it’s hard to believe, but if the amount of holiday parties we’ve been attending lately is any indication, christmas must really be just around the corner. still haven’t quite acknowledged that…presents, what? this blog has strayed so far from its usual content in the past months, i thought it might be nice to send off 2013 with a more traditional post, and this project fits the bill. last minute, poorly planned, moderately executed, full of drama and, in the end, lucky, i think this holiday inspired frock is just the thing to close out the year.
can you name that dress?? this, friends, is my iteration of the colette pastille dress, seen on the cover of the fantastic colette sewing handbook. i bought the book about a year ago, and everything i know about sewing women’s clothing i learned from this book, though i’ve barely scratched the surface. also, until now, i hadn’t used a single one of the patterns! i love the book and the blog, both full of amazing information and content, but the patterns themselves aren’t really my style. however, i’d always been somewhat captivated by the pastille dress, and knew eventually the right idea would come to mind for making my own version.
the idea itself originated at least a few weeks ago, when i knew david’s annual work holiday party was coming up, with a cocktail dress code. i do love to sew, but not to shop or buy clothes for myself, or to really wear clothes without a significant amount of stretch or billow. thus, i own only one semi formal dress, which i wore to my rehearsal dinner for my own wedding years ago, and i already wore that last year. there was a time where i would just make a target run, but with my new diy resolve and my reluctance to support rather unsavory textile production practices abroad, i knew i had to make one myself. i figured if i had just one more dress, i could alternate the two each year, right? that’s the plan. i haven’t had a ton of time or attention to plan a holiday outfit, but i did have a tailored dress pattern that i figured could be dressed up with the right fabric, and quite a bit of red stretch lace intended for another project that never came to be. and so, the holiday pastille it would be. except it almost wasn’t, because i ordered a nude stretch linen to put under it, and that looked terrible, as did everything else i own. grey, awful. white, worse than nude. brown, hideous. black, wild wild west. clearly, the only thing that could pair with the red lace was an equally red lining, and it just didn’t seem realistic to find it, until we fortuitously passed through san francisco last week and i made the fastest and cheapest trip ever to fabric outlet to pick up several yards of bright red linen, and it was ON. well, sort of. with the advent of my new shop and the handful of orders to fulfill from supportive friends and family, it wasn’t actually on until the day before the party. and i mean, i hadn’t done a damn thing. friday i sat down to *trace* the pattern. i told myself they do it on project runway all the time, right? make a dress in one day? i don’t see many toddlers running amok at parsons, but i’m a master multitasker, and so i intrepidly began. i resolved to do exactly as sarai instructed me, no goofing around with scooping necklines and other alterations that i can’t seem to not make. i would pay as much attention to fit as possible as that’s sort of critical in a tailored piece, but i would have to rely heavily on luck with my inexperience and lack of time. i can’t say i was wholeheartedly committed from the start, and actually kind of hoped the muslin would be a mess so i could give up immediately. but, the muslin (for the bodice, i didn’t even bother with the skirt), which i made in a size 4 based not on my measurements or those provided in the pattern, but on the colette sorbetto i made months ago, fit fine. i know colette patterns are written for a c cup bust, and while i’m more like a b and a half cup after weening reese, i still wear my single old c cup bra, so i told myself the bust would be fine. it’s hard to tell with an open back and without a dress form, but the darts seemed okay. i told you, non committal. in addition to knowing next to nothing about tailored fitting, i also know absolutely nothing about sewing lace. i think i read eons ago somewhere that you just baste the lace onto the lining, but since my lace was a stretch material, i basted one piece and it got pinched and pulled and wonky, so after that i stuck to ample pinning and just sewing the double layered pieces to one another as dictated by the pattern like they were fused, and it worked out shockingly well. in fact, the whole dress came together really quickly after all the tracing and cutting of various layers, and when i went to bed friday night with only facings, zippers, and hemming left to go, i was feeling quite optimistic.
