I woke up the next day. I liked the idea of those neckline pleats with the stripe, and I could use the contrast fabric for the collar. At that point, I wasn't sure if I was going for short striped sleeves or long solid ones. As you see, I checked 'none of the above.' Once I had the contrast collar idea set, I cut the fabrics. I used the dress pattern that I had drafted from the KS cowl neck top for the basic shape of the lower dress, and then cut the bodice piece in a curve. Having cut the skirt front higher, I then mirrored that curve and cut the skirts. I constructed the neck pleats and realized that the striped knit was just too lightweight to handle the beefy black knit. I wasn't changing solids, though; a lighter knit would have given a whole different look to the dress that was coming together.

I went in search of a solution and found 2 yards of nude knit (almost Spanx type knit) in the stash. I'd originally purchased it with the idea of making a custom cover for my dress form to cover her custom padding. There's still enough left if I ever get around to doing that. I underlined the bodice pieces with the nude knit, which gave it a nice bit of structure without making it too heavy. Then I added the contrast collar and left it on the form overnight to marinate some more.

The skirts sewed on easily enough, and I pinned it together to check and make sure my stripes and side seams lined up. Then I sat back and thought about sleeves. The Patrones pattern didn't have sleeves, so I cut the armhole in line with the KS cowl pattern, thinking I could use that sleeve whether I went long or short. I decided on long sleeves, cut from the black knit, but after I got them cut out, they didn't excite me. Then, as I was rearranging the table, I dropped a piece of the stripe and looked back and saw it on the sleeve. An idea was born.

But not the same idea, of course. The right sleeves has a block of stripe appliquéd at the wrist. The left sleeve has 3 broken stripes of appliquéd straight down from the shoulder. I tacked the pieces down with Steam-a-Seam and then used my machine's blanket stitch to stitch them down. I was going to use clear nylon thread but (a) I hate the stuff, (b) I didn't have any, and (c) I tried a sample with black thread and actually liked it, so that's how it went.

Once I got the sleeves on, I sewed them from wrists to dress hem, matching stripes and waist seams. I tried the dress on again, and while I liked it, it wasn't quite right. I let it sit some more and on Monday, I went back and altered the curved front seam and raised it by an inch center front, tapering into the original line at the sides. That improved the fit and made the curve more obvious; it lost some of its visible curve while wrapping around me.

Last but not least was the length of the skirt. I cut the fabric so that it went to mid-calf, more to give myself options than because I actually wanted the dress that long. I ended up taking it to right below the knee, because that's my most flattering length. 

I do feel like it has a strong retro vibe, but not too strong. It kind of reminds me of something Claudette Colbert wore in It Happened One Night, or at least my 2012 interpretation of something she would have worn, if she'd had access to good knits.

This is the first piece in my "Great Dress Project" series. I wore it to work on Friday with black tights and heels (and froze my arse off, but that's another story).  I love it, it makes me happy, and I have nothing else like it in my closet. I wasn't too sure about it once it was completed, but it felt good on, and it got more compliments than I've had in a while on a single garment - probably because it looks like nothing else in my closet.

I have other dresses brewing; hopefully, they too might qualify as Great Dresses.

14 comments:

Faye Lewis said...

I like that. I'm really into retro.

Sharon said...

I'm liking the retro vibe of the dress too.

Carolyn (cmarie12) said...

I LOVE the sleeves on the dress! And yes this is like nuthin' you've made before but I like it!

gMarie said...

I like it! Love the way the sleeves worked out and I really like the collar. Have you seen these tights? http://www.qvc.com/qic/qvcapp.aspx/view.2/app.detail/params.item.A217083.desc.Legacy-Legwear-Set-of-2-Flip-Side-Fleecy-Tights

g

Sherril said...

The collar is my favorite part. Oh, and those stripes have beautiful colors.

Graca said...

Cute dress, and love those sleeves!

velosewer said...

What a great journey. The sleeves are groovy and I love the whole look you've created.

Lisette M said...

Fantastic Karen! I recognize the Patrones pattern and it sure makes a great bodice for a dress.

couturearts said...

I love that stripe. I was looking for a stripe like that for a while. Maybe I'll start looking again. Great dress.

Clio said...

What a fun dress! I love how you made the most of a unique piece of fabric. (Funny, I thought I was the only sewista/blogger who basically engineered her entire wardrobe around her boobs. ;-)

Irene said...

Wonderful - the fabric combinations, the design - the whole dress!

SEWN said...

The sleeves are inspired. Love the dress!!!

The Slapdash Sewist said...

Totally love the asymmetric print usage for the sleeves. Fantastic designer touch.

senaSews said...

Love, love, love this dress. Fabulous!