The first dress of 2014, and its first day out on the town.

So, here’s the thing. When you’re a student, you spend most of your time either in a classroom or doing homework. Sometimes all of your time. Sometimes so much time that there’s none left to spend on sleeping. Or eating. Or friends. When you’re working, it’s the same although I’ve been lucky so far to not have the kind of work that comes home with me, past the occasional entertaining story at the dinner table. When you’re travelling, there’s no time for crafty business but it’s alright because SELFIES! Sorry..It’s alright because you’re enriching your knowledge of culture and diversity and taking pictures of all of the exciting things (ahem)…

There’s not a lot of time for craftiness, unless you make it.

Usually.

Unless you’re in a holding pattern between Job A, Job B, and more travelling- in which case, you attempt to make up for all the crafting time lost!

I made this dress last month- in October- and it was the first dress I’d made yet this year, which is tragic. I have since nearly finished one more and have plans and fabric for a third, but that number is still much too low for something on my list of favorite things to do.

Grey and Brown Floral fabric for dressmaking

Floral doesn’t have to mean ‘old ladies’- and besides, in my experience old ladies are pretty awesome.

I found this fabric without really looking at Joanns, and brought home enough to make ‘some kind of dress’… Sometimes there’s a plan, most times there’s not.

bow shaped spacer beads

I decided upfront that I wanted it to lace up the back, so I got bow-shaped spacer beads to thread the laces through.

I drafted the lace-up bodice pattern myself, and then just kind of made up the skirt part as I went. The fact that this pattern only exists in my head, though, doesn’t mean it can’t be learned from.

Materials

  • 3 yards Brown Floral Fabric  (100% Cotton)
  • 1/2 yard Contrasting Grey Floral Fabric (also 100% Cotton)
  • 12 ft. of Grey Paracord
  • 10 Spacer beads (for lacing)
  • Contrasting silk thread for topstitching
  • Zipper (I eventually replaced mine with a metal one, after my invisible zip ended up having a flaw)
  • Lining fabric (I used some undyed muslin from the stash because I’m thrifty like that)

Having a bias tape maker was also helpful, since there’s a lot of that in this dress. Also the usual sewing machine, needles appropriate for the job, etc.

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And of course, I’d be nowhere without my mannequin, the trusty lady Lucille!

After making a mockup out of cheap woven fabric I keep around for precisely that job, and making sure it fit how I wanted it to, I started working on the bodice. I consists of 7 panels- center front with princess seams, then side front, side back, and center back. The center back piece supports the lacing. I had originally planned for the zipper to be at the center back, but that kind of went out the window when I decided there needed to be bias tape at the waist and a little design under the lacing. Side zips are easier to manage getting in and out of anyways.

floral dress bodice dressmaking process

Progress! This is where I figured out placement for the back laces. They’re functional but they also aren’t necessary because of the zipper.

After I had the bodice  constructed, I made the entire 1/2 yard of grey contrasting fabric into 1/4″ Bias tape. If you’re unfamiliar and you wish to be, there are excellent tutorials for this in most quilting books, which is how I refreshed my memory. I used a few inches of the tape to bind the center front, and then cut two 72″ pieces that bound the reset of the top edge, starting with the center back at the base of the lacing and then going up under the arms. When these pieces met the princess seam in the front, they became the straps, which cross in the back and then lace down. The bias tape is handstitched (invisible mattress stitch- my favorite!) closed over lengths of paracord which I used to add strength and roundness to the straps. I finally found an use for the stuff!

back of lace up floral hand sewn dress

Finished! My favorite part is the lower back… also check out those glove tan lines…

After adding the skirt (just six triangular pieces- take the waist measurement of the bodice, divide by six- that’s the measurement of each skirt panel, add seam allowance of course. The hem measurement was based on maximizing the fabric I had leftover.) I decided it needed some extra flair, so I used some of my (plentiful) leftover bias tape to add interest at the waist and hem. These pieces were pinned in place while Lucille wore the dress, and then machine top-stitched with yellow silk thread. I like silk because it tangles less, and the thread has a different sheen than cotton or polyester- and it stands off the surface in a lovely way. I also generally try to avoid sewing with polyester thread if what I’m sewing into is cotton. I’m not actually sure if it matters, but I like it anyways.

front of floral lace up handmade dress

Finished! Thanks to Val for taking pictures while I tried to figure out what to do with my face…

The hem is more bias tape (continuity!) with a top-stitched piece 2 1/2″ from the bottom. Because of the way the bodice is made, the skirt is lower in the back than it is in the front- the perfect length so that I’m not sitting my bare legs down on chairs and such! The nice thing about making your own clothes is that you can account not only for the way you’re shaped, but the way you prefer to wear them. All my store-bought dresses are a bit short, so I compensate by making all my handmade dresses a bit long. Things even out.

front of brown floral handmade lacing up dress

Yay for fashion shots of pretty dresses! Finishing projects like this just makes me want to start more…

I hope that if you happened upon this blog because you’re interested in dressmaking- that I have provided you with at least a bit of an explanation of the proceedings. One of the best parts about making new clothes is getting to wear them though, so that’s what’s happening next!

detail of floral handmade corset back dress

Check out that fabulous silk top-stitching!

