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Sep 11, 2011

How I Saved a Dress, and My A**



Readers, remember this loathsome garment from last week that looked like an Eighth Grade Home Ec sewing project left out in the rain and ridden over by the cast of Ben Hur?  (OK, this is one of those classic Before photos where the light couldn't be less flattering, but still...)  On Thursday, I asked you to send me your good sewing karma, and you did.  Behold!

So. Much. Better.



The dress isn't finished yet -- it needs a longer zipper, a finished hem, bodice trim, and a few other things -- but I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.  This is arguably the most challenging sewing project I have ever taken on, primarily because it is for somebody else -- a woman who has every intention of wearing it!

We all start projects that don't turn out right and end up in the UFO pile, but I didn't have that option; this is part of a BurdaStyle sew-along and I had to finish it.  Not only that, I had to show others how to make it.  I now feel confident that I can do that, since I have basically made this dress three times.

For those just joining us, here's the commercial shot of the dress I'm making.  (A strategically placed clutch bag and oversized lime lifesaver can hide a multitude of sewing sins, let's be honest.)



There were a few problems I didn't anticipate: the weight of the skirt, the droopiness of the fabric, and the nightmare of two competing patterns.  As you know, late last week I completely re-made the skirt, using just the cornflower blue fabric. 

Yesterday I re-made the bodice -- from scratch.  I went to Steinlauf and Stoller and bought weft-weight interfacing and spiral steel boning.  I recut the bodice and interfaced the entire thing.  It made a huge difference.  I cut my lining from a silky-soft cotton sheet, and put boning along the back and side seam allowances.





I stitched the bones to the inside (wrong side) of the lining and, given the thick cotton fabric and the cotton bone casing, they don't show through the dress.



Before...



After:



I don't think Leah will mind if I share her measurements:  33.5 -- 27 -- 37.  She's slim but curvier than the BurdaStyle model, and there's something about the look of an open pleat I don't like, but that's the way the pattern is designed.  Yes, I could press it flat, but it would still spread visibly.

Obviously, on the dress form, this isn't an issue, but like most women, Leah has a lower body and not just a pole with wheels.



So there you have it, readers.  I have saved a dress and, I like to believe, my reputation -- or am I just being dramatic?  I have to credit Susan Khalje's book Bridal Couture, which gave me the confidence to deal with boning and bodices.  (Actually, the BurdaStyle halter dress instructions do call for boning, but the directions are minimal.  Interfacing is never mentioned.)  Fortunately, Leah just got married so she won't be needing a wedding dress any time soon.

In closing, readers, I hope this couture cliffhanger hasn't raised your blood pressure or disturbed your sleep this week, as it did mine.  If I told you I went to a local health clinic yesterday and got a cardiogram, would you think I was kidding?  I'm not.  As it turns out, I'm in excellent health, with nothing more than a strained intercostal muscle (most likely from swimming) rather than acute angina.  But perhaps it would behoove me to lighten up a little -- on my coffee consumption, and just in general.

Friends, have you ever saved a sewing project from a fate worse than death?  Have you gotten so stressed over it that it compromised your health?

Can you take sewing too seriously?

Have a great day, everybody!  Chill.

36 comments:

  1. I love the way you embraced the disaster and made it fun - how bored we would all be if this had turned out perfectly the first time. Yawn.

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  2. I'm happy dancing for you Peter! The dress looks awesome now...the steel boning has made an incredible difference! Kudos to you!

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  3. Excellent save! I agree that open pleats can be a rather unattractive detail, especially when placed directly at the curvy parts of the figure. They are best left to add fullness at a hemline or center back of a coat or blouse- if they must be used at all. Your decision to remove the contrasting fabric, thus diminishing their presence, was a good one. :)

    The bodice fits her beautifully. The lining and reinforcement paid off dividends in both fit and finish. Make sure that she knows that this is a dry clean only garment. Steel bones do not like laundering.

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  4. wow, that totally fixed it!! wtg!! it looks fantastic! Now I want to make that dress for myself.

