Introduction: Designing the Dress of My Dreams.
Pictures of this vintage "Rose de France" Dior dress have been haunting my dreams for many years. I just love it!
The main problem in recreating something like this is, of course, the glorious oversized silk floral fabric design. I often come across this issue . . . the fabric I have dreamed up in my head or see on a vintage piece just does not exist at the fabric store. Boo. Hiss.
Well, now that quite a few companies like Spoonflower and My Fabric Designs offer print on demand fabrics, I was one step closer. Heavy textured silks are still not an option, but it is definitely better than not having the option of making your own print.
The next hurdle was that I am basically a complete Photoshop/Illustrator newbie. Knowing what I want to print is one thing, but to go about creating it is a whole other story. The super frustrating part is that I want to do all sorts of complex things with a program that is completely foreign to me.
There was a fair amount of yelling at the computer screen during this process. But once I started searching for tutorials, things got a bit easier.
I started out simple. To get a better understanding of a repeating pattern I used this Instructable creating basic patterns in Photoshop. This Instructable was also very helpful to get me more comfortable with the basics of the program.
Step 1: Fabric Design
First things first . . . get acquainted with Photoshop. Illustrator is probably the better choice, but I am taking baby steps. There was also a deadline to contend with.
I was skeptical that the printing process would be printed exactly on grain (I have come across too many fabrics that are not to be trusting on this point) so straight lines and patterns seemed best to avoid. As a test and to familiarize myself with seamless repeats, I printed a sample of the random polka dot pattens I came up with running through the Instructable tutorials. I also ended up reading through some library books to help me on my journey, but there was a lot of wading through information that I did not need, so the online stuff really worked well. But simple dots were not what I wanted for this dress.
I really adore oversized florals. I may end up looking like an old sofa cushion, but I just don’t care! So I continued messing around with Photoshop, this time with photos of roses (thank you to my neighbors with all those amazing blooms!).
I ended up choosing a silk/cotton blend for my textile. It had a nice sheen to it, without looking too shiny. And silk/cotton blends are just lovely to work with!
Step 2: Foundations: an Old Muslin to the Rescue
Of course, a dress like this requires a solid foundation.
Last year, I decided to make up Simplicity 1183. I got as far as marking the seam allowances on the tissue pattern, thread tracing my muslin pieces, and stitching them together in my first go at a mock-up.
Of course, time got away from me, and after the warm weather disappeared, the muslin was put into a bag and set aside. Because I thought it might work well for a corselette, I pulled that muslin out.
In order to make fitting easier, the spiral steel bones are temporarily placed on the mock-up with the help of some masking tape. This makes a real difference when working with such a close fitting and strapless garment.
Not surprisingly, this corset is not very curvy. It is what I would call a fashion corset - its looks cute, but does not function as a real body shaper. So the first thing I did was take in the waist portion of all the pieces slightly. Of course, if you constrict the waist, the extra fluff has to go somewhere, so I added gussets to increase the hip measurement.
I also extended the back pieces above the shoulder blades once I knew exactly where the dress neckline was going to sit.
For this project, I make a significant number of changes that were somewhat challenging to keep track of on my muslin, so I made a second version to make sure I was happy with the fit.
Step 3: Cotton Bobbinet
Instead of using a coutil or tightly woven cotton like ticking, I decided to use cotton netting for my corselette.
I found a source for what I am almost sure is cotton bobbinet at Dharma Trading a couple of years ago. The first length I purchased in store was quite stiff pre-wash and I have been hoarding it because it was out of stock for quite some time. When I looked a month ago, there was product in stock, so I order a bit more. This time around, the netting was quite soft and had a lot more drape, even without benefit of a washing.
Like so many textiles from Dharma, the color choice is limited to white. So my first job was to dye a portion of my yardage. I chose two different fiber reactive dyes, hoping that a combination of Ivory and pink would do a fair job of matching my skin tone.
And then it was time to rip apart one half of my muslin.
To make cutting everything out of the netting easier, I decided to trim my muslin pieces down, leaving an even 1/2” margin around my stitching line. This way I did not have to worry about transferring many markings to the netting. For the bust cups, I used a 1/4” seam allowance.
Two sets of pieces were cut, one on grain, and one on the cross grain. This was a rather tedious process, as many of the pieces are similar in shape and the netting has no obvious right or wrong side.
The two layers were then basted together and finally stitched together.
For boning channels, I cut bias strips of cotton and applied to each seamline after trimming the seam allowances down.
Hook & eyes closed up the front edges. And a waist stay was finally added to the piece.
