Birds of a Feather-Dress

I really like statement pieces. I like being loud, or forceful, or aggressive without having to even so much as open my mouth. The hair, I know, is pretty loud all on its own, but sometimes there’s no substitute for a punchy dress.

The thing is, this really wasn’t supposed to be that dress. It was one of the panic-projects I decided to sew up before we left for Hawaii. I wanted a flowy, casual, neutral colored dress to wear for summery, informal dinners out, shopping, and general skulking about when we weren’t at the beach. I wanted a summer wardrobe staple with a bit (a bit) of a fancy factor.

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This thing isn’t casual. It doesn’t quietly blend in with the crowd, and it’s more than a bit fancy. It definitely doesn’t skulk.

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It kind of… demands.

I’m not complaining, trust me. I’m quite fond of this dress – I’m just trying to illustrate for you my surprise the first time I wore it! Let me start at the beginning, though. This dress begs for proper, chronological order.

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The timeline, for your reference, is that I bought the fabric 2 weeks out, then talked myself out of the dress until the day our flight left, talked myself into it again on that Tuesday morning, and had it 99% finished by the time we left for the airport at 6:30. I packed a needle and thread and finished the shoulder seams in the hotel room. For the record, I do not recommend this.

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~staring into the middle distance against a shrubbery background~

When Jon and I were at The Fabric Store choosing linen for his shirt, I was trying to explain the kind of dress I wanted to make. Aforementioned adjectives like flowy, light, casual, etc. I pointed out various fabrics, and he shot them all down. He eventually landed on this one – it’s a beautiful lightweight cotton lawn from Liberty of London, and the print is called ‘Kerry’s Flock’. I wouldn’t have picked it out on my own, and I was so surprised that he had picked anything at all that I just kind of decided to agree and go where the fabric took me. I’m usually not one to make snap decisions on fabric choice; I overthink, but I’m glad I didn’t talk myself out of it. The fabric was potentially the first indicator that this dress wasn’t going to be as casual as I thought.

For the bodice, I straight up copied the pattern I drafted for my jumpsuit. It’s a lovely universal tank style top and – perks of pattern drafting for yourself – it fits me perfectly. I just altered the path of the bust dart a teensy bit because the girls are shaped a bit differently in my slowly growing army of handmade bras.

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The lining is a silk/cotton blend also from The Fabric Store – and it’s positively decadent. I feel like I’m being gently caressed by the softest cloud ever whenever I wear it. Like little minky foxes have come and wrapped themselves around me… It’s amazing. I’m very into anything tactile so you can imagine I’m a sucker for a luscious lining. It’s also nude to match my skin rather than white/gray to match the fabric, which means it’s completely invisible from the outside but opaque enough that my underthings can match my hair if I want and nobody can tell.

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Found a random picnic table in our travels!

The skirt I cut freehand and patternless in six panels from the fabric that was left after I’d cut the top, so that its seams match up with the dart and side seams in the bodice. I regret not slashing the center back piece into two to make zipper insertion easier, but I made it work so I won’t be too fussy.

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It’s like those shampoo commercials with the flowing long hair, and you just know there’s someone just outside the shot aiming an industrial fan at the model.

Chronologically, this is where I tell you about the time my serger decided to have a Fairly Scary Panic and set off a smoke bomb. You think I’m kidding. My serger is an ancient old lady from 1932 – one of the first home models ever manufactured, and she makes a decision on a case by case basis on whether she feels like cooperating with me on any given day. When she does, though, oh how she purrs. So there I was, zipping through the skirt seams so I could finish this dress (plane leaves in six hours), when suddenly! A loud POP like a car backfiring, and from the back of the machine, a huge puff of blue smoke! (not quite huge enough to set off the smoke alarm, but it was a close thing).. Oddly, none of the scary jamming noises one might usually associate with such a thing, but still frankly alarming and unexpected.

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Look! These flowers match my hair!

After the initial fright I consulted Jon, who over my music and his TV show through the closed door had heard neither the explosion nor my ensuing yelp (probably good). We investigated, found nothing amiss (no scorch marks, etc.) – and I discovered that the machine was…still running? Like she just decided to have a random smoke-spitting temper tantrum and then get on with her life? Since I was halfway through a seam, I decided to press on (carefully)…. and managed to complete the rest of the skirt seams without further incident.

Another mystery for the books.