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  5. Everything you said, and then some. You have become a Master Sew-ist. Congratulations.

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  6. It looks great! Marvelous save, and think about everything you learned. I happen to love the open pleats. They make it look very girly, and vintage-y. But great call in making it all the same fabric.

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  7. Wonderful save! I love your final choice even better than with the contrasting fabric in the pleats. This way, the skirt is much more spin-able!

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  8. Great save. It looks very pretty.

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  9. ((((Peter)))) be still my heart, and take care of yourself. It is fantastic. What a difference!!!!! She looks splendid in it! Because I am so new to sewing and often bite off more than I can chew with a project, I often have to do and re-do sewing. I learn from it though, so it is not in vain.

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  10. I like the pleats (but didn't like the contrasting fabric). I also think it looks much better cut below the knee, much nicer proportions than the pattern photo.

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  11. I'm very glad you weren't having a heart attack. A pulled muscle is a hazard of a fit lifestyle, but I'm still happy you got it checked out and found it was not a serious issue.

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  12. No, but I've thrown projects across the room and cussed them out. And if you think that sailors have a... colorful vocabulary, you've never spent time in an art studio! I learned so many new words as an art major that it's not even funny... words that when strung together in various configurations would make a sailor blush with shame...

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  13. Not only a huge improvement, it fits her beautifully. A dress I am sure that she'll want to wear.

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  14. How absolutely lovely! You should be very proud of yourself!

    I am always amazed by your solutions after blogging about them one day and then the next day; you solve all the issues in ways not necessarily mentioned in the comments. You seem to take the comments and go one or two steps further, always making something fabulous!

    I have never had health issues but thought I would go crazy! I can't NOT finish something because I jut haven't figured it out. But in getting there I take a lot of drives or showers; where I somehow think better.

    I did have my beloved Elna blow its motor at almost the end of sewing costumes for a school play. I felt as though I had lost my best friend! I quickly bought a cheap machine at Walmart just to get the project done. And that is all that machine did without giving up! Now I have 4 vintage Elnas for zigzag and 5 vintage Singers. Oh, and a serger. I will never be in that situation again! Having a lot of machines really helps when my granddaughters come over to learn how to sew. They each have their favorite. I am still on the lookout for a Singer 201 and a treadle.

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  15. I dislike the open pleat design, too. It never looks right, although you did a fantastic job. Great tutorial. Thanks for your time and all you do for us!

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  16. Nothing looks crisper or neater than using boning on a bodice-- took it from frumpy to fantastic! I love this series of posts, because it shows that a little hard work and ingenuity goes a long way.

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  17. You've done a beautiful job, Peter! There is nothing so stressful as sewing for someone else, so your feelings are right on.

    Thank you for sharing the process behind this dress. You inspire so much confidence in other stitchers, Peter. Thank you :)

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  18. It looks AWESOME now! Your hard work (and high blood pressure) really shows in the finished garment.

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  19. I love the skirt design. It is the same as my junior prom dress and can look good if done in the right material. I would say your experience shows why not all home sewers (as we used to say) cannot duplicate what is shown in the fashion shots, especially if you are doing it with a couple of children in the background, which is exactly why my project yesterday is a wadder. Congratulations to you!

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  20. You accomplished an amazing save! I love the book "Bridal Couture", and all of Susan Khalje's work. After I have resurrected my sewing skills a bit I hope to take one of her workshops in Baltimore. It would be a sin to have such a treasure in the same town as me and not take advantage of it!

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  21. Very nicely done on the fixes you made; she looks so much better. It's hard when you've been stressing over a project that isn't going well for one reason or another but you have to take care of yourself & your stress level! I stayed up for 2 days straight finishing a project at least once (nice when client makes 10 changes on a 6-week-due-date project and you have to completely re-do & triple the output) but have found real value in making sure I have adequate breaks and stretching time and something to interject on a daily basis to keep me from burning out on a project.

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  22. It looks great after your heroic save! And actually the open pleats add interest and a lovely 50's feel to the dress. Much better than Burda's picture. So elegant. And womanly! Congratulation. Lucky Bombshell Leah!

