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Jul 23, 2011

1952 Strapless Cocktail Dress: Sneak Preview!

Readers, I lied: we will be discussing McCall's 9152, the strapless cocktail dress, today.  My apologies and thanks for all the topic ideas yesterday.  Will you accept a raincheck?

The dress is not finished, but it's getting there.  And I have some questions for you.  First, most importantly, do you agree that, despite the floral print (or because of it) the bodice really needs the black (velvet, grosgrain?) 1 1/2" wide ribbon along the top, that ties in a big bow?  Or would it be gilding the lily?

What would Helen Rose do?


My concern is that, given the informality of the print, the whole thing ends up looking like a sundress.  Of course, black gloves and pearls will help dispel that, but still. 

Yea or nay on the ribbon? 

Next, can I show you the inside of the bodice?  Not bad, right?

OK, you're probably wondering why the two long front bones extend beyond the waistline.  They were too long and I wasn't able to shorten them with the tools I had.  I could have gone back to Steinlauf and Stoller to buy shorter ones (they're pretty cheap) but it was SO hot yesterday.  Instead, I just added a little makeshift casing to the protruding bottom and allowed them to extend below the waistline.

The only problem -- and I'm not sure this wouldn't have happened anyway -- there's a slight tendency for those long bones to want to push the lining up over the neckline a bit.  (This happens whether or not the dress is on -- it's a little shifty since the bone is not sewn directly onto the fashion fabric, only the lining).

Now I bought grosgrain ribbon for a waist stay and that should anchor those bones in place.  And I think Cathy's admittedly pubertal bosom will help keep things snugly in place as well; all I have is a hollow.

To keep the neckline smooth, I also picked up some plastic boning nearby, and I thought I'd anchor that to the neckline edge, which should also discourage the shifting I describe.

BUT, since I have to go uptown and get ribbon anyway (yes, I'm opting for the ribbon), I should probably just get shorter spiral steel bones, right?  Of course, there's no guarantee the bone won't still want to shift...

Friends, these are the kinds of conflicts I'm dealing with today.  They say your external conflicts are just a mirror of your internal conflicts, but I'm not sure if these qualify as external or internal.  We went out for burgers last night around 7 pm and it was still 99 degrees.  That's hot, very hot.  It's hard to think straight.  (Two burgers, one fries, a milk shake, and a beer = $30. Welcome to New York.)

Oh, before I forget: the bolero jacket.  I was going to make it, then I wasn't.  If I'm going uptown to the Garment District I suppose I can pick up a yard of something for that, too.  Lace?  Satin?

Enough!  No more dress drama.

Hey, check out my lapped zipper.  No drama there; though I did break a needle.

OK, I'm really done now.

I hope you're all busy sewing away, or at least not sewing and sweating, which make for a very bad combination.  I had to put a towel on my legs while I whipstitching the bodice lining, so the dress wouldn't absorb my sweat.  It was that or long pants.

Happy weekend, everybody!


  1. I vote 'yea' on the ribbon.

  2. I say yes to the ribbon, velvet. I also think that you should go with velvet for the bolero, and add velvet ribbon to the hem. You know just for fun and for gilding the lilly sake.

  3. Love the dress so far!

    Definitely yes on the ribbon and to the shorter bones too. If you're going to opt for the bolero, think about the bow placement of the ribbon so it interferes as little as possible with the jacket edge. (If it doesn't cool down before Cathy debuts the dress, I'd probably nix the jacket altogether.)

  4. Not a fan of the ribbon least in black.
    *Yes, do a waist will anchor the boning.
    *Yes, get shorter boning
    *also, stop the boning about a 1/2 from the end of the garment
    *you will also want to anchor the fabrics together with some invisible hand stitching in the darts...just a few tacking stitches will help keep the fabric from shifting
    *a little boning in the top will help the fabric retain its shape, but it won't keep it from rolling altogether. Understiching and a waist stay will take care of that.
    Lookin' good!!

  5. I am totally in favor of velvet ribbon. And maybe even, as Bolo heads said, on the hem also. ^.^

  6. It needs the ribbon, and if you're there anyway get the shorter bones. The extra black will tie it to the gloves better.

    I like the kilt idea from yesterday.

    In this heat, what do you think of knee-length seersucker shorts?

