Introduction: Purple Flowered Dress

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I really wanted to call this "dollar store couture," but after reading a bit about what couture really is, I realized this dress probably wouldn't qualify.  The flowers aren't handmade, the organza isn't silk, and the seams... make it clear that I don't have the attention span to measure, pin, or sew in a straight line.

Even so, I think it's a darling dress for a little girl.

I'd briefly entertained the idea of making a purple fig-shaped dress (I adore figs), but I figured it'd be a bit too "costumey," even for a four year old.

I've been wanting to try out this concept for awhile - appliquéd or otherwise embellished sheer material over gradient dyed silk - and this is the first incarnation of my idea, just to get some of the basics out.   I'm working on a more adult design (you know, in all my free time...) and hopefully I'll have another instructable with the finished concept sometime this year maybe.  Lilith is wearing her twin sister's legwarmers on her arms in the pictures because it was chilly the day I took her outside for pictures.  I thought I'd be able to type this thing up over a week ago, but life got busy.

This dress cost very little money and almost no skill to sew.  

Materials Required (I spent less than $10):

1 thrift store silk shirt large enough for the dress - mine was a short sleeved XL women's blouse
1 yard or so of sheer fabric (the organza comes in 60" widths, so I only needed a yard)
1 stem of artificial flowers from the dollar store
scraps of silk for the flower stems (or you can use whatever ribbon you have on hand)
elastic for the neckline
elastic thread for shirring
purple thread
green thread (for the flower stems)
food coloring for dyeing the silk
citric acid for dyeing the silk (you can use vinegar instead, but I don't know how much you'd need to use and I hate the smell)

Step 1: Cut and Sew the Silk Lining

I knew I wanted the dress to fade to a deep bluish purple at the hem.  I didn't want the fading dye to be misaligned at the seams, so I sewed the sides of the dress and the sides of the sleeves together before dyeing.

I laid out the silk shirt, drawing a basic shape for the dress in chalk.  I knew I was going to shir the fabric, so I left the fabric a little more than twice as wide as I wanted the finished dress to be.

I chose thread based on the color of the organza, since I knew the color of the silk would change, but the dye would leave the thread unchanged.  There was some pale pink thread along the hem that I could've ripped out and replaced with a darker thread, but I didn't feel like it.

I didn't do french seams on the silk, but I did fold the seam over and stitch it again for a little more durability.

Step 2: Dye the Silk

I normally dye protein fibers in a pot on the stove, but one of our two pots was in the fridge holding leftovers, and the other was cooking chicken on another burner at the time... so I used a glass microwave safe container.

Protein fibers (like wool and silk) can easily be dyed with food coloring and some sort of acid.  Some people use Koolaid drink mix.  I never have Koolaid on hand, but I do have citric acid.  You can probably use vinegar or some other sort of acid, but I haven't tried it (and can't give you the proportions) because I don't want to hang out in a kitchen with a pot of simmering vinegar.

There are some issues with certain red food colorings that make them a bit tricky.  I've read that they react to acid and congeal on the surface of something, not getting close enough to the protein to dye it.  Apparently the way around this is to add the red-containing dyes to the hot water, add the silk or wool, and THEN slowly add the acid.

Don't forget gloves unless you want fabulous purple hands.

I heated the water in the microwave until it was just starting to boil, then added food coloring.  After stirring the coloring, I added the silk and then stirred in some citric acid.  I think I added about a teaspoon of citric acid.  I let it sit a couple minutes, then checked to see if the water was clear (which is how you know the dye has adhered to your fiber and is no longer floating around in the water).  It shouldn't take very long; if it does, try more heat and/or more acid.  Red dyes seem to adhere to protein faster than bluer dyes.  

Once the whole dress and both sleeves had as much red as I wanted, I started adding some blue food coloring to the water and dipping the dress partially into the dye bath, gradually building up a bluer gradient.  I also did this to the sleeves so they were deep bluish purple along the edges.  If you're using a pot, just keep the water at a simmer.  Otherwise, you'll have to keep putting your container into the microwave to reheat the water.  You'll likely have to add more citric acid to get all the blue dye to adhere.

The colors will look brighter (and hopefully a bit less muddy) once the silk has dried.  After you've gotten the dye to look the way you want, rinse the silk under cool water.  Silk dries quickly; drape it over something and aim a fan at it if you're in a hurry.  There's no need to abuse the silk fibers further by tossing them around in a clothes dryer.

Step 3: Cut and Sew the Sheer Layer

Once the silk lining is dry, lay it out over the organza so you can cut the sheer layers.

I wanted the sheer layer to be just a tiny bit longer than the silk, so I made sure to leave a few extra inches at the hems.  I sewed the sheer layers together at the side seams just as I'd done for the silk lining.

