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Apr 15, 2011

Water WILL stain taffeta, and other truths I learned sewing a Fifties-style cocktail dress



Friends, the dogs are pooped and so am I.  But there's no rest for the weary.  With just 36 hours to go before Cathy debuts her new cocktail dress at what we all hope will be a glamorous New York party and not just a bunch of actors drinking heavily, I need to finish this project.

I have learned so much making this dress I can't tell you.  I had never sewn lace before, I had never worked with taffeta before, I had never lined a bodice before (next time, boning!).  You know I love a challenge and this was a doozie.

Let's cut to the chase.  After drafting my own slip pattern, adapting a vintage Seventies princess-seamed dress pattern, I cut my fashion fabric (heavy taffeta) and stitched it together.  Here's an early shot -- taffeta never looks good under bright light, so keep that in mind.



I cut a bodice lining, using the same pattern pieces, out of polished black cotton.  With the dress open and flat, I stitched the bodice lining to the dress along the top, clipped seam allowances where necessary and folded over (and in) as one would any facing.  I understitched a bit as well, to keep the lining inside the dress.



I followed instructions from a Vogue evening gown pattern I have and stayed the top of the bodice seam with selvage I'd cut from the bodice fabric.  A useful technique I think.





I inserted my zipper (it looks better pressed) and I will add a hook and eye up top.  The invisible zipper is stitched atop both taffeta and lining; in a perfect world, the lining would be hand stitched to the inside of the zipper or something like that.  Whatever, it works.



Next, I spilled roughly 1/8 cup water on the side panel of the dress.  No, not a spill exactly -- a leak.

Friends, my Black & Decker iron never leaks -- it's wonderful -- UNLESS you try to use it before it reaches the selected temperature setting (it bings when it's ready).  Then it makes a mess.  And it made a mess all over my dress, though thankfully only on one side panel.

NOTE: WATER IS TO TAFFETA WHAT EIGHTIES PATTERNS ARE TO FASHION.  A DISASTER.

My taffeta can handle a bit of steam while I lightly press it just fine, but a puddle of boiling water will leave an indelible mark.   I recommend not having water in your iron if you're working with taffeta.  It's a fragile fabric and very unforgiving.

I'm fortunate on a number of fronts: a) the taffeta is very dark, b) the stain is on a side panel and Cathy gesticulates a lot, c) the taffeta slip will be worn under a black lace redingote.   I'm not sure this stain even reads on your monitors:



Oh, btw, to cut most of my taffeta, it was enough to run my shears through it -- cuts like butta!

Here's a teaser of what the final dress will look like:



Styled and all, it will look less like something Joey Heatherton wore in a Serta Perfect Sleeper ad and more like vintage Jean Louis.  There's still a lot to do, not the least of which is hemming separately both lace and taffeta skirts.

Now I need your help, oh, Wise Ones:

Straps -- thick or thin?   The thick (left side) is a piece of satin ribbon, though I could make these out of my taffeta; the thin (right side) is velvet ribbon that will also tie the front of the redingote.   Is the thin velvet too bra-like?



Patient readers, we're out of time.  Regardless of how this turns out, I've learned a lot and it hasn't been a nightmare, not really.  I try to enjoy the process and not get too caught up in the results.  Cathy will work her magic regardless and pull this outfit off.  I hope.

Happy Friday, everybody!

62 comments:

  1. I like the thicker strap. The thinner does look rather bra-like. Lovely color for the taffeta, and you're right, on my laptop, I can't even see a water stain.

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  2. This is looking so good, cannot wait to see it finished! I actually prefer the thin strap as it looks more delicate than the thicker one...

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  3. Oh it's looking lovely!

    As a woman who needs sturdy bras, I always dream of wearing thin straps, but am usually stuck with thick, bulky ones. I adore the delicateness of the thin strap, but I'm not on top of what's fashionable now (or even in the 50's, or frankly, anytime), so I may not be the best to consult.

    Oh, and couldn't see the stain at all on my monitor, but I'm sorry it happened. Good thing for the lace, eh?

