Earlier this year, I was asked to collaborate with a non-fashion artist to create a garment Locavore, an event hosted by the Kirkland Arts Center. I was teamed with an artist named Deborah Scott, who creates contemporary interpretations of classical paintings, in the figurative narrative tradition. Our challenge was to take a painter’s dropcloth and turn it into a garment. We needed to feature the dropcloth heavily in the final piece, but we also needed to incorporate both our design aesthetics. I was inspired by an Emilio Pucci Pre-Fall 2012 piece I had in my inspiration folder and so we began!
This instructable outlines the steps necessary to create this dress, but more specifically, is a guide to how to create the cutout/reverse appliqué technique that is featured in this shift dress!
*note that the painting on the under layer of this dress is copyright Deborah Scott, but she has given me permission to compete in the fashion contest this June 2012 with her collaborative work. Instructables staff: let me know if you need the written permission she gave me sent to anyone on your side!
Image on the page courtesy of Rachel Sumner
Step 1: Sketch
While you are welcome to free-hand your design on the garment, I found it very useful to plan the cutwork ahead of time. I started with a sketch in my notebook, but chose to create a graphic in photoshop to really get everything planned out and then I could see how it worked with different colors and patterns for the background image!
Step 2: Make the Basic Dress
I chose to create a shift dress for this look, mostly because I wanted to contrast the detail level of the cutwork with the simple silhouette of a shift dress. You can make whatever base you would like - it is just important to create the dress with the right side of the underlayer against the wrong side of the top layer - think of working with the two fabrics as one until the end, when you start cutting things. For my dress, I used the basic shift pattern from 'Make your own clothes' book and CD, as this was for a model to wear and I didn't have a ton of time to draft a whole pattern from scratch. I still had to take it in a bunch after a fitting, but it was a bit speedier of a process! (Generally, it takes anywhere from 8-15 hours to create a new dress for a new body from scratch. Modifying existing slopers takes much less time!!)
As the point of this project was to use a dropcloth prominently, the over layer of my dress is made of the dropcloth. You can really use any material, though the looser the weave, the easier it is to cut later! The under layer is a picture of one of Deborah's paintings, printed on a quilter's cotton by Spoonflower. It printed really well!
After drafting your pattern, fitting it to your self (I highly recommend making a mock-up out of some cotton first - I use bedsheets from goodwill!), the next step is to cut it out. Pay particular attention to how the dress is laid out on the patterned material. We wanted blue on top and browns on bottom, so I placed the pattern pieces accordingly.
Make the basic dress up, but don't add your zipper. I recommend putting an invisible zipper down the center back - I tried an underarm zip, but it did not work for such a fitted dress! Finish the hem and any edges that you don't plan on binding later on. Also, finish the internal seams with a serger or zigzag stitch + pinking shears. Oh! I also recommend pre-washing all fabric - the dropcloth really softened up nicely with one run through the washer/dryer. I did not pre-wash the printed fabric, but it wouldn't hurt since it is cotton.
Step 3: Cutouts - Plan
Now that you have your dress ready and your cutouts sketched, it's time to begin the process of transforming the material!
I recommend using either a soft lead pencil (I used HB, but could have gone softer) or a washable colored pencil, depending on what your top layer is made from. I found that the blue washable pencil I had did not show up very well and that the pencil kind of disappeared when the stitching went over it, so I went mostly with the pencil. A ruler is also very handy if you want to do shape with straight lines - curvy shapes may not need one. a ruler is also great for helping to keep the cutouts symmetrical on the dress, though you don't necessarily need to measure everything - I eyeballed a bunch of them!
You can either plan all the cutouts at once or go in sections. I found it helpful to go in sections, partially because I got a better feel for what it was going to look like as I went along and made some changes to my plan accordingly, but also because going in sections means that you can take a break from penciling to sew/cut and take a break from sewing/cutting to pencil some more!
I found it helpful to cut stencils out of paper for some of the more precise cutouts - the hem and the stars. I made a basic template and then just traced around it on the garment.
Step 4: Cutouts - Sew and Cut!
After planning your cutouts, it's time to start stitching around them. Basically, just use your basic straight stitch on your machine (centered or left aligned needle doesn't really matter - pick the one you're more comfortable with). I didn't have a light colored thread in my stash, so I chose to use a highly contrasting blue thread, but you can use whatever color you like best. You can't see it too much far away, but you can see it upon close inspection. This step will take a lot of time (I watch lots of TV episodes while I work!) but basically, just follow your drawn-in lines, picking up the pressure foot and turning the whole garment as you go. I did not always cut the bobbin thread as I moved from shape to shape, that way I did not have to pull the whole garment off the machine each time to reach the thread. You can cut it off later. I did backstitch at the beginning and end of each of the shapes, just to make sure the stitching would stay with such a loosely woven material.
After sewing around some shapes, it's time to cut them out! This is where a baby pair of scissors are vital, as you have a huge amount of control with them. I recommend a pair of Gingher's lightweight embroidery scissors, but anything that is small and has a sharp point will work. You'll be using them quite a bit, so the lightweight aspect of my scissors was fantastic! Cutting out the shapes is simple - just gently poke your scissors into the material in the area you want to cut out, making sure to slip the scissor between the layers and then just start snipping. I chose to cut closely to the stitching, but you can decide what allowance you would like there.
Cutting over seams can be tricky, but I just either planned the shapes around the seam lines or just trimmed really close to them so that they almost disappeared when you looked at the dresses from a decent distance.
Remember to stop every once in a while to step back and take a look at how it is going!
Step 5: Finishing Details!
Now is finally time to put in the zipper and stitch up the rest of the center back seam. I chose to not continue the cutwork across the center back seam, but you can do that now, if you would like.
If you chose to not finish the edges before, now is the time to finish the raw edges with binding tape of some sort. I chose orange because it was a color in the painting that I wanted to highlight, but white or brown would have worked just as well! If you put sleeves on your garment, I would recommend not attaching them until after you've done all the cutwork. Cutwork is most easily accomplished when the pieces are as flat as possible.
And that's about it! If you are using a loosely woven upper layer, you may have to go back and trim some scragglers later on, depending on the finished look you are aiming for. I wanted mine to be as clean as possible, so I trimmed before the photoshoot and runway show this dress was featured in.
Enjoy your dress! This cutwork technique isn't particularly difficult, but it does take some time. I would estimate this dress took me 30-40 hours, start to finish, and I'm not the slowest sewer in the bunch :)
Also! There are more pictures of the dress over on my blog!
* All but the first image on this page courtesy of Rachel Sumner