I opted for french seams on the organza.  This actually required getting the iron out.  They're a bit fiddly for materials like organza, but the premise is simple.

Sew a straight stitch along the seam.  If you're sewing organza, you don't have to worry about any of that "right side" or "wrong side" nonsense.  If you're sewing something else, make sure the wrong sides of the fabric are facing each other for this first line of stitching. Trim evenly along the stitch line, but not so close that the seam will unravel.  Turn the garment inside out so that the right side of the fabric is now on the inside.  Use your iron to press the seam to one side, then rotate the garment slightly so the seam is along a fold.  Iron this fold flat.  The stitching should now be as close to the pressed fold as possible.

Sew a straight stitch along the fold, making sure the raw edge of the organza is inside this seam.

Turn the fabric right side out, and press the seams flat.  Yay!  French seams!

To finish the hem of your sheer material, first sew a straight stitch close to the edge - use a very small stitch length.  Now trim as close to the stitch line as possible without causing anything to unravel.  Fold this edge over and iron it, then fold it over again and iron so that the raw edge is hidden in the fold.  Now sew a straight stitch through the fold.

I've tried using a rolled hem foot on my sewing machine for organza.  It worked sometimes, and other times made me want to break things.  I decided the rolled hem foot is better for fabrics like cotton.  Organza will show the mistakes if you have to rip some thread out and redo some stuff.

Step 4: Add Flowers to the Sheer Layer

This part should be pretty straightforward.

Make sure your sewing machine is clean and oiled... although you probably should've done that before starting to sew delicate fabric.  Hopefully you're using a sewing needle meant for very lightweight woven fabrics.  That'll help keep your fabric from getting snagged.

I used the drawstring from a different silk tunic (also from the thrift store) for the stems... it was already green, so I didn't need to dye it.  I used a straight stitch to sew the stems onto the dress along the bottom.

I then used a zigzag stitch with 0 stitch length to attach the flowers at their centers.

I cut a few of the four petaled flowers into separate petals so that some would look like buds at the tops of the stems.  I had planned on adding leaves from the green silk, but... maybe later.

Step 5: Sew the Pieces Together

Position the sheer layer over the silk layer.  When everything is where you want it, sew a straight stitch along the top of the sleeves and along the neckline of the dress.

Turn the dress part inside out, leave the sleeves right side out (make sure the right sides of both the dress and the sleeves are facing each other), and position the sleeves inside the dress so the seams line up.  Stitch the sleeves to the dress, then turn it right side out.

Step 6: Add Elastic Neckline

Some people prefer to sew a channel for the elastic first, then poke it through the little channel.  I hate that.

Trim along the stitches at the top of the dress, then fold the edge over (toward the inside of the dress) and iron it flat.  If you haven't measured how much elastic you'll need ahead of time, just tie a loose knot in the elastic, making sure the main loop is flat (you don't want it to twist in the seam).  Fold the top edge of the dress over again, this time making a pocket for the elastic with the raw edge of the fabric tucked inside.  Make sure there's enough room so you can sew the channel without sewing through the elastic... otherwise, you won't be able to adjust the elastic length later.

Once the channel is sewn with the elastic inside (and a small opening left for the extra elastic that's hopefully still knotted together), put the dress on your kid and pull the elastic until the neckline sits right.  Mark where you want the elastic trimmed off.  Sew the ends of the elastic together, then trim off the excess.

If you forgot to change your sewing machine needle from the lightweight kind when you started sewing through elastic, you might break it at this point.  Whoops.  You should probably make sure to keep lots of sewing machine needles on hand if you're like me.

Trim the excess elastic, then sew the little gap in the elastic channel shut.

Step 7: Shir the Bodice

Shirring is easy.  There are plenty of great instructables that describe the process.  Here's a quick summary:

Wind elastic thread around the bobbin (you have to do it by hand... pull it snug, but not super tight).  

Put the bobbin in the bottom of the machine where the bottom thread would normally go.

Adjust the tension of the top thread as high as you can (my machine goes up to 9).  

Sew a straight stitch with as long a stitch length as you can (it's 4 on my machine) along the line you want to shir.  

Lighter weight fabrics will pull in more easily than medium weight fabrics (and this won't work very well on heavyweight fabric).  If your tension was fine and your fabric isn't puckering where you sewed, steam it.  I didn't want to bother getting the iron out again, so I sprinkled some water on the bodice of the dress and then heated it with the hair dryer.  It worked just as well and encouraged the elastic to suck in and tighten up the shirred areas.

If you want your shirring to be in a straight line, you might want to mark the lines ahead of time.  I used chalk to make a rough guide... I'm pretty laid back about straight lines.  At first, I only had a little shirring on the bodice, but the dress looked like a sack.  I added more shirring to the bodice and added a bit to the sleeves.
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