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  4. Um, actually, I think the thick one looks bra-like. You could go with flesh color or clear elastic straps under the redingote and have the appearance of a strapless dress.

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  5. thin is sexier, under the lace will disappear and give a much cleaner look, wont disturb the pattern of the lace against Cathy's snowy shoulder... Just a guys point of view!

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  6. I agree with Marie, I like the thinner one. The thicker one pulls your eye to the strap and then to the top point of the slip and one shoulder whereas the thinner one lets your eye just sweep the whole slip and appreciate the triangular neckline.

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  7. (I should have remembered that MPB readers never agree on anything AND are always equally persuasive!)

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  8. I vote for the thinner one. I think it looks more elegant and follows the line of the princess seam nicely. The color of that taffeta is beautiful btw!

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  9. Why don't you post a picture of the dress with both straps AND the redingote? ahhh and I did not see the water stain (and I have a very large and nice monitor)

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  10. Peter, I'm writing as someone who always feels like I'm playing a part as a badly informed outsider and I try to carefully conceal my vulnerability from the outside world... You're so beautiful. I love that photo of you in Cathy's half-finished frock, beaming with pride. I love that. Thank you. You're an inspiration. Do you mind if I print that as a reminder of how wonderful it is to be who you are?

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  11. Beautiful! Sorry about the iron. My Rowenta, which I had wanted for YEARS and finally WON as a door prize a couple of years ago, now leaks since it fell off my ironing board. The good news is that it didn't kill or cause head injury to my son who was sitting on the floor right beside where it fell. Lesson learned. *sigh*

    Does it really need straps?? Would be perfect without. I guess that's where the boning would have helped. Oh well. I vote for wide, taffeta straps.

    Can't wait to see Cathy in this!

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  12. I thought about no straps -- the dress stays on fine and will be secured by the redingote.

    I would then want to round out the top edge. Without straps those sharp angles look funky to me.

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  13. I think the thicker one looks more "home made" go with the thin.

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  14. Steph, knock yourself out! ;)

    Rachel, yes, those seams and the thin straps work together nicely. And it will be under the lace after all...

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  15. I like the thinner straps too. Although, I really like Hoosiermamas idea of clear elastic/straps better.

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  16. I would go with the thin straps, or clear as Hoosiermama suggested. The dress looks incredible!

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  17. While normally I fancy the thicker, this time thin wins.

    The thin staps are more in keeping with the seams on the redingote.

    Continuity is key where Cathy is concerned.

    Testosterone

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  18. thin! the thick strikes me more as an undergarment, a big matronly undergarment.

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  19. The thin straps, most definitely. :)

    It's gorgeous, I love the line from hip to floor in the first picture.

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  20. Most of the times I prefer a thick strap, but the thin strap looks so elegant (and it will be easier to be hidden under the lace). I don't often comment, but I think this dress is going to be a knockout!!! I also have been really enjoying your Burdastyle posts; it is great to read your funny and insightful posts all over the web!

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  21. I'm with only one of your readers above, does it need straps? The thick one looks like a bra strap to me but only cos I am rather well endowed in that department so need the thick strap ;o)

    Now a tip, it's not official but I've done it and it might help. I had a vintage taffeta dress that someone spilt a drink down, ok it might have been me (!) I found that if you scratch your nail lightly over the outline that shows, I assume that's what you can see just an outline? If so this lessens the outline, don't ask me how or why but it's worked for me on 2 different dressed now. Weird but true, worth a go anyway! Incidently I can't see it but I know what it's like when something bothers you!

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  22. Here's another vote for the thin straps. I really like the delicacy; the thicker strap gives something of an orthopaedic feel to the dress (if such a thing is possible).

    I wouldn't worry about the stain; I could barely see it on the monitor and you will have the redingote over it. I also seem to have steam iron woes whenever working with fabrics like this -- I now have a dry iron which I use more often than not.

    BTW, great color for you; really looking forward to the finished dress!

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  23. Thin!

    I stumbled on your blog a couple of weeks ago, and I find it inspiring in so many ways. I can't wait to see the finished dress!

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  24. Cathy will love it and think the thin will look best on her.