Step 4: The Petticoat
I have a few different petticoats on hand, but none of them were going to work for this dress.
For the foundation, I like to use cotton. I find netting and tulle to be too itchy next to the skin, and any kind of polyester is out because I can’t stand the stuff. Not to mention that multiple layers of the stuff makes me sweat just thinking about being covered in it.
One of these days I will figure out a good source of cotton crinoline, but on a time crunch, nylon netting is a great substitute. While tulle is a lot softer to work with, it just does not create the bulk that netting does. And netting is really inexpensive!
I pulled out Simplicity 5006 and cut two skirt fronts in cotton sateen.
A placket was added to one of those pieces at center front. The two pieces were stitched together at the side seams.
To make the ruffles, I cut two pieces of netting of equal size, stitching the ends together, and then folded that circle in half, joining the two raw edges.
Those raw edges were then gathered to create a ruffle.
To make it easier to apply the ruffle evenly, I mark placement lines with a water soluble pen on the cotton.
To apply the ruffle to the cotton foundation, I stitch along the gathered stitching line with the folded ruffle edge facing towards the waistband. That ruffle is then reoriented with the folded ruffle edge facing the hemline of the cotton foundation and edge stitched over the gathered edge. If I don’t run that line of edge stitching, the netting tends to have a mind of its own and like to bunch up, instead of laying down.
And to make sure the cotton foundation does not collapse at the hem, I added a 1” horsehair braid. Normally, I would hand stitch this in place, but in this case I decided to live on the edge and use a machine.
Step 5: Draping the Skirt
One dress form, some muslin yardage, and a whole lot of pins . . .
I am very comfortable working with a sewing pattern, but draping is a whole other story. While the idea of creating my own designs by throwing some fabric on a dress form is appealing, it just seems like so much work - because really, there is an art to it, I do not have the experience, and once the pattern is draped, there is so much more work to be done. Not to mention the fact that my body is not shaped like my dress form.
But a full pleated skirt did not seem like a bad place to start.
My first thought was to get an idea of how far three yards of fabric would get me with a full skirt.
From looking at the images of the Dior dress, it seemed very clear to me that the skirt is not shaped like a circle skirt. Instead, the hemline looks relatively level with the cross grain of the fabric.
However, working with all that fabric was frustrating. There is a reason draping books tell you to work with half of a pattern piece!
So I started out with a rectangle of fabric, the width of my textile (42”) by one yard.
And then I started playing around with pleats.
What I discovered was that I was not happy with the fullness created by a mere three yards of fabric, and that even with only 126” to contend with, pleating that much fabric down to less than 30” was a real challenge. Given my choice to work with four yards, that means I had to take 168” and pleat it down to a waist measurement. (And no, cartridge pleats are not an option here!)
Have you ever worn an incredibly full skirt? Some of my fondest costume memories are wearing hoop skirts. Granted, I would not want to wear one every single day (I have enough trouble keeping small objects on low tables when I walk by in a petticoat), but they are wonderful to play around in.
For this dress, I gave myself four yards to work with. This is not a circle skirt, so it is not as twirly as it might be, but it is going to be pretty darn fun to wear!
My first attempts were not fabulous, and I realized it was necessary to have some shaping on the skirt pattern pieces. Okay, now that I think about it, it is rather obvious, but mistakes are how you learn, right?
Step 6: The Bodice
I cannot be sure exactly how the inspiration for this dress was drafted, but I rather like what I came up with. The bodice was actually a breeze to drape after fighting with all the skirt yardage!
Then the muslin came off the dress form and was marked up.
My first attempt was not terrible, but there were a few things that needed to be fixed.
The only major problem was that the back neckline was too wide. And I also had to straighten out the side seam so it sits straight on the body. (When I look at the corrections on the flat pattern, the errors are rather obvious, but that did not keep me from missing them the first time around.)
And then, because all of those lines were starting to make my eyes cross, I made a second version.
Once that was in good shape, the zipper was ripped out, the bodice attached to the skirt, and then came the moment of truth . . .
Step 7: A Final Muslin
I generally get impatient when working on a muslin because the actual garment is so much more interesting to work on for me. But in this case, I did not have my fabric in hand because it was being printed! So in order to perfect my design, and to make sure everything was going to work as I hoped it would, I decided to make a second muslin in a slightly crisper cotton.
After playing around with pleats for way too long, I finally settled on the skirt. Once everything was marked, I cut out a brand new version, this time with a minimal amount of markings.
That went together fairly easily.