  7. Definitely pro ribbon here, but what about taffteta? Velvet is so heavy and warm-looking. And I'd try for either the darker red of the roses or the lighter pink. I think black might be just a little harsh.
    I always thought the cocktail dress was a little shorter, but I suppose I'll have to await the petticoat? Looking forward to the full Cathy experience with this dress.

  8. I love the dress, love it on you, and say yes to the velvet ribbon....would make the whole thing pop.

  9. I vote yes for the ribbon, but not in black (and hasn't this discussion occurred before?). I would love to see the velvet ribbon in a black cherry color, just a half shade darker than the deepest color in those roses.

    -girdtmom (I would have used my gmail account, but I refuse to open a blogger account just so that I can leave a comment)

  10. Peter, why NOT a sundress?? ;/

  11. I, too, vote for the ribbon, just not in black. Go for a shade or two darker than the darkest color in your print. As for me, I'm not sewing at the moment. I'm filling the trash can next to me with used tissues instead!

  12. Yes to shorter stays, ending 1/2" before the end of the garment. Yes also to the waist stay. On corsets I used to sew through all three layers (lining, fabric and stay sleeving) to keep the stays in place, with the right color thread it doesn't show (things need to be larger than a dime to be seen from a stage.)

    Yes to the ribbon and yes to the bolero jacket. If you go with velvet, I agree with the black cherry color for the ribbon. It would be really pretty to have the ribbon and jacket the same color.

  13. So much to process. Can you do black cherry ribbon with black shoes and gloves? Helen Rose, where are you??

  14. Yes to the ribbon. Black cherry sounds like a good idea too, though plain black works too, mho.


  15. What about a sheer bolero in a hue matching one of the flowers in the print? Lace would be too busy.

    Cathy can work organza like few others could even hope to do.

  16. Another vote of YES on the ribbon!! The dress looks delicious! Also congrats on being featured in the ASQ's Notions Newsletter.

  17. Regarding the boning riding up: wedding dresses I used to work on were edge stitched just inside the lining, catching the seam allowances from the lining and face fabric, along the top to 1 inch from the zipper. (hope that was clear, it's easier to show than explain)

    We also either fused or sewed in a double layer of interfacing to the face fabric of the bodice to give it stability & stiffness that helped keep the boning from showing.

    Waist stay will help tremendously as well.

    Style wise, I like the black cherry ribbon idea. Would give a number of accessory options: I think black would be fine, cordovan, also pale pink or cream.

    The print/dress style combo says evening garden party in the spring or summer to me. Pearls and a clutch purse are great here.


  18. Yes for the ribbon...nay for black. I am so is just too hot for me to sew.

  19. Definite yes on the ribbon...but the black might be a bit too contrasty with the fabric. I suggest you take a swatch with you and try a rich pink or green that will pick up the colors in the flowers. If you decide to add a jacket, you could match it to the ribbon if you wish, or go with black to match the shoes and gloves. Either way, black shoes and gloves are neutral and go with everything, so no worries there. And don't be afraid of making a big ol' crinoline...they're easier to make than you think, and will make this gown sing! Looking forward to seeing the final Ensemble!

  20. Is it too late in the construction process to understitch the lining to the seam allowance? That would help keep it from shifting above the fashion fabric.

  21. I'm team ribbon - for my taste, I'd like some contrast so dark colours sound good.

    However, the dress is so summery, I don't know if I'm liking the idea of velvet - it skews too evening-y and fall/winter-y.

    Grosgrain reads more light.

  22. If you want an especially sleek look, the ribbon should just edge the top of the bodice, an equal black line by adding the same black line at the waist, and let the final black be repeated in the shoes. Always the rule of 3's. The gloves are great but impractical. Make the ensemble able to stand alone with the glove in hand instead of on. Love the look, but the top ribbon in the pattern picture seems counter to silhouette and bust line.

  23. Ribbon: yes. The dress looks great, but the ribbon will really make it.

    I agree with those who think the dress and that print are too light and summery for velvet ribbon. I'd go with grosgrain, myself.

    If it were my dress, I'd probably pick a very dark green, to complement the dominant pinks and burgundy in the print (or, if I wanted to keep it a very summery day dress, a pear green in between the two shades of the leaves).

    But I love the idea of a black cherry color; I think that would look wonderful. Since there's some black in the print, you can still wear black accessories, but I think a very dark red like that would be a much more interesting choice.

