Brave or Crazy: An Adventure into Dressmaking

Back in the day I used to think that I could sew. I used to play with my mother’s sewing machine and I have no idea where that machine is now but my guess is that I destroyed it. I had no respect for how delicate the whole needle/tension/bobbin situation can be. I remember breaking needles and yanking -hard- when things were stuck.

In eighth grade there was a spring dance. I wanted a fancy dress. Somehow it was decided that I could make one. I’m not sure whether this was a financial decision or it was my mom deciding that because it was so hard to shop with (picky, picky, picky) me that it would be easier to make it. We went to the fabric store, looked at pattern book after pattern book after pattern book. I chose a long sleeved (why?) gown with a full ball gown skirt. I chose black satin and a very purple lining fabric. I thought it would be so so so great.

So we got home with all of this and I laid out the pattern and cut out all of the pieces. I started sewing. This is where it all fell apart. I remember looking at the little arrows where the sleeves were supposed to go together with outright loss of comprehension. Just. couldn’t. figure. it. out.

So at some point we rolled around to the fact that this dress was not going to happen, and again I’m fuzzy on the details, but I believe I ended up wearing a black knit dress with a cutout neck in sort of a diamond shape that we found at Ross. I remember that I thought the skirt was too long and tried to hem it myself– and it being a knit dress, that didn’t go so well either. Fortunately my friends didn’t really notice or care. They were/are good friends.

There were a few things in high school that my mom helped me with. I was never brave enough to attempt any clothing again all by myself. Lots of pillows, curtains, flags, appliques.

Recently I’ve been more inspired. Let’s give a shout-out to our friend the internet. (And Adrianna totally inspired me. Got me sewing again and got me out of sewing just flat things.) Got me to make things for K. I decided that if I was really going to sew clothing for me, it had to be with a dress form. I can’t lay things flat and figure them out. So when Jo Ann was running a special with free shipping, I was all over it. (And as of today, they’re doing it again.) She has a name: Marjorie.

So, you think to yourself, “Self, what would Susan make first? Maybe a refashion? Maybe a skirt with an elastic waist? Something straightforward.”
Uh… no. How about a lined full-length chocolate colored silk taffeta evening gown? With an invisible zipper. Go hard or go home, I say.
So I set up my dress form. In order to protect myself from an anxiety attack I bought twice as much fabric as I thought I would need. That way I had room to screw it up. I used an easy pattern that Adrianna had, Butterick 5028. I had to Susan-size it since the available Adrianna-size does not work for Susan. I then narrowed the straps at the top and made the bodice per instructions (which were still hard to follow but at least I didn’t have to deal with sleeves). From there I ditched the pattern and started making it up. I love pleats and silk taffeta makes lovely ones, I think. I did two double inverted pleats in the front and two in the back. I have no idea whether there’s a real name of them other than that, but that’s what I’m calling it. I gathered strips of tulle and stitched one to the lining a few inches below the pleats and another a few inches above the hem.

When hemming the skirt I wanted to use a blind hem stitch, but the methods I saw involved basting first, which as far as I could figure would leave my fabric with a bunch of holes that would negate the beauty of the blind hem. So instead of basting I folded the fabric as if I had basted it, and set a touch light under my machine as I fed the hem through. It helped me keep the hem even, I thought. I wanted as few pinholes as possible. Went slowly, worked well. No biggie there.

I made a wrap with burnout silk velvet. Two and a half yards, stitched down the edge inside-out to make a tube, angled ends with a small hole for turning, stitch that shut and done. My favorite part was how it looked like a squid mid-turn.
Total cost for the dress and wrap: about $55. And the scraps made the purse.

I can’t say any one part was all that hard. Well, the joining of the skirt and the bodice could have been smoother. I ended up rolling a strip of fabric and tacking it as a sash so that I wasn’t so focused on how I could have done that more smoothly. I was pleased with the results.

I’m so glad I did it. It was really fun to take it from idea to reality. Fun to see my three-year-old climb under the skirt in progress. Fun to pass through the living room and see the dress sitting there, waiting for the next step. I have no idea what I’ll do for myself next, and it won’t likely happen for a while with the holidays approaching, but Marjorie and I will have more fun, no doubt. Now, back to the quicker crafterhours projects I love!


  1. says

    That is so fantastic! I remember picking out patterns for my mom to make me in high school. She always said, “no sleeves!” lol. I just clicked over to your blog via Craft Gossip. I love your me mermaid skirt! It’s so pretty and fun! I would love to link to it if you didn’t mind.

Leave a Reply