saturday morning, the day of the party where i would wear my tailored cherry red holiday dress, i slipped it on, still wide open down the back, and wrapped myself in it like a hospital robe. i stabbed myself with a few pins attempting to demarcate where i’d like the zipper to close, and was surprised when i took it off again to find that this semi-arbitrary fitting called for the hacking of 2″ off each side. 4″ from the width seemed like an awful lot, and i had only pinned it at mid back. would 4″ be appropriate for the hips? the bust? this might incline some seamstresses to do a more thorough and detailed fitting. i settled for leaving a 2″ seam allowance on each side and hoping my two pin behind the back fitting method would hold water. here is yet another example of how doing things correctly can save time in the long run, yet somehow i can’t help myself but to go rogue and hope for the best. also, math has never been a strength for me, and instead of adding a seam allowance to my 2″ mark, i just sewed right along it for zipper installation, which was a centered zipper by the way, which i have never attempted, i don’t like it, i even bought an invisible zipper as well because i have the special foot and everything, but i promised to just do as sarai instructed for the sake of time, so a centered zipper it was.
this is where things predictably start to sour. zippers are tricky anyway, but a new zipper, a new technique, the layers of fabric, stretchy lace, the lack of zipper foot, it was a major pain. inevitably, i sewed too close to the teeth in a few places, and had to pick the seams, which i don’t recommend on lace, ever. the neck came together just a shade unevenly, and can someone tell me how the hell to finish the top of the zipper?! i just tucked it in and tacked it down…doesn’t look great. anyway, i got the sense i might have gotten a little too liberal with my alterations when i could scarcely squeeze the dress fully open over my gargantuan shoulders OR my rear end, but i shimmied into it, and miraculously, it zipped shut in the most inexplicably perfect fit, like a bright red, lacy body glove. remarkable. only the hem and finishing to go! i was rejuvenated after my long zipper struggle.and then this happened. the thing about sergers is, they’re awesome until they’re not. maybe that’s true of everything. yes, i am using white thread on a red dress. those spools are kind of costly though, and i might never make another red thing. seeing as i was sure of this garment’s failure, i didn’t want to spring for $15 in thread alone. plus, it looks like a jolly old santa suit on the inside, and it’s a *holiday* dress. the white is festive! back off. this is the second time i have royally pissed off my serger by failing to raise the bar that feeds the thread. SO TOUCHY, jeez! has it ever happened to you, that you’re sewing away, and then just as you shift over to your serger, your 2 year old says, “mom, my car is full of pins!” and you realize that he has gone from innocently sorting buttons to shoving as many pins as possible into his toy car, and you have a dress to finish for that night, so in the interest of preventing a tantrum, you try commend this feat while simultaneously discouraging this activity, and as you successfully avert disaster, you turn back to your serger, it whirs for 1.5 seconds, and then throws a tantrum 100x worse than a toddler because the STUPID BAR WASN’T RAISED? am i alone here? and in spite of 5 complete rethreadings and twice as many apologies, it still turns out edges like those above? i made a lot of exceptions for this dress, the white thread, the crooked zipper, but this was too much. even i couldn’t stand to look at it. i chopped it off with pinking shears, and this gave me the will to continue.and then there was the disaster of the hem. as i said, i was pleasantly surprised at how easily the lace overlay was cooperating, but this all changed with the hem. never one to treat things gently, i started ironing away as i had been, full heat and steam, for the whole construction. a few presses in, i noticed that i succeeded in the impossible, making my iron even more disgusting by melting the lace all over it. perfect. instead, i just ironed the linen, and tucked the lace in as best i could while sewing the hem. it took some practice to prevent gigantic puckers, and while the hem seam is not 100% straight, nor does the overlay fall effortlessly over the lining, i think you have to look closely to notice. honestly, i saw most of it for the first time only after the dress was photographed (in really poor lighting on the way to the party, which of course we were late for). the the sleeves are a really neat shape, but look a little wonky though i took a lot of care with the facings and tacked them down in several places. they look a little asymmetrical and one of them kept folding up. looks like the back might be a little wrinkly, too. but, in a true christmas miracle, the front is totally presentable, the fit is spot on (though if i eat even one more quesadilla next year than i did last, surely i won’t be so lucky when i try to zip it again year after next), i got through the night with zero wardrobe malfunctions, and i successfully completed in 24 hours a solid holiday garment like nothing i’ve ever owned before that i can wear to every [other] holiday work party, perhaps some weddings, and every production of the nutcracker i ever attend. i really didn’t imagine i’d be saying this, but…from my novice standpoint, i’m calling this one a success.
i hope you find time to relax and enjoy your friends, families, and traditions. best, best wishes to all of you this holiday season!