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I call this one ‘too lazy to go back and Photoshop out the stick’

I decided to turn one of the side-front seams into a slit mostly because I was worried about the dress not being full enough for walking, and that I’d get too warm. This, in retrospect, was probably the tipping point into ‘fancy’. Thigh high slits aren’t exactly casual wear.

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Construction post-smoke bomb was straightforward – put all the pieces together, sew and topstitch neckline, insert zipper, hem, stitch lining to skirt at slit opening… Then I put the dress in my checked bag and we popped off to Hawaii! On arrival, the very last step was to hand stitch the shoulder seams which took about 10 minutes in our hotel room in Honolulu, immediately following which I put my new dress on and we went out for the evening.

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incidentally, no photos of the dress from Hawaii actually made it into this post.

Now. The dress is satisfied with the chronological order in which I’ve presented her. The facts lay before you – my initial thoughts, the ‘design prompt’ if you will, and the dress’s photos. What do you think? Have I made a casual dress? Don’t get me wrong, I think this dress is bangin’, but I think she may have misread the dress code memo. What’s even more interesting is that I can’t quite tell how that happened. This isn’t the dress I slink around in when I’m out to grab a bite, it’s a dress I wear to fool people into thinking I’m Fancy with a capital ‘F’. It’s less ‘matinee’ and more ‘premier’.

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(except when I do stuff like this. Honestly, what a weirdo.)

Jon and I – out to dinner in Hawaii on our first night – managed accidentally to turn quite a few heads. We ended up in a burger joint, he in his linen shirt, I in my feather dress, and the both of us happily stuffing our faces with authentic, American-sized portions and hand cut wedges, overlooking the ocean. Suffice it to say,Β  this one’s my new favorite dress for outings, but I think I’m going to have to try again for ~casual~.

This weekend, now back in New Zealand, we made a much-needed escape out of the city and spent some time up north on some wild and beautiful beaches. Having gone on about the fanciness level of this dress, it also did amazingly as a beach dress. The skirt didn’t tangle around my legs and the slit let the wind cool my legs. That said, I think the setting of my photos might be toning down the fanciness a little… maybe it’s the lack of shoes (My hiking boots didn’t really go with the theme)

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Maybe it’s how even the fanciest of fancy dresses looks silly when it’s blowing around your thighs on a blustery day…

Regardless, I seem to have taken a rather surprising side trip from the usual, and I can’t say I’m sad about that. Upcoming, I’ve got quite a backlog of projects to catch you up on, and then I’ll try not to end up in the land of pre-holiday radio silence once I finally decide who’s getting what for Christmas.

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This was my first project with Liberty fabric – and it certainly won’t be my last! I’ve got a silk lined up already for a future project, and this fabric was a dream to work with. I’m all about bargain fabric shopping, but there’s something particularly delightful about cutting into the good stuff.

(PS – a modern day note because I wrote this in pieces over the course of about two months: I have a new serger! I brought it home yesterday and it’s amazing!Β a Bernina Bernette 334DS, whichΒ is about 100 times more well behaved than the one I used for this dress! Added bonus:Β no weird puffs of blue smoke. My sewing nook is nearly complete!)

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5 thoughts on “Birds of a Feather-Dress

  1. Merry Pinbender says:

    Who’s been taking modeling lessons? Or did you switch girls? No wait, there’s the fuchsia crown! Super pics darling! πŸ™‚
    As for the dress, ( incoming meaningless opinion insert ) I think the fab fit really adds to the fancy factor! Something about custom tailored clothes screams FANCY. I bet you might have missed the sex pot vibes from your jumpsuit as you were distracted by those pockets. Once you thru in the side slit, look out baby! Shame on Jon if he hasn’t let you know.
    I’ll go back to wisdom passed down from mums to daughters ” never underestimate what the right foundations ( antique for bra ) can do for an outfit!”
    I bow to your sewing prowess. It’s all just perfect together, girl,dress et all , location and photographer.
    Amazing! πŸ™‚
    With envy and admiration,
    MERRY

    PS. Blue smoke usually means oil. White is electrical. Best guess maybe a tiny ignition of lube that burned off quickly. Smell was ??? Never know what’s been used before you made her acquaintance. I would recommend a thorough inspection. πŸ™‚

    • Kat says:

      Modeling lessons? Never! You may not believe be but you haven’t seen the outtakes πŸ˜‰ …Thank you for all the compliments, Merry! And for the tip about the oil – that’s a good point. I got her from a guy who didn’t know which end was up, so there’s always a risk. I’m just glad she’s still sewing! (and that the house didn’t catch on fire…)

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