Less than a week after finishing this dress, I drove up to the lovely city of Chicago for two days to catch up with Jon.

sheep selfie at the Bean in Millenium Park, Chicago

What actually happened was that Sheep decided he wanted to go on an adventure, and we spent the weekend running around Chicago taking photos for his instagram page.

The weather was spotty, but acceptable. We were for a short time trapped in a Starbucks due to the rain, but even that wasn’t too bad. We spent a day in the Museum of Science and Industry which was fantastically awesome- albeit dimly lit so photos were difficult.

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Blurry. But still a cool photo! It looked a bit like mars..

The building the museum is in is mostly underground so it looks oddly small on the outside- and then you wander in and realize that there are 12 planes including a Boeing 747 hanging from the ceiling…

Inverted Jenny

The ‘Inverted Jenny’ was a postage stamp from 1918 which, due to a printing error, featured an airplane then commonly called a Jenny upside down. They’re very rare now and worth up to $2.7 million dollars. I know this because I spend too much time in post offices.

This is a wonderful place! Full of not only exhibits that teach science in interesting ways (Launching balls across rooms over innocent bystanders below, anyone?) but also some pretty excellent historical artifacts.

museum of science and industry airplanes in chicago

Sheep was enthralled by all the different methods of air travel. He’s very excited to do some more flying, and would maybe like to sit in a cockpit some day…

There was a special exhibit while we were there called ‘Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives’ which had a whole chronology of Disney- from the movies and shows to Disneyland itself. There were examples of the multi-plane camera technology he used early on, plus lots of models, sketches, and video clips, and some incredibly exciting newer stuff…like, say, costumes from some recent films…!

captain jack sparrow selfie at the museum of science and industry

The actual, real live Captain Jack Sparrow outfit from Pirates, because I am a Huge Nerd and not even sorry that its grainy…

I had no idea that these would be here and I think there was probably a scary amount of excitement going on…especially when I turned around:

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THE ACTUAL MAD HATTER OUTFIT (Also Alice was there holy crap) I may have died and gone to heaven because how is this even real life?

I MADE Alice and the hatter from photos right after this movie came out- I may have taken some liberties with the hatter, but seeing in person that my Alice was spot on- that was such a cool feeling. I’m sure that I got some strange looks for the complete freak out I had about the whole thing…. even Sheep was looking at me like I was a little nuts-o. Worth it. Worth it times a million.

 

After the Museum, we walked around the zoo for a bit (I love cities with free zoos. St. Louis’s is totally better though…Sorry, Chicago) and then headed off to Gino’s for some super tasty Chicago-Style Deep Dish pizza.

sheep visits ginos chicago style deep dish pizza in Chicago IL

In which sheep gives us insolent looks for not sharing.

The thing you have to understand about Chicago style deep dish pizza is that it’s basically cheese, flaky crust, a little bit of tomato sauce and toppings, and then some cheese… and some more cheese.

The thing you have to understand about me is that I love cheese.

That’s really all you need to know.

 

Day two of Chicago was some exploring of shops, and general walking about the city. What more fitting than to see this totally epic two story display of old sewing machines in front of a clothing store… in a dress I made myself! Many selfies were had by all… especially since we have some of the sewing machines that were displayed behind me.

old vintage singer sewing machine storefront in chigago selfie

I was a little sad to see hundreds of sewing machines in a place where nobody could access or use them, but it’s nice that they get to be seen by so many people this way, for they are beautiful.

I got lots of complements on my dress while we were walking around the city, and I love when strangers tell me I’ve done a good job on something like that… They have no motivation to lie to you so you know you’re doing alright.

chicago

We wandered into this building because it looked cool… It’s some kind of government building where none of the signs really tell you what goes on inside

We sat in a park to people-watch and were at one point offered free cookies- which is the marker of a fantastic day- and sheep was indeed very unhappy when it was time to leave.

sheep in Chicago

First time Sheep has gotten a perplexed look from a Taxi driver while posing for a picture… Worth it.

Chicago is another city I hope to be able to explore more at some point, and it seems like a pretty spectacular place to live- if a little windy. It’s nice also to be in such close proximity to the great lakes, because those are always good for an adventure or two. I’m so happy to be able to finally get back into making moderately large-scale projects again, something I’ve missed pretty incredibly basically the whole time I’ve been in school. Obviously, having a job slows things down a little but not as much as school ever did. There are so many more dress-related projects and assorted other crafty adventures to come, and I have never been so excited with the prospect!

 

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