Garden Party Dress

This has been the year of weddings, which means that all the deficiencies in my wardrobe have been glaringly revealed. The most recent wedding was an outdoor garden party, on a beautiful estate overlooking a lake. I don’t know if a garden-party-dress is a wardrobe staple for most people, but I discovered it wasn’t for me, and once again I decided to remedy the situation on a rather tight time-scale. The bride’s favorite color is pear green, and I had just the perfect shade of brocade fabric in my stash. I had purchased it in Chinatown NYC last summer, and had been contemplating a fitting project for it since then. My one yard of fabric was going to require some creativity to eke a garment out of it.

I turned to Vogue 8766 again for inspiration. I figured out how I could lay out View A on exactly one yard of 45” wide fabric, and was very proud of my cutting layout. Since the skirt was identical to that of the LBD, I decided to make a muslin of only the bodice. I made two adjustments. First, I lengthened the waistline by 1.25”. I think the waistline of this pattern is quite high, as I’m very short-waisted and generally have to shorten at the waistline rather than lengthen.

bodice_patt

I also took in the tops of the princess seams. I moved the strap attachment points to be the same distance from the princess seam line as in the original (which later turned out to be a poor decision).

princess_fitting

Armed with my modified pattern and efficient cutting layout, I dug out the fashion fabric. I was dismayed to find it was only 35” wide! My beautifully-designed cutting layout no longer fit. Apparently Asian fabrics often come in non-standard widths, with Indian fabrics often being only 28” wide. Moral of the story—don’t make assumptions about fabric width.

Determined to make a dress in the brocade fabric, I decided to make the bodice of View A with straps of View B in the brocade, and the skirt of View F in a contrast crepe-backed satin. This decision required breaking my oath of a few months ago to never again make a circle skirt. I had discovered then that a circle skirt stretches on the bias, so some sections of the hemline hang lower than others, making it very difficult to mark and hem evenly. I resigned myself (and my mom and husband!) to another tedious hemming process.

Braced for the difficulties to come, I first cut the bodice pieces from the lining fabric, and equivalent pieces from fusible shirt-weight interfacing. I decided to bone the dress despite using straps, as I didn’t want the straps to provide all the support. For pieces that are going to be boned, I generally attach shirt-weight interfacing for support; somehow it just seemed wrong to apply boning to flimsy polyester fabric. What I didn’t account for was that sticking the interfacing to the fabric would make it impossible for the center front seam to lie flat along the princess seam line, despite numerous clips. With multiple attempts, though, I prevailed at stitching an accurate princess seam.

bodice_lining_princess

I stitched the back darts without incident, then attached about 6” of boning on each side of the side seams, about 2.75” from the seam line towards the center front, and 3.25” towards the center back. I used the casing provided with the boning—I didn’t get fancy at this step.

bodice_liningWS

The next step was to assemble the skirt lining. I cut out and assembled the circle skirt, then stitched the skirt to the bodice at the waist seam. I left the entire center back seam open above the circle that marked the bottom of the zipper. I decided to attach the skirt lining to bodice lining, rather than attach the skirt lining to the skirt fashion fabric as the pattern recommended. If I had followed the pattern, I would have had 4 fabrics in a single waist seam: skirt fashion fabric, skirt lining, underlined bodice fashion fabric, and bodice lining. By attaching the skirt lining to the bodice lining, and skirt fashion fabric to bodice fashion fabric, I hoped to reduce the bulk (and errors) in the waist seam.

I then cut out the bodice and straps from the brocade, and bodice pieces from the underlining material (a rayon challis that shrinks a lot upon washing. I learned the hard way to preshrink it after using it for the first time for a top). I hand-basted the underlining pieces to the fashion fabric.

bodice_back_underlined

The rayon frayed terribly. This is the state of my pants after all the basting:

pants

I stitched the bodice front along the princess seams, which went much more smoothly than for the lining, as the fabric was not stiff with interfacing. I then trimmed the fashion fabric from the seam allowances, and finished the underlining seams in order to avoid being covered with rayon threads while wearing the dress.

finished_princess

At this point I deviated from the directions. I cut the circle skirt pieces, and attached the left back skirt to left back bodice, and right back skirt to right back bodice. With the vertical back sections in place, I installed an invisible zipper, but with one flaw—I kept the zipper closed as if it were a centered zipper rather than invisible. The zipper is thus not-quite-invisible. I hand-picked the portions where the zipper was obviously showing, and looked the other way for the rest.

I then stitched the skirt front to bodice front, dipping the waistline down at the center front just a tad. Finally I attached the front and back at the long side seams. I tried and failed to align the waist seams perfectly, but once again looked the other way.

waist_seam

I finished the skirt seams of both the fashion fabric and lining.

finished_skirt

Now in the home stretch, I sewed the straps, turned them inside-out, and pinned them in place at the attachment points on the bodice front (with the straps hanging down against the bodice). I turned the lining inside-out, and stuffed the fashion fabric dress with straps inside. I stitched a 3/8” seam along the neckline, then pressed and understitched in the seam allowance before shoving the lining inside the dress. I left openings in the back neckline for attaching the straps. Finally I hand-stitched the lining to the zipper tape at the center back. And then I got to try it on!

bodice

I realized that the straps were placed too far from the center front, and would slip off my shoulders if attached at the openings in the back neckline. I decided to turn the dress into a halter. I stitched the end of the left strap into a loop. I threaded the right strap through the loop, and marked where I would attach the end of the right strap to itself to form a second loop, like a chain link. I sewed hooks and eyes at the attachment points of the right strap. All this looping was an effort to avoid stitching the straps permanently in place and misjudging the length needed. By creating loops (the one with the hook and eye being adjustable), I left myself room for error.

Then came the dreaded circle skirt hemming. To make a long story short, I stood still for nearly 2 hours while my mom patiently measured and pinned. I had a 2-foot ruler (purchased at a variety store that boasted rulers of unusual lengths) that came in handy for measuring the distance from the floor. I then cut the skirt at the hemline, made a ¼” rolled hem, and used a regular stitch to sew it in place. The blind hem foot wasn’t worth using for nearly 200” of hem, and I don’t own any other suitable hemming feet.

skirt_cutting

skirt_cut

Here’s a pic of the dress, taken after we returned from the wedding to the hotel room. I wore it with my Margrit’s Pi Shawl, and received lots of compliments at the wedding, including one from a catering staff member!

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One thought on “Garden Party Dress

  1. Pingback: Adventures with rayon | Ashwini J Designs

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