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  23. Well done! VERY well done! And here's to your good health! :)

    I may be the queen of re-doing a project until it's right (or at least OK), mainly because of my obstinate refusal to accept that something might be a wadder. I just hang them somewhere (in or out of sight, depending on how committed I am) until I have an "Aha!" moment & figure out how to fix it. It hasn't affected my health, but it might be a good thing that I don't have as much time to sew as I would like to have, because my closet might be filled with [ahem] "non-wadder" UFO's.

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  24. There have been many dresses from hell and the singular experience of them all were a difficult client with difficult expectations. That's all history now.

    I don't mind challenging projects anymore because if my client is ever unreasonable I need only look in the mirror for a reality check - and tell the reflection to take a chill pill.

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  25. I have to say I was never a fan of the fabric or the contrasting fabric. I actually thought the dress looked shabby. But you did it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I absolutely LOVE LOVE the dress now, and I was wrong about the fabric, it looks perfect.

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  26. Brilliant save Peter! The dress is looking fantastic and shows how sheer persistence and good fit can make all the difference.


    The boning works a treat although I wonder also if a waist stay would be helpful too... so that the weight of the 'skirt' doesn't pull the bodice down... just a thought, although it might not be necessary.

    I think this is also a great example of why we (sewists) often shy away (run) from making things for others - especially if they are of different 'proportions'. I think the Selfish Seamstress may be on to something hmmm. Haha.

    I have a UFO that I now want to give another go but can't find - I think I hid it from myself in disgust... all that I needed to do really was finish the underarm/sleeve gussets that refused to go in properly. I swore and swore and swore and it still wouldn't work.

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  27. Sewing stress has never sent me to the doctor, but work stress has and this dress classifies as work stress. It wasn’t just an experiment that you could wad up and drop-kick into midtown traffic. The new version of the dress looks amazing! Bravo! (Did any of us seriously doubt that you could pull it off?) This series of posts inspires us to not give up, do the research and use some creativity – pattern instructions be damned. Way to go!

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  28. Peter,

    Congratulations on the dress! I had, like you, an awfull week because of a project too, no to do one piece, but four! I muss take a project very seriously when people pay me and count on me for making them ready within a deadline. I think this showed me that I could not do sewing for living, or I would not live long. Better is to concentrate more on sewing for fun! :)

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  29. The dress looks great now Peter and you can de-stress with a fun project. I think either you or Michael deserve a new shirt using a well-loved pattern that has had all fit issues solved in some funky robust reliably sewable cotton. (Maybe another duet pair?) Me, I'll make a new ironing board cover (because furniture doesn't scream if you stick a pin it) once I have screwed my courage to the sticking point and sewed up the bits of suede waiting to become a vest for my daughter. But I gather that you don't think sewing ironing board covers is fun. (Yes I have been told I'm odd...)

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  30. *ahem* The fact that I seem to constantly stress over my sewing and have a stack of sewing books under my nightstand attests to my taking sewing too seriously! lol. (Although is it really a sin? I mean: people take things like reality shows too seriously. At least with sewing I have a visible, useful product at the end. I hope... Don't burst my bubble, please!)

    The dress looks amazing! The addition of the boning and interfacing really worked wonders; it's a great example to what some good foundation work underneath can do for a garment. Bravo for getting through the hiccups of this project! :)

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  31. Beautiful! Such an improvement.

    I think I'm working on a project right now that may be compromising my sanity and health! LOL

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  32. Sewing for others is stressful--waaaaaay more stress-inducing than sewing for yourself. But you persevered and came up with a solution for this dress. Phew! Great job!

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  33. I love your posts, & well done for sticking with a project that was difficult, but looks to good in the end! Also I'm so glad to hear that Leah has a lower body and not just a pole with wheels LOL!!!

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  34. Great work Peter. Now that's the way to build a bodice! And the pleat underlays are much better in the same fabric. Can't wait to see the trimmed and hemmed dress.

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