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  25. As another reader forced by nature into the wearing of wider straps but who dreams of barely there ones, I say go for the thinner ones! Large only look like you're trying to conceal the bra strap underneath.

    That side view of your dress + lace redingote looks absolutely amazing. Can't wait to see the finished result.

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  26. I would do a thinner strap, but make sure she dons a strapless bra underneath (half cup would be best)as it would give the dress shape and it will look AMAZING on her, especially with the lace jacket!! Can't wait to see it on her!!

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  27. Oh, Peter! Cathy is going to look divine! I vote for thin straps.

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  28. Thin: win
    None: fun

    But the rhyming options for thick,
    are just not worth a tick.

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  29. Just gorgeous dahling!!!! and without a doubt thin!!!

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  30. I like the thin strap. Also, I am looking forward to the pictures!

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  31. damned irons.

    thin.

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  32. Can i vote strapless? There's always hollywood tape to keep Cathy's modesty from spilling out.

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  33. I'd like to see a self fabric strap right in-between the two sizes
    Boning is NOT hard to do. I have a tutorial on my blog. Long electrical ties work well...
    Water and pretty fabric almost never mix.

    The fabric is a great color and you wear it well.

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  34. Oh, good for you on the water spill! It is so frustrating to work so hard on a garment and to have equipment malfunction. Andrea's mention of hollywood tape is a good idea. I like both straps. But if you do the thick one can it have a little something on it for just a tad of texture? Like a ribbon sewn over a thicker ribbon. Just a thought. :)

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  35. Another vote for thin!

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  36. Another vote for the thin, delicate strap-- and next time, add the boning for sure. And don't use the cheap plastic crap, get the spring steel stays from a theater costume shop-- not much more expensive, and much more comfortable and better behaved.

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  37. Thin!
    Or strapless with unpointy bits, but that means mucking around with the facing, and maybe adding boning, yeah forget that.
    Please not clear plastic!

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  38. Hi there, Peter.

    Considering your body type, I thing the thicker strap balances out your shoulders better :-)

    I have always felt, that broad shoulders look better with broad straps, while narrow, sloping shoulders tend to disappear in those.

    Whereas the narrow strap almost disappears on you.

    But please - not black straps - the same as the dress, please!

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  39. My preference would be no strap, but second think strap. Only because Cathy can pull it off.

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  40. I vote for thin. Thick straps scream 90s to me, but maybe that's just me. Plus, Cathy is so perky, she need not conceal any bra straps.

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  41. Thin.

    Couldn't see the water stain, but if it is an issue, make the entire dress a water stain. In other words, wet the whole thing down. I had to do it once, worked like a hot damn.

    Can't wait to see Cathy in it!

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  42. thin! Looking just gorgeous. Great color and I don't notice the water stain. I bet the lace will disguise it. Oh how I love the lace redingote.

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  43. Look at the photo with the water stain. The piece of fabric behind the taffeta looks like a partial cowboy face. Scary...

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  44. Thin looks more polished to me. Cathy's a lucky girl to have such a talented cousin at her beck and call.

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  45. I was going to stay out of this because it will sound like I'm being a smart-a$$ but the first thing I thought was 'Neither'. You need a thickness that is half the width of the bigger strap to balance the look.

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  46. Personally I like the thin strap, Cathy can definitely work it. She is going to be the most glamorous of all at this glamorous gathering in that divine dress!

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  47. A vote from Oz. Thin!

    Love your blog.

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  48. I'm continuously biting my nails! I want pics of Cathy!

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  49. Definitely thin. Thin will be more concealed by the redingote.

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  50. Which model B&D iron do you have? My friend has one that I adore and I wanted to buy one but that don't make it any more! But I still want a B&D one...my Sunshine brand iron stinks like BO from ironing sweaty costumes :(

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  51. It's almost impossible to buy a domestic iron that doesn't leak, which drives me bonkers.

    Thin!

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  52. The thin is better! You inspire me to tackle on more difficult projects.

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  53. So, I just steamed my taffeta dress not knowing that you don't steam taffeta. I have a fan blowing on spots of the gown that got the sputter of the steamer.... Is it possible that when it dries it will be OK?

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