Introduction: Making the Dream Dress

About: I adore sewing and knitting, mostly vintage or vintage-inspired patterns. I hope to inspire others to create lovely and lasting garments that speak of a past era and yet remain timeless and elegant.

It is highly unlikely that I will ever own a couture gown.  Maybe if I won the lotto, although those chances are not great since I do not even play/enter/whatever you call it.

But I can make my own (well, maybe not as incredible as something from a couture atelier, but something special, just the same)!

One of my favorite styles is the "New Look" silhouette from Dior, and when I came across the vintage Advance pattern, I thought of the gorgeous black beaded work of art from Galliano's Fall/Winter 2007-08 Haute Couture Collection.

Step 1: The Muslin

The Benefits of Making a Muslin

This adventure started with a muslin - there is no sense spending hours and hours on embellishments if the darn thing will not fit!  And I generally learn a few things during the process.  This time around, the sleeves were impossibly long, so I cut off the excess, along with some skirt length.  Saving that fabric made it possible to add cuffs later on.

Although they may not be the most glamorous of projects, there are quite a few reasons for making a muslin of your pattern.

If your fabric is expensive, or irreplaceable, and you are terrified to cut into it, making a muslin version can take some of the scary factor away.

And obviously, getting a proper fit is better accomplished by a test run.

Try as you may, visualizing how pieces of a pattern are put together may be next to impossible, but get those shapes in your hands and things suddenly become crystal clear.  Sometimes I have an idea of how something is going to go together, but a test run changes all of that.  

If there are techniques that are unfamiliar or you want to practice, a muslin is perfect.

A muslin will actually save on fabric (which seems counterintuitive, I know).  But if a skirt or arm length is too long, you can cut away the excess on your muslin and save on your expensive fabric.

Sometimes I cannot be bothered to baste a zipper into a muslin, but they really can make all the difference when testing fit.  And it helps to avoid being stabbed by pins holding opening edges in place!

If you are in a rush, consider that edges do not need to be finished, facings are usually unnecessary, and in the long run, a practice garment can save a whole bunch of time and even tears.  Consider all of the time saved in seam ripping to achieve a good fit on an untested garment, or mistakes make that cause frustration or even make something unwearable.

Step 2: Matching Motifs

This fabric design demanded that I match the damask motifs as best I could from piece to piece (especially at center front and center back).  Since I had cut a complete dress in muslin, I was able to trace the scrolls on one skirt/bodice side, and match the other by folding seam allowances under.

This damask print is so oversized I was really worried about how much fabric was going to be wasted by trying to match the motifs.  It actually worked out quite well.

Step 3: Bound Buttonholes

Bound buttonholes are my favorite closure.  And they are so much nicer than machine made!

I generally create my bound buttonholes before construction of any kind begins.  This way there is less fabric to manipulate.  You will need to rotate the fabric 360 degrees while at your sewing machine, and the less fabric you have to contend with, the easier it is!  And if, heaven forbid, a mistake is made, you have only cut a hole in one piece of fabric and not a finished garment. 

Hair canvas was basted to each bodice front as an interfacing.  Next, buttonhole placement was marked in chalk on the wrong side and hand basted so it show up on the right side (where bound buttonholes are applied).

The same thing was done with the facings (although I faced those with silk organza).

You can trim and grade down the squares if they overlap.  I like to catch-stitch the flaps to the interfacing to help keep everything in place. 

Now it is time to start the bodice construction!

Step 4: Thousands of Beads!

Embellishments are always the fun part of a project.

I knew I was going to add beads to this outfit, and I assumed that I would be happy with a straight border.  But that just looked blah to me after studying the original inspiration. 

The first step was coming up with a motif that would work with the fabric and overall garment design.  I am always drawn to florals, but they did not seem quite right for this.  Using the damask scrolls on the fabric as a starting point, I sketched out a few ideas that would fit on the front peplums.

The issue of how to transfer the sketch to fabric was a bit of a challenge.

And that was when I remembered my tracing paper.

After finalizing the design with paper and pencil, it was transferred to the tracing paper, and then to a scrap of sheer muslin with a fabric pen.  But then what?

Since I was going to add a layer of silk organza to stabilize the extra weight created by all those beads, I decided to place the design directly onto the silk.  Because it is so sheer, tracing the image was easy. 

Curves are a bit of a bother to transfer onto woven fabric because the pen is dragging through the bias.  To keep things from sliding around, I used quite a few pins!

After pinning the design into place, I hand basted through all the layers (organza, hair canvas, & fabric) which allowed me to see the design from the right side without worrying that chalk or pen marks might not permanently disappear after the beading was finished.

I chose a thread color for basting that was different enough to be visible, but not so jarring that I would have to remove every last bit of it.

Here is how one side of the peplum turned out.

Step 5: Hand Sewing

I love hand sewing - I find it quite relaxing.  And there was plenty to do on this dress!

Inevitably, I will get towards the end of this outfit, and will have to rush through things like hand hemming the drape.  And I love that part, so these drape hems were one of the first thing I did.

Step 6: The Belt

I have a couple of thrifted belts covered in beads that I love. 

My idea was to somehow replicate a similar look with a suitable bead.  Thankfully, my local Michael’s had a couple of choices.  I have learned from knitting with beads that if they match too closely, all of the work is lost in the fabric.  Subtlety is wonderful, but if I am going to spend hours and hours with a needle and thread, I want the result to be seen, right?!

Obviously, a tambour hook is a more time efficient way to apply beads to fabric, but I have never learned that particular technique.  I would love to in the future, but this was not a project where I want to learn a new skill and feel awkward and frustrated about my deadline.  But hand sewing?  I can handle that!

I basted a piece of silk organza to the back of a strip of fabric, basted some grid line in place to help keep everything within the 1” plus that I need my belt width to be.

I chalked in a slight curve for the first row of beads, after which, I could just follow that line.

A tube of muslin was made to cover the belting and give me something to stitch to (all those beads make it rather dangerous to use a machine to stitch the belt, and probably impossible to turn it right side out!).

The raw edge was catch-stitched in place.

And the other edge folded under and stitched.

Step 7: Finishing Touches

There are always a few extra things that need to be completed before a garment is wearable.  I have a bad habit of leaving these until the last minute.

Shoulder pads, hook & eyes, buttons, hems, removing basting stitches - they all take longer than you might expect.

But in the end, all those extra steps make a huge difference!

Step 8: Finished!

It has been quite the journey!  And while Dior might not want to put their label in it, I am very proud of this dress!!

Thanks for reading!

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