    Oh, and I'd put in the right sized bones, too--when you take this dress out of the closet next spring, the sweaty trip back to S&S for replacements will be but a hazy memory...:)

  24. I like the idea of grosgrain ribbon in the green or rose of the print. I think the black is too harsh, but that might mean new accessories too!
    The top edge will always do this if it is just lined to the edge, even if understitched. It really needs a more substantial facing with fusing/interfacing and tape. Sorry that's not very helpful at this stage unless you love unpicking!

  25. Big YES to a bow but not necessarily in black - bOWS were a Balenciaga standby and he did them elegantly. I would suggest that perhaps Cathy might want to consider gloves and shoes in a more summery shade? Just a thought.


  26. OMG that dress looks SO HOT on You/her, whomever.

  27. I just found your blog and am hooked!!!! I say no the ribbon and yes to the necklace and gloves!!!

  28. Yes yes yes on the bow, velvet, black, but I think it would get in the way of a bolero, no? Either bow OR bolero, not both.

  29. I vote a big YES for the black grosgrain bow. I think it will dress the dress (ha) up nicely. Bolero? Maybe lace.

    Just getting home tonite, and still 89 degrees outside (11 pm). I detest winter, but this heat is getting to be a little too much already!

  30. Maybe you could bind the top edge with black so the boning poking the lining up won't be a problem. I think the dress looks fabulous and cool. What about a green bolero? the same color as the leaves? And green binding at the top? Hmmm?

  31. Peter, the dress looks great so far. If you're thinking about a bolero I agree with Courtney to drop the bow. If you do go with the bow and no bolero, I would be a fan of a colour picked up from the dress instead of black. But then maybe I"m not visualizing what you're considering, a wide bow or skinny bow? Don't listen to me... go with what Cathy wants!

  32. My vote is for dark green ribbon (to match the leaves ) and WHITE gloves!

  33. Who ever said that gilding the lily was a bad thing? Perhaps have several detachable- one in that cherry red and perhaps the green?

  34. I would vote for green ribbon too. Great work so far!

  35. Looking good! I think you'll be happier with shorter boning - that way it won't protrude. Yes to the ribbon, although not sure I would do velvet (which I always read as a winter fabric) on such a spring/summer dress.

  36. Yes, on the ribbon, but I see it most successful as the darker red, or the either of the greens...and not velvet. Grosgrain makes a pretty stiff about you get a choice fabric and make your own bias cut ribbon? Sooooooo many options when you sew. I'm sure whatever you opt for, it will be right for Cathy. I guess she should have the final "say".

  37. Just found your blog and you are crazy! I love you already!!!!

  38. Another vote for a ribbon but not a bow - just a defining line at the top of the bodice. If black ribbon then not velvet. If a colour already in the dress fabric (like Anonymous above, I fancy green) velvet would be OK. I'd put a ribbon flower matching the trim on the bolero.

    The bolero could be something else entirely -as bold as you and Cathy like. (Well, perhaps not the python skin vinyl - but a shiny or a lacy would not be too much. As long as it picks up one of the dress colours ).

    Nude or beige shoes and gloves if the heatwave continues?

    I know these suggestions are very matchy-matchy but we are thinking '50s are we not? I spent my childhood there, consumed with envy for friends who ate everyday dinners off plates that were not mismatched. Birthdays and festivals were wonderful because we got out the good dinner set and everything had the same pattern, even the salt and pepper shakers. So I want Cathy fully coordinated! On the other hand, she can break any rule and carry it off. So in the end I think you should just consult her.

  39. To shorten the boning, you only need to snip one of the wires, and it will separate cleanly. You can use nippers, or maybe the cutting side of a pair of pliers.
    Then you have to retip the bone and for that you will need two pairs of pliers. One pair to hold the tip on the bone lengthwise while at the same time another pair to crimp the bone crosswise. It takes practice, so I'd buy shorter boning (1/2" shorter than the area you are boning), then experiment cutting and retipping with the other pieces to reduce possible frustration in the heat!

  40. Do what you want the ribbon, either way is pretty...just give me those ARMS!

    Tina in Va

  41. You can go visit gerties blog for better sewing where she talks in detail about using boning in dresses. Of course there are always shortcuts but it helps if you have the foundation information. Great dress!

  42. I think the green ribbon would look good. Where did you get that lovely fabric? You look smashing in it...LOL! I also think invisible zippers would look better on a dress like this. I always had problem with boning, they tend to bend in the wrong places (directions)after some wear. What do you think?


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