The bodice also worked, although the sleeves were slightly wide. I ended up narrowing the gusset pieces to fix that.
And then I put the two parts together, basted a zipper in, and tried the darn thing on! For my first self-drafted garment, it looks pretty good.
After some minor alterations, it was time to rip the whole thing apart.
And with a quick press, I had my pattern pieces ready to go.
Step 8: Petticoat Crazy
So I couldn’t leave well enough alone. This petticoat needed to be over the top!
And so I just kept going . . .
and going . . .
until a mountain of netting was attached to this petticoat.
All told, there is almost 20 yards of netting involved. I am not sure any more bulk was going to fit through my sewing machine.
My initial thought was that I would attach this piece to the corselette. However, with the amount of netting on this skirt, it just did not seem like a good idea to attach the two. That, and trying to pin the two together was getting on my last nerve.
With time running out, I dug in my stash for some grosgrain ribbon and attached it to the cotton portion of the garment. It is not pretty, but it does the job. A skirt hook & bar closes the waistband just off of center front.
And that is one fluffy petticoat. I can fit in a car while wearing this, but just barely!
Step 9: The Finished Fabric Arrives!
And then my seven yards of fabric arrived! I was not sure that 6 would be enough, and it turns out I needed that extra yard because all I have left is small scraps now that everything has been cut out.
I decided to go with yellow tracing paper. The marks are easy to see, but not so visible that they will show through the cotton/silk fabric.
The floral fabric was underlined with a mid weight cotton to give it a bit more body.
This also allowed me to catch-stitched seam allowances in place, and other parts of the dress I wanted to have more control over.
The bodice neckline was stayed with a scrap of selvedge (surplice tops that are cut on the bias have a tendency to stretch out over time, and this prevents that issue).
And I have to admit that seeing the skirt come together in this floral print was pretty exciting for me.
Step 10: Adding an Underbodice
As a bit of added stability, and to give me something to tack the neckline to, if need be, I added an underbodice.
The first pattern that came to mind was Simplicity 4070. The princess seams would allow for easy alterations, and the neckline could easily be changed.
That neckline ended up being altered a second time on the muslin to make sure this piece did not show when the dress is worn.
Four boning channels were added. This also allowed me to adding a bit of boning to the dress without interfering with the front bodice pleats.
To finish the upper edge of the underbodice, a duplicate was cut from a cotton sateen, the two layers were stitched together and under stitched.
Step 11: Putting It Together
After a lot of work on the bodice and the skirt, it was time to put the two pieces together.
I love getting an idea of what the final dress is going to look like, but from here on out, there is a lot off fabric to lug back and forth between the sewing table and the sewing machine.
The center back zipper was inserted by hand with a lapped application.
Step 12: Finishing Touches
Strangely enough, one of the most difficult parts of this project was the sash. From the images I could find of my original inspiration, it is very hard to tell exactly what is going on. Was the drape and sash one continuous piece, or was it more than one?
Some dresses include a drape in the waist seam, but that did not strike me as a great idea (there was enough bulk with the pleats of the skirt). Instead, I decided to use a pleated belt made from self-fabric and attach the drape and sashes to that piece.
I purchased a roll of this waistband interfacing years ago. I was hoping that it would replace belting (which is becoming more and more difficult to find), but it was not nearly as stable as I had anticipated. But it does work in this instance to add just a bit of a foundation to the belt.
To get an idea of proportion of the drape itself, I ripped up a piece of muslin. In the end, the small pieces of fabric that were left over after cutting the dress out was more of a deciding factor for size. The raw edges were finished with rayon seam binding, the lower corner edges were mitered, and then catch-stitched in place. With the little yardage left over, I cut two rectangular pieces and marked a 45 degree angle at one end. Those piece were then attached to the belt. A few snaps and hook & eyes later, and that part was complete!
Almost there . . .
Step 13: The Finished Dress
It has been a long journey . . . but my first self-drafted dress is finished, complete with my very own fabric design! And I am pretty proud of this one. It really feels completely mine (with a bit of inspiration thanks to Mr. Dior, of course). And to think, it all started with the possibility of printing my own fabric design!
I draped the bodice and skirt, made myself a corselette from cotton bobbinette, and the fullest petticoat I have ever stitched.
It was certainly a labor of love. And I learned so very much from this project - one of the most exciting parts is knowing that I can design my own fabric. Even though the design is far from perfect, I truly love it. And I hope to improve those skills in the future.
Now if only it was possible to create texture on self-designed fabric, I would be a very happy girl!